Friday, July 29, 2016

The Social Compact: Complex Thinking

A social compact created to benefit all members of a community must include complex thinking as one of its elements.  Complex thinking is the ability to integrate two or more different concepts.  In contrast, complicated thinking revolves around only one idea or concept.  Translating the Bible into another language is complicated; interpreting what the translation means in terms of spirituality is complex.  The distinction between the two is important to note because often what seems complex is merely complicated.  And, as Mary Wollstonecraft writes, “Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.”  The simple principles that undergird a highly functioning society are complex.

Complex thinkers recognize patterns and make conjectures, applying both deductive and inductive reasoning.  They transfer prior knowledge to new contexts.  They synthesize multiple concepts and evaluate their relationship.  They can analyze an idea and examine its various components, reflecting on the process and the results.  Complex thinkers are not threatened by diverse ideas – they welcome them.

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse is an excellent literary example of complex thinking.  In the novel, the Game is initially used to develop memory and ingenuity among students.  It evolves into an exhibition of self-awareness and creativity, encompassing a broad spectrum of scholarship:  mathematics, music, language, history, etc.  The Game is the backdrop against which the complexity of human existence is played.  It addresses the essential question of what it means to retain one’s individuality while fulfilling one’s role in a larger community.

In answering the question, there is a temptation to rely on complicated thinking – one set of rules to adjust and monitor everyone’s behavior.  It makes for a safe, predictable, and static society.  Complex thinking, with its inherent danger of diverse thought, is not safe; but it is essential for a community to function at its best.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Game of Love

THWACK!  The dart stuck fast in the tree.

“Well done, Ollie!  I think you’ve got it!”  A chubby youth clapped his hands.

“I don’t know, Stanley,” said his companion.  “I feel ridiculous throwing these things.  It’s just not the same.  I miss my bow and arrow.”

“Listen, after the disaster at last week’s convention, we’re fortunate they didn’t take away our wings.”

“But was that our fault?  How were we to know he needed a double dose?”

“Well, it’s our job to know how much love should be administered.  As the committee pointed out, there were enough warning signs – the nickname, the crack about his wife, and whispers about his father.  It would affect any man.”

Stanley plumped his arm around Ollie’s shoulders.

“Cheer up, old top, November is months away.  I’m sure we’ll get our arrows back before then.  In the mean time…”

THWACK!  Another dart hit the tree.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Social Compact: Self-Directed Learning

Effective communication and community participation are two elements of a social compact that can be used in classroom.  A third element is self-directed learning.  This is a particularly important component for teachers who want students to think their own thoughts.

Students have a tendency to focus predominantly on what their teachers think and they invest a great deal of time memorizing their teachers’ thoughts instead of developing their own.  Unfortunately, some teachers reinforce this behavior by assigning grades based on how well students regurgitate their ideas.  Students are aware of this and train themselves to give feedback to the teacher.  They need to be redirected; this is the goal of self-directed learning.

Self-directed learners are autodidacts.  They set goals, monitor their progress, and evaluate their results.  They take ownership of their learning and, to that end, manage their time, establish benchmarks, and take risks.

An excellent example of a self-directed learner in fiction is Lyra in The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.  She is given an “alethiometer” – the golden compass – with no instructions on how to use it.  She is only told that it tells the truth.  Everything else Lyra discovers about the golden compass is from her own initiative.  In her pursuit of understanding, Lyra demonstrates a key characteristic of a self-directed learner:  perseverance.  To an autodidact, failures are not closed doors but redirections to another path.

A community of self-directed learners reveals new pathways and expanded ways of thinking to all of its members.  They all share in the risks, the failures, and the mistakes and, as a result, the entire community benefits from the learning process.  In the classroom, a teacher acts as a guide for the students and provides a safe environment for non-fatal errors.  It’s a challenging process that demands that a teacher also be a self-directed learner.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Citizen's Arrest?

 (Or how I unintentionally made a police officer nervous.)

Yesterday, after I finished my shopping at Walgreen’s, I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street.  There was a light at the intersection so I came to a stop behind a police car.  The light turned green, the police car moved forward, and so did I.
I followed the police car for a few blocks to another intersection where we both turned right.  I idly wondered if the policeman inside the car noticed I was following him.

Two blocks later, we came to the intersection where I planned to turn left – my usual route home.  The police car turned left and so did I.  After a few seconds, the policeman turned right into a residential area – my residential area.  I had no choice but to continue to follow him. 

Another turn left and an immediate turn right and I was still behind the police car at what I hoped was a non-threatening distance.  Apparently it was not.  The policeman pulled over to let me go around him, which I did.  As I watched in my rearview mirror, the car pulled away from the curb and resumed its route.

I felt badly that my innocent actions would cause apprehension to anyone, let alone a police officer.  I briefly considered rolling down my window as I drove passed to explain that I was just on my way home.  But in these unsettled times, that probably would not have been a good thing.  On the bright side, the incident gave the cop an interesting story to tell back at the precinct.

Friday, July 22, 2016

"The Scattered and the Dead - Book 0.5"

 The Scattered and the Dead Book 0.5, by Tim McBain and L. T. Vargas, is a disturbing story of a world gone chaotic.  A plague is sweeping through the land, zombies are rising from the dead, and the infrastructure is crumbling.  In this setting, the protagonist, Decker, adjusts to a rapidly devolving society.

As his world descends into emptiness and inhumanity, Decker ascends from the prison of his own self-imposed isolation.  This powerfully written story explores the essential question:  How does one survive in a disintegrating world?  For Decker, it means inuring himself to the horrors he encounters by extreme pragmatism.

The social compact at the center of the story is between Decker and the girl down the hall, to whom he is writing an account of his thoughts and actions.  He feels solicitude for her and is concerned for her welfare – he wonders whether or not she is even alive.  Hence the effort to communicate with her by means of a letter.  (He cannot bring himself to knock on her door.)

The skillful writing of Decker’s internal monologue with the girl is an implied answer to the essential question.  That is, even as Decker trades his humanity for survival, his connection to the unseen girl keeps his personal zombie in check – for now.  What happens to Decker once that connection is finally broken?  What happens to any of us when the last “I-Thou” link is shattered?  We become scattered and dead.