26 October 2016

The Art of Giving, the Craft of Thinking

Late October, and Halloween will soon be here. A few more weeks and the season of giving will descend with a thud of consumerism that has now become practically the norm. My thoughts sway between classrooms and realities that I witness. My thoughts circle this notion of education, which drives learners to only focus on exam results, for schools to push the agenda of grades and academic success, regardless whether learning actually happens or not nor whether students are learning what it means to be human and responsibly social participants in their societies.  

A few days ago I watched in silence as a teenager rejected his father's birthday gift, flatly saying that he had no interest nor use for it. 

I watched in silence as this same teen paid no attention to the efforts that had been made for his birthday meal, as he left the table without bothering to push his chair back to the table. 

I watched in silence, wondering what has happened to the values which children should receive at home and at schools. 

It takes more than good grades to speak about "education". It takes more than good results at school to become a well balanced human. 

Throughout travels in Nepal, I went west, where the government's state school books rarely arrive,  to distribute school books to children. In the Omo Valley, I realised that children did not particularly want my water bottles with water to drink - they wanted the empty bottle, preferably smaller, so that they could fill it with sorghum to take to school with them - their portable lunch. In Myanmar, I learnt how there are not so many beggars in public - everyone is welcomed and taken care of in the temples and by neighbours; there is a quiet consensus that leaves no one out in the gutter.  In the industrialised world, I watch in painful silence how children can take what they have so for granted, without a whisper of gratitude nor consideration towards their elders. 

I remember too how when I began teaching, the staffroom was often filled with frustration of how parents did not give time to their children, did not bring them  up at home and how now teachers were burdened with this extra responsibility of teaching civil attitudes for social purposes.

That was many, many years ago. And in my silence, I wonder what those same teachers would say today. 

What has happened to the art of giving thanks, of showing kindness, thoughtfulness? What has happened to the art of empathy?

I am not pointing the finger at anyone; I am neither blaming parents nor educators. It is a seriously huge effort bringing up children. It is a seriously huge effort being an educator today as well. 

Nevertheless I need to ask, where are these values of kindness, thoughtfulness, empathy and thanking others? Where are these values in the hectic days of meeting national standards, completing national curriculums and pushing learners to pass one exam after the other?

There are choices. 

Even in education. 

Learning the importance of empathy, of kindness towards others, the value of thanking others and being thoughtful to others are not in vain nor a waste of time. They are part of what makes us human. They are part of what makes us social.

Just like stories. 

Just like writing. For it is in writing that one often makes sense of ourselves and our world. It is in stories that one discovers what it means to be a social human.

Things to Think About is a free app (iOS) which offers writing prompts aimed at young learners. 

From thinking and writing prompts related to classrooms, family environments, personal safety and even topics such as receiving gifts, there is a choice for both teachers and learners to choose from. 

Besides prompts, there are challenges too - challenges to think about the future, making decisions and justifying choices. Below are two examples:

Perhaps the art of showing gratitude,  the art of being empathetic and kind towards others is more of a craft. 

If so, then it should also have place in classrooms, where skills and crafts are touched upon through learning tasks.

Giving is not only an act for a particular social/religious event/celebration. Giving thanks, consideration towards others, being able to be empathetic is part of everyday life. 

Do you think these are important values to embed in classrooms?

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