Creativity with hard work and respect reaches the stars

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 27, 2013

“Creativity is the launch pad for dreams that are realized through effort and excellence.”

Imagination and reality joined hands across the space frontier recently to affirm the point of Robert Kelly’s book, Educating for Creativity, the topic of last week’s column.

In an inspiring 10-minute conversation on Jan. 3, astronaut Chris Hadfield spoke with William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise.

Only, Shatner was back on Earth, while Hadfield was circling Earth at 27,744 km/h (17,239 mph) as the first Canadian (soon) to be in command of the International Space Station (ISS).

In their conversation, Hadfield spoke of the irony of the moment, recalling “the stuff that was portrayed on television 40 years ago of people with a small hand-held device, standing on the surface of a planet talking to someone effortlessly, who is orbiting that planet.

“That's what you and I are doing right now!” he exclaimed to his childhood hero.

Hadfield attributes much of his high-flying achievement to the creative imagination of that popular science fiction TV series he so enjoyed as a young person.

But he would be the first to admit that creativity is no substitute for disciplined study, determination and hard work. Creativity is the launch pad for dreams that are realized through effort and excellence.

I stress that point because several respondents to last week’s column feared that Kelly’s talk about engaging “a world of infinite possibilities” is at the expense of the basics: “the Three R’s.”

As BC coffee companion Karin Henderson, a healthcare professional, put it:

“This is all great stuff, but I get emails from all ages and they can’t write so you can understand what they want to tell you. They can’t spell. They certainly can’t construct a decent sentence, and I suspect they can’t do math.”

I think Kelly, Shatner and Hadfield would share that concern. Indifference and sloppiness of thought and expression would never have got them to where they are now.

Aero-space innovator Sandy McLeod, formerly of Bragg Creek, in his emailed response, added:

“The standard approach to our traditional teaching process has to change as the space frontier expands. It takes an innovative approach at all times to challenge, grow, inhabit and simply to stay alive and explore in that outer reach.”

And far from any negative impact on the Three R’s, he said, Kelly’s approach offers a means of liberating many from the prison of illiteracy so that they, too, could eventually “fly to the moon.”

This was the very point of a response I received from Denise Peterson, principal of the Siksika First Nation’s Sequoia School at Gleichen. She wrote:

“I was struck . . . by the way in which Kelly's work and teaching reflected the values and metaphorical context of Indigenous ways of knowing. [His statement that] ‘the book is about social innovation for the good of other people, not just for profit-taking’ . . . [is confirmed by] my work with the Siksika. Their way of teaching is embedded in collective well-being, for the animate as well as the inanimate.”

She illustrated this with a lesson about the education-affirming influence of her community’s traditional leaders:

“When we opened our school,” she said, “the community Elders helped our students build a full-size tipi from scratch. Each step and stage of the way was taught through stories connected to the People through their culture.

“When the tipi was finished and the time came to set it up, the Elders chose seven (symbolic) young men and gave them the task. That morning, the Elders sat in chairs in the backyard while the boys tentatively began set up. At each stage, from folding to tying off the poles and putting in the pins, they would look to the Elders. No words were spoken, just a nod or shake of the head to indicate correct position.

“Setting up the tipi took four hours,” she noted. “At that time the Elders took the young men in the tipi and painted their faces; they praised their persistence and gave them rites to set up tipis of the Nation (which they all do to this day) and gave them the right to teach others.” 

I find her story particularly inspiring, having often gazed at the stars through the open top of a tipi. With appreciation also for those like Chris Hadfield, who reach for those stars while, like William Shatner, remaining well-grounded, I thank her for her insight into Kelly’s thinking.

Such wisdom makes for a strong set of tipi poles on which to spread the cover of life, pinned with sure knowledge within a worldview of respect for all.


© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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