Brian Eno writes about a paradoxical experience he had in art school which he referred to as the “quadrangle dilemma.” “Returning one day from lunch, the students discovered a notice instructing them to assemble in the school’s courtyard, a quadrangle surrounded on all sides by studio buildings. Once all the students were inside the courtyard the door was locked from the outside by one of the teachers. There was no other exit. Then members of staff began to appear on the roofs above, watching the students from the comfort of chairs:
“They said nothing and would not answer our questions. Furthermore, they continued to say nothing or more than an hour. During this time, our mild amusement at this situation changed to uneasiness and then complete perplexity. We all had an idea that we were expected to do something, but none of us knew what. I think we were all frightened of doing the wrong thing, frightened to look foolish”
At last “a tape came on: a recording of the voice of their teacher Tom Phillips. The voice said:
You are worse than chickens. A chicken is afraid to step outside of a chalk drawn around her, but at least she can say in her justification that the circle was drawn by a strange hand. But you have drawn with your own hands the formula, and now you look at it instead of reality.”
Is there a lesson here for educators? Should we be thinking about what experiences we can create for our students in the classroom and how to challenge them to respond to these? Could this method prepare them for later experiences and teach them useful lessons? What do you think?