At one school, students are especially skilled at drawing so it was curious to find that they are ashamed about their work. They cover their sketches with their hands when I come around to look. I guess they they’re not supposed to be drawing in their notebooks. Drawing is doodling and doodling is a defilement of what should be precise replications of what’s on the board.
The reason why there’s so much drawing in this school is because students cannot read and write Lao. The teachers don’t speak their first language and don’t know what to do. With all the time that’s supposed to be filled every day, an easy out is to doodle. It’s a great way to make the hours pass by. When there is some assignment to be done, time can be stretched by drawing every line with draftsmanship precision. The idea is to doodle and dawdle.
There’s not much value in dawdling but much could be said for doodling. Doodling is dismissed as absent-minded scribbling, but could also be considered the tire tracks of someone learning to drive or the true traces of a pure stream of consciousness. Doodling can be understood as a protest against analytic and linear tyranny. When the brain wants to develop, it needs to explore, not just replicate.
Children have no problem doodling. You can find evidence in notebooks, chalked walls, etchings in the dirt and unsupervised chalkboards. When asked to draw, however, students often freeze. That’s when many start saying, “I can’t draw. I don’t know how.” Somewhere along the line, they’ve been taught to believe it, one effective method being to scold a child for scribbling.
Scribbling is famous throughout art history from cave drawings to Cy Twombly to Keith Haring. Jackson Pollock didn’t stop with a crayon but went for buckets of paint. The last thing imaginable in a Lao curriculum is a grade school tutorial on modern art, but that’s too bad since every inscrutable attempt to learn seems to head in that direction anyway. Looking at modern art could very well strike a private chord in developing brains.
I showed examples to young adults. One woman liked a Dan Flavin neon installation more than a Rothko color field though she understood they were both about the same thing. Most laughed at Duchamp’s bicycle, but one person was puzzled and wanted to know what it was for. I didn’t want to ruin her curiosity by giving an answer, but did say that artists try to get us to see things in ways we usually don’t and sometimes that takes turning things upside down.
Learning a new language is a form of doodling though most students are afraid to say anything other than a straight line. That’s why the serious learner is more interested in asking questions about grammar than engaging in a playful linguistic way. I remember one student’s turning point when she just started making jokes with the 10 words that she knew. She sounded like she had gone crazy, but that’s precisely how she saw the light.
Learning a language is fun because the mistakes we make are hilarious, that is when we are allowed to work in a doodle mode. When the teacher is holding a stick and we’re afraid to make a mistake, it’s not fun at all and you can just see the synapses fading. That’s when dawdling starts. They’re not the same things. Observe and you will see.