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© 1994, Alla Alexandrovna Nesterenko
instructor of the course "Development of creative imagination"
the city of Petrosavodsk,

Contradiction... Contrary diction... Six-year-olds
are gingerly trying out the word, and I am carefully
listening to the sound: does it really reflect the
meaning? I take the toys out of my bag: it is the time
to set off. Kids are hurrying me up. For this journey
we only have forty five minutes of study time a


"It is necessary to teach children to solve problems!" pedagogues are calling to each other tirelessly. "Give them problematic situations and let them find solutions! Create the problems for them and let them fight by themselves!"

Just as well they could cry out, "Teach children to swim! Throw them into the water and let them try to survive!" Nobody, however, resorts to such barbaric methods. Swimming is taught with the help of methodologies, some of which include training on the dry land as well. So why is training to solve problems taken so lightly?.

Once upon a time...

The kids and me are learning how to swim in the Contradictions Sea. The bell is ringing, and the ship of classroom is sailing to the City of Living Words.

As a rule, the city is magical. For example, if you name a new creature, which doesn't live in the city yet, it will surely appear there. Nobody says bad words anymore, since all bad words are locked up in the Little House of Forbidden Words. The House is very little, you can hold it in your hands, but it has great power. If somebody says a bad word you just have to set the House near him so that the chimney faces forward. A tornado will rise from the chimney and pull the word in. And nobody ever will be able to say that word again.

Once upon a time in the City of Living Words two gnomes had a fight. One told another, "You are a Wozzle!" And instantly in front of them appeared a real full-sized... Wozzle. Here he is, on the table, covered up with a napkin, so he won't frighten anybody.

Right away, the Wozzle started messing things up. First if all, he stole the magical House. And pretty soon the citizens started to notice that they couldn't say many good words anymore. Why was it, what do you think? Of course, it was the Wozzle who was hiding the good words into the House of Forbidden Words. Somebody would want to say, "You are my friend", but couldn't pronounce the word "friend", since the word was stolen. Somebody would want to say hi, but didn't have that word, either. "Thank you" and "please" also disappeared in the House. And the life without good words became sad and lonesome. So the citizens told the gnome, "You brought the Wozzle into our city, and you have to answer for that. Go and ask wise people, how are we supposed to talk without good words?"

Six-year-old are wise people, they are always glad to help with an advice: outsmart the Wozzle, catch the Wozzle (familiar?), learn sign-language. The gnome politely refuses: the Wozzle is too clever to be simply caught. Besides, to capture anybody, it is necessary to talk it over, and how can you talk anything over without the good words? To use signs is a decent idea, but the citizens of that city love talking more than anything in the world. The gnome takes out a letter, in which there is the problem from the citizens, "It is NECESSARY to say the good words so our friends will understand us. And it is IMPOSSIBLE to say the good words, because they are forbidden." To say - not to say. There is a conflict of two alternative conditions. A contradiction!

        First advice to the grown-ups       


A contradiction - a pair of conflicting conditions - will enforce the transition from the aimless wandering through the weak ideas to the serious search for an answer.

Arsy-versy, backwards and the other way around

For a moment silence hangs over the classroom. One can hear the buzzing of the daylight lamps. The silence is kids' reaction to a well-stated contradiction. The problem is understood and accepted.

A contradiction is akin to a secret, and secret is enchanting.

On the blackboard several good words, selected by the kids, are written: "thank you", "mom", "peace". The gnome in my hands is evaluating the propositions:

  • To say all the words the other way around, backwards. People will be able to understand them, and the House won't be able to forbid them.

  • To rearrange the letters in a word.

  • To add "no" in front of the each word.

  • The last proposition was met by hurray. Now we can talk that way: "No-I no-like no-you."

    The problem of communication is solved, but we don't lose hope to retrieve the good words. When the Wozzle is asleep, we take the House away from him. But how can we get the prisoners out? The door of the House can be opened only when the password "GATE" is pronounced - I write the password on the board. But the cunning Wozzle has put the password itself into the House of Forbidden Words, so it is impossible to say that word. What do we do now?

    - "ETAG!" the kids yell cheerfully. The House stays locked.

    - "No-gate!" Again, no luck.

    Trap for the Wozzle

    We, people, do understand coded words, but the House does not. The password MUST be pronounced exactly the way it sounds, but it is forbidden and CANNOT be pronounced. Again, there are a problem and a contradiction. This time limitations are stricter.

    Kids are confused. I call four people to the blackboard and quietly discuss something with them... What is it? The class has already guessed. Every person should say one letter and we would get the word we need. The method of fragmentation is one of the tools that help to solve contradictions.

    The password is pronounced by the harmonious quartet. From the open doors of the magical House good words are running out - and bad words are, too! But, luckily, this problem can be solved easily. The awakened Wozzle starts to swear, and all we have to do is to turn the House's chimney to him. The bad words are instantly trapped.

    The end of the tale is told by me. Two problems for one study period is more than enough.

    Tired conquerors draw the Wozzle. The one that is hidden under the napkin. I didn't take the napkin off: everybody has his own Wozzle. Although I had intended him to be an embodiment of mischief, on the drawings he looks rather funny - an overcome enemy cannot be scary. Well, the Wozzle has a long life ahead of him, too. We will teach him to sail in the Contradictions Sea and make him our ally. Aggression arises from inability to think. Can you imagine an aggressive wise man? Well, there you go...

