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The Naked Queen – A review of the novella ‘Kingdom of the Sun’

Kingdom of the Sun-5Dear Readers,

Please enjoy this in-depth discussion and review of my novella by Kevin Peter.

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“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time” – Rabindranath Tagore

Knowledge is power’ this centuries old thought has always held weight to support its claim, continues to do so and will be the cornerstone on which our future will be established. The statement has lost nothing in terms of relevance or significance; and what can impart good knowledge in society? It’s education, for education is the constant prerequisite for political development, democracy and social justice. Education empowers all, and education promotes greater participation from amongst the many manmade and naturally occurring differences in humankind.

Now only if the education we were imparting to our younger generation through schools and colleges could fully deliver the message discussed in the lines above. In today’s world, the one thing that unites developed and developing nations is ironically, the voices of dissent with the education sector and the quality of knowledge imparted. And it’s the same thing everywhere, everyone knows that a problem exists and gets together to address the matter in an almost uncanny manner everywhere. There will be meeting and conferences attended by a few educators and a lot of panellists and spokespersons representing the government, there will be keynote speeches, power point presentations, food and recreational breaks, a media op towards the end with a promise to return soon for a revisit of this circus act.

But the woes that afflict education, the falling standards, incompetent & absentee teachers, the out of touch with reality syllabuses, which all contribute towards the mediocrity of the next generation who can’t be employed or can be counted upon to contribute towards the cause of nation building, are all but ignored and remains incurable in spite of the many ‘ideas’ that sprout out of such aforementioned educational meetings.

But this wasn’t the case with our education sector in the past; we’ve had some pretty bright and impressive centres of learning imparting knowledge in such a detailed and disciplined manner that it would leave today’s teaching administrators tongue tied and embarrassed with their supposed ‘modern’ ways. One among the jewels in the advanced centres of learning of the past was the Takshashila University in ancient India. In its hey days it was more famous and known for its teaching prowess than all of today’s top universities put together. It used to host students from all parts of the world who could specialize in over sixty four areas of study ranging from learning about philosophy and literature to warfare, astronomy and decryption of ancient languages. Students who got admitted on merit, once they graduated would pass out as world renowned scholars with in depth knowledge in their elected subject of choice.

In author Ariffa Bevin’s novella, ‘Kingdom of The Sun’, we are introduced to such a Kingdom called Sooryan that was famed for its education and knowledge imparting institutions, a Kingdom founded and built upon the belief that education and its teachers are the key to a successful and triumphant kingdom. Although Sooryan achieves its goal of becoming a powerful kingdom, the principles on which it was built soon starts rusting as they are ignored with the passage of time and the coming and going of new leaders. This inertia soon finds Sooryan facing all sorts of political, cultural and financial turmoil. And with a new queen Delilah who appears to be too blind with power or ignorant of the ground situation and refuses to take the help of the Scholars and the Scholar Apprentices to rectify the rotting education system, the occasion appears ripe for a change. This is when Helena, one of the Scholar Apprentices decided to fight back, takes on the entire establishment and faces the many hardships and pains it bring forth, Helena manages to bring actual change that everyone wanted but lacked the courage or conviction to go and do on their own.

Kingdom of the Sun honours the many educators and administrators toiling away behind the scenes, working tirelessly, facing many hurdles and mounting insurmountable hardships and more often than not for very small victories and successes. And yet they continue to do so, carry on with the many numerous battles, because only someone who cares or tries to bring in change will ever know the supreme satisfaction and happiness that you get when you see your work bring in the change that you set out to achieve.

You need to get past only a couple of pages to realize that it a good place from where the author Ariffa Bevin writes and that her intentions are very much sincere.Bevin’s fantasy world is an allegorical, exposition filled narrative that resembles our world in on so many different levels. The messages, ideas and thoughts that she conveys through her main character Helena are thought provoking and makes you want to question the systems in place today that prevents our younger generation from getting the education that they deserve. Some of the lines clearly denote that this isn’t just another story that the author narrates but is a subject that is very close to her heart and something that she cares for deeply. Helena makes some very specific noise on the impact of unbridled use of technology, especially among the youth and the negative effect that rapid industrialization and globalization has on our society, from making everyday living easy and comfortable to how it has started to make us lazy and lethargic.

