Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Creative Dissonance

Dissonance. I like the word.

My colleague used it today as I described changes to my thinking about teaching my fall courses. “You’ve always been a good teacher,” she noted, “but there’s a dissonance,” referring to a mismatch between my nature and my approach. I know. I’ve felt it for quite some time.

My students feel it too. I’ve noticed that when I’m just blunt, frankly expressing my thoughts about their work, students blossom. Not intimidated in the least, even though I’m then at my most forceful, they simply accept and respond positively, thoughtfully, even creatively—rather than the resistance or timidity they can too often exhibit otherwise. I believe here they see me as truly genuine.

This week, some former students presented their work in one of my courses at a conference. They noted challenges, difficulties, discouraging tasks—and then urged their fellow students to follow the same path and take the course. Other students, current students, definitely not my best students, registered for my advanced writing courses, saying “Yeah, there’s a lot of writing, but you hardly notice it,” and “It’s kind of fun.” Interesting. And late today, a community leader contacted me about the “real world” writing my classes produce—referred enthusiastically by one of my students. I think I may have been looking in the wrong direction.

Years ago, a Toronto pianist gave me a book as a thank you gift that outlined the theory of Creative Tension, the idea that dissonance between where we are and where we want to be motivates creative action. Again, interesting. Sufi musician Hazrat Inayat Khan describes people as tones, some harmonious, some dissonant—for example, C and B are dissonant notes, but adding E and G produces a poignant, relaxing chord. Yet again, interesting.

I think we’re on to something. Viva la dissonance.



HHope said...

Well, maybe you just aren't as harsh as you percieve yourself to be when letting your students know the lo-down on their writing skills.

Most people seem to be afraid to really let someone know the truth about their work. I guess it's part of our need for common courtesies.

When I was in school I really appreciated the teachers who did point out flaws in my work and didn't just slap a gold star on it.

You're really doing the students a favor. Hopefully, they're paying you well for it too!

HHope said...

Oops, misspelled 'percieve' that should be 'perceive'. : )

Dr. James Willingham said...

A good work on the subjectwhich I read in '71-'72 was the Faith of Counselllors by Dr. Paul Halmos in which he set forth what he called "the theory of creative dissonance." My explorations in Intellectual History (American) lead me to believe that truth is usually composed of two apparently contradictory ideas which are not meant to be reconciled, but which produced a desirable tension in the brain that enables one to be flexible and balanced and creative. Remembering that the brain has two sides, it would seem that two-side apparently contradictry concepts fit with the realit, thus enabling one to gain understanding.