Perspectives and Talking at Cross Purposes

Perspective is defined as a mental view or outlook. Your perspective is influenced by so much and luckily is not set in stone. Your life experiences, your learning journey, the people you meet, culture, geographic location and the language you speak contribute to your current perspective.

My own perspective  was predetermined by world history as well as my family’s personal history. It has been molded since then by living on three continents, owning three languages and by traveling abroad.

Already a very visual person, as a child, my world view consisted in placing my family and friends on an imaginary map or globe as stick figures. My grandmother stood in Europe, in Germany, my uncle and aunt were sticking out from Singapore and later China, my godfather’s head was placed over Spain. My father usually popped his head out of an airplane flying from one continent to another.

 

I look at people and am reminded of the metaphor of an iceberg in relationship to culture. Only 10% of their cultural being is visible to me above the water surface. The way they dress, the way they speak, their food they eat, games they play, their literature, traditions and celebrations. 90% of who they are is below the surface: the concept of time, their relationship to death, their rules of conduct, personal space, tolerance of physical pain, roles in relationship to age, class, sex and kinship.

 

I sleep with my and my family’s passports right next to me. They are in a bag, ready to jump up and make a run for it, in case it were ever necessary. A silly custom? Weird? Why would anyone on earth be compelled to having to sleep with passports on the side?

In my family’s history (both sides of the family) having had to leave their lives on a moment’s notice. Both families, always thinking, that that could NEVER happen to them. They lived in a “civilized” country. They were safe… that it would never have to come to something that extreme…

So, packing up my bags, moving, starting fresh has been placed in my cradle and was practiced from an early age on. Traveling has also been part of my life and has further shaped my perspective. People and cultures that are so different than my own have taught me, if anything, to know that nothing is set in stone. Any “truth” you hold dear, opinion, conviction which is shared with everyone around you in your geographic location can make you an instant outsider when in another place.

Most people know about the term or have experienced the feeling of “homesickness”. Many are unaware, that there is an opposite to that term, called “Fernweh”. Translated from the German, it means “An ache for distant places”. The “condition” describes “A strong desire or craving to travel abroad”.

Coming back to perspective, a mental view or outlook…

A quote from Saint Augustine, a bishop from the 4th century, ” The world is a book, those who not travel, read only one page”. The  perspectives I have gained through traveling, leads me to believe that he was on to something. If you never go beyond the first page, how could you be aware of other points of view?

When I first arrived in the United States, I must say, that I was in culture shock. Nothing was like I had expected it. Not any of the movies, like Rocky, Flash Dance, Poltergeist, Porky’s or Terminator, was really helpful in preparing me for what living in the US was going to be like

The grocery store alone was intimidating with the endless variety of pizzas in the frozen food aisle. The choices overwhelmed me. I was used to picking up a oven fresh pizza and empanadas at the corner Italian Restaurant and now, I was supposed to choose from 20+ different frozen varieties?

Who do we consider poor? Who lives in a third world country? Who needs or deserves the help of other so called “developed countries”? What if the so called help is not wanted?

What if you were an ant? You lived with your ant family on an ant hill. You were born and raised on that hill? You grow up to work on the hill, alongside all the other ants.

The furthest you ever ventured from that hill was to go on an organized expedition with a selected few ant friends. What if suddenly a stranger ant arrives on your ant hill and tells you about places that you were unaware that they even existed?

Perspective is something funny…

HSBC, an international bank uses advertisement to bring awareness to their clients about the importance of “local knowledge” when doing business abroad. Local knowledge meaning the 90% of the iceberg below the water surface.

The same object… the same concept… the same experience… all being perceived differently by different people and cultures…

Ask yourself what do you consider a camping trip…a holiday or hell…. what about a cruise?

How do you define accomplishment in your life?

Let’s talk about friends.

