Out of the Box

Email Print

have taken a liking to an expression that frequently gets tossed
about. I am referring to the one that tells us to "think outside
of the box". I often hear this offered as a suggestion when
faced with seeking solutions to issues that have been hindering
progress and the current practices are no longer effective. Educators
in today's American public education systems are often faced with
the challenges of trying to solve age-old problems such as high
failure rate, high dropout rate, low test scores, poor attendance,
educational apathy, as well as a myriad of other issues. It is helpful
to think outside the box because we obviously need new ways to look
at old problems since some of these old problems just hang on forever
and the old strategies and old ways of thinking are not solving
them. To me, thinking outside the box means to gain a new vision
by stepping away from the issue far enough so you can see as much
as possible and from as many different angles as possible. I believe
it also means to challenge everything, question everything including
your own conclusions, and to look through a bigger straw. We like
to deny that we look at life through a straw, but if we are honest,
I believe we can admit that some of us view our milieu through very
thin straws, meaning we only see a dot of life in front of us, while
others view through larger diameter straws and see a wider view,
yet still with some peripheral limitations. In this sense, asking
one to use a wider straw is less offensive than saying to completely
quit looking at life through a straw.

this same context, I like to encourage my students to think in a
larger caliber, or think bigger thoughts. Regrettably, there is
not much encouragement or reward for public educators to foster
independent thinking in their students. In fact, if the classroom
is quiet, and the students are glued to their chairs with their
textbooks open and a pen or pencil is moving, "good" education
is happening. Those "good" educators receive high marks
on their evaluations and are considered the reliable core of solid
education. "Good" educators are encouraged to have lesson
plans loaded with edubabble on hand to show their administrators
that they are organized and that the students are on task. So in
true practice, though teachers are told to think outside their boxes
in meetings and workshops, boxed-in thinking is fostered in the
classroom. I have found that for survival purposes I keep some "good"-looking
lesson plans on hand, I keep my students as busy as I can with meaningful
learning activities, and I teach or encourage as much out of the
box thinking as possible. You can liken this to "coloring outside
the lines" thinking as well. I know that the outside the lines
business is very controversial so we probably should not visit that

course I teach is titled Drafting and Design. We use board drafting
(pencil and paper) practices as well as computer-assisted drafting
(CAD). One issue I face with my architectural design students is
they tend to think and design in terms of boxes. Okay, a house can
be shaped boxlike and be legitimately considered a well-designed
house. I have students, however, who just happen to make their freely
designed house the exact scaled size of the paper I give them to
draw on. It is not uncommon while critiquing a student's project
to ask why two rooms at one end of their house are so small only
to hear that they ran out of paper. Sometimes I make the radical
move of taking another sheet of paper and taping it to the first
sheet. "Can you do that?" I am asked. "Yes, and I
just did." My observation is that in the name of efficiency
our educational systems have put our children into boxes and have
made them afraid or unable to think their way out.

this past week, I happened to have a
copy of the questions
the 9-11 Family Steering Committee wants
to ask President Bush. This is the committee that had a hard time
getting certain people to face them due to alleged national security
issues. You may recall that Condoleezza Rice did eventually face
the committee and gave her frowny-faced, bad hair day responses.
But we are told that George W and Dick Cheney gave their responses
in a closed session where we are also told no records were taken.
I believe I read that George did not sit on Cheney's lap and that
Cheney did not make George's mouth go up and down as he spoke but
I can't find that report so I won't say for sure that George spoke
unassisted. Too snotty? Okay, back into the box I go.

copy of the questions was on my desk at the high school where I
teach and a student happened to see them. She has been keenly interested
in following the Iraq war and the terrorism-related news and we
have had a number of conversations on these topics. This student,
though taking her fourth year in my design program, sees herself
as a journalist one day. I think she has the makings of a successful
writer. I know she has excellent vision. I would also like to take
partial credit for encouraging her to think outside of the box.
She asked if she could read the Steering Committee's questions.
I gave them to her confident that I could find an appropriate educational
objective that would provide a stamp of approval if I needed to
validate this classroom activity in a drafting class.

American needs to look at the Steering Committee's questions. In
fact, everyone who intends to vote this November needs to read the
questions and then re-read them a few dozen times before voting.
My student took the questions to her seat to read and returned later
with an expression on her face that told me a bright light bulb
had flashed. She sat down and said two words that reflect out of
the box, outside the lines, and over the edge, maximum caliber thinking:
"He knew!" I got goose bumps all over me because I wanted
to say that was unthinkable but the conclusion fit so perfectly
that I could barely speak. How could an American even imagine that
our own president was a party to and possibly involved in the single
most devastating attack ever against civilian American citizens?
After a momentary brain shutdown I was able to say to her that she
had made a profound conclusion — one that I hoped was inaccurate.

three days to think about my student's conclusion, I find myself
standing outside my box, looking through the fattest straw I can
find, and ignoring all lines of limitation. I keep going over the
questions but I hear that young, innocent voice saying those two
words and I am astonished to say that they fit. As you read and
re-read the
Steering Committee's questions
, try applying "he knew"
to your conclusions.

appears that the list of questions has grown to 39 as of May 30,

4, 2004

Woolley [send him mail]
is a disabled Vietnam veteran living in Miami, Florida. He served
with the 9th Infantry Division in The Mekong Delta in
a Ranger unit doing reconnaissance 1968–69 where he received
a gunshot wound to the head leaving one side severely paralyzed.
He is a father of four grown children and grandfather of seven,
including a set of triplets.

Email Print