The name Baxter has both Anglo-Saxon and Scottish origins. It means baker in the first – persons who can not only make simple to sumptuous culinary delicacies but are also creators, innovators and designers in their own right because they not only tend to your palate but also to presentation. George Baxter may not be a baker, but he is definitely a creator, innovator and designer. Find out more in this article about Mr. Baxter – the designer, the artist, and the teacher.
Keystone’s residential community gets a flavor of Scottish culture every Monday morning as they wake up to the deep soulful melody of the Great Highland Bagpipes thanks to George Baxter. This is a demanding instrument, and it says a lot about anyone who can play it. It demonstrates the person’s methodical nature, reflective complexity and inner balance. Mr. Baxter is a person of all these traits. Balance is not only part of who he is, but also part of what he believes in, and part of the reason he has been in China for the last 10 years teaching in Tianjin.
“Life has to be balanced,” says Mr. Baxter as he explains how Taoism and Confucianism fit well with his existential outlook, and how this philosophical and cultural affinity has kept him in China. Mr. Baxter highlights that he has always been fascinated with China – one of the world’s oldest and most interesting cultures that, he believes, “formed much of human thinking” as we know it today. “I spent the first third of my life in Scotland, and the second third of my life in New Zealand. I got married in England, and my wife and I moved to New Zealand where we raised a family. Then my family and I moved to Tianjin together in 2003. My family has moved back to New Zealand,” he says feeling nostalgic about his time in China, and remembering his daily commute amongst thousands of cyclists. However he adds, “…I am not ready to leave China yet.”
Teaching to Inquire, Innovate and Be Informed
Mr. Baxter is as passionate about teaching as he is about China. He is able to combine both these passions at Keystone Academy, which is what drew him from Tianjin. The vision and ambition of the school is attractive to him – the fundamental idea that Keystone’s bilingual and bicultural initiative takes Chinese culture as an equal partner. “My earlier experience in international schools has been that the culture is international and because they are in China, they will do some Chinese things. For me that is not good enough. Chinese culture has to be taken on as an equal partner,” he emphasizes.
The Baxter style of teaching is also drawn from a deep and ancient view of Chinese culture. As a Middle School Design teacher, he feels that students must have a good understanding of materials. Learning only on computers is not the right approach, according to him. This Design teacher wants his students to be handling things and making things, physically engaging with material; they should be able to make things, they should be able to use tools, and they should be able to construct things. This is, perhaps, inspired by the ancient Chinese approach which states, tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand. Though his novice teaching days leaned towards an instructive style, Mr. Baxter now feels he allows his students to explore, and learn through experience. “I allow my students to make mistakes, mistakes is how they learn. If a student makes a mistake and fixes it, he or she will always remember. But if you do it right the first time or if someone takes it out of your hands and does it for you, you might not remember,” he says. Take his grade 7 students, for instance. Mr. Baxter was extremely pleased that for students who have never come across technical drawing – 3D drawing – they were able to pick it up in two weeks. This would have usually taken grade 7 students up to six weeks to learn. Though this may be an outcome of the Baxter style of teaching, he feels, in true Taoist style, it is because his students come from a reading culture, and reading promotes concentration – a quality essential to learning design.
His teaching approach and the subject itself – Design – is also integral not just to the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years Programme, but also to the growth and development of a student. Mr. Baxter enthusiastically explains his subject’s wider applications unlike Math or Science that have more immediate or direct use: “There is this thing called the design cycle, which is the method we use for designing. It is like an inquiry cycle where you investigate, design, create, and evaluate…we can also use this model in other classes. So it is a good subject for student development academically and cognitively. They have the freedom to make things, and experiment, and it also forces them to reflect on what they are doing, write descriptions and explanations. Design is an ideal subject that requires students to make cross-curricular links, to inquire, innovate and take informed risks.”
Looking Deeper, Learning More
Apart from Design, Mr. Baxter has a deeper interest in drawing. As an artist, he feels by looking at something one only sees but does not really understand what the eye captures. “But when you draw what you see, you have to look much harder,” he says, and points to the plant on his desk to explain further. At first glance, the plant on his desk could be described as having a few stems and some leaves coming out of them. He comes alive when he adds, “But when I sit here and try and draw it for 15-20 minutes, my understanding of that plant will be much more complex. I will understand how the leaves are connected to the stem, the shapes that they take and more.” The minute and intricate details of an everyday desk plant are overlooked with a brief glance. Mr. Baxter feels that this is information that a person would not normally absorb.
Drawing, on the other hand, is a form of increasing one’s concentration and inner senses. It is a kind of meditation because it takes you to a different level of understanding. “That is why I draw because it takes me to a deeper level of understanding.” Students too can learn to draw, learn to observe, and apply this deeper understanding in any sphere of their lives whether in their professions, or even when they design their house in the future.
A man of many talents, Mr. Baxter is an avid artist, painter and musician. But even for him, Design requires something more. He describes this as, “When one is making something that someone else will use one has to achieve a balance between its appearance and its usefulness. It is a delicate equilibrium that is perfectly illustrated by the Taoist symbol of Yin-Yang.” As the Dao De Ching explains “Being and not being grown out of one another…”
It is this elusive balance that we strive for in our lives and work and it is the true measure of our success. “I feel that the entire human race is undergoing a major test or examination – one that will determine if we are fit to inhabit this planet. Working with the intelligent and serious young men and women at Keystone, I dare to hope that we may yet pass that test.”
We hope we can all live up to Mr. Baxter’s high expectations.