Wednesday, February 20th, 2008
“Do you know what you want?” was the question asked by one of the students in the cross-cultural psychology class during a heated discussion about students’ preferences on cultural orientations and practices.
A sense of deep realization dawned on every member of the class at that moment. Often, we ask and answer a wrong set of questions. But asking and answering right questions about life (and issues about life) invariably assist in enhancing the quality of living.
“Knowing what I want” seems to be the pre-requisite to answering questions that relate to other important aspects of human existence. If it is true that humans are beings of choices and active decision-making, then, every individual must realistically ask him/herself the question, “what do I want?” before answering “what is my decision?”
The immediately response to this profound question when asked by the students was… can you guess?
Yes, NO response! Everyone kept quiet. Suddenly, the class felt like they were facing the toughest question ever. Why was this so?
Most of us lack the ability and nerve to answer this question with certainty (at any given time) because we have never asked it to ourselves before. We go about making general and specific life decisions without asking the pre-requisite question (”What do I want?”) and answering it with conviction. We have become used to making decisions that we (in actuality) didn’t want to make. Most often, we decide to do something because, “my parents told me to do so” or “I had no other choice” or “I am bound by the norms of the society” or “I can’t do it” or “it’s impossible” or “anything would do.” This applies to both the individualistic and collectivistic societies. This is a phenomenon common to all humans, regardless of their gender, age, country, education, and status.
My own analysis is that people find it difficult to answer the question, “What do I want?” because they are not in touch with themselves (at least not completely or in the way they should be) as yet! I remember the motto of a friend of mine – know thyself. She strongly believes that many of life’s problems can be sorted out or dealt with in a more constructive manner if we only “know ourselves”. Being in touch with who we are, what we are made out of, what we are capable of, where we are headed, and what makes us happy or sad helps us to be realistic in assessing and responding to a variety of life situations and challenges.
When I know who I really am, every decision that I make will reflect my own conceptualization and view about life and the world around me. Developing into a whole person, who possesses a distinct ’self’ from other ’selves’ is the ultimate goal of a human life. Without knowing, accepting, and being happy with who and what one is, he/she cannot become a functional and contributing member of the larger society.
However, according to the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung, obtaining a complete and relatively accurate knowledge/picture of “who I am” may take a lifetime. Hence developing a sense of a “whole self” is tedious and demanding. Nevertheless, it is imperative to realize that people who actively make decisions and are happy with them are those who know themselves and are aware of what they really want. They are deliberate in their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Their choices and the outcomes of their decisions produce a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Even when things are not rosy, they are chirpy and sparkling because they own their choices and are prepared to face the consequences for all their undertakings. These individuals spread joy in the midst of sadness, encourage in the midst of disappointment, act in the midst of crisis, and strengthen in the midst of pain. They choose to walk on a particular path only after having thought about it thoroughly. Their personalized decision is unwavering despite the type of outcome (positive or negative, favorable or unfavorable, pleasant or unpleasant) they face thereafter.
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Sunday, February 10th, 2008
Providing Meaningful Education
The school system, as we know and have it today, was originally established to fulfill the needs of the industrial revolution. People were trained and equipped to take up middle class job positions in various commercially-oriented settings. Specialization of skills and knowledge was important and people were trained to be functionally good in one or more areas of work as required and dictated by the job market. This explains why the system is characterized as being highly rigid. This also explains why the system did not emphasize the enhancement of creative potential of individuals.
In other words, schools themselves were like ‘factories’ that ‘produced’ workers who possess a set of knowledge and skills required for a specific job. Because of this, the tremendous opportunities one could have had to explore and discover the marvelous ways in which his/her brain naturally learns (acquire), connects, analyzes, extends, refines, and applies knowledge is completely compromised. While the school system did fulfill its purpose, it did so at the cost of wrecking the potentiality of millions of people who didn’t think beyond having a job that pays them to maintain their middle class lifestyle.
The schools of the industrial age didn’t bother to tell and/or show students why they were to learn what they were to learn. This frustrated many, including teachers. Students were frustrated because they couldn’t make sense of the act of trying to learn something that had no obvious connection with what they already knew, practical living, and what would benefit them in the future. Teachers on the other hand, faced and dealt with many disciplinary problems (of students) that stemmed from a sheer lack of motivation and interest in seemingly meaningless lessons.
