Monday, November 30, 2009

“Tell me and I forget. Teach and I remember. Involve me and I learn” Benjamin Franklin

Students Learning in the remote province of Kompong Speu

Students Learning at Pagoda Onalum

Students Learning at Bamboo Shoot School

Students Learning at Royal University of Phnom-Penh

The Liberationist, The Facilitator, and The Executive Teacher
Three Basic Approaches To Teaching and Learning

School is a place where students learn about themselves and about the world. And the business of the school is developing intellectual and nurturing the mind, not pampering the emotions. Yet, the levels of intellectual ability may differ, but all humans share the same emotional capacities to feel love, anger, empathy, caring, and joy. The practical curriculum should capitalize on this capacity between school and life, and teach our youth about the common humanity of all human beings. Education should help each person make his or her life more meaningful and fulfilling.

Often, in a classroom setting, teacher makes decisions regarding the information that needs to be covered and skills that need to be developed. Teacher should emphasize discovery and opening the world for the student. Learners should be full participants in the learning process. Education must rest on a solid foundation of knowledge about how to use it. Each teacher is a unique person, and it is by being really yourself that you really can become a great teacher. Since knowledge is power, these three basic approaches to teaching and learning give the teacher the power to choose way(s) to teach that will help achieve one of the noblest goals to which human beings can aspire: assisting the young in becoming thoughtful, competent, and caring adults.

Before examining each of the three different approaches to teaching and learning it is important to identify and remember the five elements common to all teaching framework called ‘MAKER’ framework (Approaches to Teaching, 2004, Gary D Fenstermacher and Jonas F. Soltis): Methods of teaching, Awareness of students, Knowledge of the subject matter, Ends that guide teaching and learning, and Relationships between teacher and students. Now I invite you to empty your cup (your own personal opinions and perception) and enrich your own conception of the role, purpose, and persona you want to be yours as a ‘wow’ teacher by reflecting on these different perspectives of teaching and learning.

1. The Liberationist Approach views the teacher as a liberator of the mind to wonder, to know, and understand, to imagine and create, using the full intellectual inheritance. Teacher with appropriate manner frees and opens the mind of the learner, initiating him or her into human ways of knowing and assisting the learner becoming a well rounded, knowledgeable, and moral human being. The liberationist teacher stresses initiation into ways of knowing and the development of the student’s intellectual and moral virtues. The emancipationist, a variant of the liberationist approach with strong social and political orientation, sees the social world as a place of constant struggle and oppression where those who have power, privilege, and status assert themselves and those who do not have power or privilege accept their diminished status and fate that follow from it. Furthermore the emancipationists argue that schools often serve as instruments of social reproduction in which the lower class learn to be docile workers who follow orders and the upper class are trained for leadership and the exercise of power. The end of emancipationist teaching stresses to free the minds of students from the unconscious grip of oppressive ideas about such things as their class, race, gender, or ethnic status and other forms of social repression. One becomes free of these oppressive ideas not simply by recognizing them as oppressive, but by doing something about them (Paulo Freire, Brazilian Educator, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 2001). The liberationist uses ends that guide teaching and learning and knowledge of the subject matter as dominant factors.

2. The Facilitator Approach who focus on the development and nurturing of each student’s unique capacity and personal characteristics to help them attain authenticity and self actualization. Teacher has a civic responsibility to model how to be loving, empathetic, just, honest, respectful, and caring individuals. Providing students with the opportunities to experience and practice these skills, along with providing cognitive development is their obligation. Teacher is like passports to these experiences. Teacher also helps students and adolescent become themselves. Students really learn and grow in their sense of self-worth. Teacher is an empathetic person who believes in helping individuals grow personally and reach a high level of self-actualization and self-understanding. He or she nurtures the personhood of the student by engaging him or her in meaningful experiences that connect with their lives (care pedagogy). The facilitator puts awareness of student and ends that guide teaching and learning central.

3. The Executive Approach views the teacher as a skillful manager of learning, and the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understandings, and competencies. Students must rest on a solid foundation of knowledge and the ability to think critically. Teacher conveys basic subject matter and skills as efficiently as possible. Careful developed curriculum materials and methods of teaching backed by research are very important. They provide the teacher with techniques and understanding to use in the management of the classroom and the production of learning. In this context, students learn by in large what they were engaged to study. The executive stresses the methods of teaching and knowledge of subject matter and put less emphasis on awareness of students, ends that guide the activities of teaching and learning, and relationships between teacher and students.

Today’s world is diverse and constantly changing. Educators must be prepared to deal with these challenges. Understanding, practicing and gaining perspective in one or all three approaches prepare you to function more effectively in different school settings with different types of learners. Knowing teaching is personal, my intent here is to offer and present new way(s) to teaching and learning for further reflection as well as new topics for conversation with your fellow teachers. Our common goal as teacher is to provide an environment that stresses the ethical and moral values of society and prepare students to become self-directed and lifelong learners. Students become active learners through active teaching. I salute you for the great service you render to the nation and its children.

