Tag Archives: Education

Think Piece: Fahrenheit 451


I have begun teaching Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” to my ninth grade high school students. It is interesting teaching this book realizing that all of the students in the room (from varying international backgrounds) have been raised with more advanced and “faster” communication technologies than I could have dreamed of when I was their age. Granted I am not that “old,” but do remember the day when a large satellite television dish was planted in what used to be a garden in our yard. The black monolith, which connected me with other virtual worlds, which greatly shaped my imaginative development.

It is difficult for some of them to relate to the overarching themes of a society obsessed with amusement and speed. Could this be due to the ways in which technology and amusements have already infiltrated their minds? And, am I, as their “teacher,” immune from the consequences of an over reliance on the various gadgets that make my life easier? Should the role of the teacher of a book like “Fahrenheit 451” be one who has become like the character Clarisse, “insane” to the eyes of an out-of-control society as described in the book? If so, wouldn’t, in the teaching of this book, it make more sense to conduct the class while sitting on grass, away from the technological pull of the city? More importantly, does this book resonate with the students in the ways in which Bradbury intended? What kind of student would it take to “take arms against a sea of amusements (Postman)”? What kind of research would be most applicable? What kinds of secondary texts would fill in the gaps?

In order for this book to achieve its own purposes as a so-called “novel of ideas,” it would seem necessary to me to foster an inquisitive classroom environment from which students could gain the capacity to critically and curiously question the technological devices and media influences in their lives that they are exposed to and that they expose themselves to on an hourly basis. The development of these capacities would be for the purpose of having them re-experience those devices and interfaces that shape the virtual landscapes of planet “my life.” What questions would one need to ask to enable students to ask the right questions to themselves about their connections to technology and what that technology could mean? Would this way of teaching (inquistive) make for the proper atmosphere of presenting the novel’s ideas?

At the end of a few lessons, I began thinking about how this book will influence and hopefully develop their ability to examine contemporary culture. For example, the character Clarisse says, “I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly.” This observation, which I felt captured a potent insight into culture didn’t seem to resonate with students, even though our location (Beijing) is a city of vehicles, an overpopulation of vehicles. None of the students walk to and from school and judging from their reactions to the idea of “walking for pleasure,” none of them see walking for the sake of walking as a choice by which one’s experience of the world and how one perceives it is enhanced as having any relevance to them whatsoever.

Other than actually taking them on a walk, how does one open up this idea and make it relevant? How can we teach students to regain the simplicity of life if they don’t want to learn it?

Thank you for reading. I hope that this edited yet stream-of-consciousness “think piece” is of use to you.

Learn it by Heart

“The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital.” – George Steiner

What are the differences between learning by heart and learning by brain?
How do those differences (heart vs. brain) shift or enhance the learning experience?
How can we develop the competencies which would enable us to deepen our learning?
How can we develop the competencies which would increase our capacity for vitalized expression?
Why is the expression “vital?”

How Determined Are You?

Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Michael Phelps. Slipped in between the jokes, Colbert asked Phelps about his training for the Olympics. Phelps said that during a five-year span, he practiced every single day for four to six hours a day.

That bears repeating: 5 years…365 days a year…4-6 hours a day…

Talk about determination. Talk about someone aware of what it takes to actually achieve the “impossible.” That’s the kind of dedication and determination that will get you where you want to go if you’re really willing to put in the hard work that it takes to get there. To be “the best” takes sacrifice and grit. Or, to turn to Thomas Edison, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Discover your genius by actually doing something about it.

The Colbert/Phelps interview can be seen here.

Also, Thank you, Mr. Phelps for your determination.

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Constructive Living: Listening

The following is a quotation from Constructive Living Reflections on St. Augustine’s Homilies by David K. Reynolds:

“Let’s talk about talking. Each of us speaks a private language, some of which is shared with others. Aim to hear the nuances of each other’s private speech. Do your best to translate your speech so that it is understandable to others. Have something worthwhile to say. Thoughtless speech steals others’ time and ears, causing them temporary thoughtlessness.”

I think the worthiness of this quotation lies in its attention to opening your ears to truly listen to what other people say and responding in a meaningful way.