I recommend Kingdom of the Sun to anyone who still believes that a single person’s determination and courage can bring about gargantuan change in our society that will benefit all. The story will appeal to all who believe in the power of change; Ariffa Bevin’s sincere voice carries through her choice of words and the world she has created in Kingdom of the Sun and long after you’ve finished reading the book.

Buy From –http://www.amazon.com/dp/162030421X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

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Author Visitation Part 2: Student-centered Learning

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

In part 2 of sharing my visitation experience at my local high school, I want to discuss a method of teaching that I not only witnessed, but was a part of.  Mrs. Carey, the journalism teacher of the three classes I visited, conducted something called student-centered teaching. She of course has a curriculum, but she has her students give input on how they want the course to look like. She even allows them to provide feedback and give suggestions. Before I visited her classes, I was nervous and even slightly uncomfortable with the thought of lecturing in front of her students. I had even prepared a powerpoint. However, my experience was anything but and the powerpoint certainly was not needed.

The structure of my visit was very student-focused. I don’t like to talk about myself too much, so I was relieved when Mrs. Carey told me that it would be a very laid back conversation that was driven by the questions I would be asked. So, instead of standing in front of the students and lecturing to them, I sat amongst them and talked with them. It was of course more comfortable, but it was also much more personal and effective. The students were free to ask what they wanted to know and for those who had other responsibilities, they were free to work on them solely or simultaneously while listening to me.

What I love about this teaching method is that it gives students some control over what they should control: their education. Administers may see students as children, but for the most part, especially when they’re in high school, students know how they want to be taught and what works for them as well as what doesn’t work. The best thing about this method is that it signifies how teaching is indeed a partnership. A teacher may believe they have the best teaching method around, but if it’s not working for the students, then it’s not working. A teacher needs to understand their students and work with their students in order for education to be successful.

So, if student-centered teaching is so great, why isn’t it used more often? Why are policy-makers more interested in result-focused education instead? There are of course plenty of reasons, and I believe one of them to be an issue of control and power. I believe it correct to assume that some feel student-centered teaching to be a relinquishment of power and control for teachers and policy-makers. On the contrary, I believe that if students are spoken to, spoken with, and most of all, if they are heard, the teacher in turn gains much more respect and power in the classroom. The students that I visited were anything but out of control and disrespectful, and this does not mean that they don’t get unruly like all students do. Their education is just a matter of understanding the following principles:

1)   Students have a voice that need to heard.

2)   Education is a 3 way partnership: Teacher and Student, Student and Parent, Parent and Teacher

There are, of course, other successful teaching methodologies, but I believe this one to be one of the best.  To Mrs. Carey and all the other student-centered teachers out there, you’re doing a great job!

Peace and love,

Ariffa

Author Visitation Part 1

students-250164_640Dear Readers,

A little over a month ago, I had the honor of visiting my local high school and speaking with journalism students from three classes. The goal of my visit was to discuss my experience as an author and answer any questions that they may have for me. First off, it was very surreal to be back in that environment. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed looking at these students and their teacher not only as an outsider but as someone who loves education. It was so fascinating to see what a teacher sees when a student expresses interest or when one or two of them in particular seem to have a certain something that makes them stand out from the rest.

Some of the most common questions I was asked is below:

1)   Is your book a reflection of your life and/or current events in time?

Yes and No. Kingdom of the Sun tells the story about a modern-day kingdom that is struggling with many of the political, economic, social, and educational issues that other countries are currently facing. So, in a way, the book is symbolic of those issues and how I think they should be solved. Particular situations in the novella are mostly made up, while others may or may not be based off of real life events in my life or someone else’s.

2)   Are any of your characters based off of real people?

Many of the Scholars in my book are based off of the teachers that I have had in my life. It is my way of honoring them and all they have done.

