I was reading Jason Kottke’s blog the other day, when he posted this excerpt from Vonnegut’s Bluebeard:
Slazinger claims to have learned from history that most people cannot open their minds to new ideas unless a mind-opening team with a peculiar membership goes to work on them. Otherwise, life will go on exactly as before, no matter how painful, unrealistic, unjust, ludicrous, or downright dumb that life may be.
The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.
The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius — a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in general circulation. “A genius working alone,” he says, “is invariably ignored as a lunatic.”
The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find: a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad. “A person like this working alone,” says Slazinger, “can only yearn loud for changes, but fail to say what their shapes should be.”
The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain everything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. “He will say almost anything in order to be interesting and exciting,” says Slazinger. “Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.”
Slazinger, high as a kite, says that every successful revolution, including Abstract Expressionism, the one I took part in, had that cast of characters at the top — Pollock being the genius in our case, Lenin being the one in Russia’s, Christ being the one in Christianity’s.
He says that if you can’t get a cast like that together, you can forget changing anything in a great big way.
It seems to me that if we really want to change education for the better, these roles need filling. If you’re asking yourself if you’re helping make that change, then think hard about which of the three roles above you fill. Or, if you’re not one of those three, then be ready to deal with another reality: you might be holding things up.
So before you write off some off-the-wall idea from some nutjob, think hard about what you might be doing.