I was watching a popular news TV talk show yesterday evening and became aware of the fact that the host, while asserting his thoughts to his guest, did a poor job of actually listening to what the guest had to say. After first catching this, I paid attention to how the host listened and responded and was surprised to find that the host continually cut off the guest in order to throw in his strong stance on the matter. Now, regardless of what “side” I agree with, I do think that listening is critical in such discussions and the host (whose show I usually like watching) would have benefited greatly by simply slowing down and listening. He was so intent on delivering his own thoughts, that he appeared to not truly listen to his guest at all. He did this very subtly, though, and not in an outright rude manner. Of course, at the end of the day, it is his show and he has the last word, but by doing so, that is, by not listening, he drowned out the thoughts of his guest and failed to progress the conversation beyond the same old “popular culture” opinion. That is, he kept things safely within the opinions of his viewership.

True listening is difficult and asks of us to lend our ears to the other.

To truly lend your ears to another person is a vulnerable and dangerous thing. You two might end up dramatically changing each other in a way that you were not prepared for.

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Role-Playing Games: An Interpretation

1st ed.
Image via Wikipedia

Recently, I have been very interested in role-playing games and their potential benefit to education, acting, problem-solving and increasing imaginative strength. I am not talking about RPG (role-playing games) video games or internet “play-by-post” games, but am talking about pen and paper RPG’s, the kind where the players have to envision the unfolding scenario and work together to solve the “game world” problems.

When I was a lot younger than today, I used to play the 1st edition “Dungeons and Dragons” modules with friends. The beauty of the game lies in its openness and its collaborative power. While video games allow me to visually craft a character and perhaps choose some facets of the character’s personality, a video game fails to build the image of the character’s personality in my mind. Visually, it may be stunning, but imaginatively, it is lacking. With pen and paper RPG’s, it is necessary that the player imagines his or her character for, and this is where the creativity comes alive, the bulk of the game (aside from rolling dice and changing stats) is narrative.

While the game master may have worked out a certain kind of quest, it is also a game of surprise in that the characters need not strictly follow the game master’s plan. With the right game master (a game master with masterful imaginative capacities), the game world can come alive in ways that a video game cannot. Also, of course, an imaginatively strong group of players is also recommended, or at least a group of players that aren’t afraid to share their imaginative vulnerabilities. This kind of game relies on the ability to improvise, to act (to “get into” character), to problem solve and to recognize the forces of luck and preparation.

Finally, another great thing about the old “pen and paper” RPG’s was their bulk. Unfortunately, as we live in an era where, as one student told me today “simple is best,” we may get smirks and giggles for being seen reading a 200 page “Player’s Handbook” when we are used to 30 page video game manuals. Nonetheless, and again, I am primarily speaking about “Dungeons and Dragons,” the reliance on the written word, on understanding complex rules through reading and understanding is a most worthy skill that carries children on well into adulthood. The old D&D books were thick (and still are) and demanded a lot of attention to detail. In the right hands, such detailed guides might illuminate the path to more reading and the reading of more advanced and “difficult” books.

Perhaps, we should reinterpret RPG’s and imagine what they could be and how they could be used to our advantage. Also, are video games more fun simply because of the amazing graphics (as the stories seem to revolve around similar tropes year after year)? Do you think that these “old school” style role-playing games could be beneficial to education? If so, how?

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There are no short cuts

Eric Hoffer, in his book “Reflections on the Human Condition,” writes, “People who cannot grow want to leap: they want short cuts to fame, fortune, and happiness (47).” For Hoffer, life lies in the ability to grow, that is, in the ability to learn and continue learning. The less attuned you are to the importance of the growth-process, the more you will struggle with outcomes that aren’t to your liking.

No great undertaking that you embark on will be easy. There are no real short cuts. If you take a hard look at how you were able to achieve something great, you will probably find that it was not an easy process.

Eight years ago I began learning the Japanese language and now, eight years later, I am still a perpetual beginner. My use of the language how gotten me to great places (at least great in terms of where I wanted to go). Nonetheless, it has never been easy. Mistakes were made and plenty of embarrassing moments happened. The fear of not knowing how to “go on” in conversation or getting caught up in assignments or conversations that suddenly hurtle out of my comprehensive range happen all the time. I’m perpetually struggling to catch-up and tune-in. I know, from this first hand experience, this first-hand struggle, that anyone who speaks, reads, or writes Japanese “fluently,” went through countless hours of preparation and struggle. There is no way to short cut yourself to fluency in a second-language.

Developing your capacity to grow and learn is necessary if you want to change who are. An adult attitude of “I know it all” will constrain and limit your vision. Again, think about learning a foreign language. There will always be things that you don’t know and there will always be situations that you are not 100% equipped to deal with. You must stay in the learning-mode as much as your capacity allows. The paradox here is that the more you learn, the more you grow and the more your thinking changes. Steer your learning so that it benefits where you want to end up and devote yourself to it wholeheartedly and you’ll be in the stream of growth, the stream of recognizing that if you truly want to achieve something, you’ll have to recognize that there are no short cuts. The more difficult it seems, the more you are growing.

