Jenny Chen's blog
During this past Thursday's class we anonomously put up our thoughts about our trip to Ghana and where to progress from there. One classmates response asked a question along the lines of "What happens when the stereotypes we know about turn out to be more true that we had hoped?" and this particular question impacted me quite significantly and made me begin to think of answers to this question.
To begin, I had a similar revelation while in Ghana. One day at lunch Alice asked me what my "AHA!" moment in Ghana was and I said that even though I had never been in Ghana or any country in Africa, what I was experiencing was not mind-blowingly different than what I had thought. When I applied to this 360 program and I had mentioned that one of my goals is to disprove some of the pre-conceived notions that I have about Africa as a whole. Through reading and analysis and ultimately through a first hand experience in Ghana I was expecting to come home with stories about how our original pre-conceived notions were all wrong and Ghana is actually like this and this, and so on and so forth. I never really thought of my pre-conceived notions as stereotypes but after one of my classmates brought it up, I realized that the question "What do we do when our stereotypes more true than hoped?" is actually very valid, and the answer does not come easily.
In thinking of favorite books from childhood, it made think about what we absorb as children and what we futher gain when we look back on the books we loved as children. In many ways, what we learn from books as children is as valid as what we later on understand, but in other ways I think that the adult view on childrens literature is more full and developed. Here is an example from my own personal experience:
One of the most intriguing aspects of Ghanian history that I learned is their intense grading system. I was incredibly surprised by how rigorously grades were incorporated into the Ghanaian education system starting from a young age. For example, Ghanian children would probably have pictures graded in kindergarten, and this continues into university where an entire class is based on the final exam. Then, when talking to the Liberian therapist, he mentioned how even the education system is much more rigorous that that of an American education. He described the American education as a “spoon feeding” system and while I was slightly taken aback by this statement, I started to realize what he meant when as I reflected on my own education.
Throughout my education in the US I have gotten much guidance from my teachers. I went to private school from 7th to 12th grade because my parents wanted me to be in a smaller setting where teachers were more available. However, even when I went to a middle sized public elementary school from kindergarten to grade 6 I was receiving a lot of attention from teachers, the only difference being that things were taught much more slowly in elementary school in order to give this individual attention to large groups of students. I am not saying that “guidance” is bad; in fact, it is one of the strengths in a good education. However, in many ways, education is also “handed” to us.
On our field trip to the Penn Museum I met an Autistic boy. He was incredibly inspiring as while we walked through the museum he could ramble off facts about every exhibition we went to. Esty and I called him the “walking encyclopedia” as there was very little we could bring up that he didn’t know about.
While we walked around the museum, this students mentor explained to us that he views the world differently than we do. He told us that the student wanted to be social and make friends but he does not know how to interact with people. But at the same time, he is happy where he is. He said that the student loved computers and would sit in front of a computer all day just reading about history. He can’t even convince him to play games. The idea of “distractions” then came up, and the mentor stated that many Autistic people are incredibly focused on what they are interested in; in this student's case, history.
This made me begin to think about our distractions and how it relates to our education and our literacy. While this student may have many problems that inhibits him from being able to socialize the way we are able to, he also has retained so much information that we haven’t been able to. Could this be because he is FULLY focused on his interests? Were people 200 years ago more able to retain information and knowledge because there weren’t distractions such as Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, video games, TV, movies, etc…?
Throughout the last two weeks, I often think of the ideas of realism and optimism. It was Pim's reading "To Hell With Good Intentions" that I first began thinking of these ideas more coherently. Good intentions can be measured through optimism and realism. There is a certain amount that outside forces can contribute to a community before changing the underlying structure of the community. In the idealistic event that this should occur, the contribution can be measured in both optimism and realism. However, as Ivan Illich implies, there are no true good intentions. There can be optimistic intentions, usually those that cause tremendous change followed by tremendous downfall. On the other hand there are realistic intentions, and those are usually the things that could be done, but are not becuase the "tremendous changes" are happening.
Having grown up in a middle class American community, the ideas of diversity, acceptance, individuality, and selflessness have been stressed throughout my education as well as in my household. Growing up with my mother can be confusing at times, especially as a youngster. I would often here her yelling, “You can’t expect to be able to help others unless you figure your own problems out. Focus on your own life,” and usually around the same time she would also yell, “You have to think about others. What do you think everyone else needs? The world is not always about you.” At five or six years old, those statements seemed like contradictions, but as I grew up, I discovered the idea of “gray matter” or the fact that everything is not one way or another. My parents worked incredibly hard to “get me out” in the world by sending me to public school, private school, boarding school, putting me on swim teams, taking me to art classes, afterschool programs, music lessons and so on and so forth. And while their intentions were for me to become well rounded, they also wanted me to be placed in different communities with people of different socioeconomic status and backgrounds. As a child, I rendered these activities and experiences as “good” or “bad” depending on how I fit in each situation, but now, I see all of these as learning experiences that brought me to where I am now.