Hunter S Thompson is said to have typed out entire pages of the novel, “The Great Gatsby” by Scott Fitzgerald. Thompson did this to get a feel of writing a really great novel. This was a method of learning for him.
We often tend to think of copying as an evil that is part of learning. As far back as I can remember, school teachers would keep reinforcing the idea that one should not copy in exams. Of course that is understandable, and defeats the entire purpose of an examination. However, copying does have its place in education.
Education begins with copying
Every student begins their life at school by copying out letters written on a board by a teacher. In fact, let’s go even further back. They probably started with shapes and letters drawn by the teacher. But why stop there? Consider a child. How does he or she learn language? By imitating adults around him/her.
This is not just restricted to language. How often have we seen children imitate adults around them by taking a mop and trying to mop the place, or by taking books and pretending to read. George Herbert Mead, a Sociologist, said that imitation is the first stage of development.
Art and sports are all about copying
If you have learnt any art – be it drawing or singing or dancing or any other – you would know that in the beginning you are always imitating some other art piece. It could be learning to play that Sweet Child o Mine guitar riff, or trying to pull off that particular dance move or perhaps trying to draw a tiger by looking at the drawing of a tiger.
This also holds true for sports. Every sporting journey begins by trying to perfect the shots that others have already perfected. One watches the masters carefully, observes intently, and tries to imitate perfectly. That is how we learn art and sport as well.
Everything is Remix
This is the title of a series of YouTube videos that had a profound impact on me. Here is the basic idea – all major art pieces or major software development or any other human development is not entirely original. They all are drawn from some or the other source. It is a combination of copying, transforming, and combining. I recommend watching the following two videos (links given at the end) if you are further interested in this. The videos are largely expanding on this thought by pointing out many examples from various fields and argue that copyright laws as they exist today are not particularly healthy.
Copying can help learn how to do research
It is true that many students practice academic dishonesty – copying other people’s work and passing it off as one’s own. But I have recently been seeing how beneficial copying could be for learning.
I struggled a lot with understanding how to do research. This is because I wasn’t aware of what I should be doing. When I was talking to a friend of mine, we spoke about how in the Science disciplines, students begin research by working on the projects of their teachers. They are in a sense observing their teachers and copying them. Eventually they learn the process. This doesn’t happen in the Humanities and the Social Sciences and I feel that if it could be brought in to the Social Sciences, it could be highly beneficial to the students.
Copying could help a lot with personal life management
A few months ago I read a book titled Do More Better by Tim Challies. It is a Christian perspective on productivity. Before getting into the principles, he says that the reader might get the most value out of the book if they watch how Tim himself works (which he would talk about in the book) and copy the system for their own life – at least at first. I followed the advice and found it very useful. I even tried it by copying a friend in some other areas of life. I also think this is one reason the templates offered by Todoist are quite ingenious (although I don’t use them).
Moreover, as a Christian I realize this is nothing new. The apostle Paul in the Bible advices his readers to imitate himself as Paul himself imitates Christ. So I think copying someone else or rather imitating them is a great method of discipleship. That does make me wonder if I can confidently say that to someone (copy me).