The concept of expression is a strange one. It differs with each individual.
We are free to do whatever we want.
Write what we want, dance, play: live a life however we want.
While some may be able to express themselves better through painting, others express themselves better on the rugby field, speaking on stage, or performing complex calculations for experiments.
All of these are expressions of the inner character: We share what we are most passionate about through expression.
But, were we taught to express ourselves? Do we have the freedom to do this around the world?
It is fun to express: we learn as we grow older that we have this need to do so.
We want to prove that we are the best artists. We want to shout that we are the best in our fields: Talking with the right people, by expressing humility and grace. Showing we want to learn more, by expressing a willingness to be a student of life.
How was it taught in education?

Defining Freedom of Expression

A quick Google search states expression as:
The action of making known one’s thoughts or feelings.
If you could express yourself perfectly, the receiving party could essentially mindread you. It is the delivery of one’s character.
The more that we grow up learning about the world, the more opportunities come in learning new crafts. This is not just limited to craftsmanship skills like writing or art, but expression goes beyond that. It could be affinities towards certain subjects, or towards events related to your past.
Every day, what we do with our hands is another page in our lives. That in itself, is expression.
What do you want to do? What do you want to be? What do you want to say? What do you want people to know about you?
If you could find the answer to the above questions, the ability to figure out those answers are what encompass freedom.
How you react and answer such questions is how you look at everything.
The ability to convey yourself to others, in your own way, allowing people the chance to understand your character.
The chance to get inside your mind without needing to open up: that is the essence of expressing ourselves.

Articulation is important

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Articulation is defined as the fine-tuning of delivery.
This is vastly underestimated.
For example, it can involve choosing specific words closest to one’s intended meaning. This can coincide with words the receiving party can easily understand.
Sometimes, there are compromises: it could be language ability, lack of vocabulary, or lack of practice that prevents one from articulating properly.
As expression can be packaged in many different ways, articulation also changes:

  • You could be a scientist wanting to introduce new theories: this can be done as a talk or a journal article.
  • You may express your competitive spirit in a football match, even if it means shouting at your team-mates to pass the ball. You may have no intention of harming one’s feelings, but the spirit of the sport compels you to be more expressive.
  • As a painter, you might express yourself with aggressive colours. To you, this may not mean much, but to others, they could look at this as a sign of rage, and a chaotic mind. If that was your intention though, then all is well.

Each medium requires a different set of articulative skills.
The issue is: were we ever taught this in school?

In the West, Expression is encouraged

On one side of the spectrum, are a myriad of ways to express ourselves individually.
In the West, education takes a different turn: famed professors crowd Ivy League universities, and tertiary education brands are a huge pull for prospective students. There is a greater output of PhDs, and discoveries are mainly attributed to these institutions.
Beyond the Harvards and the Yales and the Oxfords, while it is generally known that education is highly important, western education also encourages expression of our characters.
Creativity is highly valued: there are plenty of opportunities to develop the creative parts of our brains. Creative classes and endeavours were encouraged, and allow us to improve. Beyond that, funds and scholarships allow students to further pursue something they can obsess over healthily.
Education systems here understand that creativity can be delivered in different ways. It could range from sport to debating, poetry, fine arts. One can express themselves by being the President of a club, or showcase their projects they’ve been working on the side.
There is a greater acceptance of students who are comfortable with expressing themselves in a specific manner. Their skills of self-expression are not only encouraged, but honed.
As western society is individualistic in nature, success is correlated with self-expression. Great artists, actors and performers of all kinds alike have ample opportunities to express their inner machinations.
The world is an oyster for them in this regard.

In Asia, the grades matter.

On the other side, expression is controlled in the East.
In Asian cultures, expression is depicted at a lower priority, when it comes to ensuring a child’s success from birth, to entering into the working world. Some are discouraged: when it comes to education, the grades matter the most.
When it comes to creative endeavours, ie. different ways of self-expression, the student has to choose:
Should I keep expressing myself, or should I get better grades?
To some, it may be hard to answer this question.
Here are a few reasons why:

Family-oriented Success

Generally speaking, in Asian education systems, it is hard to quantify the validation of one’s success, in ways outside of your grade card.
These letters and numbers define the success of said student: any irrelevant expression is discouraged and even punished.
Parents want their children to be on such high-track education paths, that any form of expression perceived as not adding value to that path is disregarded and discouraged completely. Art? Sports? These are merely secondary compared to what matters most, and that is studying and ensuring a suitable income stream for the family.
Particularly in South East Asia, there is an element of absolutism when defining success. Nothing is of greater priority than the grades of a student.
For students who want to express themselves in ways that do not benefit their grades, this becomes difficult. There may be clashes between the student and their family. The reasons, in this case, are always pragmatic: students are supposedly meant to learn and get good grades after all.

