26 October, 2020

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On The Art Of Learning How To Think For Yourself

By Tony de Silva

Tony de Silva

Tony de Silva

Let’s face it, most people who initially saw the title of this article (you could be one of them), clicked on it with the underlying notion that I would be going off on a tirade on something that should be so simple and familiar to the average human being. I’ve spent many days wondering if I should even broach the subject with others, afraid of their reactions to the accusation that most of us merely drift through life subjected to the influence of external entities.

Clearly, the fact that this article exists here means that I’ve reached the stipulated conclusion that most people do need to be reminded, even if just for a brief moment, to pause and think about the course of their lives and their place in this lonely blue planet. I do not intend to spin off on an existential narrative, but I do think it is important to put things into perspective. So, please bear with me if I do introduce the abstract now and then, as my sole purpose is to leave you, the reader, with nothing more than a few simple thoughts that may hopefully help you critique your life’s own discourse for the better.

First of all, let me begin with formal education as this is where our discovery and curiosity of the world is meant to commence and blossom. It sounds beautiful doesn’t it? You take a young child of around four years old, and guide him through the discoveries of many a man who trudged through the Earth, building upon theories and knowledge in order to help sustain humanity for generations to come, so that he in turn can one day venture out, once capable enough to do so, and contribute to the understanding of our surroundings.

In addition to being immersed in this learning environment, the child is also encircled by peers his age to aid in the development and maturity of key social skills necessary to coexist in future communities. As I can only speak from my personal experience of early education in Sri Lanka, unfortunately my subjective affirmation of this experience cannot be more far removed from this contrived description. I recall not so fondly an educational system that solely placed an emphasis on performance, subordination, and conformity. Material that yearned to be apprehended and understood was instead forced into the guts of bewildered students, not to be consumed and digested, but to resurface as regurgitated matter on a test paper. ‘Learning’ took place in the classroom, six hours a day, confined to the walls of a room only slightly larger than your average bedroom. Restlessness was not tolerated. Neither was the query of questions. “Speak when spoken to,” are words I became all too accustomed to. It speaks magnitudes on the atmosphere dedicated to educating our children, when a child would rather go home and engage in private tuition than solicit an answer from a teacher at school.

Once the seed of this dogma has been firmly planted in the depths of our foundation, steps are taken to nourish and feed the roots of subordination. Respect and unabashed obedience are highly valued traits in Sri Lankan society that clearly see its materialism both in school and at home. After all, how can one control and mould a child into what’s deemed to be right and proper, without pontificating their beliefs onto them? How can subjective truths and views exist when society has laid down rules and morals for an objective reality? I play with such sarcasm here, because it baffles me as to how us humans can impose and dictate such terms on one another while being audacious enough as to believe we hold absolute truth.

Our government will argue that resources aren’t plentiful enough to cater to the learning needs of each individual and as a result students will have to be assessed uniformly. While not necessarily incorrect, maybe it’s time we evaluated our educational system itself, instead of sacrificing the personal autonomy and individuality of our children. Finland has been daring enough to do so, and is now reaping the benefits of having some of the most successful schools in the world.

Sadly, the most disturbing aspect of our current system is its role in the breeding of demagogues, and I hope the disastrous consequences owing to the unbridled rule of the previous regime (which needs no further explanation here) will mobilize people to advocate for change. When children aren’t taught to question things at an early age, but to blindly accept truth from figures of authority, we’re eventually left with a nation of adults begging to be guided and told what to do. Insert your ruler fiendish enough to tap into this vulnerability, and a vicious decline is prevalent.

Another factor that needs to be addressed is religion. I have no qualms with organized religion, as long as it’s practiced within the sanctity and boundaries of one’s personal life. Life can appear meaningless at times and if religion fills that existential void and helps you get through the day, I’m not going to be the one to object. However religion should solely be a personal decision and not be thrust onto any individual. A child especially, should not be forced to adopt their parents’ beliefs when they are at an extremely impressionable age. Let them exercise their potential at their own pace to make an informed decision on how they want to live their lives. Instead of fearing repercussions and preparing for the afterlife, shouldn’t we be more focused on teaching our children to be compassionate towards their fellow human beings while on Earth?

Buddhism plays an important role in this country, but somehow appears to forego the propensity to be appraised and critiqued. I hope I’m not misunderstood by this statement. The Buddha teaches his followers an extremely insightful philosophy towards life, but the politicization of Buddhism through the constitution has allowed for unwavering conviction where minimal criticism is dealt with violence, begetting a paradoxical scenario between the non-violent teachings of the Buddha and reality.

Finally, I want to briefly touch upon culture, mostly because it’s something a lot of Sri Lankans are proud of. When I discuss our culture, I wholly refer to our daily norms and attitudes and not our heritage. There seems to be a recurrent theme in our society of being ‘good’. Sri Lankans emphasize this distinction between our culture and its inferior Western counterparts. I have heard many parents praise their children for being pure, i.e. abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, and sex. And of most importantly, for always heeding their advice and doing what they’re told. Thus forming a repressed, frustrated individual struggling to adapt to adulthood independently, having barely experienced the natural progress of maturity. Well, at this point I hope you know what I’m getting at. I’m not implying that a person needs to experience all forms of vices in life to be self-governing, but the power of freedom to make decisions for your self will most likely lead to a more emotionally stable life.

