Over the Christmas break I was fortunate enough to be able to read several books which had been gathering dust since Christmas. One of which was a biography about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the enigmatic and temperamental P.S.G striker. I often pick a sports biography to read in leisure time, mainly because they are easy to read and I know enough about the context that I can have long breaks from reading it.
Zlatan is the exact sort of footballer I loved as a child, he is capable of the magical moments which make people stand up out of their seats. He is completely bonkers and unpredictable. My childhood hero was Eric Cantona, and I see a lot of similarities between the two. As a young man these type of men seemed to be the ones to aspire to, the physical capable, and yet clowning, alpha. In adulthood I still enjoy players, and people, like Zlatan because they are divergent thinkers and do the unexpected. To me there is an authenticity in this. I recognise these type of children in my classroom and often think how misunderstood they are.
In the imaginatively entitled ‘Zlatan’, he talks about growing up in Rosengard, a tough area of Malmo; Sweden. The area, and it’s attitude, reminded of the place I grew up. The attitude of such locations in my experience is a natural cynicism and a questioning of authority; when he talks about his attitude towards coaches I can’t help but smile. He describes his method as ‘listen, don’t listen.’ Essentially questioning every teacher who attempts to improve him in favouring of being an authentic self. It is essentially a statement of critique everything, and again I recognise this sense in myself and the attitude of those I grew up around. Watching the news on my estate was pretty entertaining, there was always a story underneath the story. While this may seem like conspiracy theory delusions, it is worth remembering that these hunches have been proven accurate: historical evidence at Hillsborough enquiry, Thatcher’s declaration to allow certain cities to ‘rot’ and key aspects of the ‘Chilcot Report.’
I feel that this constant critiquing of given methods, is a fundamental part of what makes these people so creative. The link between council estates and creative appears to be strong, most British art (rock and fashion especially) have their origins in these types of backgrounds: this was especially prevalent in the 1990’s and I suppose I believe there is a link between this type of upbringing (listen, don’t listen) and that divergent non conformist thinking.
However with age I’ve come to realise that follow neat structure is actually a way to develop and is apparent throughout Ibrahimović’s book that he did follow patterns. He would regularly play football in the street whereby the rules of the game were fundamental clear and he would’ve experience patterns of play at an increased level . Following structures, is the most convenient way to master functional skills- without progress through this initial mastery all the divergent thinking in the world is useless. Einstein often talked about the importance of imagination above knowledge, I would agree that if we assume everyone has a requisite knowledge base then imagination is the differentiation factor. It is this single thing that determines the outliers in a group of, for example, graduates. However without knowledge this imaginative interpretation would be lacking. For instance, I distinctly remember a paper I wrote for my Year 5 teaching in which I proposed that the universe was singular because space was infinite and if there were other universes then there wouldn’t be infinite space. Therefore, only one universe was possible. I still can’t remember why I was wrong, but essentially what I’d read about the idea of multi-verses and space was wrong. My foundation knowledge was lacking even though I’d considered the problem in a creative way.
What is useful about this method though is the engaging in thought and processes. Arguing with an imagined interlocutor, is essentially unpicking the concept and assess It’s validity. This inevitably would lead to a person seeing things in different way. In a school setting we often diminish students for the very same behaviour that leads to this top end skill set.
I do believe it is vital that we allow an appropriate place for this. What I love most about footballers, artists and musicians is their ability to do the unexpected. Ibrahimovic is a prime example of that. In the clip below he mesmerises the defence in a way which few others could do, his gal and vision to attempt this are as though sent from above. An ‘Ole’ moment in the original sense of ‘a gift from god’…but what is best about this is that it makes my wife, a non-football fan, split her sides laughing. This is the end point of ‘listen, don’t listen’ but the real question is how do we appreciate this in those students who have it, and coach it into those who don’t. All while, simultaneously, an egalitarian environment where all students grow AND an environment where the Zlatan kids can gain the pre-requisites for their divergent thinking to have real impact on the world. It is also vital we teach them how to use these skills in a way that is sustainable in polite society, one thing that is clear about Ibrahimovic is how hard he made life for himself with this approach- BUT perhaps the two cannot be divided.