I’m still working on the art, but have contentedly just finished the text for my next book, “The Trickster’Hat” (due to be published by Penguin on 14 Jan 2013), it’s an apprenticeship in creativity, that amongst many things has had me cogitating on what constitutes an education. The word ‘education’ tends to make most of us think of school and college or university, but I’ve started to wonder if assuming that learning should principally come pipelined from an institution isn’t both misleading and a bit of a cop out.
As a kid I learned to add up by playing cribbage, I learned to subtract while playing darts. Snooker taught me geometry, stamp collecting taught me history and geography, poker schooled me in psychology, chess showed me how to strategize and although my vocabulary was marginally expanded by the books my teachers insisted I read, my internal dictionary didn’t really start growing till I began playing Scrabble as a blood sport. I’m not saying games are a substitute for traditional teaching, however, they have been amongst my foremost coaches.
Play and competition, whether against oneself or others opens the mind to curiosity, observation and listening. Once interest in everything around you becomes fundamental then learning becomes a self-perpetuating habit. Of course the opposite is also true—no, play, no fun, disinterest and finally eternal sleep!
When I was sixteen I left school to go to art collage, which meant I had little in the way of formal academic training, but I was curious and wanted to know how the world ticked. So I listened to BBC radio, read, thought, learned to draw (see) and continued to play games. I watched people in cafes and on the street, trying to guess their history by observing the minute details of their dress and behavior.
For me, education has never been about the force-feeding and regurgitation of facts, it’s been about expanding my imagination so that I can take in as much of the universe as possible. I paint and I write because that’s when I am most open to new ideas. I think for myself and follow my trains of thought because it’s fun. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, yet when I look around I see many people who are only too willing to ignore their capacity for critical thinking, even though it’s arguably humanities greatest asset.
It seems to me that education is something that goes on for life. An education is the gift we give ourselves, it isn’t something others are obliged to hand us on a plate or even bully us into. It is up to us to make life interesting by turning over the next rock—just to see what’s underneath. We can look to others for direction, we can ask questions of clever and wise people but in the end who else can teach us to be alive if we wont do it for ourselves?