Poiesis: Turning Thoughts Into Action- by Rachel Zolinski, Humane Letters/Apologetics Teacher
“Poiesis? Sounds a bit too close to the word ‘poetry.’ Can’t be good,” said one cynical student. Little did he know that what he said in skepticism was in part true. If by poetry he meant that special intensity of emotion to powerfully express ideas, then yes, in that way the two words are similar. Judging by his folded arms and pessimistic brow, however, it did not seem he cared much for definitions. Perhaps a story would be more enticing.
In 2003, the LEGO Company was on the brink of bankruptcy. What saved them was the executives’ two-part ingenious plan: capitalize on this generation’s propensity for instant gratification and create novelty out of the ordinary. To do the first, the company increased the size of the LEGO bricks so that a castle could be built in a half an hour instead of six hours. By the end of 2013, LEGO’s sales growth outpaced that of both Mattel and Hasbro. Brilliant.
After such a turnaround, it would make sense to continue doing what works. However, the executives got creative. They asked children one simple question: what are you most proud of? One German child pointed at his sneakers, the soles of which revealed obvious abuse. He said, “I’m the best skateboarder in town. But the evidence I have for my friends are my sneakers. You see, when you’re a really good skateboarder, you slide down the skateboard and it creates the wear and tear on the side of the sole.” This was the answer for LEGO: if this kid had hours of time to fine-tune the soles of his sneakers, why wouldn’t he have time to play with LEGOs? All he needed was the desire to do so. Therefore, the company returned to small bricks, it invented the LEGO movie (sequel to be released in 2019), and it teamed up with Harry Potter and Star Wars. Today, LEGO is not only the number one toy brand in the world, it was recently announced to be the biggest brand in the world.1
What does this have to do with poiesis? To answer that, it is helpful to utilize those pesky definitions. In Greek, poiesis refers to the art of creating something original. While a thesis is an arguable claim backed by research, a poiesis is the implementation of that research. So, if the thesis is the “what,” poiesis is the “so-what?” Students ask themselves, “Do I believe in what I published? What do I want others to do with the information I provided? What’s the point?” Of course, the process is extensive and the work weighty, just as all extraordinary work demands, but the intention is to expose a refined depth of insight and creativity about topics that interest each student. This is comparable to what the LEGO company began in 2003. They took a budding idea and brought it to fruition through tangible means. In some ways, it is poetry in action.
The yearlong senior thesis and poiesis is truly a remarkable accomplishment. It is a testament to the benefits of classical education and to the capabilities of our students. Ultimately, the goal of this capstone assignment is to instill the kind of virtues that make great men and women: sacrifice, dedication, humility, integrity. If done just for a grade, then the assignment fails its purpose. But if it can develop character, then it has accomplished the mission of the River Academy.