Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Class Divided: The power of learning through experience

This is one of the most requested programs in FRONTLINE's history. It is about an Iowa schoolteacher who, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, gave her third-grade students a first-hand experience in the meaning of discrimination. This is the story of what she taught the children, and the impact that lesson had on their lives.

A Class Divided series are an amazing example of the power of learning through experience. Even though the children had talked about the concept on discrimination before the lesson, it only made sense when it was relevant to them, when they felt what it was like to be discriminated against and where was a personal experience attached to it. I think this is the case with every piece of knowledge we acquire during our life. The difference between an activity or a lesson and an experience is how much we internalize the concept during the process.
We can memorize concepts and facts but knowledge only comes from experience as it allow us test our theories and decide what is worth keeping making every concept in our head meaningful.

I was also impressed by the power of emotions. When our emotional state is troubled, it affects our thinking and intellectual skills. When the children were asked why their scores where lower the day they were discriminated against they said “We kept thinking about the collars”.
We are often scared to expose young children to tough learning situations in which we deal with delicate subjects. I believe that the reason we are so fearful is because it will put us in an uncomfortable situations facing the unexpected in a non controllable environment. However, every human being will face sturdy situations during their life and if we don’t deal with them they will be processed based on assumptions instead of accurate guidance. The important lesson is not to avoid these situations but learn to use them as learning opportunities and the importance to reflect on the activity to make learning visible. Jane Elliot is an amazing fearless teacher. When she asked her students: Is the learning worth the agony? They all said YES! It remained me of this quote:

“If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be.” John Haywood

This video is also a great tool to evaluate our thoughts and how attuned they are with our actions. Another quote: “If the map doesn’t agree with the ground, the map is wrong.” Gordon Livingston. :)

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