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Gaining Perspective

July 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Gaining Perspective

When we grow up we’re typically told the facts about the world around us without ever really getting involved with discovering for ourselves. I remember looking through a book on planets and space complete with illustrations and pictures of various celestial objects when I was young and being fascinated. But again, everything was learned facts and some were expected to be regurgitated on tests later on. While this is just the style of accepted education, it is far less superior to actual involvement from the students/child.

Let me explain what I mean: For example, take this picture of Saturn. Yes, we’re taught that Saturn is a planet and is very far away (1.2-1.6 billion kilometers from Earth). We are also taught that it is a very large planet – you can easily fit 763 Earth-sized planets inside. These are easy facts to throw around, but for it to really ‘drive home’ the scale of distance vs. size, there’s nothing like viewing Saturn (or any other planet!) for yourself through a telescope. I remember pointing my newly minted 8″ Dobsonian reflector at the distant world named after the God of Time and being absolutely captivated. I had suddenly grasped a new perspective; it wasn’t a picture in a book, it wasn’t just inked out facts, I was looking at the real thing for myself.

It was through the motions of personal involvement that I finally understood the immense distances and sizes involved. I must have followed Saturn for hours, enjoying my new sense of perspective on things.

This easily translates to just about any subject one wishes to address – such as history. One more example…

When teaching young children about the United States Constitution, there are a couple different ways of going about it. When I was in grade school we were taught the facts of what happened and required to regurgitate them later on exams. There was no involvement at all, and so thorough understanding of why things went the way they did was lost.

There is one method which would not only teach what the constitution says, but why it did and did not do certain things. The following is an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World” describing the Kunitz Method:

“Want the students to understand the Constitution of the United States? You could have them read it, Article by Article, and then discuss it in class but, sadly, this will put most of them to sleep. Or you could try the Kunitz method: you forbid the students to read the Constitution. Instead, you assign them, two for each state, to attend a Constitutional Convention. You brief each of the thirteen teams in detail on the particular interests of their state and region. The South Carolina delegation, say, would be told of the primacy of cotton, the necessity and morality of the slave trade, the danger posed by the industrial north, and so on. The thirteen delegations assemble, and with a little faculty guidance, but mainly on their own, over some weeks write a constitution. Then they read the real Constitution. The students have reserved war-making powers to the President. The delegates of 1787 assigned them to Congress. Why? The students have freed the slaves. The original Constitutional Convention did not. Why? This takes more preparation by the teachers and more work by the students, but the experience is unforgettable. It’s hard not to think that the nations of the Earth would be in better shape if every citizen went through a comparable experience.”

Involvement is a far better tool for teaching and understanding the world around us. Perspectives can be shifted from knowing something to understanding something if we put a little more effort into education.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
-Chinese Proverb

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