3)   Would you like your book to be a movie?

This is another “yes and no” answer. I have seen too many amazing books that have become awful movie adaptions, and it would just destroy me if my book was one of them. I’m sure that almost every author wants to see their work come to life, but for me, I would only want it done if I could have complete control over everything.

4)   What was your writing process?

I told the students that when I wrote poetry, I always started with the last stanza or line before continuing the rest of the piece. With Kingdom of the Sun, I didn’t really have a plan in mind. The words just came as I wrote. The only thing I knew was the messages that I wanted to convey…and that I wanted the first word of the book to be “Uh.” 🙂

5)   Did you ever think that you’d be an author?

I never saw myself writing a book, so this was definitely not planned. It was due to certain life-changing experiences that made me who I am today and gave me the fire and passion that I needed to write Kingdom of the Sun.

6)   What’s one thing that you would change?

I would have definitely gotten an editor before handing out pre-released copies!

Thank you, Kyle, for reaching out to me and thank you, Mrs. Carey, for the wonderful opportunity of speaking to your awesome students. And thank you to your awesome students for listening to me! Part 2 of this experience will discuss the teaching style of student-centered learning.

In the Name of Knowledge and Creativity

apple-256261_640Dear Readers,

Once again, my friend and follow blogger, Vera of Verawrites.com recommended a very interesting blog post. This time, it was by Beth Byrnes titled “Cherchez la Faim.” Like some of my blog posts in the past, this article focuses on education and discusses the absurdity of placing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education above the humanities.

I particularly enjoyed this article because it’s such a wonderful feeling to know that I am not the only person who sees the many flaws in the education system. Beth actually states that “We cannot put the humanities, i.e. art and literature especially, on a back-burner.” No, we CANNOT.  Some of you may remember previous blog posts of mine in which I discuss the difficulties that students have in writing a simple 5-paragrah essay or how grammar is a significant issue even amongst adults.

Beth talks about an example from historian Adam Gopnik in which he credits Apple’s success to not just great engineering but awesome creativity. Now think about that and then think about the significance of language and words as it relates to business and beyond. For example, did you notice how “Global Warming” suddenly became “Climate Change” or how people take notice to the word “Free” in sales ads? Where would businesses and technological corporations be without the power of language and creativity?

It is unacceptable to believe that society can thrive on STEM education alone. The humanities need math and science, and math and science need the humanities. And Beth’s article provided another excellent example when she told us about how her niece’s love of signing, acting, painting, and knitting prepared her for a career as a scientist.

Although Sooryan is a fictional kingdom, much of its design pertains to a reality that I wish to have in education. My book’s concept of multidimensional learning takes subjects like math and history and “combines” them with other subjects to make educational more meaningful and exciting. The purpose of this teaching strategy is to not only show that every course is significant but that each subject can relate to the other in some way. Multidimensional learning is seen when a teacher incorporates math and art or when an in-depth study in English class discusses a novel’s historical significance as much as its literary.

Towards the end of this wonderful post, Beth discusses the argument by Gopnik that “We are impelled to study the humanities because we are human” due to our desire for understanding of ourselves, our history, and the world around us. The example that she provides pertains to the significance of studying 19th century literature and how it relates to our current issues.

For me, I see Gopnik’s concept a little differently. I believe that we need to study the humanities because of how we live as humans:

We Think: The humanities teaches us to analyze

We Speak: The humanities teaches us how to articulate our words properly. Am I the only person who cringes when someone says “omg”?

We Write: We cannot downplay the importance of writing and grammar. Most adults may not have to write essays or reports on a daily basis, but knowing how to properly write an email is certainty not that common.

We Read: We must never take literacy of the English language for granted.

We move and we are moved: Words and art give us the power to impact, influence, and touch the lives of people we may have never seen or spoken to.

Education of the humanities impacts how we see ourselves and the world, and how we interact overall. So tell me, isn’t this just as important as learning the basics of math and science?