Collectivism: everyone defines you

A collective society encourages people to express together.
Though this makes it easy for the person to understand what is ‘right or wrong’, there is a catch. There is less concern for you as an individual, and self-expression becomes difficult because it’s not usually the norm.
Societal expectations have a large influence on someone’s character. Collectivism plays a part in this mindset – the concept of ‘doing something for the family’.
Rather than exhibiting individualistic tendencies, students have to sacrifice a fragment of their inner need to express themselves to ensure they stay relevant in collective society.
For Japan, society is absolute.
It is indoctrinated from a young age that Japanese people must stay relevant to collective society to survive and live. As shame and self-imagery form the basis for one’s personal values in this culture, where does self-expression fit in?
Am I doing the right thing for everyone? Am I bothering anyone? Why should I do things for myself, does it help others? What do people think of me?
These are some examples of the thought processes brought up through Asian education. There are fewer opportunities to pursue self-expression, and forms of expression explored so far have always been:

Get good grades, get a good job = functioning member of society.

Yet the rebels still survive.

Regardless, we find ourselves with the most artistic and creative people from these parts.
Yayoi Kusama, Hokusai, etc.: these are notable names in art and creativity. Yoko Kanno, P. Ramlee: musicians, recognised for their ability to express.
Even in our spare time, we can’t help but express ourselves to the best of our ability. It’s a reflection of our true character: we don’t stop writing in our journals, dancing to our favorite music, and doing our favorite sports.
Those who choose to express their true selves in public, even in discouraging contexts, are survivors. They found their freedom, and they have embraced it wholly, regardless of what everyone thinks.
This is interesting to note: though most individuals brought up collectively are refrained from self-expression, some crack under the pressure and react. Maybe, this was what they needed: the chance to go against the great flow of society. For some, that may be too much.
For others, this may be their largest obstacle.
No cultural judgment can stop them from being their most vulnerable selves.

What’s missing in class?

Why is ‘talking’ not an exam? Or as a class?
It’s a skill that we use all the time, in any conversation.
Yet, we were never trained to speak ‘better’. It was just assumed that we would learn how to interact with other students when we’re growing up.
Back in school, there were no classes for social skills:

  • No communications classes.
  • No articulation classes.
  • No presentation/imagery classes.
  • No character building classes.

The closest was English class, and we would only touch the surface. Sometimes, there is critical discussion. Other than that, we were there for the grades.
I remember back in high school, there was one semester of ‘Critical Thinking’ class, and it was optional. We would look at case studies and try out different perspectives. You can observe how the class becomes divided: people grew up from one point of view and slowly realize that there is not only one way to look at the world. That makes the lesson more valuable to them.
Why is one of the most important skills needed to maintain a healthy career and outlook on life, ‘optional’?
For the students, it was just an exercise to get marks. But, this is one skill that we use all the time in daily conversation: to gain a perspective of the other, to understand them, allow ourselves to be understood, and discuss without conflict.
It’s a start: this is not for everyone. But it does form the basis: everyone needs to talk one way or another.
Building onto that, we should explore different ways of self-expression.

How do we teach self-expression?

Why was expression never taught?
Expression, social skills, and critical thinking are some of the skillsets that employers are looking for nowadays. Beyond that, they are essential to living.
How do we nurture it? How do teachers take the time to train them in these social aspects, whilst still giving them the ability to work on building a meaningful career?
We should have social skills classes: with elements of expression and articulation.
Learning how to speak and shape our opinions for better understanding. Learning how to discuss and think critically.
Regardless of interest (science, arts, humanities, business, etc.), these points do have a part: the ability to form your opinions on a scientific topic, or the ability to debate, or body language. These all add to the overall message that you are delivering.
If you don’t take the time to practice them, how else will you start a career not knowing how to deliver your thoughts for others to understand?
To take it one step further, we could start reaching out to creative and self-expression pursuits.
These could be opportunities for a student to find out and pursue their own way of expressing: it could be art, glass blowing, lights installations, debating, an essay, a small book, a large blog post.
It could be a comic or a demonstration. It can be new tactics for the school rugby team, all recorded to show to the class, with approvals from the coach.
Whichever method you choose, the purpose is to teach evergreen skills to students. This is a chance for students to pursue the best way to express themselves, in their own comfort zone, for the sake of finding a method of expression meaningful to them.
This can be one of the ways to tell them that self-expression is accepted and should not be oppressed. This is less about money and more about gratitude and fulfillment.
It will be hard to quantify that as a success, and structuring it can be difficult, but not all classes have to follow the standard class structure. You could reach out to each student individually, check on their progress and base it off of that. Self-expression also includes figuring out their struggles, their fears, their desires – these all form the base of one’s character, and is integral.
We have trouble expressing ourselves because we have not found the right method, or we refrain ourselves from doing so. This is one of the missing pieces in education today.
As we nurture the next few generations growing up, one should take the time to introduce these ways of self-expression. That way, there would be more direction in their lives.
They can grow up with more gratitude and contentment, and they can hold success to their own name.

Expression is never taught, but felt.

If the world was articulate, we would be more efficient and graceful.
Everyone could express themselves fully and can capture/deliver their intentions with 100% accuracy. It would be like mind-reading: we would understand each other better.
We could all express ourselves better, and be accepting of such. I believe the world would be more colourful this way. Then again, it depends on your outlook of the world, doesn’t it?
The most expressive of individuals know this, and they have already started painting their part of the world.
Let’s see what colours you paint with.
I would love to see how you express yourself.