structure as freedom

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Structure as freedom.  At first, it reads like one of the slogans of the Party in Orwell's 1984--war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. Doublethink is a great concept. 

Sometimes constraints--the right kind of constraints--lead us to options and possibilities where we didn't see them before. In the case of a musical instrument like a guitar, you're limited to just six strings. And the strings are all tied down, and all lined up. Stepping back, it seems incredibly restrictive.. limiting.. but the effect is just the opposite. Contrast the constrained guitar with an alternative.. having many more strings, randomly organized, and say, only tied at one end rather than two. Seems like it should be more liberating, but I'm thinking of a mop. Mops can be fun, but the creative value-added through the constraints of the guitar are easy to see.

Language is similar.  Words really tie us down. Each word has negotiated boundaries to it. We have grammar rules to follow, and we have limited vocabularies to use, and within those vocabularies, each word narrows our thinking. It narrows our thinking so much that we sometimes can’t express a thought--even a really simple thought--without a whole pile of words. But what language does provide, is a kind of cognitive scaffolding that lets us abstract, and manipulate ideas, creating more sophisticated thoughts than what would have been possible without language. Sometimes, its the tightest structures that result in the most freedom.

Thinking about the paintings i've been working on recently, there's a similar thing going on. When i first began painting, the big white canvas seemed a little daunting. Kids will jump right in and start finger painting without any encouragement, but as adults we really have a lot of pointless inhibitions. I envied that.. I found it inspiring.. but not really keen on getting my hands mucky, I used an old card. I started with a couple little lines, and in an orderly comfortable way, they were vertical. And they kept being vertical. I didn’t have in mind anything particular, it was just a doodle, so the lines just kept being vertical because it felt like they ought to be. It felt okay changing colours, so i did some of that.. and eventually an image began to coalesce. I realized that the source of my earlier inhibitions was that there were too many affordances, too many degrees of freedom. What i had done without realizing it was to reduce the number of variables that I had to contend with. Inadvertently, I had created a structure, a kind of language through which a form of expression could take place where earlier there had been none.

There is a clear connection to the Deconstruction Blocks and some of the educational work I'm involved with. The wooden blocks have a limited set of affordances, but they are the right kind of affordances. And they are enough to create limitless possibility. The really good toys are the ones that constrain and focus attention and behaviour in just the right ways, in order to liberate the child from the feeling of being passive or reactive in the world, and give them a sense of control. It's in this way, that play is the foundation of citizenship. My work in transformative education is similar. As I work towards unhiding the tacit structures of the educative context, the factors involved become things that we can work actively and consciously with. Rules are what make a game fun to play. 

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