Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I feel just like Joe Natoli, movies making me think.

Ratatouille and the Netherlands philosophy on Education.

I was watching that new movie and thinking to myself, this was the best movie about food since Kenan and Kel brought us Good Burger, which if you were not aware, was one of the best kids movies to talk about an extremely important topic at an extremely important time. It's all about genetically engineered food, and if you don't believe it, do yourself the most fun favor you'll ever have and watch Good Burger again.

But this connection is related to the only 3 questions that we ask ourselves before we die, where do we come from, where are we going and why? One question that is sometimes asked is how. In the movie there is a book called anybody can cook. Besides having the coolest background scenery in a digital movie (the kitchen) and the promotion of the culinary arts and the importance creativity to innovation, it leaves the viewer with some deep philosophical ideas to think about. Which is directly related to a conversation which I had with this dude:

He is a professor and director of American Studies at the University of Utrecht. We talked about the problems with the educational system in the US and I mentioned that I read a research paper in one of my education classes that when a school fails in the Netherlands they give the school as much money as it needs and when a school does poorly in the U.S. it's closed down. So I casually asked him if there was one thing he wished all teachers taught in the states, what would it be.

This was roughly his answer:
That people who are poor, hungry or struggling do not have as much choice in life as we think, circumstances dictate our position in life, no one chooses to be in the circumstances they find themselves in and should not be expected to perform under the same circumstances. The first example he uses is if we had a choice before we were born to be born into a family that is well off financially, good health and security and one without, we would without a doubt choose to be born into the privileged family. However because this choice doesn't exist and not everyone lives in such luxury, we cannot assume someone should just pull-up their bootstraps and get to work and they will all be able to be successful.

I asked him that can't we teach empathy in schools? And replied that it is not enough. It's not enough because why should someone understand someone else's circumstances, we are telling people how they should feel instead of fostering an environment that these ideas would naturally grow out of. He used the example of being an artist.

And that's when it became a heated argument. We had previously been on exactly the same page, if we teach children that in life most people don't have the privilege of having a choice about their future, they will be more inclined to help others and understand problems on a more personal level, the idea of selfless acts. He claimed that he was never born with the talent to become a great artist, and he will never be an artist and it is something he has accepted.

I vehemently disagreed. I read somewhere on Deviantart once "Talent is like a garden, the more you tend for it, care for it, and pay close attention to it, it will grow." So I believe that in fact he could be a great artist and there was no such thing as being born not being able to be a good artist. He said he may be able to make art, but he would never be able to be great. I questioned the idea of who is able to say what is "great". This is where our conversation hit a stalemate, and where Ratatouille picked up.

In the end of the movie, there is a great "moral" lesson, which I would say is more of a "philisophical" lesson. That what the book meant, not everyone can cook, doesn't necessarily mean everyone who begins cooking can become a great culinary artist, but rather regardless of where someone comes from, what they look like and the diverse backgrounds involved a world-renown chef can emerge. This makes me think about all the really amazing memoirs that have been coming out, usually hilarious.

So what does this mean for teaching art, even about happiness? In the movie the little rat love challenges and finds the most happiness in his working, not even about becoming a great chef, but simply the act of cooking great food. I think back to Hans and our conversation and I think about what conclusion we could derive from our conflict about what it means to be great. We cannot teach everyone that they will all be great but some people just have different "purposes in life", this can lead to false promises and pretentiousness, your background doesn't define you. Greatness is not entirely on being "Something", but in the successes in each small obstacle that lead to greatness. We can't promise you will be great, but there is no doubt in my mind that you will become something great if you can recognize it in yourself. It could be true that everyone has a paved road to success but you, but that cannot keep your from achieving success.

What a great film for art educators: "In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize that only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." We naturally will have to be critical, but on the other hand know that greatness is possible, which is where we are allowed to be blindly optimistic.

random tangent, slightly related... slightly.
It also makes me think about words: good, better, and best. When I think about it, the word "better" is always "better" than "best", because it's in a state of becoming, something can be better than the best, and then the best is just good. You can even be better than the best of the best of the best. Challenges are meant to keep us going, not to stop us, it can be the most fun you get out of life. Just like why sex has orgasms, there's a reason why there is a happy aspect to everything, happiness is a great motivator, it's why we are alive today.

p.p.s. another tangent. I just read that the tag line is "anyone can cook, but only the fearless can become great" and that totally works so well with my theory that we must defeat the culture of fear that keeps us from thinking about alternatives and dominates our minds to keep us quiet and obedient.

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