“Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.”
- Jodi Picoult
There is a place on the borderlands of our consciousness, where the great beasts of human inventiveness—human potential—frolic and prowl. It is the realm where art and science, left brain attention to detail and right brain inspiration, are inextricably fused. Perhaps it is that “savage place…holy and enchanted,” described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his enigmatic poem “Kubla Khan”. The place where he found himself midst laudanum-fueled delirium, and to which he longed to return. A land filled with wonders; the wild, lonely realm where Albert Einstein and Frida Kahlo wandered freely. Walking in such a place, looking out at the awe-inspiring vistas, breathing in the richly perfumed air, what spores might insinuate themselves into the hemispheres of your brain? Would you catch glimpses of the ghosts of the great navigators and explorers who had left their footprints there? William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, J.S. Bach, Marie Curie, Stanley Kubrick, Miles Davis, Georgia O’Keefe, Billie Holiday. There are many who have passed through those gates, yet still far too few.
Children, I believe, travel more lightly and easily into that world of inspiration and imagination. Before we are taught otherwise, we are all born explorers, born navigators, artists, scientists, poets, philosophers. At what point, I wonder, do so many of us lose that gift of the wild, unfettered mind. At what point do we learn and accept our “limitations”?
As a teacher, I worry that the institutions whose purpose is to educate our children, and young adults too often take part in what Picoult in the above quote describes as the “slow sewing shut.” Too often, we are concerned with a process of socializing and creating mediocre citizens who conform to outdated norms of right-thinking and obedience to the status quo. Too often, joy, energy, curiosity, and wonder are stamped out by the clumsy boots of bureaucratic institutions, as if they were stray sparks that have landed on the precious Persian carpet of our accepted values. Some of this is clearly by design. Some of it is purely a result of systemic inadequacies. Either way, it keeps many of the brightest and the best from achieving, or even getting a sense of, their full potential.
It seems to me that if we are to survive and thrive as a species, we must find a way to unlock that portal into a world of unlimited possibilities, allowing more and more of humanity to pass through. It truly feels as though we are in dire times, on the brink of so many potential disasters. Now, more than ever, we need to weld together inspiration and practicality. We need to free our minds of self-defeating limitations and binary ways of seeing the world. We need to find solutions that bring together heart and soul, brain and body. We need to push forward to the edge of that great continent of human potential. We need to find the uncharted ocean there, dive into the intermingled currents of surrealism and science, poetry and mechanics, spirituality and physics, and break surface once more with some pearls of elegant understanding. It is the only way we might save ourselves.
It is treacherous water, though, when we’ve been taught to believe we are not able to swim. Perhaps, if we do our jobs well as parents and educators, future generations just might see that enchanted place as their homeland—and migrate more freely.