Cries of unbridled envy rang out from the ladies at this week’s craft meeting, as it quickly became apparent that the men in the group were a tad more adept at wielding thread and needles than them.
The dreamcatcher project proved highly gratifying to the students who grasped the concept quickly and were able to turn an ordinary piece of string into an intricately woven pattern, and super frustrating to those students whose attempts at working out which loop to weave the string through next yielded undesirable results. The general consensus reached, was that the men would obviously have the best dreams later that night.
The most thrilling part of the meeting was the fantastic discussion and debate that happened around the table while we set to work at weaving dreamcatchers. We we were pleased to have been graced by the presence of three different staff members, one of whom is the current Head of Department of Philosophy who observed and joined in on the lively discussion.
Students are free in the sense that they do not feel the burden of providing academic proof for the ideas that are occurring to them in the moment. It is my opinion that this is what helps them to explore their creative thoughts and convictions in a safe environment. It is my belief that this is where students are first able to get a “hands on” exposure to the method of making a real argument. As mentioned earlier – the students are not confined to particular system – and where they end up at the end of the discussion may have moved a few degrees from the initial idea suggested to them.
The way I process what is happening – is that students are convicted enough to argue their point from a place of meaningful interaction. They are meaningfully engaged with the subject matter as they themselves direct the subject matter. What has been remarkable for me to note is that I see the students begin to feel their feet through the science of argument. They are able to organise what they hope to convey and logically proceed through their argument. They are able to express their ideas clearly, using language and method that best illustrates what they hope to convey.
The initial questions centred around culture, whether cultural icons, and certain rites of culture were the property of the originating pratictioners. They discussed whether culture was static or dynamic. How far back does one have to go to render something the property of that culture, when does that thing become inherently sacred and thus not open to appropriation or adoption by other groups who may not intend to exercise the reverance afforded to the item as the originating custodians offered. From there on the students were left to follow a sort of stream of consciousnsess and it enventually led into discussions of centering around religious and cultural freedom.
There were some strong arguments made that sought to distinguish the nuance between “enforcing” and “respecting” the cultural norms and values of groups of people. There were arguments made in favour of global respect of person’s right to choose whatever cultural norms and values he or she wishes to adopt regardless of territorial situation. The conversation extended to music and the commericalisation of Maskandi rhythms and students discussed whether they felt it was okay that certain “western” or “white” music artists adopted the Maskandi style and profited from that enterprise.
Eventually, students were even discussing homophobia and how it has its roots in culturally enforced taboos, and I could see that they were beginning to critically reflect on topical issues that arose from this discussion, without much prompting. They began to meaningfully engage in the process of critical reflection.
I was heartened by the progression toward critical reflection – because I could see that they really began to “feel” the process of critical reflection.
One of the biggest challenges I face as a teacher of Philosophy at the University of Zululand, is to embody the spirit of critical reflection in my attempts to explain what it is, in way that the students themselves would be able to “feel” what it was like to be critically reflective. This challenge arises out of my observation that students merely seem to learn the facts of a critically reflective argument, without themselves actually going through the process of critical reflection.
It has been my observation, that students have in some way repressed the desire to be internally critical. I felt that they had adopted a way of surviving by merely repeating “facts", that they somehow felt unable or unconfident in trusting their own intuitive reflection process and began to depend on the “without” to cue them on what was “critical reflection”.
In the process – they have begun to think that “critical reflection” means learning to repeat both the protest and support of a particular issue. It became apparent to me – that although they knew rules of critical reflection, the conception of it was merely a superficial acknowledgement of the rules. So the students would learn off by rote the opinions of both the protestors and the supporters of an issue, but they didn’t feel comfortable in trusting their own intuitive reflection.
Personally – I felt that this craft meeting was one of the most meaningful for me. I was moved by the students enthusiasm for both the craft and for the opportunity to freely participate in the process of open free philosophical debate. I was convicted by the fact that even though our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and schools that are not as well equipped as our first world community – this does not have an profound altering effect on their intellectual ability to reason, argue and critically reflect just as vigorously as their first world counterparts. Even though they might not have the advantage of first language English skills, this does not make a resounding difference in their ability to convey an idea. I have noted that the students are so enthusiastic about what they have to say and what they are doing – that they try to say it in a way that makes sense. The clearer the idea is to them, the clearer they find a way of saying it – even in a language that is not their natural mode of expression.
I am positively encouraged by the overwhelming interest, observation and comments that the club has been garnering to date. What started for me as a mere inkling of a theory and a conviction that it must be attempted has proven to exceed my expectations of what it is facilitating and where it can go. Professor EC Wait - the Head of Department of Philosophy at the University of Zululand - was kind enough to send me this comment -
"I popped in at the craft session on Tuesday intending to spend a
minute or two and found it very difficult to leave. What was
intriguing was the total concentration with which each student was
focused on their creations. Without look up they seemed to find it
very easy to contribute to the flow of the discussion. Rather than
distracting them, the work on the dream catcher seemed to release a
new wave of confidence and creative thinking. Perhaps, having their
eyes glued to their work released them from a certain kind of “stage
fright” which normally inhibits them from thinking freely and
creatively in class and in the oral exams.
In many instances bad experiences at school could be inhibiting their
willingness to explore new ideas and come up with fresh insights. We
need to find ways of releasing this potential. The role of craft work
may provide that release for many."
I am convicted by the idea that all it takes to encourage or to coax out our students inherent intellectual stamina, or to allow them to move from a level of superficial educational dependence to profound educational independence is the willingness on our part to let them direct their own path. Students are able to come into their own strengths if they are given the freedom to get there themselves and I am becoming more and more convinced that this yields a far more meaningful and deeper, embodied conception of the skills and knowledge that we hope to impart.
As an educator – this is a personal challenge that I have to work on. I have to curb my desire to control-freak their route. I find myself constantly wanting to tell them what something is and how it should be done instead of giving them the freedom to make sense of it on their own. I have to remember this little mantra: to enable a "hands on experience" – I must keep my hands off! Until next time!
Facebook Picture album of Project Dreamcatcher - click here