An escape from the educational paralysis

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· The “chew, pour, pass, and be poor” disease

By Anis Haffar

“Chicken Soup for the Soul”  – which became a New York Times bestseller – consists of a series of simple but wise stories  compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

One of the stories – stressing the importance of learner centred teaching – is abridged as follows:

“Now” said the teacher, “We are going to make flowers.” “Good!” thought the little boy as he began to make beautiful ones with his pink and orange and blue crayons. But the teacher said, “Wait! And I will show you how.” And she drew a flower on the blackboard. “There,” said the teacher. “Now you may copy.” The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower. Then he looked at his own flower; he liked his flower better than the teacher’s.

On another day, the teacher said, “Today we are going to make something with clay.” “Good!” thought the little boy. He liked clay. But the teacher said, “Wait! And I will show you how.” And she showed everyone how to copy a deep dish. “There,” said the teacher, “Now you may begin.” The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish, then he looked at one he had made earlier. He liked his dish better than the teacher’s.  Soon the little boy learned to wait, and to copy what the teacher liked. And soon he didn’t make things of his own anymore.

It happened that the boy went to another school. The new teacher asked that they draw a picture. When she came to the little boy, she said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?” “Yes”, said the little boy. “What are we going to make?” “I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher. “How shall I make it?”  asked the little boy. “Why, any way you like,” said the teacher. “And any colour?” asked the little boy. “Any colour,” said the teacher, “If everyone made the same picture, and used the same colours, how would I know who made what …?

I recall a story Professor Kwabena Nketia told recently at –  about his first meeting with the musical icon Ephraim Amu many years back. Amu asked him, “I hear you have been copying my music?”  Waiting to be praised, Nketia said excitedly, “Yes sir, I have.” Amu then admonished him, saying, “Stop copying my music. Go to the rural folks, listen to them; learn from them, and begin to make your own music.” After the initial shock from the rebuke, Nketia took his own musical compositions into his own hands, and as of today, has over 300 original compositions to his credit.

“A careful analysis of the teacher-student relationship at any level, inside or outside the school, reveals its fundamentally narrative character. This relationship involves a narrating Subject (the teacher) and patient, listening objects (the students). The contents, whether values or empirical dimensions of reality, tend in the process of being narrated to become lifeless and petrified. Education is suffering from narration sickness.”

21st century education focuses on the essential questions: How do we connect theory with applications? How do we use information to solve pressing societal problems? Since Critical Thinking, for example, cannot be copied and memorized, the focus is to imbue learners with the freedom to think on their own, make their own observations and mistake, and to act on their thinking in useful ways. The copy, chew, pour, pass format is not useful; it breeds passivity and poverty. Worthy of concern is the lair mismatch between what schools prepare students to do to graduate and the practical realities of life after graduation.

Professor Kwabena Nketia recently told a story about his first meeting with the musical icon Ephraim Amu years back. Amu asked him, “I hear you have been copying my music?” Waiting to be praised for the effort, the young Nketia replied excitedly, “Yes sir, I have.” Amu then admonished him, saying, “stop copying my music. Go to the rural folks, listen to them; learn from them, and begin to make your own music.” After the initial shock from the rebuke, Nketia took his musical compositions into his own hands, and has about 300 original compositions to his credit. Today, he is known worldwide as the African ambassador of music with a great many books to his credit.

(Email:anishaffar@gmail.com)

 

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