Sources and for further reading check out:
1. Approaches to Teaching, 2004, Gary D Fenstermacher and Jonas F. Soltis.
2. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, Paulo Freire.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Life Lesson: Introspection

International Vipassana Center at Pagoda Onalum

Vipassana Sitting Hall

Paccaya's Tranlation Sesssion with Ven. Sanghabodhi and Ven. Den

Lunch at the Pagoda with two other Kmeng Wat, Diman and Reuth

Life Lesson: Introspection

Being back home this time, I wanted to examine myself from a different perspective; to reflect and inquire about how I can contribute to the community. I chose to live at the International Vipassana Center in Onalum Pagoda for ten months. While everyone thinks of changing the world, I think of changing myself. I have wanted to live my life from the inside out and not from the outside in. I have wanted my life to mean something more. I have wanted to exist for the greater good, to directly experience anatta (no self) living with less and focusing more on right actions and not as much on results. I have wanted to choose a life I have reason to value. I have wanted to be content with who I am rather than what I have or what I do. My stay in the pagoda was intended to test my heart, to test my determination, to test myself and to develop my wisdom for my own personal growth. I have wanted nothing more than to be a right force (bala) of change to serve my country and humanity.

My introspection required me not only to see, know, understand and feel new things, but also to experience the same things in a new light. Nothing came easy to me in life. I had to do my own work. No one can do this work for me, because no one has lived through the life experience I have. Enlightened ones will only show the way. In the pagoda, I renounced most the householder’s life and lived with minimal personal possessions, with bare essentials. I lived on the charity of others; accepting whatever was offered as food, accommodation, or other facility.

My day at the pagoda usually began at 4:30 AM listened to the metta (loving kindness) praying by the monks and sat for one-hour Vipassana meditation. Besides helping with the daily chores; organizing, sweeping, dusting and cleaning, I helped prepare and serve meals to the monks with two other “Khmeng Wat” (pagoda boys). I called myself “Chach Wat”, pagoda old man. Whatever I received here, I tried to make best use of it; working hard to purify my mind. I enriched my general knowledge on Buddhism by spending countless hours reading, researching, learning, and understanding more on the theoretical study of Dhamma (pariyatti) as well as the teaching of Abhidhamma (ultimate science). At the actual practice of Dhamma (patipatti), I volunteered serving nine days Satipatthana course. I also took ten days Vipassana course to develop insightful learning about myself and learned to teach Anapana Sati (awareness of the incoming and outgoing breath) to the children. Everything happen in life is a process of natural phenomenon which possess three main characteristics included anicca (impermanence), dukka (suffering), and anatta (no self). Each breath I took is a path to experience the present moment and to liberation, the experience of arising and passing away, a small step to free myself from all bondages. Gradually, I become aware that I’m responsible for my feeling, and what I do with them. Through that, I have learned to speak my mind.

As I look back on my life, one of the most constant and powerful things I have experienced within myself is the desire to be more than I am at the moment—an unwillingness to let myself remain where I am; a desire to do more, learn more, accomplish more. But now, step-by-step I have learned to live my life in the present moment rather than the past. Everyday and every moment, I create my own future, my own welfare and misery as well as my own liberation. If I can learn to develop the mastery in this present moment, the future will automatically be bright. I am what I have. But whatever I have never last. Great renunciation (nekkhamma) is the renunciation of having. After critical self-examination, I have to “BE” first before I can “DO” and “DO” before I can “HAVE”.

Somehow, just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes and I am left the same as I began. It appears that my life is a constant irony of maturity and regression, but my sense of progress is based on the illusion that things out there are going to remain the same and that, at last, I have gained a little control. The more things changes the more I am the same. I am what I started with. More and more, I realize that achieving meaningful change in me will take time, and may be a lifetime.

My trouble is I analyze life instead of live it. Much of the stress I feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what I’ve started. From this experience, I have learned not to judge myself by how much I have accomplished. It is enough that I am of value to someone today. It is enough that I serve Lok Ta, my respectful 92 years old father, now. It is enough for me to sit down and listen to his advice on living my life according to the five Buddhist precepts. The rainbow is more beautiful than the pot at the end of it, because the rainbow is now. And the pot never turns out to be quite what I expected.

Little reflection was necessary for me to appreciate that my most troubling times have generally been responsible for my greatest growth. My life is full of challenges and obstacles. It is all about how I face them, how I come through them. When there is faith there is hope. I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith (saddha), I have corrected my path. My faith (saddha) and effort (veriya) have always brought me back home to where I really belong. I have persevered from tragedy after tragedy by mean of my personal wisdom (panna) to be my own master. I am the only one responsible for my life. Since I am the author of my life, I never give up on my aspiration to gain self–actualization. By observing and practicing ardently the four sublime states of Buddhism; Metta (loving-kindness), Karuna (compassion), sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (uppekkha), I find real peace and harmony. Yet, I know I still have a long way to go to be at peace in the way I want.

