Blog Archives

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.

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

The Superman Dilemma in Education

super_hero_flying_silhouette_116437Hi Everyone!

Four posts ago, I wrote something called The Superman Effect in Education. It discussed how teachers and students should be treated like they are super heros, meaning they should all be valued and appreciated. I received a lot of great responses on this post, and one in particular stood out:

“I always shied away from the whole “superman” analogy for teachers, because I think we shoot ourselves in the foot, when we don’t make it clear that we are only human (thus, the public’s unreasonable expectations of us).”–Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca

This is such a great comment because it reminded of something I talked about in another post called the Detachment of Education, in which I discuss the absolutely unrealistic expectations and burdens that are placed on teachers. Bethany’s comment was a reminder of that discussion and the dilemma that comes with treating teachers like super heros.  Yes, I believe that teachers are indeed super heros. However, I also believe this:

1) Teachers = Humans

NOT Teachers = Robots or Teachers = Superhumans

As I said in my “Detachment of Education” post: “I truly feel that it is a common belief that teachers are supposed to be magical robots with no feelings or emotions, and that they are placed on Earth to only teach strictly from the text to magically and easily instill knowledge on their students who all magically receive it in the same way.”

Oh, and unless they are truly robots, they cannot honestly and efficiently grade 100+ term papers in one school night.

2) Teacher ≠ Parents/Guardians

Teachers are not responsible for educating students on manners and common sense, you know, all the things that parents/guardians should do. And yet…

So, here’s a trick question: Can teachers be treated as super heros without the expectation that they literally should be?

Here’s my answer: I believe that the basis to all of this is the need for all teachers to be treated with respect and understanding. Respect what they do, understand what they do. And for the parents and students, respect and understand that you are a vital part of a successful education as well.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Superman Effect in Education

Hi Everyone,

I read an article last week about something called the Superman Effect.  The term was used by a man named Aral Balkan to discuss the influence that designers have and how they are able to craft experiences.  What I liked most about this post was how its author related it to education in saying that “As teachers we have to recognise that every interaction we have with young people is an opportunity to have a positive impact upon them. Teachers are artists and lessons are our art. Being passionate about our subjects mixed with a continued desire to improve and develop our pedagogy is key to providing the ‘Superman effect’ for our students.” The author then discusses the significance of making students feel like super heros and how educators should take such into consideration.  The entire blog post can be found here.

This article spoke to me on many different levels.  First, I absolutely believe in making students, all students, feel valued, respected, and intelligent.  This is shown by how they light up when they truly understand something and when they are commended/praised.  I enjoyed seeing that when I taught ESL.  However, I was in a situation where as a student, I felt worthless.  Math was never an easy subject for me, and of course it didn’t come any easier in college.  Unfortunately for me, the professor that I had made it worse.  One of his favorite lines was “C’mon guys, this is fifth grade stuff” or “You should know this material already.”  It was awful.  And so, of course, my colleagues and I were afraid of asking questions because the material was “fifth grade stuff” and even when a question was asked, we were sometimes told that we “should know this already.”  It was so bad that when he asked,“Does anyone have any questions?” more than once, I would raise my hand and say, “Yes, can we please stop for today?”  And although my colleagues all nodded in agreement, this was, of course, to no avail.  As a result of all this, I got a D in that class, hated math more than ever, thought I was dumb for not knowing more math than I did, detested this professor, and spent most of that class fantasizing about chopping off his ponytail.

Students are not the only ones that should be treated like super heros.  Yes, I’m talking about teachers as well.  Teachers are the super heros that are hardly recognized or appreciated for being such.  It’s like they live their entire careers as Clark Kents.  Some teachers are literally the super heros to many of their students. I get so frustrated because many do not realize or appreciate how different society would be if teachers and educators were not available to inspire and educate.  And so, I will say it again:  Where would we be if teachers and educators were not available to inspire and educate?

Education is about super heros teaching super heros.  And this needs to recognized more than ever.

 Peace and Love,
Ariffa

What Matsui Can Teach about Education & Community

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons, provided by Chris Ptacek.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons, provided by Chris Ptacek.