    PART 2

    "To teach creativity? Impossible! One can create conditions but not teach it! One can teach - but not the creativity itself..."

    Yesterday this question did not exist. Schools were preparing doers, not creators, and it was fine... almost with everybody.

    Everything has changed very quickly. Everything has changed - and only our life experiences have stayed the same. The sea of problems is storming, the great waves of contradictions are catching up with us. Perhaps, tomorrow life will be easier, more comfortable, but problems will exist always. A free person has to solve his problems on his own. The future does not need doers.

    Schools are working for the future. For the future the children and me are playing, travelling and.... solving riddles.

    What is it: prickly - and smooth?

    "What is it: in some places prickly, in some places smooth, sometimes prickly, sometimes smooth, apart prickly, together smooth?"

    The children argue it is a hedgehog. The back is prickly, the belly is smooth. When it does not carry anything, it is prickly; when it carries on its back leaves or mushrooms, it is smooth. One is prickly, but if you connect together backs of two hedgehogs, they become smooth. The answer is accepted. I meant a tack, but what does it matter what I meant!

    Substitute into that riddle another feature instead of "prickly", and you'll have a new riddle. And now - pay attention! - here's hard work: try to... solve your own riddle!

              Second advice to the grown-ups         


    The riddle about a hedgehog and a tack will help you to remember that contradictions can be resolved:
  • In SPACE (in some places there is the "characteristic", in some places there is "anti-characteristic");

  • In TIME (sometimes there is the "characteristic", sometimes there is "anti-characteristic"; or first there is the "characteristic" and after there is "anti-characteristic");

  • By transferring from one object to the COMBINATION of several objects (one object gives the "characteristic" while several objects taken together give "anti-characteristic": remember, that's how the House of Forbidden Words was opened).

  • A tall person of little height

    Solving a creative problem always involves overcoming a contradiction. Look around - the world is full of solved contradictions!

    "What is sometimes big and sometimes small?"

    "An antenna, a folding ruler, a folding blackboard".

    I continue the list, illustrating it with objects that are handy: a pen-pointer, a folding cup, a toothbrush with the handle-case. An appliance should be big enough to do its work well, and it should be small as not to take up too much place when not in use. Such a problem is solved every time by the inventors of the "big-small" appliances.

    But the world of things is not perfect even now. Look around - there are so many unsolved contradictions!

    "Chalk should crumble to leave a trace on the blackboard, but it shouldn't crumble so the hands of users stay clean."

    "A textbook should be thick to contain a lot of information, but it should be thin, so the students can carry it around easily."

    Try to solve these contradictions together with children - in space, in time and by combining objects. Maybe you will remember solutions that are already known, but perhaps you will be able to find new answers.

    Helping the poor princess

    And now let's invent - a dress for a poor princess. Who doesn't want to be a princess (or a prince) sometimes? On the other hand, who is rich enough?

    So, the poor princess has money just for one piece of cloth, but the dress should fit all occasions. It should be long for the receptions and short for riding horses; wide for balls and narrow for the walks in the garden; luxuriously decorated for the social occasions and discreet for everyday... The list of contradicting demands can be continued on and on. Discuss the problem with children; try to sketch such a dress. Maybe, you will go and make a dress like that, at least for a doll?

              Third advice to the grown-ups         


    For that purpose, choose a thing that you want to improve and make up one or two pairs of opposite (always opposite!) demands.

    Let's go!

    Perhaps, you want to visit our class again? If so, you're invited to ride a car with "backward" engine. I say a word and the kids answer with an opposite of the word, pressing onto the pedals with all their might. Each right answer means one step ahead.

    "Big - small, tall - low, deep - shallow, kind - unkind..."

    "Stop! The car doesn't go any further. Probably, there is a better answer."


    "Let's go!"

    Lady, why are you walking backward?

    The next stop is the City of Arguments. Here we meet two ladies, one of whom is walking normally, but the other one is stubbornly walking backward. This weird lady insists that such "backward" movement has its advantages! She asks half of the class for support, and the other half is arguing the "normal" lady's case.

    It seems like there really are some advantages: nobody will attack you from behind and if you drop something, you will be able to notice it immediately. Besides, everybody feels sorry for you and tells you where you should go so you don't stumble...

    Even after five minutes of heated argument we are not completely sure. Finally, we advice the stubborn lady to combine the advantages of "normal" and "backward" movement - to take a rear-view mirror with her.

              Fourth advice to the grown-ups         


    Life doesn't have anything that is completely good or completely evil. Every plus has its minus and vice versa. To solve a problem means to get rid of the minus while keeping the plus.

    I am looking at the pile of kids' drawings, which combine good and bad in one object. A needle is sewing, that's good, a needle pricked a finger - bad. A person is taking a sun-bath - good. But here is the other one: a man is aflame because he came too close to the sun (like Icarus?) - that's bad. A fireplace is keeping a boy warm - good. But the black smoke from the chimney is killing a pretty flower - bad.

    To say the truth, I am looking at the pictures with astonishment: I expected less from six-year-olds. But children do surprise us very often. What is strange and hard for us appears to be easy and natural for them. Even though we weren't taught to sail the sea of problems who but us will teach our children?


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    22 Mar 2002