Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GP would be DADA

If JC was Hogwarts, GP would be DADA (Defence Against the Dark Arts). Quoting Prof Snape about his subject,

"Dark Arts are many, varied, ever-changing and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before. You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible."

"Your defences must therefore be as flexible and inventive as the Arts you seek to undo." (Half-Blood Prince)

The kids are expressing some concern that our teaching methods are nothing like the methods that accorded them so much success at the 'O' Levels. Back then for them, it was straightforward: here's a chunk of text to study; reproduce it on the exam; congratulations, here's your 'A'.

That kind of study assumes that knowledge is finite and non-conflicting. That's the kind of knowledge that is adequate for a worker with a list of daily tasks that won't change over time.

But it simply won't do for the kids at JC level. These are the kids destined to be our future professional decision-makers. They're young, gangly, squirming at their desks, but in not too many years from now they'll be our engineers, architects, lawyers, politicians, doctors, entrepreneurs and probably teachers as well. Many of them are likely to be our bosses too.

I am NOT about to let someone qualified only as a daily-rated worker make any of those important decisions for me. Those decisions have to be made by people who know enough to know they will never know enough, and yet take action when they do know enough.

Knowledge itself at this level is the Dark Arts. Nothing is certain, possibilities are numerous, sensory input is confusing, conflicting and often inaccurate. Much like the hydra Snape describes, knowledge seeks to beguile, charm, sway, harrass, threaten, and overwhelm (and if all else fails, bore) us because there is so much of it and because it operates according to a multitude of conflicting agenda. And our JC kids have to be trained to handle this kind of uncertainty and still be able to make good decisions anyway.

Our 'O' level reliance on plain vanilla facts will make every hydra head indefeatable. If every head is a fact, then we have to take on the whole monster all at once. To fight the hydra, our tools are logic and reason, values and principles, weilded with surgical precision against the monster facing us. We may not defeat it entirely,but through judicious hacking and slashing, we can cut through enough crap to get what we need of it and get the heck out of there.

This is not easily taught through a textbook. Instead, our activities are more toward research and debate; intellectual defence and attack against opponents who are usually more qualified or more skilled than the students themselves. But through the skilled use of logic and reason, everyone plays on a level field regardless of station, position or seniority. We are teaching the kids to spar and duel against dark forces, and in so doing, we are helping them establish their own identities as responsible and mature adults whom we trust to take over in their time.

In the JC curriculum, there is no better subject than GP (except maybe K&I) to conduct this type of training in. I don't blame the kids if they find the going tough. It is.

We often tell the kids that their future is in their hands. But we teach them because of a more fundamental, self-serving reason: our future in in their hands. They'd better be good hands, so we'd better train them well.

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