Mar 1, 2007

Learning Through Participation & Teaching Others--Attending School & Citizenship Not All that Different!

In one of my classes this semester, I formed five groups and I asked the students to research, analyze and present their findings to the whole class. One great way to learn about an issue is to analyze it and then having to present it (or teach it) to others. It's an amazing process. I think most students today are not exposed to this way of learning and it's a shame. I do appreciate the value of a lecture, but this should not be the only method of teaching our younger generation. I've seen it too often, that students sit disinterested in a classroom where the professor delivers a lecture (usually in monotone) from his notes. I've seen too many disinterested or burnt-out teachers. Not good.

I let the students to pick whatever issue(s) they wanted to cover, research them in any depth or detail, and make any type of presentation they liked. So far, I've been pleasantly surprised. PowerPoint presentations, use of the Internet live, videos from Youtube, editorials, interviews, and students' own essays. Even if there was no consensus within a group [Dems and Repubs didn't see eye to eye!] the result was much better than many shows thrown at the American public by "respectable" mainstream media outlets! I'm not kidding. And, the tone was much more civilized than the venom and stupidity uttered by the likes of Coulter, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Hannity, and the rest of the zoo of infotainment media.

I'm not saying that students didn't exhibit strong points of view, even the occasional emotional plea, but this added to the excitement, captured the attention of the audience, and we learned something! [I'm going to follow up on this shortly] I've seen this happening in many other settings as well. When people are moved from the chair of the passive listener to the activity of their own involvement, good things begin to happen. Magically things become to make more sense, because the individual (or the student) arrives at his/her own conclusion--this is a very exciting experience! Once a person works on an issue, a point of view emerges, and having to defend this issue with reasonable arguments exposes this person to the rational process! I can't over-emphasize the value of this experience and the kind of a person it creates.

Too many people have swallowed stuff without chewing it first. They hold beliefs, impressions, bias without much examination. It's no accident that sometimes we behave inappropriately for a mature and responsible nation. Of course, we all know the aftermath of 9-11 and the reaction of the American public. Enter an incompetent president, a collection of absolutist theocrats and a group of neoconservative aggressors, and the result was an unmitigated disaster for our country. Why? Because the country, its elected representatives, and the media all failed to exercise common sense. As a nation, we allowed ourselves to believe anything and do anything to be secure and get revenge. BushCo manipulated our insecurities, sat us down, and fed us a pack of lies--which was readily consumed. This is not good.

The Founding Fathers established a system of representative government, but they assumed that most people were not fit to participate in it. Back then, only white men with property (men of responsibility in society) could participate. Obviously, many things have changed since then, mostly for the better, but not all is well. As this blog's masthead says, democracy is as good as the people who participate in it. An informed and engaged citizen is essential in keeping a democracy healthy. Don't care, and this thingy will go away faster than you think....

I feel lucky I get to make a difference, though anyone can make a difference in their own way. Just think about it; everyone has something to contribute to make this world a better place to live in. No person achieves anything entirely on his/her own (unless they exist in the vacuum of space). The rest of us stand upon the shoulders of others, who stood upon the shoulders of others, etc. Having this perspective works wonders in "giving something back," like helping others stand up and developing a sense of responsibility that goes beyond one's nose.

12 comments:

Andros said...

Clarification: I'm aware that there's no vacuum in space, at least in the known universe--before the expansion horizon--where new space is created.

I used this as an expression to say that every person is subject to the forces within society and is helped by others to survive childbirth and grow up (this is at the very minimum).

This argument also takes a swipe at those who often say, I've built this on my own, entirely, so (they mean)no obligations to ..others are recognized. I accept the genious and the efforts of the individual, but even Bill Gates can't (and he doesn't) argue that without the protection of a civil society, the laws, the infrastracture, other human beings, etc, etc, we would just be a brute in a state of nature... (maybe not a bad thing)

kelly said...

I don't think all students appreciate how lucky they are to be getting an education. Though often it takes sometime to realize what you've got. Great post.

beverly said...

But the Faux news and other media channels don't really care about pursuing the truth, just to entertain their ..folks.

Think of the recent crap Faux was peddling for several days about Obama being a radical muslim because he attended a religious school at age 6... They got their facts wrong, included inuendos, gossip, superstition, bias, and lots of simple stupidity. Sadly, some Americans watch this crap!

sam said...

Your students may be more engaged but I'm not sure that nationally our kids really care about politics or know anything about what's happening out there. They too absorb bits and bites from the infotainment media.

Anonymous said...

what? no vacuum in space?!! Are you sure? Well, it's OK, we don't have to go to outer space... some of our fellow humans have emptied their brains and have created a perfect vacuum!

Anonymous said...

Like Eleanor Rosevelt said, a democratic society doesn't happen overnight; it takes time and education.

Anonymous said...

That's why we can't assume that we can package democracy and export it like any other commodity. Very hard to do so, especially when there are great divisions present. Iraq is a great example of such failure.

I do believe democracy--open society, representative gov., minority rights,etc--is the best regime, but it doesn't mean anything to barbarians.... No, I don't mean those people who don't accept it are barbarians, but they have to accept those principles (states above) before you can entertain thoughts about having such a regime. right?

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Care to explain what do you mean that there's stuff in the "vacuum of space"???

Acquinas said...

I wish more rich people did what Bill Gates is doing, giving so much to organizations that make a positive difference in people's lives today! Unlike, Mother Theresa...

anderson said...

I think you should include more posts about your experience in politics and in your personal life (those things you can share).

I read your teaching style in that PoliSci class. You're right about learning through teaching others.

When I was a grad student, the professor asked us to read a book a week, and every week a different student would present this book to others. It was hard at times, but soon we realized that a) we had to do the reading to participate in the discussion, b) nervous at first, but we learned how to speak to groups. Of course the most important thing was that we really had to understand the book and boil it down to its main themes & ideas.

ds said...

I don't have data from the previous generation (Vietnam era) about young people participating in and being aware of politics. But, today the percentage is extremely low, perhaps the lowest among many groups.

robbie said...

In the last election, there was a big jump in participation of people under 25. At least that's why the media reported. So, when I looked, I saw that from 20% it went up to 24%. Great! (how do you express irony?)