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Emily Carr President Ron Burnett on his knighthood, parents, and the ideal school

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The design students are sophisticated in their use digital tools, as you can imagine, but they also love books. They love creating them. They love typography. Typography is the key to the screen culture we now share, but they understand that that's also the key to ways in which web pages communicate]. So they get it, you know, it's so fascinating. The students at Emily Carr are just fantastic.

VO: That's heartening to hear about the kids who come to art school.

RB: Yes. I've taught at places like McGill and other universities and you can't compare – it is definitely a different kind of group.

In general, artistic people are the canaries in the mine. They're the ones that tell you a lot more about what's coming in the future than anyone else. And if you can sense that, if you can feel it, and look at it carefully, and discover where they are going, you will recognize the future as well as the present in a different way.

Art school students are moving out into the world and creating employment for others because they are so entrepreneurial. The students at Emily Carr University graduate with the tools they need to be successful at creative endeavours. They contribute to the economic and cultural well being of our society.

VO: You were expressing concern in one of your blog entries about how people are less and less able to write...

RB: There is an issue with writing: I'm concerned about it because we are being too reductive about the challenge in our public discussions. Yes, there are a lot of young students who cannot write, in my terms. They cannot write in the way that I think they should.

But is it my right to say, “You should write like this?” No, I don't think so. If writing and speech are about communication and interaction, if the purpose of writing is communication and contact, and sharing, then we have to allow every generation to define the best possible approach they need to expressing themselves and communicating with each other.

Twitter is very interesting. Anyone who knows about the history of poetry should know that we're looking at a poetic form (in Twitter). Anyone who knows the history of culture should know that hip hop and rap are very closely related to older forms of theatrical culture, opera culture...If you look very closely at Facebook, it is a lot like old style bulletin boards. Writing is crucial to all these activities and they are about presenting yourself to the public, which is not unusual, because that's what people do. But a lot of the sharing stuff is very conventional and we have been doing it for millennia.

Where it gets interesting is when people start to have debates about important issues, and when these new forms become an interesting point of contact for people who share things they didn't know they shared or people who discover that they know and understand something that someone else doesn't.

If you look at it even more closely, it is only possible for Wikipedia to exist in a world where Facebook exists. And what is Wikipedia? Wikipedia is the largest encyclopedia ever created, literally, and it can compare favourably to any of the great projects in history that have required collaboration and vision. Keep in mind that Wikipedia is a series of written texts. So, when we talk about writing in this period of history, I see it everywhere.

Think about Twitter. It is this constant flow of exchange and information and ideas. Some are trivial, but how can all of this activity lead you to the argument that the digital generation is illiterate? They are using different forms of literacy to talk about their fears and hopes and dreams. They may be the most literate group, ever in our history. It's just that they may have a different form of literacy. And so we must not make the mistake in our schools of disempowering them and saying that they're illiterate – that's silly.

Our cultural tendency is to see things through one perspective and I would characterize this as a major cultural fault. Why limit, reduce and simplify all of this complex activity? Why characterize our own children as somehow disturbed or faulty because they see the world differently than we do? Why can’t we just celebrate all of these differences between generations and learn from each other?

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