Twaddling

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Some three decades ago now, I took up photography as a hobby and even set up a darkroom in the manse in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, courtesy of my friend Merwyn Armstrong who gave me the Omega enlarger he had long since ceased using and all the accompanying equipment I needed to do my own black and white developing and printing.  Merwyn had served in World War I, and like more than a few people in the First Presbyterian Church of Tamaqua when I served as pastor, was of my grandparents’ generation.  From them as well as from many children and teenagers over my forty years of pastoral ministry, I learned to appreciate and value the interactions among the generations.

I mention photography because learning it required of me a certain amount of self-training with guidance from manuals, books, and magazine articles.  One of those articles spoke of “presets,” by which the author meant the routine adjustments to the camera’s various settings I needed to master so the picture I took would “turn out right.”  I had to load the film properly and sometimes quickly, set the exposure index to match the film speed, balance shutter speed and aperture according to priority for the shot, etc. etc.  All of this routine setting of the camera’s adjustments the author called “twaddling.”  His message was that the would-be photographer needed to make matters of twaddling into presets – routines followed without much conscious thought – so s/he could become free to learn and practice the art of photography.  Successful twaddling does not make a person a photographer but enables that person to start learning to become one.

Twaddling is neither the art of photography nor the craft.  Learning the presets of twaddling enables a person to develop the craft and, maybe in time, further develop that craft to the level, sometimes, of art.

Learning to twaddle is a matter of training, not just in photography but in any endeavor requiring repeated applications of acquired information and skill.  Presets are the mastered mechanical steps that make us practiced at what we do.  Soon I was able to set my camera for shots “without thinking about it.”  Photography requires vision and the arrangement of a two-dimensional image of three-dimensional physical realities I cannot usually rearrange myself to suit my vision.  Mountains do not move for my pictures.  For example, on one of our trips to Arizona, I took some shots of the White Dove of the Desert (Mission San Xavier del Bac).  When I saw them after they had been developed, I was not at all satisfied with my work.  Yeah, that was the place and, yes, the pictures had “come out right” in terms of framing and exposure.  I had twaddled correctly and composed properly.  But they were blah, uninteresting even to me.  Then I came across some images of San Xavier made by the great photographer Ansel Adams.  They were art, and not just because he could twaddle better than I, which he certainly could at every stage of the process of making images.  He was indeed the far superior craftsman, but his distinction as a photographer went beyond anything training can accomplish.  His visions became images that qualified as art.

We train dogs, but training is not for animals only but also for people.  Our current folly lies in thinking either that (1) training is all there is to education, at least for the masses or (2) the process of education has little or no room for training.

Conservative and neoliberal views of education would have us believe that knowledge (misunderstood as merely the mastery of “facts”) plus mastery of mechanics (twaddling) equal education.  For this reason, I think, the current juggernaut of corporate takeover of public education (called deceptively “reform”) wants to reduce teachers to the level of trainers, not only because trainers can be paid less and easily replaced, but also because a well-trained public is far easier to manage than an educated public.  Of course, the children of the financially elite and those special children who proved themselves educationally elite in their own right would still be enabled to rise above the level of being merely trained, but the managers would be able to control what could be considered elite and what could not.  Brilliance outside the metrics could be punished easily.

Much of the American public, I’m afraid, thinks knowledge of the accepted facts plus mastery of the needed mechanics does indeed equal being educated.  No, it equals being trained for use, and the nature of that training is determined by the users, for people just as it is for dogs, and codified in the training manuals.  The more this training mentality takes over our educational systems, the more our children will become efficient under the metrics imposed upon them and the more American life will become SOP (standard operating procedure).

Training is necessary in human education, but good training enables and supports a process of curiosity and learning that never ends as long as we live.  Poor, suppressive use of training restricts students to the past with its authoritarian determinations of what is to be known, what is to be believed, and what is to be done.  Facts plus skills.  Never ask, “Why?”

I believe training needs to be part of public education because (1) current knowledge needs to acquired so curiosity has basis and direction for going forward, (2) disciplined skills need to be developed so the student can become free to use them without undue focus upon their mechanics, and (3) the feeling of mastery is enabling and encouraging (I need to know I am capable of handling the situation and striving for creativity), and the reality of mastery is necessary for teaching, leadership, and development.

Education without training can become pretentious self-indulgence, self-expression without knowledge, skill, or discipline.  Training without education stifles our humanity and becomes enslavement.  If teachers are reduced to mere trainers who follow the manuals using the scripts they are given, our children will be trained like dogs but not educated.

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