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Old 10-02-2006, 11:24 PM   #1
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The Science of Play (2): The Hand Puppet Proposition

Is there a universal field theory that can, in one stroke, reconfigure and reorganize our thinking about education; that has the power to destabilize the existing learning culture, shake up every individual and every single classroom, to make space for a new model?

The answer is Yes. There is a magic bullet—a vaccine to protect us against the toxins of the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and similar educationist politburos. Yes, the whole megillah—testing, standardized learning, old-school methodology, thinking, and models—the whole tired, top-heavy bureaucracy can be gone, vaporized—not even a poof! As smart and quiet, as simple and elegant as the earth-born bacteria that kill off the aliens in War of the Worlds. We can win. We can reclaim our learning culture. Throw a switch—click—and the lights go on. Everything that matters in education magically falls into place. Self-organization. Charmed information. Inspired Communication. Positive Socialization. Instinctive Motivation. Just by an act of nature. Concrete, tangible, and irrepressible, play is at work. Why rage against the machine when you can, like Wallace and Gromit, work smart, exact revenge, and outwit the owners of the education factory farm?

Who could entertain such an absurd possibility? These are the musings of an idealist, you say. Such things are impossible in the ‘accountable’ world of Education!

I would argue that the pages of history are replete with solitary earth-shaking change-makers, individuals whose eureka moments shower sparks and ignite enlightenment. Such subversive individuals can lurk inside the school zone as anywhere else. “Men,” wrote Churchill, “occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” One day I watched children respond to puppets in unison, their shrill squeals of delight piercing the air like the song of spring peepers at twilight in April. Something about that stuck in my brain. Something happened, and this is what eventually evolved. Something for you to ponder:

A Field Theory of Information for the Field of Education
Education = Play X communication square (E=Pc²)

Proposition One: The central active core of Education is communication. The physical makeup of communication, in a given space, say, the classroom, is the prime factor that determines the nature and robustness of information, and sometimes vice versa. Find a way to ‘charm’ and energize information in the classroom, and you have the means to reverse the polarity of conventional communication patterns from inert to ‘charged.’. When you alter communication—especiall y in context of Education—you possess the means to systemically alter the central processing pathway of the learning culture. When you alter the chemical makeup of communication, you change everything that heretofore has been almost impervious to change, namely in three of the most change-resistant areas of the learning culture: communication, behavior, and information. In the classroom, nature is almost always absent. Without nature, communication and, subsequently, information become conventional, dry, unimaginative, soulless. Find a way to convey information as an act of nature, on a wavelength that the young are innately tuned to, and you possess the key that opens the door to solving a host of major challenges facing Education.

Proposition Two: The active chemical element as well as the wavelength is play. Inject significant amounts of play into the central core of communication and you have the means to alter the communication core directly affecting information (content), behavior, and communication. The impact is global: both in the external dimension (teacher-student-classroom) and the internal dimension (hand-brain, emotion, movement, symbol). Fortunately, the prime recipients of the communication process in classrooms—children—a re innately attuned to many forms of play. Play, the foundation of learning in mammals, is an energy force field that has yet to be harnessed. Welcome to the world of applied brain science.

Proposition Three: Play Language and Play Energy are practical forms of applied play that have been developed and tested. To change the learning culture systemically, it is merely necessary for the participants in the learning culture to speak a language composed of, and propelled by, play energy. Unless the U.S. Department of Education and other bureaucratic counterparts want to associate themselves with the likes of the Taliban and ban play officially, the inextinguishable nature of play—along with its myriad advantages and benefits to both teachers and children—cannot be stopped. This is a model of school reform—systemic reform deep inside the culture itself—from the inside out, grassroots, popular, and true to the evolutionary birthright that is play. Once set in motion, the process would take on a life of its own—just like the behavior of play.

I have arrived at these conclusions not by academic exercise, but through a lifetime study of play. “Are puppets alive?” asks many a child. Taking Einstein’s advice to adults to “ask questions that only children ask,” I would answer that puppets are psychobiologically “alive.” I believe that my view of puppets as “life forms,” as bio-media, would have captured even the eye of Darwin. My path has followed in the tradition of field biologists who have researched the communicative behavior of apes, ants, and bees, except in my case the focus on communication was sparked by art-based life forms that are unique to human communication, namely puppets—and by the response of children to them.

My work with puppets and teachers has proceeded under the assumption stated above: Find a way to systematically inject play energy into the flow of communication in classrooms, and you will have harnessed important raw chemicals from the brain—needed for thinking and communication—energy by which to warm and propel the field of education. Make playful communication second nature on a systematic scale, and a strategic means to transform the learning culture is suddenly available. Playful communication has the power to surprise and destabilize the rigid character of conventional communication practiced by adults in the world’s classrooms. Playful communication has the potential to exert broad impact and overnight transformation on the learning culture. This may sound like a tall order for such an amusingly innocuous tool as hand puppetry, but puppet play is a highly contagious and emotionally charged visual language.

“We need languages that fit the present time—that can deal with the collective as well as the individual and that transcend traditional boundaries of tribe, nation, and culture,” wrote Peter Senge. Puppet Play, practically applied, qualifies as one such language. The hand puppet is a force of nature—a symbolic bloom of organic art on the hand—at once a tool, a media, a language, and a technology capable of integrating, transmitting, and transferring information and opening the mind.
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