Challenge and opportunity always come together-under certain conditions; one could be transformed into the other. The way to be most helpful to others is for me to do the thing that right now would be most helpful to me. My motivation is to perform my part as a productive member of humanity, to contribute my own skills and efforts for the greater good. My only reward is in my actions and not from them. Everything I do influence those around me and everything I think and feel influence what I do. However to live my life for perfectionism would be sentenced myself to continuous frustration.

My life is more about caring and giving. I have come to understand that I cannot completely solve all the problems, but I can work toward resolving by changing the way I deal with it. I judge less and less my day by how much I have completed but rather to enjoy what I have done for the benefits others, especially the children, the vulnerable, and the poorest. I want to open the door for the next generation. The kids have to be educated so they can have a better and brighter future, and what more is there. I believe each human being, whatever their social level or profession, has a potential to fulfill. I know it can be done. We all can be and do much more than we think.

Today never hands me the same thing twice and I believe that for most everyone else, life is also a mixture of unsolved problems, ambiguous victories and fictional defeats—with very few quiet moments of clear and real peace. I never do seem to quite get on top of it. My struggle today is worthwhile, but it is a struggle nonetheless and one I will never finish. I don’t want to stand with the setting sun and think of things I have or haven’t done. I can never hide myself from me. I see what others may never see. I know what other may never know. I often ask myself: how have I dealt with disappointments in life? Is failure really bad? The idea of failing a hundred times as long as I succeed once keeps me going. I believe if I persevere enough, work at it, stick with it; I have a real opportunity to achieve something. Change makes all things possible, yet requires great courage and personal sacrifice. To me, right intentions are more important than results.

I believe no one is wrong. At most someone is uninformed. “You’re wrong” means “I don’t understand you”—I am not seeing what you’re seeing. But there is nothing wrong with you, you simply not me and, that’s not wrong. If I think a person is wrong, either I am unaware of something, or he/she is. I like to be very honest and very specific in my criticism. I don’t want the local Khmer people see me as an ‘outsider’ but as a normal Khmer person who cares as much about them, encourages them to do their best, and works hard with them. I think one of the most important things in life is to be open-minded and to be open-minded for positive change.

Being back home this time, I am astounded to hear from government notable words that are so far removed from the truth and dignity such as freedom of expression, equal rights to housing, health care and education, human rights issues and the culture of impunity. Yes, I see progress; I see new buildings, I see new constructions, I see new roads, I see new bridges, I see new sumptuous villas, but beside this make-up, I also see more poverty, I see more corruption, I see more nepotism, I see more abuses, I see more distrust, I see more intellectual degradation, I see more oppressions, I see more immorality, I see more burglaries, I see more hunger, I see more misery, and I see more widening gaps between the riches and the poor, between the powerful and the vulnerable. Endemic corruption, land grabbing, abuse of power and social justice are critical issues facing the country and inaction is not acceptable. There comes a point where we all have to accept that the current system is not working. I feel that justice must be the same for everybody. Everyone needs to uphold the principle that no one is above the law. When I can, I want to help. I want to make a difference. If I can bring a little happiness for someone else, I gain more in my life. It is when I forget myself that I do things that are remembered.

Moreover, it is better for me to remain hopeful than hopeless. History has told us over and over again that we all pay a higher price if we do nothing or we don’t do enough. Achieving meaningful change will take time and only take place through right actions. I have wanted to plant new seed, the seed of growth mind set. I believe we all can plant any seed we want in the soil, and if it's given enough time and attention, it will grow into a flower, vegetable, or tree. The same goes for our mind. We can plant doubt, mistrust, contentions, oppressions and negative thoughts, or we can choose to plant the most hopeful, success-focused thoughts; the four sublime seeds of love and ethics we can muster. With enough time and attention, those seeds will grow as well. Will they grow into a promising future or a mediocre life? That depends on what we planted. As the seed is, so the fruit will be; as the right action is, so the result will be. Since the results are unpredictable, no effort of mine is doomed to failure. I am hopeful the up-and-coming generation of Khmer people learns to embrace openness, to accept new ideas and critical thinking, and grows up to be an ideal generation free from lobha (greed), dosa (hatred), and moha (ignorance).

I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me, had I made different choice. This existence of mine is as moving as the clouds. To watch the birth and death of being is like looking at the movement of a wave. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky. Rushing by like a torrent down a steep mountain. At the pagoda, I have stopped for a moment to encounter life, to be with my father and to serve others. This was a precious moment even if it was transient. It was a parenthesis in eternity but this moment has been worthwhile for me. After all, I am who I am.

I am most grateful to Venerable Sanghabodhi, my respectful father and head monk for letting me stay at the International Vipassana Center and tirelessly and patiently teaching me the art of being. I also would like to thank all those who were kind enough to share my insightful experience and helped me in many other ways during my stay at the pagoda. Their unconditional support and encouragement will be always remembered.