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Chains of an Educator

chain-196821_640

Bind-by-the-constraints-and-constrains-because-they’re
Blinded-by-the numbers-and-false-meaning
Bound-are-your-hands-and-your-words
Building-limits-to-their-minds-and-their-dreaming

Bought-I-am-not-to-the-idea-that
Being-one-is-being-all-and-the-same
Bought-I-am-not-to-the-idea-that
Being-an-educator-is-just-someone-to-blame

Being-bound-by-blindness-begs FREEDOM

For  educators  to  teach  and  students  to learn  and  all  to  be  heard  for
Fires  of  greatness  will  rage  and  burn
For  they  will  no  longer  be  quelled  and
Flying   and   soaring   will   be   their   minds   and   hearts   when   you   are

Finally    and    truly

FREE

Ariffa

Education and the Flawed Systems: Interview with Scholar Abel Godfrey

photo-4Hi Everyone,

Today, I decided to step outside my comfort zone and do something very different which is interview a character from my novella Kingdom of the Sun. His name is Scholar Abel Godfrey, a favorite character of mine because of what he represents and stands for. Enjoy!

Me: Thank you, Scholar Godfrey for joining me today! I am both honored and slightly embarrassed.

Scholar Godfrey (laughs): Why is that?

Me: Well, I did create you, so I feel like I’m talking to myself in a way.

Scholar Godfrey: If you created me, then how are you talking to yourself? Is there part of you in me?

Me: Well, no. Actually, you were my hardest character to create because of that. I guess that’s why you’re my second favorite. The others were either variations of myself or combinations of people that I have known or heard stories of.

Scholar Godfrey (smirks): Ja, is there or is there not part of you in me?

Me (pauses and thinks): I believe that we are part of each other. Although you do not possess some of my traits, you are what I want to be and represent. You were created from my passion and desire for true education… You are what I created. And I create what you are whenever I teach others through my words.

Scholar Godfrey (smiles wide and nods): De wa, Mrs. Bevin, it is also an honor to be here with you and part of you.

Me (smiles shyly): Thank you so much, Scholar. So, let’s start with the first question. How would you describe your teaching style?

Scholar Godfrey (leans back and folds his hands onto his lap): I would say it’s personalized and interactive. I enjoy getting to know my students and learning how to pick their brains and bring out the best in them. I don’t like simply talking or lecturing; rather, I enjoy interacting and talking with them and not to them.

Me: So, would you say there’s one certain way or method of teaching? And what I mean is, do you believe there to be one standard of teaching that all should abide by?

Scholar Godfrey: The only standard that a Scholar, teacher, or professor should abide by is the need, desire, and will, to fulfill your purpose which is to influence, inspire, and invigorate a life so much that when a student leaves your classroom, they leave brighter and stronger and the imprint of what you have done is with them forever.

Me: Beautifully said, Scholar.  I’m sure our readers would love to know what it’s like to be educated in the kingdom of Sooryan.

Scholar Godfrey: The biggest difference in comparison to the American system is that the kingdom of Sooryan does not remove God from its schools and government. Sooryan’s education system is also structured to suit the needs of its people in a way that is practical, honest, and effective. For example, there is no purpose of a student taking four years of study for a trade like cooking or construction that is better served with hands-on experience in the field.

Me: Indeed. One of the many flaws with the American system is that it tells our students to go to college to receive a good job, and when they graduate, employers expect them to miraculously have the experience that is required.

Scholar Godfrey: Yes, that is what I understand.

Me: I have once described America’s teachers as unsung super heroes who are expected to do so much more than what should be asked of them. The pressure for them to conform to a system that forces them to treat students generically is unbelievable. What can you tell us about Sooryan’s Scholars?

Scholar Godfrey (glances at his gold robe): Our Scholars are like rays of light from the sun. We give hope, guidance, and warmth, and our people give us the same in return. The people of Sooryan are nothing without the Scholars, and the Scholars of Sooryan are nothing without our people. This is understood and recognized by all.

Me: So would you say that the Scholars are treated like royalty?

Scholar Godfrey (smiles softly and nods): Benar.