In 2009 the Yankees won the world series against the Philadelphia Phillies…mostly because of Hideki Matsui.  Now, this is just personal opinion, but I am not the only one that feels this way.  That night, Matsui became the first Japanese-born player and full-time designated hitter in the history of MLB to win the world series MVP award.  Matsui was my favorite athlete even before this happened, so I was of course extremely upset when the Yankees did not sign him the next season.  And although Matsui played for other teams, he remained my favorite player, never forgotten by Yankees fans and non-Yankees fans.  And it was yesterday afternoon that Matsui signed a minor league contract with the Yankees, officially retiring as one.

I sat teary-eyed through the entire ceremony not because Matsui is my favorite athlete but because of what he stands for.  The best way to describe Matsui is quiet, humble strength.  You see, Matsui is the only Yankee to hit a grand slam at his first, I mean first, at bat.  He went 4-4 and 3-4 on his first two days back after returning from wrist surgery that had him out for several months.  And through it all, Matsui remained humble and a true definition of a team player.  He actually apologized for getting injured, and shies away from talking about himself.  He has stated that he felt like he didn’t deserve the MVP award, and although most players would name this as their shining moment in their career, Matsui named a victory against the Boston Red Sox as his favorite moment because the Yankees won the game in a total team effort.

The way I feel about it is that one can be a great baseball player and have awesome numbers, but if your attitude sucks and you’re all about yourself then, to me, those numbers mean absolutely nothing.  Besides his quiet strength and humility, what I like most about Matsui is that the man has a sense of humor.  He is known for playing jokes on his teammates and every once in a while you could catch him making faces at the camera.  Oh, how I miss watching him play!

So, how does this relate to education?  Well, say there was this great teacher, and you asked him or her what their best/favorite moment was in their profession.  What would you think if the teacher said, “Winning educator of the year” as opposed to “Watching my students evolve” or “Seeing my students light up when they understand something” or “One of my students telling me that I’m their role model”? Matsui represents greatness by being great through others.  One is a great player and a great teacher through the action, influence, and aid of those outside themselves.  With education being more and more about testing and numbers and treating students like they’re all the same, I know that it can be quite difficult to truly teach and help a student.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr

Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr

Matsui represents how a community should be.  A community should be, well…a community.  This simply means placing others above yourself and being there for them and actually caring.  Matsui reminds me of who I am, who I want to be, and who I have to be in order to consider myself truly successful.  I am only as great as the impact that my words and life has on others.

Thank you, Hideki Matsui.  I hope and pray that one day I can share these words with you in person.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

The Detachment of Education

Dear Readers,

“Detachment” has been one of my favorite movies for a long time.  If you question the difficulty of teaching and the passion of teachers, or wonder about the issues with the education system, I suggest you watch this movie.  It is truthful, honest, and very realistic, and what I like most about this film is the multi-levels of detachment shown in displaying what the word truly means.

 

1) The Difficulty of Detachment

Have you ever tried helping someone that needed help, but didn’t take it?  Have you ever given your all to making someone’s life better and had to watch them day-by-day throw that hard work and effort back in your face, therefore making your life feel worthless?

That is probably what it’s like for several educators out there who have to deal with students that not only show no respect or care for the educators, but for themselves as well.  To watch a person literally destroy their life when your job is to help them get it together is truly a painful experience.  When your job is to help make a life better, how is detaching from caring about that person’s well-being easy?

2) The Detachment of Parents from Education

I have said this before in a previous post, and I will say it again: Education Starts at HomeEducation Starts at Home.  Education is a three-way partnership: teacher, student, and parent.  Everyone has to be involved, or it simply doesn’t work.  Oh, and there’s that thing that not all students are taught at home: respect.

3) The Forcing of Detachment

I truly feel that it is a common belief that teachers are supposed to be magical robots with no feelings or emotions, and that they are placed on Earth to only teach strictly from the text to magically and easily instill knowledge on their students who all magically receive it in the same way.

