Tuesday, 24 April 2018

On The Face of It

This short play by Susan Hill deals with the theme of transformation. The message that Susan Hill wants to make in the lesson is that handicaps can be overcome in life if you choose to make a choice. Mr Lamb plays the role of an elder, a teacher or a mentor and he helps start the process of transformation in Derry by forcing him to think about how mistaken his perception about the world is.
Some of the important issues that this play explores are how emotional trauma is more painful and difficult to heal than a physical trauma, how it is no use shutting off one's self from the world, and why we need to give the benefit of doubt to everything we overhear. The two women who were presumably talking about Derry might not have "meant" to be "cruel" and moreover, it was "Just something said between them." Mr Lamb suggests that one should appreciate life in all its forms, keep busy in life, and avoid being hateful towards others as this would  "cause more harm than any bottle of acid".
What draws Derry towards Mr Lamb in spite of himself is that Mr Lamb was like a mentor who really understood how Derry was feeling. He told him, "Things that matter. Things nobody else has ever said." In their brief encounter, Mr Lamb was able to make him see the brighter side of life. He viewed Derry as 'A boy. Thirteen or so." He doesn't think his scar defines him. Through their brief encounter, it becomes clear how Mr Lamb has overcome his handicap. Derry did not know that Mr Lamb had a tin leg"! Moreover, Mr Lamb tells Derry how he thinks even weeds are beautiful, he likes to step outdoors when it is sunny, and he likes meeting people even if he doesn't know them. He forces Derry to do some soul-searching, in order to transform himself. The process of transformation begins with a realisation that he does have a problem, and it is more of a mental than a physical one!
On the face of it is a lesson that tells us how the actual pain or inconvenience caused by the acid would have been less than the emotional pain of having the scar. The emotional trauma of having a scar makes him feel alienated. No wonder, most teenagers are conscious of their appearance and they would like to be part of the society. Everyone wants to belong to the society. Teenagers are conscious of their body image. Mr Lamb teaches him that there is more to life than the scar. He has hands, legs, and a mind.
What Derry liked about Mr Lamb was that he told him "Things that matter. Things nobody else has ever said. Things I want to think about." Derry learned how important it is to appreciate life in all its forms. It is important to have a positive attitude towards life. It is important to have something to do in life. So it is good to sit outside on a sunny day. Even weeds can be beautiful. It is good to do something like making jam out of crab apples. It is good to keep bees. For Mr Lamb bees "sing", they don't "buzz"! Mr Lamb, through their brief interaction, teaches him that one should move on in life and not be limited by one's handicap. Mr Lamb climbs a ladder to pluck crab apples, he does this even though he has a tin leg! Mr Lamb's tin leg has not prevented him from climbing ladders and plucking crab apples, he has moved on in life.
Although Mr Lamb dies at the end of the play, the ending is not sad! There is hope at the end of the play because of the transformation of Derry. When Derry makes a choice to return to Mr Lamb despite of his mother telling him not to, it is an assertion of the fact that he is a changed person. We know this change is permanent because he proves to himself and the world that now he can indeed make a choice. His return to the garden is not the only proof of his transformation, in fact, his reply to his mother at the end of scene one reads, "It's got nothing to do with my face and what I look like. I don't care about that and it isn't important. It's what I think and feel and what I want to see and find out and here." Derry has finally learnt to look beyond his scar, his mental handicap, his self-created fear of people and their perception of him based on the scar. If we were to ask ourselves who was responsible for Derry's pessimism, then the answer would be the society and Derry himself. If we could measure this in percentages, then probably the society would be 30 percent responsible for the way he felt.

A few important questions:

1. Do you think Mr Lamb is lonely?
In spite of all the bravado and strength that Mr Lamb displays throughout the play, there are times when he expresses a sense of loneliness. At the end of scene two, that is, after Derry departs, Mr Lamb says to the bees, "We all know. I'll come back. They never do, though. Not them. Never do come back." People avoid him, they don't like  Mr Lamb. They think he is eccentric. People don't want their children to even coe into contact with Mr Lamb.

