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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Country NEPAL
My Country NEPAL

Friday, October 3, 2008

Education is so multifaceted that it is difficult for me to know where to begin discussing it, or how to prioritize the many factors. Relaying my own experience is easy: I had a standard classroom approach, supplemented by inordinate reading. In only the briefest and least memorable instances did I receive any individual tutoring.
Education is commonly thought of as the job of schools. Adults cry "educate our children!" Everyone has opinions about the best way to do the job. It is of urgent importance, and all the numerous factors are much studied, debated, and new (or old) ideas continually tested or retested. Some people say "it's as simple as . . . " and then name their pet peeve or passion. My view is not of an education specialist, but of one who loves sharing what I learn, and owes much to educators. Since I don't have an educational theory neatly worked-out, nor an outline of my perceptions, my intent is to address each educational ingredient that comes to my mind. After I've said what I think about each topic, readers may have a fair comprehension of my philosophy.
First comes sensitivity. If a person be insensitive, be it from numbing cold, exhaustion, drugs, genetic makeup, or upbringing, then the process of education is bogged down, and results come only after great efforts. Sensitivity in my integrated meaning is broad, covering literally the senses, so that deaf and blind people are less sensitive, as well as people whose senses work perfectly, but whose receptivity or thought processes are blunted for whatever reason. A person can be insensitive in one way, such as blind, and extraordinarily sensitive in another way, such as in hearing. It is also possible to be so ultra-sensitive that the result is disadvantageous. I expect no argument in asserting that a normal sensitivity is a healthy, indispensable ingredient for optimal education.
Sensitivity can be heightened or blunted by education. It is intertwined with curiosity. An ideal education affords numerous and varied opportunities for students to touch, see, smell, listen, hear; to spark their curiosity. When I was a child the things that pleased me were largely other than the plants which have earned me a living as an adult. For example, I collected postage stamps, played basketball, was fond of listening to music, played all manner of games, but dealt only in a neutral, uninspired fashion with plants. The one thing that was constant and of supreme importance was my love of reading. I don't recall why, but by an early age, say age 9, I was a phenomenal reader of books, a habit that persisted all the way until college.
Reading expands one's mind immensely. It fires the imagination, demonstrates grammar, teaches vocabulary, informs, challenges, helps one relax. In some cases it forces the mind to concentrate, as to understand. It can help build a moral or ethical framework, and help oneself form an individual worldview. Even an untraveled child, sitting at home, can be transported by a book into any place or time. Fantasy and facts weave together, but the result is almost an unmitigated improvement. If a bookworm grows up to be antisocial or worse, it is not because of too much reading, but because something else was lacking in the education or caregiving.
Hands-on learning is another factor difficult to overrate. Imagine trying to learn to draw from listening to a lecture. You must draw, draw, draw, and with time and tutoring, will improve. This is a truism, just like saying "reading is valuable." I imagine nobody complains about children spending too much time working. If anything the contrary complaint rings loudly. What I don't begin to know is the ideal breakdown, according to age, of reading, listening to instruction, and working or hands-on time.
What about technology in excess? Before the age of printing and cheap paper, comparatively few people could become learned. Now, theoretically, our electronic age makes learning easier than ever. Well, technology is indisputably better. We can store and retrieve data much more efficiently. We can communicate in a flash. But still, at the basic level, we must be well grounded -- we must possess common sense, civil manners, frank discussion skills, reasoning abilities, and moral fiber. It is possible to be a technological genius, say a computer nerd, without social skills or civil conscience. I'd rather have as a neighbor an illiterate janitor with an easy-going, friendly disposition. Hence, I value what we might call character more than specialist knowledge from an antisocial person. God knows we want everyone to be a well-mannered genius. But humans are not cut out to be happy like pigs in a pen. We instead have insatiable brains, with mental appetites. So our goal is to balance the brainwork with hearts and smiles. "Facts served with sauce."