Monday, October 1, 2012

Consumers not Producers

I encounter the idea of scarcity and abundance regularly in the therapeutic and online communities I move within.  The main thrust of the idea suggests that there is enough - love, time, money, success, fame, support, community - for all of us to have as much as we want, need or desire.  But instead of operating as if we believe in enough, we often operate as if the resource in question is scarce and must be competed over, creating greed, jealousy, envy, self-doubt and a host of other negative side effects.  In general, I like the idea of operating from an abundance perspective.

But there is a hitch.  In order for abundance to be real, producers are required.  If all of us continually consume a resource, whether tangible or more abstract, and no one ever produces, then that resource will become more and more scarce.  If only a few producers exist, they will be unable to sustain the supply, and demand will eventually exceed their capacity, leaving the producers overworked.  In order for the theory to work, we all need to be both consumer and producer, giver and taker, supplier as well as demander.  And I don't think we are being taught the skills we need to accomplish both sides of this equation.

I have been continually frustrated with school and the kind of learning I see happening for my Jr. High aged daughter.  I've ranted and raved.  I've emailed teachers.  I've had conversations.  And I've learned facts that leave me baffled and sad.  But until today, I haven't been able to put my finger on what I think is wrong.  But here it is in a nutshell.  Our children are being taught to be consumers instead of producers.  They are taught to take apart a literary text and analyze it.  They are taught to manipulate variables to work an equation.  They are taught scientific theories and historical facts.  But they are not being taught to produce anything.  In order to produce, one has to understand intimately the components that go into making something.  And one has to know how to combine those components in ways that make sense.  It's the foundation of writing, of solving real problems with math, of taking scientific and historical concepts and formulating new ideas.  And my child is not being taught how to construct anything.  She can desconstruct all day.  But when she gets an idea broken down into it's basic parts, she has no clue how to begin to build something thoughtful or original, only how to follow a formula or a predefined plan.  Look at the legos we sell today, pre-packed into carefully counted boxes with instructions about how to build this ship or that castle.  What happened to original creation?

We consume information all day long.  But stop and take a look at the quality of most of the information being produced.  It's lacking, to put it nicely.  The political rhetoric highlights the problem.  We regurgitate ideas and put stakes in ideological ground without ever looking at ways to synthesize ideas and information into a new solution that really works.  As a country, we have stopped producing, and we have become a nation of consumers.  Psychologically, we consume treatment and medication to fix a problem, but very seldom spend the time or energy necessary to overcome a neurosis with creativity.  We operate from a reductionistic standpoint that takes things and breaks them down instead of a constructive standpoint that uses the new and recycled materials at hand to build something up.

And it starts, or ends, in our schools.  Our children are not being taught to write.  Grammar books have been banned from the classroom.  They are not being taught to solve problems with originality and creativity.  I've always protested against the outcry of "teaching to the test", suggesting that if the teachers are really teaching, passing the tests will come easily.  And I think that's true.  Except, I'm having to take a long hard look at that theory of mine, because standardized tests measure consumption instead of production.  A kid can make a perfect score, and still not be able to produce anything worth while.

And I'm guilty.  I consume.  I consume information and advice and support and community.  Sometimes, in small ways, I produce.  I am lucky in that I have the tools.  But it's easier to consume.  And when what I want to consume isn't readily available, I often bemoan my fate instead of getting busy creating.  Instead of falling into the scarcity perspective, I need to begin producing, because in that creative mode lies the abundance.  It's a challenge.  But it's not as big of a challenge as teaching my daughters how to be producers instead of simply consuming whatever they find in front of them.  I suspect that job will be the challenge of a lifetime.

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