Thursday, May 7, 2009

Education, ceremonies and costumes

A month as gone by since my last post. Very busy. One of the things I did do last month was graduate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa with a PhD in Agricultural Extension Education. And this event made me think of two things: education and ceremonies and costumes.

Let's start with education. It is a strange thing. By profession I am an educator -- a senior lecturer at a university. It is a mis-nomer because I rarely lecture. Mostly I create opportunities for students to discover. But that aside, although I am an educator, I have had little (no!) training in education. My PhD was partly in education, so at least I do have a smattering of the theory behind it. My work (or at least the part on education) was around curriculum and learning outcomes; and I had to develop a new method for evaluating and developing curriculum.

My fundamental philosophy for education comes from three passages from the Writings of Baha'u'llah. The first of these is: "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 259)

The second is: "Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things." (The Persian Hidden Words, No. 29)

And the third is: "Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 259)

It seems to me that these three passages pretty much sum up education -- that education is about discovering the gems within ourselves, discovering that which we "inherently possess" and using all the atoms -- that is all creation -- as the vehicle for discovery.

This said, it is rather cool to think that students are 'talismen' in the making. Magical beings with supernatural powers that offer protection. And our job as educators is to awaken those powers. But the question is: powers of protection to protect what? Mankind -- the beneficiary of the the education of people.

And it is rather instructive that education as a mining (discovery) process should incorporate and understanding that what is learned (discovered) should be of benefit to others (mankind) and is meant to be shared (applied, put to work). And that is more or less how I go about my teaching work. It makes for interesting work... and it is generally a real challenge for my students who, for the most part, would rather just be told what to learn and remember it for an exam. But seeing as my first year classes have grown from 25 to over 100 in the last few years, and similar growth has occurred in my other classes, it is reasonably safe to say that beside all the protests... the students feel they benefit from the approach.

So much for education, what of ceremonies and costumes?

Well, this is far less heady... When I was a boy I loved wearing costumes. I had costumes for all occasions. I regularly changed costumes to watch different television programmes -- wearing a costume suited to the programme. I even had a (fake) leopard skin loin cloth for watching "Bomba". Now, many, many years after "Bomba", after living in his land, and having had to put on a costume for the purpose of graduation (it comes complete with really cool hat shaped rather like a velvet pillow)... having had to put on this costume I realised that costumes are the stuff of life -- and they are often linked to ceremonies. Consider first communion -- not that I ever had it -- but, from my wife I understand that it is a very formal ceremony with a costume. Consider dating, the ceremony is less formal (but it is there), likewise the costume (not fixed, but just the right ensemble is a must. Consider weddings. Very formal ceremony, very formal costume. Consider work: ceremonies and costumes. Court rooms: ceremonies and costumes. And the most obvious is royal occasions whether of the church or the state... all costumes and ceremonies.

So what does this tell me? It tells me that I had to get all the way through to a PhD to learn what I knew at 5 years old watching "Bomba" and "Doktari" -- life is very much about ceremonies and costumes. So Cameron... don't ever empty that closet. There is a ceremony waiting for each of those costumes.

I leave you with this thought: if you don't have any ceremonies in your life, then get some... and if you have ceremonies without the costumes... then you are really missing out on life... be conscious of the ceremonies of life and always, always wear the right costume... even if it is an imitation leopard skin loin cloth.


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