2. How does Mr Lamb try to overcome his feelings of loneliness?
Mr Lamb keeps himself busy. He makes jam out of Crab Apples. He keeps bees, talks to them, likes sitting in the garden observing the weeds. Mr Lamb does not sulk, he stays active.He enjoys reading books. He has removed curtains from his windows so that he can look at the world outside, and listen to the wind. For Mr Lamb, there is more to life than just getting obsessed by the fact that he has a tin leg!

3. What it the moral of the story about the man who locked himself in a room fearing that he would be kicked to death by a donkey?

The man who locked himself in a room fearing he would slip on a banana peel and die, a bus might run over him, a lightning might strike him, or he might love a girl and the girl would leave him meets his end, rather ironically when "A picture fell off the wall on to his head and killed him." The moral is that there is no point in shutting yourself off from the world of fears. You can't keep running away from your fears. You need to face them! The man with the fears was foolish to think he could escape from his fears. According to Roosevelt, "all you have to fear is fear".

3. Do you think Derry's relatives and family members are to blame for the way he feels? How does Mr Lamb help him overcome his feelings of hopelessness?

Derry tells Mr Lamb about how "They talk about" him downstairs. His parents talk about what he will "ever do". They wonder "What's going to happen to him when we've gone? How ever will he get on in this world?" His mother doesn't kiss him on the side of the cheek with the scar. In their argument towards the end of the second scene, his mother says, "You can't help the things you say. I forgive you. It is bound to make you feel bad things...and say them. I don't blame you."
It is clear that his parents are to blame for making him feel helpless and bad. They seem to have obsessed themselves with the scar on his face. They make him feel different. They make him feel inadequate. They make him feel handicapped. Instead of helping him to tide over his feelings of helplessness, they make him feel unwanted. Sometimes our greatest weaknesses are our close family members.
Mr Lamb helps him get to terms with his situation better than his parents by reminding him that he has got two hands and legs and ears, a tongue and a brain. He reminds him that he can get on the way he likes in the world if he chooses to. In fact, he tells him he can get on "better than the rest." He tells him how things could have been worse for him if he had been "blinded, or born deaf, or have to live in a wheelchair or be daft in your head and dribble. He helps him see the brighter side of life. He makes him see how much better he is than those on a wheelchair, those who are 'daft', and 'deaf'.

4.Draw a character sketch of Derry before the transformation and after the transformation in points.

Before the transformation:

  • He was shy and reserved.
  • He let other people make a choice for him.
  • He had a negative attitude towards the world, he was pessimistic.
  • He was conscious about his scar and what people thought about it.
  • He felt hopeless.
  • He was a-social, a self-created recluse, someone who did not want to make friends.
  • He was afraid of himself.
After the transformation
  • He became more outspoken, he could put a point before his mother.
  • He could make a choice for himself-he told his mother that he would go to Mr Lamb.
  • He was filled with a feeling of hope.
  • He had taken up a more positive attitude towards life.
  • He had shaken away his consciousness about the scar, "It's got nothing to do with my face and what I look like."
  • He felt great about himself, and his being able to take a decision empowered him
  • He sought the attention of Mr Lamb, he will probably be more outgoing.
5. Draw a character sketch of Mr Lamb (points only):
  • Middle-aged or older
  • War veteren (He had his leg blown off in an explosion.)
  • He was friendly with others, even strangers
  • He liked talking to people, he was social
  • He appreciated life in all its forms, even weeds.
  • He was optimistic and had a positive attitude towards life
  • He had a lot to do, he kept himself busy
  • He had a purpose in life, even if it was to make jam or toffee
  • He was open-minded

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Avoid Jargon that makes no sense!

Just recently I came across a post titled, '50 Epic Jargon Solutions for Better Writing,' and guess what, I was surprised to see that we use most of them in everyday life! Strangely enough, most of us probably use jargon to 'drive a point' with panache! However, one needs to beware of how cliched and worn out these words have become. I have listed a few words, cliches that I have come across and why they need to be done away with. The use of jargon presumably to 'drive a point' might, in fact, prevent effective communication being distracting in nature, since the uninitiated victim might be drawn to the uniqueness of the term!

1.   At the end of the day. By the end of the day. One wonders where one might be by the end of the day. With things being so volatile and fluid, with things happening so fast, things might be so different by the day's end might mean 'take your time!'

