A couple of months ago I went to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art to check out the then-new Virgil Abloh exhibit: “Figures of Speech.”
Pictured above: a collection of concept Nikes that Abloh designed for the company. Being a sneaker head…I appreciated this.
I didn’t take a ton of pics though. Just explored. And on the surface, I didn’t think I was taking much away from the experience. However, as I let the exhibit stew, I realized that a moment from the show buried itself into my being: the idea of Tourist vs. Purist.
“Tourist and purist, that’s my main device to understand the sections of culture, that move culture forward. You have a purist, that’s like, I know the whole art history of everything, you can’t do this, this was done 20-times before you thought of it. Like, this is the pure institution. Then there’s the tourist, who’s bright-eyed, curiosity-driven, that has a lust for learning, and they support whatever. The goal of the exhibit was to allow a tourist, someone who’s from the outside to look at the everyday world and see the artistic value in the naturally occurring.” -Virgil Abloh
You read this now, but you will think about this tomorrow.
I started analyzing myself. Am I a tourist, floating through new landscapes, discovering and having a chose-my-own-adventure type experience, OR am I more purist and believe that there is a way in which things are done, and I’m going to respect that history?
Immediately, as any of you that know me might attest, I placed myself on the side of tourist: I’m not that into traditions; I like to explore on and at my own terms; and I’m curious all the time…curious enough to ask “How can this be changed?” Especially when it comes to food. Speaking of food, if you have not watched Ugly Delicious on Netflix, one episode has Chef/show creator David Chang exploring the traditional food landscape of New Orleans, pondering the idea of Tourist vs. Purist. Check it out.
As I pondered my place on the scale, I traveled to Japan for two weeks.
In Japan, it’s hard to be a Tourist. I mean, of course we were tourists, but to not appreciate and adapt to the culture is almost impossible. There are reasons why that country is as beautiful and peaceful as it is: for the most part, people respect each other and the space around them. Maybe in the future I can get more into this idea, or you can corner me at a con and we can chat about it, but when you experience so many people acting in certain ways for the benefit of each other, you fall in.
In Japan, I became a purist as closely as I could, and I thought about it the entire time.
(Although at Disneyland Tokyo, feel free to be as Touristy as you want!)
And as I was starting the new school year only two-days from returning from Japan, the question sifted into my planning and preparation: what does it mean to be Tourist vs. Purist in education? AND which one am I?
There is no delay in my answer: I’m a Tourist…I teach with comics; I don’t believe kids should still be in rows like corn; I don’t believe in reading Shakespeare (it should be watched and analyzed); I have students create their own performance assessments; I have let my students call me by my first name; we eat doughnuts on Fridays…the list goes on, people. And while many of you might cringe at some of these, they are me. They work for me.
If we want to define Purist as someone that holds honor in tradition and history, I say we can’t be Purists and allow our students to grow as successfully. There can be aspects of teachers, teaching, and education that stick around for a while, when effective, but for the most part, successful educators are Tourists, exploring the ever-changing landscape with battering rams, tearing down the structures attempting to hold back our students.
Three years. That’s my guess as to how long you can be out of the classroom and still REALY KNOW what is happening with students. That’s not to say you can’t be out of the classroom and still amazingly supporting the teachers on the front line; I’m just saying that teens change at alarming rates, and to truly know what’s happening at those desks and tables, you need to be there…as a Tourist, attempting to figure out how this summer’s hit song has changed the lingo and the attitude of those five kids in 4th period.
It’s getting late, and many of you are already in bed on this wonderful Sunday night, resting for the start of a new week. I’ll let you get some rest as I get close to a thousand words here (could go on for about a thousand more).
I just wanted to toss this idea out to you…wanted to make you think about the risks you take in your classroom…get you to think about exploring the teaching landscape with your monocular and personal flag, staking claim to the next great idea that you will use for two years and change for the next batch of kids. Be a Tourist in your own classroom. Don’t get comfortable. Heck, I forced my self into three different classrooms this semester partially so I could explore and play with three different room set-ups!
Get out there! Have a great week. I got your back.