Me: Scholar, my absolute favorite quotes from you are “History is a powerful weapon,” “History and truth are not always one and the same,” and “There is always more than one story.” What you said rings so much truth in today’s world and time, and I get so frustrated with people’s inability to see that.

Scholar Godfrey: Well, I am not surprised. History is powerful weapon because of people’s inability to see it as one. Imagine the lives that would be changed if people would simply question…if all sides of a story were told.

Me: Sticking with the same topic, Scholar, may I tell you one of my life’s dreams?

Scholar Godfrey (chuckles and leans forward): Of course.

Me: I want to change the name of Columbus Day and call it something like “Native Peoples Day” or “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

Scholar Godfrey: In this life and the next, I think that would make bring honor to many.

Me (laughs): And make many upset as well! But that is all part what it means to light up the darkness.

Scholar Godfrey (laughs): Agreed. There are many in the dark who wish to remain there and keep others there with them.

Me: Then, let us continue to light up the darkness, Scholar.

Scholar Godfrey: I shall be with you all the way.

Me: Thank you so much for joining me today, Scholar Godfrey. And to my readers: peace and love.

Response to “Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem”

iraq-81479_640Dear Readers,

Last week, Vera, a long-time follower of mine and a wonderful blogger, recommended that I read a blog post from A Holistic Journey titled Praise, Smarts, and the Myth of Self-Esteem. As the title suggests, the article discusses the theory and the author’s belief that it is more effective to praise a student’s efforts as opposed to their smarts.

My Story:

Before I tell you my opinion about this theory, I will share a bit of my background in education. Before I even started school, my mother made sure I was well prepared…very well prepared. Before I even started kindergarten, I knew how to read, write, and spell at a level well above kids my age. When I was not in school, I studied and read, and I read and studied.

In middle school, my mother did set a standard for grades: I was to get As and some Bs. Did this stress me out? No. Because ingrained in me was something very important: if you work hard, your efforts will be rewarded. So each time my mother read my straight A report card, she would say “keep it up,” or “if you keep it up, maybe you’ll get a scholarship.” It was not “keep being smart” or “if you stay as smart as you are now, you’ll get a scholarship.” Because the concept of hard work was ingrained in me, I believed I was smart because I worked hard, and because of that, I believed everyone had it in them to get the grades I did if they worked as hard as I did. And yes, I received multiple scholarships.

 Do I Agree?: Yes and No

Diana’s post states that “when we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” This is something I respectively don’t agree with fully. I think parents tell their children they’re smart because 1) they truly believe it and/or 2) they want their children to believe the same.  There also needs to be a distinction between praising and complimenting. Why shouldn’t we honestly compliment our children and students for being smart? Everyone likes to feel good and should always feel that way.

Setting up for failure:

When it comes to praise, feedback, and the like, there is a BIG difference between the realistic and the ridiculous. For example:

1) I believe that girls should not be told they’re princesses. I’m not talking about affectionately calling a child a princess (every girl is a princess), but instilling in their heads that they are indeed royalty above everyone else. There has actually been a study done about the negative personality effects of this. I’m sure you can imagine; however, see the “Not every child is the same” section.

2) Students are told at a young age that college will get them anywhere, that a college grad is superior to one who is not, and so on. Yet, when we look at the percentage of unemployed and heavily indebted college grads, what should we think? Yes, college grads should of course be praised, but they must be prepared with a realistic view of the world.

3) Parents need to teach their children that they are not the greatest in the world, that there will be someone out there who is better at something, that they will be competing against many, many other people, and that the only way to be truly successful is honest, hard work. I will never forget the story about a teacher’s graduation speech that discussed these very same topics and the backlash he received from parents who were blind to the reality of the world.

Not every child is the same:

Diana’s post states that praising a child’s smarts can cause stress and pressure. This may be true, but I believe that the way praise and feedback affects a child depends on their personality.  Yes, some may feel pressure, while others may just let it roll off their shoulder, and others may take it humbly or to the head. Isn’t the lesson of humility, maturity, and comfort with one’s self all part of growing up and getting older?