We’ve been constantly conditioned to think a particular way as children and now even as adults are repeatedly intruded by the media telling us we’re incomplete unless we buy a particular product, or become a specific person. In our busy, technology driven lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the mundane and trivial nuances of life. I write this article with the main intention of stimulating introspection for this very reason. Set aside all other distractions for a moment and reflect on your life, both your past and the future that lies ahead.

Instead of accepting things the way they are, I implore you to challenge norms, traditions and ideas. To always question things. I think it is fundamental that learning how to think for ourselves becomes an integral part of our society in the road that lies ahead. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my journey thus far, it is to understand and be understood. I don’t think I can ask for more.

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Latest comments

  • 19
    1

    Tony de Silva, thank you for this:-

    “When children aren’t taught to question things at an early age, but to blindly accept truth from figures of authority, we’re eventually left with a nation of adults begging to be guided and told what to do.”

    “Insert your ruler fiendish enough to tap into this vulnerability, and a vicious decline is prevalent.”

    Hope that more readers would understand your Point of View, and work towards stopping the ‘vicious decline’ of a whole generation of Sri Lankans, since ‘Sinhala Only’.

    • 1
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      Do

    • 1
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      Parents, grand parents and teachers have the responsibility to explain lessons from their experiences and distilled wisdom from the past to children in a manner they can understand. This is also a major part of education. The Panchatantra stories, Jataka stories and the Aesop’s fables impart lessons to the very young, the deep meaning of which later get matched with the experiences.

      The meaning of the lines starting with Tamil alphabets (Auvayar’s Aathisoodi), even hold much meaning to me at this age, because they were explained to me in my first grade in school and thereafter I found more meaning over the decades. ‘Aram Seyya Virumu’ the first was explained to me as ‘Desire to do what is right’. I learned later on my own what the ‘Right’ was. They being actions free of jealousy (allukkaru), excessive desire (avaa), Vehuli (anger) and Innaachol( words that hurt).

      Dr.RN

      • 0
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        Dr RN:-
        Obviously you belong to an Age when cramming was not considered a Good Education.

        Do you Remember this – ‘I Think, Therefore I am’!

        • 0
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          Hamlet,
          Yes. ” COGNITO ERGO SUM”.

          Dr.RN

          • 1
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            Cogito not Cognito

  • 5
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    We are all but creatures of circumstance; shackled at birth to a family, a religion (or none), a language, an environment and a ‘motherland’ with its own ‘culture’ cobbled through years of manipulated history. We journey to an enlightened land in hope, but the time is still some way off when we Sri Lankans can collectively shed the baggage of centuries that has bedevilled our communities. For now, may I recommend a rather harsher prescription that was offered by the poet Phillip Larkin, in his poem

    This Be The Verse

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    • 3
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      We may be ‘shackled’ to so much.

      But we must, and can find, a way out.

      We learnt to use the computer and so much more our previous generations didn’t use.

      We are eager to grab the financial perks(eg GSP+) offered by the West but deride them when they speak about human rights or the art of learning how to think for oneself.

    • 2
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      ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’
      (Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan)

    • 3
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      Spring Koha

      Philip Larkin himself recite his poem:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqa6L22m0rY

  • 8
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    Tony de Silva

    RE: On The Art Of Learning How To Think For Yourself

    “Clearly, the fact that this article exists here means that I’ve reached the stipulated conclusion that most people do need to be reminded, even if just for a brief moment, to pause and think about the course of their lives and their place in this lonely blue planet.”

    Thank you. A very good topic.

    We had 5.8 million voters with Average IQ of 65 who voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa, because they could not think for themselves, and others, do the thinking for them. The are collectively known as Modayas, Mootals and fools. One Guy, Wimal Modawansa said 2/2 =0, and most of them accepted it. Mahinda Rajapaksa said an 8-month body who could not say Amma and Thatta, said Jayawewa. Most of them accepted it.

    So, what can you do?

    write the sri Lanka Version of the Common sense pamphlet.

    • 4
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      Do

    • 1
      2

      ‘We had 5.8 million voters with Average IQ of 65 who voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa, because they could not think for themselves’

      Amare when your stomach is aching with hunger and your children are crying for milk, presidential powers and checks and balances are the last thing on your mind. All you do is kiss the hand that feeds you and know that at least you will last one more day.

      • 3
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        Paul

        ‘We had 5.8 million voters with Average IQ of 65 who voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa, because they could not think for themselves’

        This is simply Statistics, standard deviation, the Average IQ Mean of the population, Common sense and How Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to fool a lot of people.

