Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Reality check

I have just opened the balcony door, so I can hear the coarse voices of teenagers walking by. Opening a window might seem like peeping into reality; a young friend of mine once told me (passionately), “Open the window and look out. The world is not what you can see on your computer screen.”

Well, can I, by opening the window and looking out into the street find out what the world is like?

If I do it, I could describe the world as follows:

“It’s hot and noisy, full of dust and burnt gas fumes. Still you can hear the songs of thousands of crickets.

People are loud and ugly, especially men, who are made much uglier by a certain hairstyle.”

That reminds me of Jivka’s answer to the question “What do gypsies purchase?” Her reality check read as “They buy expensive snacks.” You probably remember the other guys joining in to prove her wrong with “They don’t buy anything because they don’t have any money; they steal.” or “They work abroad and send money to their relatives.”

Have you ever heard the story about the group of blind men who had to describe an elephant after having examined by touching it. Someone described it as an animal with a huge trunk; another as a creature with crinkled buttocks, etc. Who offered the right description?

Forget about these blind men and get some learned men. How would a vet, a circus elephant trainer, an anthropologist, a zoologist, a poacher and an ecologist describe an elephant? Wouldn’t they know better than the blind men? If they were reporting reality, wouldn’t they give us the same reports? If their descriptions vary wildly, then whom shall we trust?

How do we get a real picture of reality? Is it by opening the only window we have? Is it a good idea to stare at the computer screen, for it can open an infinite number of windows? Is it better to go out and do some field work, or is it better to sit back in our easy-chair, close our eyes, smoke a pipe and think or … sing?


I refuse to know

(I didn’d know there was a book about Flatland! You can download it by clicking here .)

Some students say that they don’t need to study a subject because it will never serve them in their “real lives”. Others say that they don’t trust a scientific theory because they have not heard of it at school. Still others say that they don’t need to study literature because they are not interested in strangers’ lives.

Some students say they should not study arts because they lack natural talent related to these. Others say they should not study literature because they lack imagination. Still others say they shouldn’t study a science because they have already missed learning its fundamentals.

I have lived much longer, and I know for sure that school exposes students just to some levels of subjects. Furthermore, it exposes them to a limited range of fields, and there are so many issues that you won’t have the opportunity to explore even at college, and so many of these are subtly related to our lives in ways we don’t even suspect.

Some people do reach a level at which they start discerning the patterns which organize our seemingly random lives. At that level you know that every bit of knowledge fits into the big picture.

Of course, a person doesn’t need to know every detail, every bit of information, but in order to make informed choices, both personal and professional, you need to know the fundamentals.

Unfortunately, Bulgarian education sucks students into the swamp of random details that have to be memorized for the sake of GPA. Teachers fail to point out the relations- not just between the broad fields of humanities and science, not just between a school subject and another school subject, but even between two facts in the same paragraph in a textbook, which traditionally exposes students to random facts, at best organized into structures, into which the life of function has rarely been breathed.

Students are never taught how to organize information for themselves. That’s why it remains fragmented and never really makes sense.

I am fully aware of my students’ “academic” experience, so I try to compensate for 8-9-10-11-12 years of poor schooling (I can hardly call it education). However, no matter how hard I try, some of them seem to be shouting at me: “I refuse to know!”

I know I am not the best teacher in the world, but I have succeeded in helping a couple of students open their eyes to organic reality. I will never stop learning; I’ll go through quantum physics and ant behavior to find out how to be a good teacher. Meanwhile too many students will belly-flop into “real life” as cripples. How sad. 😦

The acorn

An acorn shoots and grows into a mighty oak – that’s the logo of the US department of education. I was amazed: 1) I have always perceived an acorn as something magical 2) the logo stands for growing up into what you were meant to be – you see, it’s not an acorn growing up into a tomato or a pine tree, but an acorn growing up into an oak.

What’s so special about that? Well, let ME ask you several questions:

  1. Have you ever thought that YOU were meant to be something special – a unique person who will make his unique difference in the world?
  2. Have you ever tried to find out what your unique purpose is?
  3. Have your parents ever encouraged you to be yourself?
  4. Has your school ever catered for your unique individuality?


It seems that most of us perceive themselves as average, mediocre people who were not meant to make a difference in the world. We strive to survive by being “normal”, by keeping a low profile, by taking up the most popular majors. We grow up to believe there is just one way to be happy, and we have this model reinforced in our minds through soap-operas, Barbie magazines, Big Brother, tabloids, mom’s advice, neighbors’ example, commercials – millions of people cannot be wrong, right?


Trying to find out what your unique purpose is could be painful swimming against the tide. You know, nobody has ever become the prophet of his native village. As we are “only” human, most of us try to avoid any kind of discomfort. Well, I don’t mean sitting down and thinking of what occupation or lifestyle will make you happy is necessarily painful. NO! However, it might take effort to use your own brain; it might give you guilty conscience for you believe daydreaming is a waste of time; it might leave you embarrassed to find out you do not wish for a realistic secure mature life, and you’ve always avoided being a pink elephant, haven’t you?


Some parents do admire their child’s uniqueness, but for the sake of their offspring’s well-being, they try to kill it softly, to suppress it gently, or lead their child to believe that it’s something he should take as a hobby.

To tell you the truth, I personally know just one mom who has been consistent in encouraging her children to be what they feel they should be. She is one of my friends’ mom – she has been a cleaning woman for most of her adult years; she was a young mother of three when her husband died. My friend is a professional artist, and I think he’ll always be what he feels like being, despite the fact that he has his downs in income as artists do not get a monthly salary, you know.

When I first went to their place, his mom was eager and proud to show me a pile of drawings – she had kept EVERYTHING he had drawn since the day he had got hold of a pen. When he was leaving for Vienna several years ago, she was a bit worried. I told her, “Don’t worry. He’ll survive. He can always take any job.” “Why should he take ANY job?”, his mom asked, “He is an artist. He has talent. That’s what he should do.”

Since then I have been trying to be like my friend’s mom to my son, who, coincidentally, has the same name as my friend’s. I don’t know what is to become of him,. Few people were born with such conspicuous talent as my friend’s or Mozart’s. So I just keep showing my son all the opportunities I know of, encouraging him to believe that he can also invent opportunities. I hope some day he finds out what his “acorn” is like and lets it grow, and I would not be crushed if he turns out to be a gay artist, for example.

As for my own parents, they did not worry much about my vocational choices. They believed I should become what I am capable of and feel happy about my choice. I am not sure if they believed I was special, but they did not relate my vocational choices to survival as it was communism back then, and everybody was guaranteed physical survival through a job and a salary. Well, they knew teaching would not bring me much money or prestige, but they did not yield to their friend’s pressure “A teacher? She is so bright! She could have been accepted anywhere. Why didn’t she take up international business? She’ll be satisfied with teaching?!?”


When I was a student, I was lucky to have teachers who liked me for what I was, who believed it was cute to be different, to be oneself. They believed in me and encouraged my individuality – most of them. I was lucky not to be taught by the scared people obsessed with survival who teach my son and students today. That mattered a lot.

It’s not easy being oneself today. People around us are so obsessed with physical survival that their idea of success and happiness is buying an apartment and a car, and all the fancy trinkets that are believed to exude prestige. Most kids today grow up seeing only what their parents and neighbors can see. What most of them can see is misery. How sad.

How about you? Do you care about letting your acorn grow?