Why do we un-teach intuition?

[I wrote this post when I was studying to become a teacher]

Last Sunday, fate arranged for me to eat burrito across from Ian, creative strategist, business owner, and writer. He taught me something in this school of life, and he can teach you. He taught me the value of intuition.

He came dressed in a sock

His sweater was a over-sized sock— trendy these days, I guessed. A pair of aviator glasses hid his bright green eyes. Despite his youthful look, I sensed his depth.

I wanted to know how he became a success reaching the top of every hipster’s dream, Mount Everest, Holy Grail – the advertising industry.

Ian had found his inspiration in some classroom, I was sure, or in some lecture hall, in some teacher. Armed with knowledge, he’d rough-housed in the creative marketplace.

Except he hadn’t. He started by selling shoes for Aldo. He became a manager. Then he became a producer, left, and opened his own company.

He never went to university.

“Didn’t need it. Waste of time,” he said, “school makes you complacent.”

I nearly choked on burrito.  Didn’t Ian realize he was talking to a teacher? Didn’t he realize he was wearing a sock?

This man was the annoying kid

In school, Ian was likely the kid we teachers struggle with. He was the dreamer; he studied in his own world. He didn’t have the patience for calculating, filling in blanks, or discussing the causes of the Great War. Yes, Ian was “the annoying kid.”

“He needs to pay attention in class,” teachers must have been complained of him, “he should write essays without the pictures or the poetry. He should…”

…be unimaginative? A bore?

Looking for salamanders

Students like Ian are on the search for the unusual, the unseen in everyday life.

As a boy, Ian looked for salamanders.

“When I was a kid,” he told me, “my mom took me to the forest to catch salamanders. She taught me not to look too hard when we pulled up a moldy log.  To catch a salamander, you have to be see the whole and the details.”

Now as a grown man, his powers of observation are occult.

“You see that man over there,” he nods somewhat discreetly, “he’s wearing a Zara jacket  bought two years ago.” At every moment in our conversation, he can list off the colours, the brands, the condition of every customer’s clothes.

He points to my tiny black earring lying on the black tile floor, and it creeps me out. Has he noticed the run in my tights, too?

This is only half of my encounter with the annoying kid.

We are made up of three things

“We are made up of three things,” Ian continues as he motions with his hands, “we have our mind.” His hand hovers over his head. “We have our soul, and we have our gut.” He pats his belly.

Ian followed his belly throughout life.  He paid attention to the voice within him; he ignored the voices outside him.

Intuition was his best friend.

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat

Three-quarters through my burrito, Ian spots a homeless man passing by our window and asks, “What’s his story?”

I’m not sure; I know only he’s a staple here in Streetsville— the homeless man who looks like a black Cosmo Kramer.

“Let’s go,” he jumps up, “let’s go find his story.”

“Oh, that’s great,” I think, “just when the burrito is getting spicy, we’re on an adventure for a story, a story we can’t eat.” I think Ian is rude. Or a weirdo.  As I nod, and pack up my burrito, I mull this madness over. When the homeless man disappears out of sight, I sigh.

“It looks like he’s gone. Maybe we should just stay and eat our burritos.”

The classroom tug of war

We didn’t chase the story of the homeless man, though I’m certain Ian would have. He was more curious than I, and now I see it.

Our burrito affair was really a metaphor for the ongoing tug of war in classrooms across the country: it is a war between intuition and logic, exploration and structure.

The tug of war begins when a student points to a picture in a science textbooks and asks a question like, “What’s his story?”, and we teachers say: “I’m sorry. Now is not the time for stories. We talk about stories in English class, in period one. We will entertain that question and that story then.”

Often teachers win the tug of war. It’s sad that logic trumps intuition, structure beats exploration, curriculum beats awe. It’s also sad that we teachers have un-learned our intuition– here defined as  the random urge to know.

There is only one solution to this struggle.  We teachers must drop the rope once in a while; we must love and trust our own intuitions, and those of our students. We’ll be rewarded by the salamanders we didn’t see before, the tweaks in reality that make life a kaleidoscope of meaning.

And we’ll rest content. We’ll know we never trained a single child to embody that ugly,  beastly word—“complacent.”

9 thoughts on “Why do we un-teach intuition?

  1. Tau Ceti April 28, 2013 / 5:18 pm

    Intuition can be misleading since the process of forming is unknown whereas decisions taken based on reasoning are observed to be more effective and consistent.

    • patrycja April 28, 2013 / 8:40 pm

      Hmmm…well put Tau Ceti. But haven’t you had the experience of ignoring your intuition, only to regret it later? I have. Too many times to count.

      • Tau Ceti April 29, 2013 / 5:13 pm

        The commenter admits he experienced regrets, but in the other way round. Thus, he does not rely upon intuition anymore. Brain is the better decision maker than gut. Peace

  2. wlindquist April 28, 2013 / 6:44 pm

    Great post. It seems we too often stifle the intuitive curiosity our students bring with them to the classroom.

    • patrycja April 28, 2013 / 8:41 pm

      Thanks wlindquist. I hope you get your hands on Susan Cain’s book soon!

      • wlindquist April 28, 2013 / 10:01 pm

        I have moved up to#59 on the wait list at the library. Went ahead and bought it yesterday. Anxious to read it now.

        • patrycja April 29, 2013 / 10:07 pm

          Ahh, you will beat me then. I’m still on the waiting list…since January! I wonder if it’s that good…

  3. ian May 13, 2013 / 1:05 pm

    Tau. Intuition as a guiding principle evolves as our life experiences do… hence our intuition considers our reason based decisions. The fundamental difference that I felt Patrycja recognized is that more and more, the decision making process has become paralyzing. We over complicate, we over think, we over analyze. Information and advice have become ubiquitous. It’s the intuitive application of information and advice that creates wonderful success. Intuition considers reason and possibilities… and over time this intuition becomes stronger and smarter.

    Finally, a life without multiple failures is not a life I am interested in. We never know if the decisions we make are the right ones.. we only know when they are wrong. By making wrong decisions we are able to learn better and faster.. if we aren’t making wrong decisions then we aren’t pushing hard enough or exploring well enough. Our children are being taught to listen and do.. vs… feel and think. Einstein. He failed thousands of times before success.. but his intuition drove his belief that yes he could solve greater problems. And he did.


    • patrycja June 10, 2013 / 2:36 am

      Ian, I like your example of Einstein. I recently read something about him that really adds to what you said– Einstein’s biographers all agree that his tendency to daydream made Einstein appear sloppy, insubordinate, and rude in the classroom. His teachers didn’t like him; they predicted failure for him. To them, he was a twit.

      From now on, I’ll remember Einstein when I teach. The difficult student may just have a more intuitive approach to the world– one that thrives on mistakes and exploration.

      I think for these students meaningful challenges are key. Even a trip to the library.

Comments are closed.