무궁화호

IMG_2334무궁화호는 어릴적 ‘칙칙폭폭’에 어울리는 기차이다.

참 자주도 선다. 좀 간다 싶으면 다음역이란다. “우리 기차, 이번 역은…” 하고 시작하는 안내 방송이 마치 “서울 가는 이 하나 더 있응께 쪼매 돌아 가유. 다들 안바쁘제?” 하는 것 같다.

같이 탄 사람들 중에는 할아버지, 할머니들이 많다. 이미 신발을 좌석 앞쪽에 벗어 놓고는 긴 바지를 접어 올리셨다. “응, 막내야. 기차 잘 탔어. 걱정말어.” “긍께 잊지 말고 택배 잘 받아놔유.” 몸은 기차에 실었지만 마음은 집에 놓고 오셨다.

가방 속 iPad 와 Apple pencil 은 꺼낼 생각도 안했다. 대신 수첩에 연필로 끄적인다.

난 KTX 를 타는 여유보다 무궁화호를 타는 여유가 더 좋다.

 

I’m learning in my class too!

teacher-407360_1920When people talk about the effects of active learning, it’s all about students; students are motivated to learn, their ownership increases, they retain knowledge longer, etc. One thing I noticed is that in the active learning classroom, instructors also learn and intellectually grow just as students do.

When the instructor steps aside a little bit to leave a room for students so that they could follow their interests and synthesize information on their own, the instructor acquires new information relevant to the course subject from students’ work. Moreover, while observing how students develop their interest and improve information fluency, the instructor could reassess his/her teaching philosophy and grows as an educator.

After all, active learning is happening to EVERYONE in the classroom. 

Intersection between what you know and who you are

Sanger’s point rang true to me in part because I almost never speak about my own abortion, which I had when I was an eighteen-year-old freshman at U.C.Berkley. This was strange, it occurred to me as I read Sanger’s book, because the decision was as consequential as any I’d made as a young person’ it had allowed me to claim the future I imagined for myself. But, in another way, it wasn’t so strange, because I had never regretted having an abortion, so it was not a choice I felt compelled to revisit… I never did feel that I’d killed a baby; I felt that I’d ended a pregnancy. What I remember most of all was the relief when it was over, and the kindness of the doctor and the nurses at the health center, who treated me like a person with a reasonable sense of her own mind. So why don’t I ever talk about it? … in part, it’s true, because abortion has a stigma–a stigma I don’t believe should exist but am not entirely immune to, an aura of selfishness or callousness. (Obstacle Course by Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker (April 3rd, 2017))

Margaret Talbot’s piece was just another monthly book review in The New Yorker until the paragraph above appeared. She reviewed a recent book on abortion and then toward the end of her piece, she unveiled the story of her own abortion. Her candor and willingness to stand up for and share her decision astonished me. It goes without saying that her honest personal account made her review more vital and relatable. Ms. Talbot’s article reminded me of an interview of Krista Tippett in the podcast “On Being”. When the interviewer asked Ms. Tippett about including her separation from her father in her book Becoming Wise, she said,

 … the book, it just — it didn’t come alive for a long time, and I realized, actually, I also had to do what I ask other people to do, which I know makes ideas come to life, and also makes them listenable, makes them land in the imaginations of listener with vitality, which is to really walk that line, that intersection between what you know, and who you are. And, yeah, then I had to actually — I had to be honest, even just with myself, about the hard, the sad parts of my life, and those things that I wrestle with. (https://onbeing.org/programs/krista-tippett-the-mystery-and-art-of-living/)

Perhaps, what makes someone a true intellectual who desires to bring about changes in others and communities is strength and courage that allows him/her to be able to share own struggles and vulnerability pertaining to his/her ideas. Because changes occur when the heart is touched and only a shaky but firm voice coming from the heart can touch another heart.

The coevolution of knowledge and schools?

In medieval Europe, the chief formula for knowledge was: Knowledge = Scriptures x Logic. If people wanted to know the answer to an important question, they would read scriptures and use their logic to understand the exact meaning of the text… The Scientific Revolution proposed a very different formula for knowledge: Knowledge = Empirical Data x Mathematics. If we want to know the answer to some question, we need to gather relevant empirical data, and then use mathematical tools to analyze them… As humans gained confidence in themselves, a new formula for acquiring ethical knowledge appeared: Knowledge = Experiences x Sensitivity. If we wish to know the answer to any ethical question, we need to connect to our inner experiences and observe them with the utmost sensitivity… What exactly are ‘experiences’? They are not empirical data… an experience is a subjective phenomenon made up of three main ingredients: sensations, emotions and thoughts… And what is ‘sensitivity’? It means two things. Firstly, paying attention to my sensations, emotions and thoughts. Secondly, allowing these sensations emotions, and thoughts to influence me (p239 in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Harari).

In other words, the meaning of knowledge has evolved from what we were told to do to what we could test to what we experience and internalize.

The trajectory of this evolution is quite interesting. The realm of knowledge has moved from something concrete and tangible to abstract and intangible. The focus of knowledge was external objects (e.g., God or nature), but now it’s about what’s in me.

Then, what does this new formula for knowledge mean to us, educators? What types of experiences do we want our students to have in order to become competent, responsible and mindful adults? How can we create the environment that can cultivate the capacity for sensations, emotions and thoughts? How could we even assess students’ performances when the knowledge they acquire is about themselves?