2. Awesome. A much-bandied word that might be used to describe an exceptional art piece, it might sound rather artificial and hollow when used too often. 

3. Bandwidth. I remember how radios used different bands, you had Shortwave Bands, Mediumwave bands, F.M. bands to operate. It is a skilful way of saying you don't have time, or it has not been planned for.  

4. Buy-in.  I wonder if this is a throw off from the Commerce syllabus! This is a rather sophisticated way of saying that you agree, or you would like to give support to a new idea.

5. Champion (as a verb). In many cases, the uninitiated rookie is encouraged to support a cause or an idea that is doomed to fail, and the more experienced shy away from the very idea of defending it. 

6. Content is king.  Probably a throw off from the field of content marketing, this is a much-used term that would look better while developing a web page, or planning out an online marketing campaign. Teachers of poetical expression will shout with glee about the use of metaphors in everyday language, who would say that poetry is dead!

7. Core competencies. This is a rather unique way of stating the basic minimum skills that are required for a particular post. I wonder if by mentioning the word, 'Core' there might not be another group of skills too!

8. Cutting edge. Razors and swords have cutting edges. The term 'Cut-throat competition'  also creates a rather graphic image of duels that used to take place in the Medieval ages to prove honour and innocence.
All this obsession with gore and Cutting Edge technology seems to remind us of the gladiators in Roman times.

12. Disconnect (as a noun).  You might as well state that you don't agree with something because of a misunderstanding. A euphemistic way to say that you think differently, it could also be an excuse for building up a prelude to an argument that leads to the dismissal of a subordinate.  

13. Disruptive. This is a euphemism for people who are intent on making trouble. In today's experiential times, however, it looks bad to accept that there are people in your organisation who think differently. Thus, to save face you label such influences as being disruptive! 

14. Vulnerability: OMG! We come across this term multiple times in workshops that deal with team-building and emotional learning practices. Why would one want to be vulnerable in the midst of others! Personal things need to be shared only with those with whom you feel really safe! You really can't expect to turn on and turn off your inner-most feelings! It is as if you were expected to turn on and off the tap tears!

18. Empower: OK, so you have decided to entrust someone with some responsibilities because you have too much on your hands, and you want to make the person feel great about the responsibilities you have given him or her. Somehow it sounds as if the delegation of responsibilities has given the person certain privileges denied to the rest. You have started a class war in your organization by empowering certain people and disempowering others!

19. Safe Space, Safe Zone: This term reminds me of the safe zones and safe spaces that were demarcated by the UN forces in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzogonia a few years back. Why would anyone want to remind others of safe zones and safe spaces that saw some of the worst atrocities during the Yugoslavian conflict? A better term would be, feel free, this is unofficial, you are permitted to voice your opinion, relax, do your own stuff...etc.

20. Key Takeaway: A much-used term borrowed from the culture of takeaway breakfasts, lunches and dinners that can be microwaved into acceptable appearance prior to being consumed. This term is used after a marathon session of brainstorming and discussions about where the organisation is headed to. Better terms would summarise, conclude, or wind-up.

21. Going Forward: All organisations plan to move forward, progress so what is the point of stating the obvious? A better expression would be our future plan, we plan to, we will...etc

22. Get on board: Get on board or you will be eaten by the sharks, shot by the bandits, or abducted by aliens from Gondor! A sugar-coated term that assumes compliance and readiness to 'jump the bandwagon', toe the line, or see eye to eye while joining the organisation, a  team or group.

23. Ideation: Metacognition, cognition, and formation of ideas are important terms of learning strategies. Clinical Psychologists and Counsellors might use these terms to explain the need to visualise, develop strategies, or brainstorm ways to achieve better marks in the next exam.

24. Knowledge Transfer: All initiates and rookies will be provided information via Bluetooth, wifi, and direct connect. Don't worry! Someone will coach you, train you and tell you about how things work here!

25. Key Learning: The big picture, the big idea, the concept, the central theme, central message...etc.

26. On the same page: A sugar-coated way of suggesting that a few areas of agreement do exist in an ocean of disagreements!

27. Paradigm Shift: An over-inflated way of suggesting that a huge change has taken place in the attitude of people. The very culture has changed greatly, fewer people are taking leaves now, except for emergencies!

