“WHAT’S THE USE OF STORIES THAT AREN’T EVEN TRUE?”
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (p.22)
In Salman Rushdie’s fairy tale a little boy named Haroun travels to the moon to find a cure for his father’s loss of capacity to tell stories. In his fantastic journey Haroun discovers that stories come from the great Story Sea and that his father had ran out of stories as one of the water Genies had turned off the tap. The questions raised at the very heart of Haroun and the Sea of Stories and the issue one is brought to again, and again, is the role of creativity in today’s society. This same issue is still alive today and it is what brought several psychologists, education innovators, researchers and hackers together, on the 12th of July, at the NightScience Conference held in Paris at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) .
According to Engin Bumbacher, in the current school system kids are being told what to do just like remotely-controlled elephants are being told how to paint. Consequentially education of science is reduced to usage not creation. So what are the best pedagogical practices to foster collective creativity in education? How can we best prepare children for scientific inquiry? There was a consensus that we should promote innovative pupil-centered learning environments that stimulate active learning and discovery. Learning is an adventure and a great learning experience is one from which you can never go back (Phillip Schmidt). And what is learning if not a game (Patric Marchal)? Ange Ansour advised that hands on experiences, by promoting creativity, are the key forces of scientific inquiry. But we must not forget that we learn not only by doing, but also through others (Laure Kloetzer). Thus citizen science projects, by acting as communities of practice, can play a pivotal role in education.
The conference was followed by a two day Hackathon (Hackathons are events in which everyone is invited to express their creativity). And I took the opportunity to attend an absolutely fascinating hands-on workshop run by Mitch Altman on how to do cool stuff using Arduino. I learned a lot, not only about soldering and the basics of electronics, but also about the design-it-yourself culture. Hackathons are a living illustration of Rushdies Ocean of the Streams of Story, according to which ‘new stories are born from old ‘and ‘it is this new combinations that makes them new’. Thus the hacker, just like a story letter, never creates out of nothing but instead borrows from various different sources. And, most importantly, he never becomes the owner of his invention as eventually it will become part of somebody else’s creations.
In order to stimulate and promote scientific discovery we need innovators to keep on thinking about new ways of storing collective knowledge. Should it be held like the Ocean in ‘fluid form’, just like Haroun’s stories, so that it can keep its ability to change and become new versions of itself? Or perhaps, as ‘grown-ups never understand anything by themselves’ , should we ask for help from the children themselves? As the Little Prince reminds us ‘it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things” to grown-ups. It is now time to sum up, and I can’t find a better way to conclude than by paraphrasing Stephen Friend, who suggested that we should all do science in the dark, as though we have no idea of what’s going on’!
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Le Petit Prince (1943) ch. 1
- Salmon Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1991)