Dr. Harari’s insightful perspective on knowledge encouraged me to imagine how the college would (or should) be changed. What would the college look like when its goal is to help students gain knowledge composed of experiences and sensitivity? Three pillars of the new school curriculum would be open-mindedness, self-consciousness and expressive mind. Experiences are qualitative. A single simple phenomenon could elicit a multitude of emotions and thoughts if the individual sees it from different perspectives. Internalization of an experience requires being mindful of oneself and expressing his/her emotions and thoughts in various forms–words, drawing, music, physical movement, etc. Namely, the new formula for knowledge would redefine the school as a safe place where students gain experiences without worrying about failure, pay attention to opposing or foreign ideas without any prejudice, get to know themselves without any pressure to fit themselves into the existing frames, and create and strengthen own channels of expression.

Book Review: Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow

IMG_2085Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Yuval Noah Harari

It was the title, Homo Deus, that lured me to start this book, but I think it is the subtitle, a brief history of tomorrow, that actually embodies the thesis of the book batter than Homo Deus, an “upgraded” human being with god-like capacities. History is about the past, so how could we even talk about a history of tomorrow? This contradictory subtitle makes sense once you learn the reason for studying history provided by the author. He wrote,

“If history doesn’t follow any stable rules, and if we cannot predict its future course, why study it? … historians are asked to examine the actions of our ancestors so that we can repeat their wise decisions and avoid their mistakes. But it almost never works like that because the present is just too different from the past… Though historians occasionally try their hand at prophecy (without notable success), the study of history aims above all to make us aware of possibilities we don’t normally consider. Historians study the past not in order to repeat it, but in order to be liberated from it…Studying history aims to loosen the grip of the past. It enables us to turn our head this way and that, and begin to notice possibilities that our ancestors could not imagine, or didn’t want us to imagine. By observing the accidental chain of events that led us here, we realize how our very thoughts and dreams took shape—will not tell us what to choose, but at least it gives us more options” (60).

This interesting viewpoint to look at the future makes the book unique. First of all, the author illustrates the future not as an isolated entity, but as part of human history—there is no boundary showing where the present ends and the future starts. Thus, unlike many writings about the future, the book spends considerable time describing the current transition where humanism dwindles and dataism soars. Second, the author throws out fundamental questions whose answers could change the course of our history.

“These three processes raise three key questions, which I hope will stick in your mind long after you have finished this book: Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? What’s more valuable — intelligence or consciousness? What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?” (402).

Is it a wishful thinking that human beings cannot be reduced to algorithms and that moral values can be upheld in the midst of the efficiency craze? Mulling over this question, I realized the author’s implicit message in the book—take part in making the history of tomorrow.

After all, what seems like “the accidental chain of events” is in fact a product of contemplation and deliberate decisions.

Book Review: Darkness Visible — A memoir of madness

Loss in all of its manifestations is the touchstone of depression—in the progress of the disease and, most likely, in its origin… The loss of self-esteem is a celebrated symptom, and my own sense of self had all but disappeared, along with any self-reliance. This loss can quickly degenerate into dependence, and from dependence into infantile dread. One dreads the loss of all things, all people close and dear. There is an acute fear of abandonment. Being alone in the house, even for a moment, caused me exquisite panic and trepidation (p 57 of Darkness Visible by William Styron).

Loss of any kind leads to pain. However, our body and mind react to the loss differently.  A paper cut stimulates our existing cells to proliferate and repair the damage. It’s our body’s intrinsic healing process. Our mind, unfortunately, is exempt from this amazing ability. When we lose “cells” in our heart—it could be our self-esteem, our beloved ones, etc—we turn to people around us and lean on them. Please don’t get me wrong. It is a blessing to be able to comfort someone whose heart is broken. However, this dependence comes with the expiration date. Once it is passed, the dependency occupies the space in which our own “cells” should have filled and then turn to our own agency and engulfs it. Unlike the physical wound healing process, it takes an extra effort and active pursuit to get our own mind cells reappear and reconstitute what has been lost before dependency stays put.

I guess resilience is a quantifiable quality—the rate of which our own “mind cells” (or whoever the smallest structural and functional unit of our mind is called) proliferate to heal the wound in our heart.

For those of you who are interested in related subjects, I recommend this TED talk about emotional hygiene.

More quotes from Darkness Invisible are below.

Continue reading

Testimony to liberal arts education

book_sale_loot_4552277923I am a beneficiary of liberal arts education and an ardent fan and advocate of it. However, it’s hard to describe the value of liberal arts education. Then, I encountered the following statements from poet Mary Oliver.

“I quickly found for myself two such blessings—the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place.

In the first of these—the natural world—I felt at ease; nature was full of beauty and interest and mystery, also good and bad luck, but never misuse. The second world—the world of literature—offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything—other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart” (p15. Mary Oliver’s Upstream).

Vanishing from one’s humdrum routine and connecting with or being someone else. It’s something that a billion dollar job cannot do, but a worn-out book can do. Or a piece of music could do it too.

Welcoming an ever-increasing emphasis on STEM education, I also hope that it does not expel literature and music education from curriculum. Although they appear amorphous and resist any metrics for measuring their values, literature and music education add layers and dimensions to our inner world. They enrich and expand our multi-dimensional life. No wonder why there is no space in our one-dimensional resume for the experience we got from literature and music. Because it cannot.

Here’s another statement that caught my ear resonating the same theme:

“Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said ‘Listening to great music is a shattering experience, throwing the soul into an encounter with an aspect of reality to which the mind can never relate itself adequately. Such experiences undermine conceit and complacency and may even induce a sense of contrition and a readiness for repentance. I am neither a musician nor an expert on music. But the shattering experience of music has been a challenge to my thinking on ultimate issues. I spend my life working with thoughts. And one problem that gives me no rest is: do these thoughts ever rise to the heights reached by authentic music?‘” (From https://www.onbeing.org/programs/alice-parker-singing-companionable-arts/)

Photo by Ginny / CC BY-SA 2.0