Monday, November 16, 2009

The Rabbit Doesn't Always Win

Last weekend I guest lectured for some friends who co-teach a screenwriting class and something came up that I see happen a lot. As I taught/spoke, I could see people were working very hard to “get it.” They felt like they had to understand what I was talking about right then and there.

One of the things that teaching has done for me is make me a better student, because I see where others get blocked and know to look out for those things in myself. Our system of education reinforces the idea that if you get things quickly you are a better learner than those who don’t. This makes us afraid to struggle with a concept. We are afraid of the headache that comes from wrestling with an idea. If it doesn’t come quickly we blame ourselves--and sometimes the teacher. But sometimes we just need more time with an idea.

I’m not sure if I should say this, but the truth is the students who “get it” quickly usually don’t “get it” very well at all. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

When people think they understand a new concept right away, they stop looking at it--they never get past the most superficial understanding of it. But anything worth learning is multi-layered. Often these are things that seem, on their surface, to be very simple, even simplistic. I promise you that it is these simple ideas that yield the most knowledge. Like a Zen parable these simple ideas can be pondered for years and can lead to profound understandings.

But if you think you “got it,” you will never look any deeper. Sometimes, people cut me off when I am talking to let me know that they “get it” and I can move on. Later these people struggle the most.

I sometimes hand out a list of films for people to watch, and almost always someone tells me that they don’t need to see the films on the list because they have seen them before. My class is all about teaching students to look at things differently--to see differently. I often show film clips from movies they are intimately familiar with, and like a magic trick I reveal to them aspects of the film that they had never noticed before. Not unimportant minutia, but things of substance that they wonder how they ever missed. I sometimes see people’s mouths drop at the revelations. It is these same people, however, who will say of my viewing list that they do not need to see the films.

The people who struggle are trying to see all aspects of the new idea. They are working harder and get more out of it in the end.

I remind students and former students of this all the time--always be a student. Once you think you “get it” you stop learning. So, even when it has been months or years since you’ve had a big epiphany, if you keep looking profound things will reveal themselves to you. It may take a while, but like I said, this is a marathon.

If none of this makes sense to you, just think about it for a while--you’ll get it.


DD said...

I completely agree. The worst thing you can ever do is stop learning. Every time I start a new project, I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. I think it's good to be terrified of knowing nothing. Accept that you don't know everything and keep working until you know more. No one should ever feel like they completely "get it."

Di Mettler said...

I agree for the most part. But as a teacher if I have a class that isn't grasping a concept, that usually means that I'm explaining it in a manner that's too complex or confusing. If it's important that they grasp a certain info, then I need to regroup and give it to them in segments that they can digest.

But yes, as a teacher, it's important also teach that they can always keep learning. :-)

ERIK said...

I am definitely one of those jaw-drops students. Keep up the blog man, it's more insightful and influential than you know.


R.Dress said...

Hi Brian,

Well said. I think there needs to be a process of feeling uncomfortable in any kind of learning process. I think people some times just need to be pushed and rattled.

As an animator, I'm always searching for the subtext in things people say and do. There is always a story behind it. The other day I noticed a an attractive young lady standing in front of me on the subway platform. She kept leaning over the edge to look for the train. Every time she did this, her jacket rose up just above a horizontal rip in her jeans just under her left but cheek revealing her ass. She did this about 5 or six times. Was she really concerned about the train? Or was she flirting? Not that I expect you to answer this but it led me to try and understand what people reveal to others and why. It adds an entire new dimension to things.

blackat50 said...

Thank you for coming to our class. I have been motivated to continue on the path as a storyteller and writer.I've watched the movies you recommend and thank you for bloggin twilight. Yes, I struggle and I rush but no reflection on my teachers. The one thing I do "get" is that I've been blessed with 3very "Gifted Teachers" and that I'm gratiful for. My subtext is joy and excitment which may look alot like struggle.

Joon Kim said...

Your point reminds me of something Malcolm Gladwell mentioned in Outliers. It also reminds me of the reason I love the craft of film editing so much. I had no idea what it was till much later than most people, I think. Utterly ignorant. I thought movies simply had cameras placed everywhere for each angle. And when I 'got it' I was simply floored. And I never lost that feeling.

. said...

I'm really interested in seeing this list of movies.

Brian McD said...

Well, the list of movies are part of the class. And of you are in the class you learn what to look for and how to see films with a different eye.

You can, however, look up most posts on Films I Like. That will give you some idea of what I'm talking about.

Gabo dela Cruz said...

hey mike,

thanks for generously sharing your knowledge! here's wishing you a merry christmas and a happy new year!

r i l e y said...

This is something you told me at some point that made a huge impression. I've thought of it often when I start a new class or project and i'm working with others - i always mentally remind myself that there's plenty to learn, and chances are i dont know everything about it and should just shut up and listen to what knowledge they have to impart to me - and then fit it in and let it enhance or change what i already knew.

so Thanks!!!

(also- merry christmas & happy new year!!!)

Josue Molina said...

Sadly, we've been pressured all our lives by the system to get things quickly and go! move fast! next.

We all want to race and get to the finish line. Compete against each other. Impress each other. And boast of the "understanding" of the idea. Perhaps, we do understand --but we're only scratching the surface.

It's the little things that are invisible that we must grasp, study, and learn. To later, apply.

I'm getting it.

Thanks .