Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Purpose of Education (Part 1)

By Dr. Bijan Riazi-Farzad
For example, you may be (or know) someone who seems to be really interested in lots of things, such as socialising, football, films, trivia, fashion, reading, computer games, music, and so on, but is not very excited about going to school.  Clearly, you are (or this person is) capable of liking things and finding activities enjoyable.  S/he does not suffer from athymia.  What we can say is that this person, can feel positive about his or environment under certain conditions and that school does not SEEM to provide those conditions.
Similarly, you may be (or know someone) who finds it easy to remember people’s names, such as the names of celebrities or fictional characters, yet finds it difficult to remember the name of Henry VIII’s third wife.  Again, clearly, you are (or this person is) not suffering from anterograde amnesia.  Again, what we can say is that under the right conditions, you (or this person) is capable of remembering and recalling information and that, again, school does not APPEAR to provide the right conditions.
Likewise, you may be (or know someone) who can sit for hours and watch a film or play a computer game, but finds it difficult to concentrate in class.  Again, clearly, you (or this person) do not suffer from ADD, or one of its (burgeoning list of) derivatives. What we can conclude is that, under the right conditions, you are (or this person is) able to concentrate and become engrossed in whatever the focus of attention is, and once again, it COULD BE ARGUED that school does not to provide the right conditions.
On the other hand, if you DO like school, YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE.
-       Advantage over what, Bijan?
-       Advantage over the you who does not like school/college/university or whatever.
-       I don’t understand.
-       OK, let me explain: Imagine, it is 8am, and you are thinking to yourself, I don’t want to go to school today.
-       Yeah, so that’s pretty normal?
-       Or, you may be looking forward to going to school to see your friends, but not to sitting in that physics lesson where the teacher talks about things that you don’t see the point of.
-       Actually, yes, there are some things about school that I do like, but not sitting in boring, pointless lessons.
-       Like?
-       Like for example, what’s the use of knowing that humans evolved from the paramecium or whatever, or that the tangent of a circle is perpendicular to its radius. I’m never going to use that stuff am I?
-       You may or you may not.  Of course some people do use it; otherwise it wouldn’t occur to them to put it on the school curriculum.
-       OK, but I don’t get it and most of my friends don’t get it.  I mean, I can do it most of the time, but I don’t get what use it is going to be to me, EVER!
-       You see, you are right.
-       What?
-       I agree with you.
-       Oh! So what are you arguing for?
-       I am not arguing, in the confrontational sense, I am arguing FOR (in the ‘advocating’ sense) a different perspective.
-       But I am very happy with the perspective I already have, thank you very much.
-       What if I told you that I could show a way whereby, on the morning of a school day, you would leap up with joy and say, “yippee, I am going to learn more about circle theorems today.”
-       People would think I’ve gone mad.
-       OK, you have two options.  Option 1 is for people to see you as being sensible, whilst you sit in the class and feel bored out of your mind, or option 2 is for people to think that you are mad, but for you to feel ecstatic about whatever life throws at you, including judgemental people and trigonometry. Which do you chose?
-       That’s a hard one.
-       I would have said it’s a no brainer.
-       I was only kidding.
-       Oh … Well, this is the advantage that I am talking about.
-       What advantage?
-       The one we started this conversation with.
-       Remind me.
-       I said that if you do not like school, there is nothing wrong with you, but if you do like school, you have an advantage.
-       Oh yes, and I said, advantage over what and you said advantage over myself and I said that I don’t understand.
-       That’s right.
-       I still don’t understand.
-       Do you think that the person who wakes up in the morning and is excited about going to school has any advantage over the person who wakes up and doesn’t feel like going to school?
-       No, because they both have to go anyway.
-       OK.  Think of something you like to do.
-       I like going to parties.
-       What do you like about going to parties?
-       I see my friends and we have fun.
-       Can I suggest that when you say you have fun, you mean that you feel good inside.
-       Well, yeah, so?
-       But then, the person who is excited about going to school is also having fun, because he or she has a good feeling inside too.
-       I suppose.
-       So, being excited about going to school and not feeling excited about going to school is the difference between feeling good inside and not feeling good inside.
-       OK? Where are you going with this?
-       I think you are about to see, and this last question was a defence against the impending realisation that there is an ADVANTAGE to feeling good about going to school compared to not feeling good about it, because the person who is feeling good IS HAVING FUN and the person who does not feel good is WAITING to have fun when school finishes.
-       OK, OK, but I don’t think going to school is fun, OK.
-       So, what’s the difference between you and the person who does?
-       I don’t know anybody who does.
-       Hypothetically.
-       The person who thinks going to school is fun has more fun than the person who does not – Hypothetically.
-       Great.  So now, what I am going to help you see is that whether or not you have fun at school has less to do with what is going on in school and more to do with how you interpret what is going on.
-       WHAT?
-       OK, let’s just take it slowly.  Let me see … Oh, yes, take a look at this photograph.
-       Yeah well, it’s just an old lady.
-       Yes, not very exciting … Now, let’s assume that you found out that this old lady was your dad’s great grandmother and that she had four husbands.
-       What? That’s not true.
-       Let’s assume it is.  Now, look at that photograph again.  Do you feel any differently about the old lady?
-       It’s not true is it?
-       If it were, would you feel any differently about it?
-       Well yeah.  That would be amazing.
-       Has the picture of the old lady changed since you saw it the first time?
-       Well, no.
-       But your feelings about have changed, right?
-       Well, yes.
-       Good.  That’s the point I want to make.
-       What point?
-       That there is a YOU inside you that can see the picture of the old lady and feel nothing and there is another YOU inside you that can see the same picture and feel amazed.  Now, depending on the story that you tell yourself (or I tell you) about the picture, you can feel amazed, angry, guilty, curious, frustrated or a host of other emotions, simply by changing the story.
-       Oh! I see.
-       And that is why so many people read fiction novels or go to the movies.
-       Is it?
-       Yes.  It’s because we like to hear stories that shift our emotions.
-       So what?
-       So, I am going to help you to change the story you tell yourself about school so that you will feel good about (have fun in) school.
-       How?
-       In the same way that I changed your interest in the picture of the old lady by telling you a story about her.
-       Was that true?
-       Does it matter?

In Part 2, I look at how it is possible to change our perspective in relation to education. Specifically, what schools could be there for, and how we could see them as a potentially very empowering establishments.