I cannot stress the significance of individuality. And what I mean is, not everyone who works hard will receive the same results. This was something I learned the hard way. Before I was an English major, I was in pre-med and no matter hard I studied, cried, and prayed, I got Ds, Cs, and Fs. Up until that point, I always got As because of my hard work. And it took some time to understand that no matter how hard one may try at something, if they’re not good at it, they’re just not good at it. Another way to put it is like this: I have a horrible singing voice. No matter how hard I may try, no matter how many lessons I may take, I will never be able to sing beautifully.

Bottom Line:

As Diana’s post states, “I absolutely believe in the inherent worth of every individual, and that no child should feel unloved or unworthy – because there is no higher glory than that we bear the very image of God.”

Yes, I do believe that it’s more effective to praise a child’s efforts. I also think that it’s okay to compliment a child on their smarts, being realistic about it and their future. We are all not the same. Not everyone who goes to college is smart, and not everyone who doesn’t go to college is stupid. We are all capable of doing great things…in our own way, in our own time.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Definition of a “Good” Education

Dear Readers,

Two blog posts ago I discussed the words that came to mind when I saw two men giving free education to impoverished, homeless, and orphaned children in India. As promised, I would like to continue the discussion.

Take a look at the first picture and the ones below. Then ask yourself this: “What is the true meaning of education?” “What is a ‘good’ education?”

Before I answer these questions myself, I will say that some of the greatest discussions and lessons have been in group circles with nothing but chairs. I actually remember being in my college poetry class and how my colleagues and I were so excited whenever we were able to have our session outside the classroom with nothing but the grass as our seats and our laps for our desks. Now I say, “whenever we were able” because we were not the only class with the same desire.

When I was a volunteer ESL teacher last year, I had nothing but flashcards, a 4 x 2 whiteboard on a pedestal and barley working markers. My classroom was in a small cafeteria with 15-20 students who I shared one bathroom with. And you know what? I couldn’t have been happier. And most importantly, they couldn’t have been happier and they couldn’t have learned any more than other students who were more “fortunate.” We were satisfied because the job got done.

So this brings me to what many may argue but what I believe in my heart and soul:

Education does not need technology

Education does not need desks

Education does not need rigorous and pointless testing

Education needs teaching from teachers, not computers

Education needs passion and compassion

Education needs care

Education needs teachers to be judged by the difference they make, not by test scores

Education needs love

Education needs individuality

You know, I sometimes feel that if we come from less, things that others take for granted will be worth so much more.

So, if you’re wondering about what makes a “good” education, just take a look at the faces of those young children and you’ll know.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

A Picture and a Thousand Words

Photo found on http://www.viralnova.com/touching-photos/. I do not own.

Dear Readers,

When I first saw this photo of volunteers Rajesh Kumar Sharma and Laxmi Chandra giving free education to homeless, orphaned, and impoverished children in India, I didn’t have any words. Acutally, I couldn’t even find the words to express the emotion I felt. Two weeks later, I found them. And although they may not be a thousand words, and although this photo is worth so much more, these are the words I have. I invite you to add more.

Goodness

Godliness

Compassion

Passion

Strength

Will

Drive

Love

Hope

Hope

Hope

I shall follow up with another post on this photo.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

Questions

quote-when-you-stop-learning-stop-listening-stop-looking-and-asking-questions-always-new-questions-lillian-smith-173260Dear Readers,

What drives you?

What would you fight for?

What is holding you back?

 

Does history always mean truth?

What is the definition of a powerful leader?

If you could, what would you change about your life and the world?

Do you always believe what you are told?

Is someone with a college degree more “educated” than someone without?

What would you do for hope, honor, and happiness? What is their meaning?

With Kingdom of the Sun, I wanted to give you more than just a story. I wanted to give you an opportunity and an experience that has you thinking, contemplating, and relating to your own lives.

As I’ve said in a press release, “The goal of author is to give the readers something to walk away with, something to remember. I want to give mine new perspectives, new thinking, and most of all, hope, honor, and happiness.” I pray Kingdom of the Sun gives you these things.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

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