Different Kind of Education…
Meaningful education, on the other hand, does more than merely preparing people for work. It helps people to assimilate knowledge into their personal schema by making the learning experiences and materials relevant and useful. It enhances creativity naturally by encouraging students to connect with lessons at personal and interpersonal level.
Research on Connectedness…
A three-year longitudinal research called The Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (QSRLS) was conducted by researchers from the School of Education, The University of Queensland, Australia, from 1998 to 2000. The research required extensive observation and study of classroom practices. The researchers made detailed observations and statistical analyses of 975 classroom lessons offered in 24 schools over three years. The study investigated possible relationships between school-based management practices and enhanced student outcomes, both academic and social.
Among many other significant findings from this study, one is worthy of our immediate attention and response. It was found that connectedness was the least experienced pedagogical phenomenon in these 24 schools, across subjects, teachers, teaching styles, and learning preferences. Connectedness obtained the least score when compared to its counterpart-pedagogical-dimensions (elements of productive pedagogy), namely; intellectual quality, supportive classroom environment, and recognition of difference.
There is a great and immediate need to pay more attention to connecting student work (learning materials) to their biographies (personal mental structures and schema) and the world outside the classroom (present and future life-demands), using innovative, productive, constructive, and creative teaching approaches.
How can it be done…?
The following teaching practices could be utilized to ensure that students engage with real, practical or hypothetical problems which connect to the world beyond the classroom, which are not restricted by subject boundaries and which are linked to their prior knowledge:
1. Knowledge Integration: Does the lesson integrate a range of subject areas?
Integrated school knowledge is identifiable when either: a) explicit attempts are made to connect two or more sets of subject area knowledge, or b) when no subject area boundaries are readily seen.
Topics or problems which either require knowledge from multiple areas, or which have no clear subject areas basis in the first place are indicators of curricula which integrate school subject knowledge.
Non-integrated school knowledge is typically segregated or divided in such a way that specific sets of knowledge and skills are (relatively) unique and discrete to each specified school subject area. Segregated knowledge is identified by clear boundaries between subject areas. Connections between knowledge in different segregated subject areas are less and less clear the stronger the dividing knowledge boundary. In the extreme, such boundaries prevent any interrelation of different subject areas.
2. Background Knowledge: Are links with students’ background knowledge made explicit?
High-connection lessons provide students with opportunities to make connections between their linguistic, cultural, world knowledge and experience and the topics, skills and competencies at hand. Background knowledge may include community knowledge, local knowledge, personal experience, media and popular culture sources.
Low-connection lessons introduce new content, skills and competencies without any direct or explicit opportunities to explore what prior knowledge students have of the topic, and without any attempts to provide relevant or key background knowledge that might enhance students’ comprehension and understanding of the ‘new’ material being offered.
3. Connectedness to the World: Is the lesson, activity, or task connected to competencies or concerns beyond the classroom?
Connectedness describes the extent to which the lesson has value and meaning beyond the instructional context, making a connection to the larger social context within which students live.
Two areas in which student work can exhibit some degree of connectedness are: a real-world public problem; i.e., students confront an actual contemporary issue or problem, such as applying statistical analysis in preparing a report to the City Council on the homeless; Students’ personal experiences; i.e., the lesson focuses directly or builds upon students’ actual experiences or situations. A high level of connectedness can be achieved when the lesson entails one or both of these.
In a low-connectedness lesson with little or no value beyond the classroom, activities are deemed important for success only in school (now or later), but for no other aspects of life. Student work has no impact on others and serves only to certify their level of competence or compliance with the norms and routines of formal schooling.
4. Problem-based Curriculum: Is there a focus on identifying and solving intellectual and/or real-world problems?
A problem-based curriculum is identified by lessons in which students are presented with a specific practical, real, or hypothetical problem (or set of problems) to solve.
Problems are defined as having no specified correct solution, requiring knowledge construction on the part of the students, and requiring sustained attention beyond a single lesson.
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