Cockily Doodle: Do (if you need to).


Since my earliest days as a student, all the way from grade school through grad school, I have had certain teachers object violently to my habit of  ‘doodling’ when taking notes. I draw patterns, figures, isolate important facts in elaborate frames.  “You’re not paying attention,” these teachers would bellow, “You’re being disrespectful!”

My only defense has been to repeat a truth that I know absolutely, “It’s how I think!” It’s true; the more I draw, the more I retain.  Over the years, I came to two conclusions about these confrontations: 1. I simply process material differently. 2. The people who complain are thinking more about themselves than me; they cannot accept the fact that I know myself well enough to know that this works for me; nor can they accept someone whose mind does not function exactly the way they have decided it should (which, I suspect, is exactly the way their own thought processes work).

It’s a shame, of course, that the people who project such narrow outlooks are largely educators, but Paolo Freire identified the ‘banking concept’ of education almost forty years ago in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed. To this day, I’ve met many, many educators who still constantly re-state some form of this: “Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor.”  “In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence.”

(I can’t count the times I’ve heard teachers say, condescendingly, “They don’t know how to …!” and, in each instance, I think, “Well? Aren’t you there to help them learn how to…?” )


Recently, the issue about my drawing has re-reared its head; I also draw in meetings, you see. In both instances, I simply asked if the person saw any impairment in how my work was done (there was none), and repeated yet again, “It’s how I think.” I didn’t particularly care for being treated like a student (though I’d never treat my own students that way) as opposed to a colleague who has received honors for my teaching, but I let it go. (Sigh). (It is, however, yet another clear indication of the status that these folks assign to me).

During my two year Excellence In Teaching Fellowship, I was introduced to Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, which, for various concrete reasons (not the least of which are my experiences in my own classrooms) I heartily embrace.  When I take the tests, I consistently score highest in three areas: Visual / Spatial, Bodily / Kinesthetic and Linguistic; my scores are extremely high within all three, and they are all within two or three points of one another.  I suspected that the kinesthetic/visual orientation had something to do with my need to enhance language visually, but I never pursued the connection further. I guess I felt that these people were so biased that I would be wasting my time by trying to explain myself, or, if you will, by attempting to educate them.  The Banking System, after all, only works in one direction.

Then, I ran across these findings, recently published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, excerpted here:

“If someone is doing a boring task, like listening to a dull telephone conversation, they may start to daydream,” study researcher Professor Jackie Andrade, of the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, said in a news release issued by the journal’s publisher. “Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple (secondary) task, like doodling, may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task.”

“In everyday life, Andrade said, doodling “may be something we do because it helps to keep us on track with a boring task, rather than being an unnecessary distraction that we should try to resist doing.”

It’s an even simpler explanation than the visual/kinesthetic orientation, and it makes perfect sense to me.  So, to all my former teachers and currently offended colleagues: take note.  Of course, these findings do state that I found your classes and meetings to be boring; there’s nothing I can do to help that, except to continue to draw.  If you’re willing to think about it, my drawing is, in fact, a form of respect for your words.


There are two blogs today; there’s another below.


13 thoughts on “Cockily Doodle: Do (if you need to).

  1. Melissa,
    This was a great post for me to read because it validates so much of what I do as a special education (ED high schoolers) teacher. I work my tail off trying to help at-risk students find success (and confidence, and ability, and courage, etc) to take and pass the GED. I had a kid last year that needed to stretch out on the floor to write. I have a young student now who gets frustrated and growls and when I ask him what he needs to help him get through class; he always says he doesn’t know. I suspect he’s never been asked THAT question before. I also teach them about Gardner’s work and help them identify their learning styles.

    Your notes are wonderful. Fine “doodles”.

  2. Thanks, Velma. I took the GED instead of graduating from high school. In the process of studying for it, I discovered something about myself that NO educator I’d come in contact with through 11th grade had ever uncovered: I was bad at math because I confused numbers of similar shapes (maybe a mild form of dyslexia).
    I taught myself to copy the numbers down carefully, checking them in sets of three, and scored in the 99th percentile on the GED. I LOVE that you introduce your students to Gardner – keep up the great work!

  3. I LOVE this post!! I never got to fully steep in Gardner’s work – I had proposed an overly ambitious private reading/independent study in my final semester of undergrad where I was going to read all of his work plus a billion other books … my faculty advisor on this warned me that it was too much, and indeed, it was: I dropped the credit entirely and never did the research. BUT I still embrace his work and find it really sad that so many educators are still stuck in the banking system.

    Thank goodness you are who you are, and that you continue to doodle!!

  4. My students find it hard to believe that I hated junior and senior high, also that I left early (16) for kollidge. They are amazed when I tell them how much schooling I have. I tell them that I love to learn and think and make stuff. Incidentally, I was told I could never get these kids to write daily, or read; so I require daily dialog journals and I read with/to them. They’ve studied Dan Eldon. They’re currently making long stitch limp leather (like vellum, but with gifted deerhide) blank journals, another sneaky way to get them to write. I like how you figured out your math “disability”. Hurrah on your GED!!!

  5. Amazing how many of us have found alternative ways to “higher” education — I graduated high school but dropped out as an undergrad. That I was let in to do a Masters was solely by dint of having had a “real life” — their words — and could write.

    Oddly enough, my Masters marks were good enough to get me solicited into several Ph.D. programs…. 😉

  6. I dropped out as an undergrad, too! The school was in chaos – a régime change – and I was getting nothing that I needed or wanted. But, it was a scary decision, because I had a nice scholarship. A friend said, “So, how did you get a scholarship?”
    I said, “I won it”, and he replied, “So, you can win another.” Several years later, I did – grad school was tuition-free.
    Seems ’tis a fine batch o’ rebels who gather here at Blahg…!

  7. Here’s a thought: I wonder if those of us who excelled/persevered in unconventional ways are all creative types rather than, say, accountants or social workers. Maybe we HAVE to do it this way.

  8. “Multiple Intelligences” – i’ve never understood small, closed, selfish minds that can only think one small thought at a time. nor do i respect them or their values or their standards. the only solution is to let them go their slow single path small minded blindered way and to keep them out of my thought paths.

  9. I have pages of florian lawton-induced doodles somewhere upstairs…. i doodled more than i watercolored in that class…. now i know why!

  10. Pingback: Two fourteen fourteen | Melissa Jay Craig's Blahg

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