        National IQ Scores – Country Rankings

        http://www.photius.com/rankings/national_iq_scores_country_ranks.html

        The intelligence scores came from work carried out earlier this decade by Richard Lynn, a British psychologist, and Tatu Vanhanen, a Finnish political scientist, who analysed IQ studies from 113 countries, and from subsequent work by Jelte Wicherts, a Dutch psychologist.

        Sri Lanka IQ 79

        Approximate Standard Deviation 14,

        Average Mean IQ of Modayas = 79-14 = 65 ( Voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa)

        Average Mean IQ of Common Sense = 79+14 = 93 ( Voted for Maitripala Sirisena).

        So, Normalized IQ weighted Score, Maitripala Sirisena would have won by 20 IQ weighted points!

        Mr. Maitripala Sirisena = 51.28×0.93 = 47.69 = IQ Normalized 60.65%

        Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa = 47.58 x65 = 30.93 =IQ Normalized 39.34%

        Total IQ Weighted Spoiled = 78.62

        Wimal Modawanda said 2/2 =0. and Modayas accepted it!

        Mahinda Rajapaksa said, an 8-month baby said Jayawewa, Jayawewa, before he said Ammma and Thattha, and the Modayas accepted it!

        Amarasiri is just going by the data and observations…..

  • 0
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    A ready-made lesson for all teacher trainers.

    • 1
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      For all parents too: all Homes are, in reality, schools.

  • 1
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    Are ethnic minorities unfortunate to have been lumped with the pseudo-Buddhists by history and geography or did the Buddhists turn into pseudo-Buddhists because they couldn’t handle non-Buddhists?

  • 2
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    The word education implies that we should be taught to stand up as individuals, look around us, ask questions, think and act.

    This will breed a nation of people who will be knowledgeable,cultured, wise and doers.

    Our education system stunts us and has made us a nation of crammers and intellectual cretins.

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

    • 0
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      Intellectual cretins ruled by sanctimonious demagogues.
      Why do children have to compulsorily attend religious Sunday schools and not tuition classes (not that I condone tuition classes) ? Do people not have the right to not follow any religion? Why are all children lined up in the morning at State schools to recite Gathas? Why does nobody protest at imposition of such rules?

  • 3
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    It is good thing that this citizen journalism bring up many issues where we desperately need reform now especially in the post war scenario, such as in constitution, behaviour of politicians, adjudication of lawyers or litigants, universities, police force and schools etc.
    Education is most important of all, as it is the base even for other issues mentioned above. Educator for liberation, Paulo Freire, proposed a pedagogy with a new relationship between teacher, student, and our society. It is a good thing that we still have religious education here, whereas in Canada and in other western countries religion is replaced by Multiculturalism. As you well said all what we expect as the utmost outcome of education is the tolerance for diversity. Religious education should harness everyone to learn with plurality, but not to make them religious fanatics.
    I have some ideas to reform the current educational institutions….
    1. Instead of paying high salary to university lecturers in SL, teachers who take sort of active role in the earlier development of the pupils should be paid high.
    2. Parents should have more interactive role in the development of the schools and the development of the students.
    3. As you see in this link appeared today http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32608772 Asia’s first tops global schools ranking showed Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, japan, Taiwan are the first five first top schools in the world.
    4. Pedagogies in schools should be more interactive and the existing relationship between teacher, student and our society should be altered.
    5. Physical activities/education in primary, secondary schools should be made compulsory and integrated in the curricula.
    6. Regular inspection to schools should be organized and randomized as our personnel are corrupted with serious lack of responsibilities.
    7. The whole orientation of the education from examination to good human life should be imparted via not by just series of constant assessment of pupil, instead independent learning should be encouraged and the utmost meaning of education is to be meant to have a more meaningful life in this world.
    8. In- Service-Advisers (ISAs) during their visit to schools take some video clips of learning process from the first five top five schools in the worlds and show them to teachers along with students.
    These are just a few…..others can add more..

  • 0
    10

    Tony de Silva,

    You have touched on a topic that could be debated, endlessly.

    I am afraid that I may earn your wrath and that of many others of this Forum, should I beg to differ, partially at least, from you. But, I will not resist my urge to differ.

    You recall an educational system that placed an emphasis on performance, subordination, and conformity. Yet, you are able to look back, analyse, and argue beautifully, even though you were one for whom learning was forced into the guts, not to be consumed and digested. The ‘faulty’ system could not prevent you and many others from being moulded well.

    About five decades ago, educators turned to a system different from the traditional one. Did the newer one turn out to be better? Not much.

    The newer one had thrown the baby out with the bath water. The range of information supplied by the traditional system mattered. But, somehow it was overlooked.

    You needed the ‘information’ not the reasons. The reasons become clear, at the right age, as and when you grow.

  • 3
    10

    I read your article twice in a vain attempt to understand it ! Going by the headline I thought you were going to present a way for utterly dumb buffalo populace of this Country to stop following the herd and start to think for themselves.

    However your article degenerates into…..nothing.

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