And it is because they are supposed to be like robots that teachers are not allowed to feel or show emotion.  One of the best scenes in “Detachment” is when Adrian Brody’s character is approached by one of his bullied and outcasted students.  She felt like he was the only one that could understand and relate to her, and there was one point where she starts crying and proceeds to hug Brody.  Though Brody was hesitant about the girl’s approach, he was still extremely concerned about her even after another female teacher walked in the classroom just as it happened, causing the girl to run out of the room even more upset that she wasn’t able to talk to Brody alone.  What I liked most about this scene was the point that the director was trying to make.  There was no attraction because the young girl was a lesbian, and even though the female teacher was probing Brody as to why he was “touching her,” and why he was alone in the room with her, he continued calling the girl’s name and actually attempted to chase after her until he realized what the other teacher was getting at.  And after justifiably shouting her an explanation, the teacher asked him what he expected her to think and he so wonderfully replied “stop being so f-ing judgmental.”  There is no doubt that this scene hit home with many viewers.

I understand that there are and should be certain boundaries between teachers and students, but how are troubled students to be helped and comforted when they are expected to be robots when in fact many teachers mean so much more to their students.  Robots cannot connect or relate.

4) The Detachment from Learning

When I say “learning,” I’m talking about learning.  Education today is more about test scores and placement standings, rather than teaching students what they want and what matters in ways that they can retain and actually learn from.  It seems to be more about the glory of the schools rather than the glory of the students themselves.

One of my favorite lines from Kingdom of the Sun is when my character Helena states that “there is something seriously wrong with this system.”  This system, many systems, there is definitely something wrong with them, don’t you think?

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

Kingdom of the Sun Theme: Education- The Love of Teaching

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(Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Dear Readers,

Like this blog, the theme of education and what it means “to be educated” is strongly present in my book Kingdom of the Sun (to be published soon).  The love of teaching is of course significant in that one should, or as some would say, love what they do.  In order to be successfully and truly influential as a teacher and educator, I do believe that one has to have a love and connection for what they are doing.  However, I would like to discuss the love of teaching as it pertains to receiving it.  My thoughts and words are not only based on my past experiences of being a student, but on my most recent experiences of witnessing this love through the eyes of a volunteer ESL teacher.

For a short time, I was an ESL teacher to a group of 30+ adult immigrants and refugees from all over the world.  Before I was to actually teach them, I had stopped in two days prior to observe the class and meet the teacher that I would be subbing for.  On that day, I had spent some time alone with them for about half an hour before their teacher arrived, and as soon as I stepped in the classroom, I immediately noticed an energy and atmosphere that was different than anything I had ever experienced.

These students had joy, radiance, excitement, and most of all, they had respect, admiration, and gratitude.  All of them.  I was simply an observer that day, but it was not long before I was called something that I didn’t quite expect or see myself, something that Christ Himself was called: “Teacher.”  And so, it was no surprise that my heart actually fluttered, and a form of love that I did not anticipate was conceived.  I found that love growing each time they smiled wide and their eyes lit up when they saw me.  I found it growing when they thanked me when they understood something, when they thanked me at the end of the day, and when they thanked as they placed their hands over their hearts.

I constantly found myself comparing these students and their behavior to students that I was surrounded with in the past.  There were of course those who had respect and gratitude, but this was mostly not the case, especially for substitutes.  I thought about those substitutes and educators whose first days and experiences of teaching were not as joyful as mine.  I thought of them and thanked God for being truly blessed.

Once this experience was over, I then thought about how what I was doing for these students was no different than what my teachers and professors of the past did for me.  But why was the reception so different?  As I’m sure you can imagine, these ESL students are in this new place, virtually new world, and are dependent on the teacher for guidance and support to ultimately survive and prosper in their new lives (and for many of them, it was the first education they had received).  Yet, this was mostly the same for me when I was a student.  So, what is the underlying difference here?  Well, I think this answer lies in just one of the main issues with education today.  There is a poem written by a high school student that discusses how he sits in class all day, bored and pretending to be interested when all he wants is to learn something that can better himself and his life, something that he cares about.

The poem can be found here: High School

What if the education system was less about numbers and placement standings, and more about giving students what they want and need?  What if we were to listen to these students and their needs, and help them follow their own path?  Would we see changes in behavior as well as joy and passion in our students?  My experience as a teacher has strengthened the fire in me to teach and inspire through my words because with them I hold the power to change hearts, minds, and the world.

Peace and Love,

Ariffa

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