28. Raise the bar: Increase the difficulty level, make it more difficult, raise expectations, to make it more difficult to get that paid holiday without proving yourself worthy enough.

29. Push the envelope: Pull up your socks, tighten your belt, gird your loins for here are some more challenges. Push your limits, work harder, move on to the next level, you got a silver, now work for the gold.

I have shared some of the jargon solutions, from the article link posted below. Quite a few of the fifty jargon shared in the article are those that I come across often.

50 Epic Jargon Solutions for Better Writing


Monday, 16 April 2018

Is Education making Human Beings Data Vaults?

One major disconnect that a well-meaning student would have with the educational system is that it favours mostly, recollection and memorization of information and not the ability to process it! While exams mostly cater to the ability to recall and reproduce data, they are mostly ineffective in assessing the student’s ability to apply concepts, and principles and hypothese to solve problems. We have failed in teaching our students to be problem solvers; the marks or credits they are awarded in their year-end certificates are indicators of their ability to recollect what has been taught in class. Our exams and our pedagogy only assessed how much data has been stored in the brain, that too in its short-term memory. One wonders how long we can continue to view the human brain as a data storage device! We can't go on adding RAMS and Hard Disk Drives to the human brain, at least without some kind of Augmentation. That would of course then turn us into Cyborgs. But then, one wonders if the purpose of education might not, after all, be to benchmark learning as the ability to store massive amounts of data that can be poured out in an interview or a test. Adam Gazzaley, a co-founder of Neuroscape, a centre at the University of California, San Francisco doesn’t mince words when he claims that we are headed towards a ‘global cognition crisis’ resulting from a system of education that is majorly built around a system that is focussed on ‘transferring information’ rather than processing the same.
It is an unfortunate fact that while we attempt to enhance our physical abilities, we have unfortunately failed in enhancing our cognitive abilities. It does not, however, require an extreme mind shift to promote learning that involves metacognition in class. If teachers attempt to elicit answers, by asking their students to work on specific problems and supply answers, and addedly suggest alternate strategies it will bring in a great change in the way we teach our children. Unfortunately, our models of teaching in the classroom leave much to be desired! Even some of the progressive schools that claim to be Experiential in nature cater to the needs of children fail miserably because they adhere to a fixed strategy for teaching. They use the same strategy across classes without even realising the fact that one strategy can never be a panacea for all kinds of learners!
What makes matter worse for schools that claim to be experiential is that they have classrooms that are overcrowded and thus limit the efficacy of student lead learning or even experiential learning. To be able to reap the benefits of metacognition, you need to have an ideal teacher-student ratio! Metacognition in the learning process can only take place when you, as a teacher are able to interact with each student face to face. What matters is not how many soldiers were killed in the Franco-Prussian war, but rather why the war took place! If you want your learners to be problem solvers, teach them to critique and analyse content. Teach them skills to frame questions, and teach them to arrive at explanations as to why they have reached a conclusion. To arrive at optimum metacognition levels, the class should be able to be aware of why they thought about an answer to a problem, why they thought a figure of speech was an oxymoron, or for that effect why another was a metaphor. It is important for example in the teaching of literature to allow students to read a piece and then arrive at their own interpretations about the message and theme involved. After they have arrived at their own interpretation, they need to explain why they thought so and what they thought the supporting evidence was. Skills in critiquing and analysing existing content are more important than perhaps reproducing an entire paragraph as an answer. Questions based on comprehension reading passages should be those that prompt analysis, metacognition, and to some extent extrapolation. In other words, we need to encourage the use of higher-order thought processes while answering such questions where part of it prompts the student to explain why he or she thought of such an answer, the reasons, and the supporting evidence.
