Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Wackness

Years ago, when I was still young and vain and silly, I was complaining to a friend about my looks.  My unusual ethnic heritage gave way to a plethora of imperfections: the wild tangle of curly hair, the faded perma-tan color of my skin, the random disbursement of freckles across my body - nothing matched up and I would never be a classic beauty.

At that time I was working in publicity in New York and glossy magazines were not only a guilty pleasure but the bread and butter of my work.  I was having trouble escaping the concept of "image" and reconciling myself that own was vastly differing from the mainstream.

I remember that this friend looked at me and said, very simply, "Symmetry is wack."  She meant plainly that sameness is boring, conformity is lame.

Those three words have stuck with me all this time since.  Though it is a simple point to understand, it took me a long time to accept; the idea that my differences - some more annoying, unpleasant, ugly than others - actually make me ME.  Those dissimilarities that I found so glaring in my youth have made me the woman I am today.  And though we were talking about ideas of physical beauty at the time, the notion really applies across the board.

Symmetry is wack.  It is wack in looks, it is wack in styles, it is wack in thoughts, it is wack in opinions.  So, though we have long lost contact, I owe thanks to Aisha Wilson for her three words of wisdom that have remained with me to this day.

In this recent article from The Guardian, the writer discusses how the Tanzanian education system should be overhauled and touches on my particular notion of The Wackness.  It underscores the fundamental Toa Nafasi premise of embracing difference and individuality and fostering those very traits which make us each who we are, separate from anyone else in the world.  To date, the systems in place here in Tanzania promote conformity, marching in place, being very careful not to rock the boat.  But, it's not working.  Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are difficult for Tanzanian kids because they have never been asked to think for themselves.

However, the time is now, on the cusp of a new Tanzanian governing body and with the climate ripe for change in the education sector.

Asymmetry can be pretty dope, too.


Education can be described as a process of training and instruction, especially with respect to children and young people in schools and colleges, designed to impart knowledge and develop skills.

The introduction of the Western system of education in Tanzania left much to be desired as what we have today leaves little or nothing for a legacy, and it is a far cry of where we ought to be.  Every area of our life has changed, or at least improved, except our antiquated system of education.  It is clear in the language of Tanzania's educational system that its primary focus is on knowledge and teaching rather than on the learner.

Students are expected to conform to schools rather than schools serving the needs of students.  Regardless of the high-sounding rhetoric about the development of the total child, it is the content of assessments that largely drives education.  How often are students given the opportunity to recognize and evaluate different points of view when multiple choice tests require a single 'correct' answer? 

Original thinking is not currently the aim of our educational system.  Schools fostering it become the only hope for the educational system in the 21st century.  The aim of education should be to teach us how to think rather than what to think - to improve our minds so as to enable us to think for ourselves rather than to load our memories with the thoughts of others.

Students receiving the failure label are growing in numbers and percentages, all because the system measures selected knowledge on a one-day standardized paper test.  Anyone who does not have the ability to put clear thoughts on paper is labeled a failure.  Education is the only business in which the customer is to be blamed when it fails. 

If the purpose does not motivate, other than to please the teacher, then there is nothing to process outside of memorizing answers for tests.  Tests do not measure intelligence or ability; they do not measure how the mind processes information, how motivating experiences develop persistence, or how we sort out instincts, opinions, evaluations, possibilities and alternatives. 

Examinations are not tests of knowledge; rather, they are tests of assimilation.  Using that yardstick is like using a thermometer to measure wind speed instead of wind gauge, as both are measuring instruments but do not measure the same thing. 

Now our educational system is becoming a system that memorizes the dictionary.  When students have memorized selected knowledge, then they will be given a one-day test, based on dictionary knowledge, which will influence their employment opportunities for the rest of their lives.

This is where some teachers are failing as they have a single instruction guideline without alternatives.  When one technique fails, other means should be brought in.

The current educational system needs to be overhauled to clear the way for a new system of education that enables full development of personality and character of the individual, the development of full capacities necessary for achievement in life, and the ability to truly think instead of parroting information.

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