Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | January 24, 2013

An Interview about Education and Creatively Maladjusted

“Creatively mal­ad­justed”, the work’s name­sake, is a rather odd phrase. Can you explain its origin and meaning to us?

It comes from one of my favorite quo­ta­tions from Martin Luther King: “Human sal­va­tion lies in the hands of the cre­atively mal­ad­justed.” To under­stand that quote you first have to under­stand that when Dr King spoke of “sal­va­tion” he wasn’t refer­ring to indi­vidual sal­va­tion, or to some­thing that hap­pens after we die. For Dr King, sal­va­tion was, first, some­thing that can happen at any moment. The con­cept of “real­ized eschatology” — that the kingdom of heaven is present now in each of us if we can trans­form or hearts and minds — is infor­ma­tive in his thinking here. Secondly, sal­va­tion for king was com­munal. We are in this together. King is coming from a cos­mology of inter­con­nect­ed­ness, of mutu­ality, so the notion that I could be saved and other mem­bers of my com­mu­nity damned simply made no sense.

The con­cept of cre­ative mal­ad­just­ment was King’s response to the fact that African Americans were forced to live in a society whose values and norms were dehu­man­izing to them. To be “well-​​adjusted” in such a con­text was to val­i­date those values. So there was this ter­rible choice people were con­fronted with: be well-​​adjusted and risk seeing your self as less than human; be mal­ad­justed and become a pariah. So Dr King intro­duced this dis­tinc­tion. We see the destruc­tively mal­ad­justed every­where. They are addicts, or on the streets. They are largely self-​​destructive. But to be cre­atively mal­ad­justed is to refuse to accom­mo­date an unjust system — an insane system — because to accom­mo­date such a system requires us to be insane. But rather than turn our mal­ad­just­ment on our selves, he wanted his people to become cre­ators of alter­na­tives, to become activists and imag­iners of a new way.

This is directly rel­e­vant to edu­ca­tion. So often in our schools, kids are labeled “mal­ad­justed” because they can’t sit still or shut up. The goal is to make them “well-​​adjusted” to the envi­ron­ment of the school because that envi­ron­ment pre­pares to operate within the para­me­ters of the indus­trial economy. The problem is that the system to which our kids are sup­posed to adjust is unjust. It is dying. So our aim as edu­ca­tors, as a society, should be to raise chil­dren who can look crit­i­cally and cre­atively at our world, who can figure out alter­na­tives to an insane system. I am arguing that the so-​​called “successes” — the well-​​adjusted — in our edu­ca­tional system are really fail­ures because their suc­cess requires them to be destruc­tive. But there are also many young people who aren’t suc­ceeding at all, by any stan­dard, because our schools them­selves are so unin­spiring, so unable to channel the cre­ative impulses and spirit of explo­ration in our youth. Maladjustment and rebel­lion in our youth can be a resource — these are qual­i­ties that should be guided and nour­ished, not sup­pressed. The cre­atively mal­ad­justed are those who find cre­ative solu­tions to new prob­lems.

To read the rest of the interview and more about Creatively Maladjusted, click here

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