Growing up I was told, that I will be able to count my true friends, friends of a life time, on one hand. When I use the word “friend”, this prediction still resonates deep inside me.  When I talk with my own daughters nowadays and we use the word friend, I need to be aware and have to remind myself of their perspective on that word “friend”. They have 800+ “Friends” on Facebook. We use the same word, but attach a different “mental view” to the word.

 

What does it mean to be educated? An important questions we need to pose ourselves as educators. Just last week, I had a meeting with the president’s office at our local (public) university. They had instituted the new policy of requiring ALL freshman to live on campus. I was seeking a waiver for my daughter, since we live 20 minutes away from campus.
The university’s reasoning behind the mandate, I was told, was research that showed a higher success rate of retaining freshman in college. I was arguing that we were well equipped to handle my daughter’s progress towards graduation from our home. I was then told point blank, that living on campus, she would receive a BETTER education.

At that point, I was well aware that we were talking at cross purposes. While I was equating education with academics, the was thinking of a typical “American College Experience”, which again conjured up different images in our respective minds.

Let’s look at the influence our perspectives has when we ask the question “Where and How do we Learn”?

Some might have mental images of classrooms with desks and chairs in a row with a chalkboard, whiteboard or smartboard,  a university lecture hall or a quiet library flimmer across you mind. Learning comes from books or experts who are willing to pass on their knowledge.  Others think of learning as a global network of physical and virtual connection. Learning that happens whenever and wherever. Learning doesn’t take place when you “go to a specific location” or “pass a certain test”.

Where do we go for information? Ask yourself that question, ask  a teenager… Will both of you have the same mental view? When we were growing up, there were not many choices. Ask you mother, ask your father, ask your teacher, ask your librarian, look it up in the encyclopedia. Those were your choices. Nowadays the options have multiplied. Do we keep the changes in perspective (or the lack of change in some) in mind when we speak to others?

 

How does a classroom look like? Again, think of the first image that comes to mind…maybe you even think of your own classroom at school. Then ask yourself,  is there a possibility that your image might look completely different that the person you are talking to? The danger to be talking at cross purposes is great. The awareness of perspectives is more important than ever, if we want to be working together to move education and learning forward.

Let’s look at the way we read. Think of READING…

  • Does curling up with your favorite book in your lap or the sound of your morning newspaper come to mind?
  • Are you experiencing the joy of having all the books you are currently reading simultaneously in one place, always with you?
  • Is  the smell and feel of paper as you turning the pages part of your reading experience?
  • Have you experienced the a new dimension as you are reading, annotating, connecting and sharing your thoughts and reaction with others who are reading the same book?

How do we write? When you think about the way you write…

  • Do you think of paper and pen first?
  • Do you think of handwritten letters, Thank you cards, scribbled notes, yellow notepad papers, composition books?
  • Are you thinking of blogging, tweeting, texting, facebooking and emailing?

What does collaborating mean for you? Weekly grade level or subject area meetings? Allowing your students to work in pairs or small groups in the classroom or assigning a group project to be completed outside of classroom time? Does collaboration bring world wide  work to mind, that allows students to experience underlying points of view, have their work added to or remixed with material created by peers or experts? Does asynchronous collaboration come to mind when collaborators live in different geographic locations and are separated by timezones?

How do we communicate? As a family, who is dispersed over many countries and continents, communication between family members has always been an issue. My mental image is of one, when I had to take 2 buses, one train and walk for twenty minutes to a telephone center to ask an operator to place a phone call for me to my grandmother. I then had to wait for an hour to be connected to be able to speak to her for about 3 minutes, since every minute from Argentina to Germany was very expensive. Communication today is a local number stored on my cell phone to be able to call my mother in Argentina or to use a video call via Skype to show my little niece, who lives in Canada, how our garden in Florida looks like in the winter.

Are you aware of perspectives? Are you prepared to recognize moments of talking at cross purposes?

Share an anecdote of when you became aware of talking at cross purposes about education.