In ‘The Element’

March 31, 2009 at 10:04 am Leave a comment

Last year my 11 year old son and his 10 year old mate, Eric, the son of our administrator, were members of Fagins gang in a fantastic performance of Oliver, produced by Brighton Theatre Group and performed for a week at the Theatre Royal in Brighton.

A few months later we got wind of auditions for the members of Fagins gang, and the ‘Artful Dodger’ for the upcoming West End show of Oliver with Rowan Atkinson as Fagin(The one where they found their ‘Oliver’ and ‘Nancy’ through the TV programme ‘I’d do anything’).

For various reasons my son didn’t audition, but Eric did. Ostensibly he auditioned mainly for Fagins gang because the lower age limit for the Artful Dodger’ was 12 and Eric was 10. There followed a series of auditions which included auditions for the Artful Dodger, because Eric looked right for the part (he has an incredibly mischievous looking face) even though in theory he was too young.

Although he has no formal training through all these auditions and various rejections he persevered and won the part of the ‘Artful Dodger’. He was successful entirely through his own unswerving determination to win this part.

The show, of course, is a smash hit and many of our friends have been to see Eric in it. The universal comment from all of them is that when you see Eric performing you can see that he is ‘in his element’.

And this in essence is what Sir Ken Robinsons new book, ‘The Element’ is about – ‘How finding your passion changes everything’.

In the book he relates tales of people doing extraordinary things when they find their passion. Dancer and choreographer Gillian Lynne, Beatle Sir Paul McCartney are amongst them. These are high profile stars who usefully illustrate what can happen when people find their ‘element’. Doing so, though, is not just the domain of superstars or just applicable to the arts. It is equally applicable to the more mundane. Robinson cites an example of a fireman who from early days at school just knew that all he wanted to do was to be a fireman and that is what he has done for the whole of his working life.

I have a mate who I met at university who changed courses midway from Maths, a subject he loved, to literature, specifically to broaden his horizons. On leaving university he went back to his maths and after many more years of part time study is now one of the highest qualified actuaries in the country, a job he himself describes as one for those who find accountancy too exciting.

Another mate has spent the majority of his working life in the development and application of renewable and sustainable energies for the third world, another is a first class and committed computer programmer.

All of these people have found their element despite and not because of our education system, in my view. In fact an education system which was designed to serve the needs of an industrial society and not the 21st century information society we are in does its best to ensure that we develop according to what is prescribed by others from without rather than to our own instincts from within.

Ken Robinson cites Michelangelo who says of his sculpture David that he did not create the David, it already existed in the stone and he just revealed it by removing those parts of the stone that were not the David.

Robinson claims that this is what our education system should be doing, allowing people to strip away what is not them to reveal the essence within. Who could argue with that?

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If it can be fun for some, why not for all? The book is dead!

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Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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