Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The sun is BIG

My experience at the Ashram was beyond compare. As a senior I have a unique perspective on the potential JanPlan’s can offer and I have found this experience to be the most rewarding January I have experienced through Colby, as well as being one of the most rewarding abroad experiences I have ever had. This program is unique in the Colby curriculum due to its central emphasis on community service abroad. The most important experience we all had was teaching the students of the Ashram, our academic analysis or cultural immersion was secondary to the education of the students. That is why this analysis comes as an afterthought to the core of our course, but it is through the academic articles that we discussed that an alternative perspective of our experience can be offered. Since I feel the JanPlan should focus on the education of the students I will treat the following as a guide for the most effective teaching of the Ashram students. Prior to our departure we prepared a number of lesson plans with no specific description of what to expect from the students. We requested their textbooks, or even a curriculum their teachers wanted us to focus on, but none came. In the material’s absence I resorted to my memory of early science and math classes. Unfortunately a 7th grade class here and students in class 7 in India are not equivalents; the language barrier is significant. This trend runs through every class and I found myself teaching similar material to students in class 5 and class 8. The similarities between these two classes are a product of their rout memorization of the material rather than their understanding of the concepts. The multiplication tables are memorized, but the significance of multiplication, and its use as an accelerated form of addition is non-existent. Class 5 spent the majority of their time learning addition and subtraction of fractions, but it was clear that they did not even have a firm grasp of multiplication. Class 8 spent a majority of time learning multiplication of decimals, and the inexperience with multiplication persisted. Within both of these classes mistakes arose due to simple disorganization and rushed mistakes that I could only attribute to the students attempts to please the teacher and to be the first one to finish the assigned problem. Even if the student wrote every variable of an equation at the top of a sheet of paper and assigned every variable in problem appropriately they would not be able to get the right answer because they would omit essential pieces such as the entire denominator. These mistakes were due to their method of learning; memorization and regurgitation did not allow them to develop their own understanding of the concepts, and it in fact hindered their ability to understand new concepts that did not conform to their previously experienced material. This trend continued with the students that I tutored. The Oxford published ICSE books encouraged the memorization of bold terms rather than an understanding of the concepts, and the emphasis the national exams placed on this material was so great that even when I could positively identify mistakes in the university published material my student, Neema, insisted on reviewing the books definition rather than the correct one. I feel this, and the system of regurgitation is the most important thing for me to address in the context of the academic works that supplemented our time in India. The European published textbook, and the American students arrive at the Ashram and do not encourage the subalternaties of the students, but perpetuate the Eurocentrism that has so severely damaged India. The need to memorize and recite exactly what is taught is an attempt to improve their position in the world, to continue into university and beyond, but they are never learning the material they are just good at describing it. I think that this opinion is a product of the material that I taught. Math and science are not disciplines that encourage a variety of answers, it supports a multitude of paths to the correct answer, but there is always one. These are not supported by Chakrabarty or Gandhi since there is no other answer for what 2*2 is, there is not a subaltern perspective here, but there may be a subaltern method of reaching the answer. Unfortunately the students are not offered a freedom to experience or develop their own methods, they are taught that there is a single method and they must follow it. This is why I feel the music curriculum of the Ashram to be essential, and a continuing experience with math and science to be a future source of creative expression. There must be a freedom to develop one’s own path to knowledge, they must be able to figure out the best way that they understand the concepts, and instead of being told how to get to the answer they should discover a unique way they can get there. Music is easily understood as a creative endeavor that gives the students freedom of expression, but science and math is rarely viewed as creative. I feel that we illustrated how this is not true with our fun solar system song, but these subjects will never develop the conceptual or creative aspects of the students’ brains unless they are given continued freedom to explore the intricacies of numbers and scientific observation. These is not possible through the recite and repeat method employed at the Ashram, but would correspond directly with Chakrabarty’s praise for the knowledge stored in the well of the subaltern groups.

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