The matter of making pedagogy and curriculums more research and thought oriented has existed for ages. Aristotle used questions to arrive at a conclusion, the Upanishads too have used questions to arrive at answers. The use of leading questions, consciously by some educationists have contributed to breaking out of the habit of offering everything on a platter, thus prompting a culture of memorising stuff. Einstein fought with his History teacher about the need to memorise how many soldiers were killed in the battle and not giving thought to the reason why a battle was being fought. Questions that begin with why something the Titanic sank despite being of the latest design, how the sinking of the Titanic could have been avoided, explain your reasons for thinking so, and analyse the circumstances that lead to the bombing of Hiroshima prompt a more thoughtful answer than asking the question as to how many died in both the incidents. Education is not just about memorising data and facts, rather it is about analysing and interpreting data and facts, and being able to make projections, and possible scenarios. The amount of data that is being churned out through the internet is so overwhelming that our human brains will soon run out of space should we be expected to store all that information. The memory in computers can be enhanced but this is not possible in the same terms as far as the brain is concerned. It is ironical that while people are busy enhancing their motor skills, muscles, and performance skills in sports, very little is being done to enhance the abilities of the most important organ of the body without which there can be no consciousness! While this not about developing ‘Brainiacs’ what matters is being able to process and filter all that information in a manner that is effective and efficient and does not drain us of all our energy for other things, such as living a healthy life.
The use of machines and internet-enabled devices has made us more confused and stressed, and has in fact promoted a copy-paste culture that does not really involve our cognitive skills. The use of the internet and its resources has taken us back to learning processes based on mere rote memorisation, plagiarism and a learning that lasts hours and the purpose of which is just to pass an exam. We have lost sight of the purpose of learning something, we don’t bother about the big idea of reading a poem. It is most important to seek relevance in what one is doing in a lesson. Why should a Science stream student read literature? What is the relevance of reading An Elementary School in a Slum by Stephen Spender? To find relevance, students would have to analyse the poem from different points of view and from the point of view of a Chemist, Biologist and a Physics Scholar. Not surprisingly, History has shown us how inventions have been preceded by visions and dreams about the Nautilus, space travel, time travel, and even invisibility. Jules Verne and H.G.Wells wrote about things that were yet to be invented. Kekule had a vision about the benzene molecule; he saw a snake swallowing its own tale and that is how the structure of the Benzine molecule was depicted. The use of the internet and our dependence on the same has in many ways robbed us of the ability to dream, be creative, and be open to intuitive learning. Intuitive and inspired learning can only result from being able to mull and work over problems over a period. However, when everything is available on the internet, why would one want to think over problems. What makes learning even more effective is when students own their learning and arrive at the expected solution on their own, even though the teacher knew about it but kept quiet, letting the students arrive at the conclusion on their own. Student-owned learning stems from students using their own problem-solving skills in arriving at solutions. The immense resources of the internet should be used with care in such a way that it doesn’t become an end rather than a means to greater learning!
The use of the internet should be preceded by a curriculum on Digital Citizenship. The ease of use of the internet has not just made us copy-paste characters, but also people who are ready to plagiarize ideas, thoughts and even information without really attributing them to their authors. Most of the projects that we do in school are in fact copy-pasted material acquired from various websites. A syllabus on Digital Citizenship should include developing research skills, Ethics of use of information, an awareness about plagiarism, and skills in collaborative learning. The fact of the matter is that mere introduction of technology in education does not really lead to inspired or even cognitive learning unless students and teachers have been trained to use technology. Technology is a double-edged sword that if not used carefully, can turn against its user turning him into an automaton, a zombie that can’t think for himself. Classrooms in most progressive schools are equipped with WIFI, projectors, screens and speakers so all you need to do is to connect your laptop and show the students films, presentations, photographs and date from the internet. The fact, however, is that very few of us use the internet for the intended purpose! Technology for many of us can be distracting, and a lot of us struggle with technology. Often the use of technology becomes the end all of education and not the means of education. Many of us are so daunted using Technology-Apps and platforms that we become exhausted before we even start the lesson. When we are daunted by technology, it would be better for us to discard it!
The need of the hour is to make our students decision makers, analysts, and problem solvers and not technology user whiz kids. Education is not about data reproduction, rather it is about data interpretation. Education is about exploration, identifying new possibilities, ideas, and alternative routes to learning. We have switched from learning objective to learning targets. The statement, ‘The student will be able to explain the principle of the displacement of fluids’ has changed to ‘I can explain the principle involved in the displacement of fluids’ a shift from teacher-based learning objectives to a more student-based learning outcome. These learning outcomes are written at the beginning or the middle or even at the end of the lesson.

Thursday, 12 April 2018