Tagged: communication

Provoke or inject

Smith Family Ad
Sounds familiar?

This image, scanned from The Weekend Australian magazine ‘hit the chord’ with me today. I heard the lines written many times at my (now ex) school, I have seen kids who have fallen into this spiral and also seen the kids who stood up and resisted it well. It’s a great reminder of what really goes on in that place called school, and which can be so wonderful and yet so brutal at the same time.

But this post isn’t so much about the vicious spiral of disadvantage that we so often avert the eyes from. It is about the similarities between great advertisers and great teachers. If you think that is a shocking comparison between a commercial, money-making enterprise and a noble, free, human endeavour of education…well, you may as well read the rest.

A good friend of mine is a copywriter and creative director of a reputable advertising agency here in Perth. He often tells me stories about how important it is to know the audience a particular ad is ‘pitched’ to. Cut the story short, he spends about as much time, if not more, on finding out about them (audience, target market) than the production of the ad itself. Why?

Because my adman friend knows, just like a good teacher, that information is only a provocation of meaning, not the meaning itself. Unless it strikes a chord, and the chord being the experience, belief, ability, aspiration, background etc of the receiver, information about anything is… meaningless. We pretend that (most of) what we write, tell, show will be ‘injected’ into people’s minds exactly as we wanted them, and get upset if they ‘don’t get it’ (enter politicans declaring “every child MUST” while, if you ask any half-decent teacher they’ll tell you that “every child MIGHT” would be far more accurate).

We are so preoccupied in producing information: static, lifeless documents, pixels and scribbles (including this post, yes!), increasingly easy to duplicate and disseminate. Yet lifeless information only becomes the coveted ‘learning’ or ‘knowledge’ we speak of so much at the point of always tacit (Polanyi), contextual human interpretation. It is very easy to share what you think these days but it is hard as ever to share thinking.

By the way, I prefer the language of ‘what we learn’ and ‘what we know’ over ‘learning’ and ‘knowledge’ – the latter terms sound like what we learn and what we know (the always tacit subtleties of our thoughts, feelings, experiences etc) can be somehow captured and treated as ‘objective’ and explicit, a thing. Say, whose ‘knowledge’ is better: yours, since you got 15% more on the test about cancer, or mine, whose beloved grandma died from cancer ? Ridiculous isn’t it?

And what does the preoccupation with injecting information look like in schools? Well, in mainstream classes at least, how much time do we spend learning about the kids we have in front of us at the start of the school year (or any other time for that matter)? What are we forced to know more about – content, syllabus and admin procedures OR whom of the kids may have certain learning disabilities, who might have been severely bullied recently, or who might have overcome a major obstacle in life and now aspires to become a writer or something… How are we going to provoke meaning well, instead of trying to inject it, in the people we work with if we don’t know a darn thing about them?

Teachers are being increasingly told to ‘personalise, individualise, customise teaching to each student’ (with same or less resources that is, while technology is seen as the panacea for that…yeah right). At the same time, teachers are now being increasingly told to cut any ‘socialising’ with their students online (the world they increasingly populate), where they could really sometimes unearth kids interests, passions, aspirations, fears, concerns. It’s not all peachy, I agree (see my position on the issue written earlier this year) but aren’t we cutting off an important line to provoke, not inject meaning?

Finally, what could my adman friend learn from teachers? We are in a similar boat as far as provoking meaning goes. But …  our employer, parents, and every pundit out there wants us to get to ALL the people to ‘get’ what we say, teach, explain – not just the “15% of the market”.

And that’s tough. And worth it.

PS I may be out of class this year (working for Moodle) but you can’t get a teacher out of me 🙂