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50 Ways to Increase Your Japanese Language Ability (Study Techniques)

I have been studying Japanese for eight years. The first three years I studied at a university in the United States (studying and working for the university as a Japanese tutor). One year was spent working in South Korea and studying Japanese every morning with Korean adults (I was the only non-Korean student in the class). The latter four years have been me living and working in Japan, using Japanese on a daily basis and, for the most part, getting by quite well with the skills I have developed. I have experience in academic translation work, language consultation, education and interpretation.

I’m not sure how relevant this will be to those learning a language other than Japanese, but if they are of use, then great, I’m happy to have helped contribute to your gain in competency.

The following list is in no particular order. You decide which of these is more useful than the other and above all, use them. Thank you.

1. Start with reading and writing as this will help you in the long run.
2. Learn the hiragana syllabry perfectly and be able to write and recall it from memory.
3. Learn the katakana syllabry perfectly and be able to write and recall it from memory.
4. Learn a set number of kanji per day by writing them over and over and over again.
5. Memorize at least 10 particles. If possible, buy a book specifically dealing with particles and learn as many as possible. You will thank yourself later.
6. Increase and review your vocabulary on a daily basis.
7. Practice pronunciation with native Japanese speakers.
8. Have conversations with native Japanese speakers as much as possible.
9. Learn how to say: “How do you say _______ in Japanese?” in Japanese.
10. Watch Japanese movies with English subtitles and take notes.
11. Watch English movies with Japanese subtitles and take notes.
12. Watch Japanese movies with Japanese subtitles and take notes.
13. Listen to Japanese music and pay attention to pronunciation.
14. If possible, go to karaoke with Japanese friends and sing Japanese songs.
15. Find articles written in Japanese about things that you are interested in. Read them even if you don’t understand every single kanji. Try to grasp the subject matter and explain it to someone else in Japanese.
16. Buy a reliable paper dictionary. Spend an afternoon exploring it.
17. Go to Japan by yourself for two weeks and interact as much as you can.
18. When in Japan, ask random people for directions and listen carefully.
19. Write your own paragraphs in Japanese and have a native speaker check them for you.
20. Learn the difference between casual and formal Japanese.
21. Learn “keigo” and learn how and when to use it.
22. Listen to podcasts or radio broadcasts in Japanese.
23. Listen to a Japanese speaker or celebrity whom you admire and mimic the way they talk. I recommend Ryuichi Sakamoto’s podcast.
24. Learn about Japanese dialects and how they differ from each other.
25. Learn how to read and write. I say this again as it will set you apart from other foreigners who can only speak. Plus, you will understand much more of what is happening around you.
26. Learn about “aimai” and observe how people around you talk to one another.
27. Write messages on your cellphone in Japanese. Learn the Japanese emoticon system.
28. Study more kanji. Buy kanji flashcards and study the hell out of them.
29. Take the JLPT tests or buy the study books and simply learn from them.
30. Participate in a speech contest and practice your speech AT LEAST 500 times.
31. Videotape yourself speaking Japanese and observe your pronunciation.
32. Record your Japanese teacher’s lecture and listen closely.
33. Record your own voice speaking Japanese and observe your own pronunciation.
34. Speak to your Japanese friends on the telephone and observe how challenging it is when you cannot see the other person’s mouth.
35. Pay attention to body language and mimic those around you (do this respectfully and subtly).
36. Learn how to bow properly.
37. Learn how to count things properly.
38. If you come across a word that you don’t understand, ask someone.
39. Organize a study group and meet weekly. Don’t just complain or watch anime, but STUDY together. Challenge each other.
40. If you want to excel in a certain kind of career, learn as many words about that career as you can.
41. Start a translation project of a book or article that you like.
42. Once a month, go back and review ALL of the basics (grammar patterns, vocabulary, kanji, etc.).
43. Become a master at asking questions.
44. Enlist the help of a tutor or mentor, someone who can help you develop your skills.
45. Re-read articles that you have read and note how your understanding has changed or how you have forgotten kanji that you were certain you already knew.
46. Study Japanese “reiho,” or manners.
47. Start teaching Japanese to others who are just beginning. Explaining the concepts will help give you a better grasp on them.
48. Practice your reading and writing as much as possible.
49. Listen to Japanese audio and speak along with it (again, imitation).
50. Put yourself in reasonable situations where you MUST speak Japanese.