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Reflection #3

rthayil's picture

The classroom is a mess. Students are pacing about, sitting on desks, and speaking in a noisy buzz that fills even the air with a nebulous clutter. There are a few chairs curiously sitting atop the 3 lab tables at the back of the room. I sit towards the back of the room at one of these lab tables watching chaos.


In center city Philadelphia, a progressive public high school boasts of its high success in math and science. Welcome to Ms. T's last period physics class.


In particular, I'm watching Jerome. He's sitting on a desk currently, silently but very noticeably dancing with his head phones in, but every now and then he gets up, walks around, fidgets with lab equipment in the back, flicks his pencil of the side of a desk. He's very versatile when it comes to his physical autonomy, and simply watching him feels distracting.


There’s a warm-up problem on the board wittily dubbed a "catalyst". It's a daunting problem with little given information and plenty of variables involved, and so Ms. T decides to give the students adequate time to work it out before she goes over it. After approximately 20 minutes, Ms. T announces to the class that she is about to review the problem. She does not fight to be heard, but the classroom quiets down significantly, allotting her space to speak. She slowly goes through a process for solving the problem. As soon as she makes her final remarks regarding the solution, Jerome jumps off the desk, throws his pencil into the air, shouts a loud "WOOOOOOOO I GOT IT RIGHT" and bolts out of the room. I am stunned. How can there be such a lack of discipline? Such insubordination? I look back to Ms. T's face expecting to see similar feelings, but instead, there is a smile she is failing to suppress. "That's how we should all feel. We should make victory laps when we finally understand", she explains.


Going into this placement, I had a lot of prejudgments about progressive schools. Taking field notes in a non-judgmental way felt impossible (and still may be impossible), because interpretation comes in the strangest forms. It can affect the emphasis or focus of observation, diction, and even attention span. I did not wish to grant progressive views much validity, and so my resulting observations ended up feeling marked because I could not separate the two (my feelings and observations). What I thought to be chaos was something even more surprising, an autonomy to think critically, the scientific process in all its nascent beauty. Only something so abrupt and contradictory to my prior belief could have shaken me from that hold.


Nobody gives much merit to the idea that mental autonomy and physical autonomy are related (Even Dewey notes that they are practically unrelated in practice). Though I do no yet have any evidence otherwise, I would like to wager that the two are related. Physical autonomy can be distracting (as can be mental autonomy). Students walk around and sometimes get caught up in conversation about other things or end up looking at Facebook, and the same distractions happen mentally. They walk, yes, but their mind becomes occupied with the conversation, their mind travails about some distant day dream. So if mental and physical autonomy are connected when it comes to becoming distracted, why are they not considered connected when it comes to the sort of freedom of thinking? After all, both voluntary physical and mental control is largely located in the frontal lobe. Things within the brain that have a close proximity are often discovered to be connected in some pivotal way. So perhaps this proximity is purposeful, perhaps they are connected, and perhaps this connection should be treated appropriately.


It makes me question the purpose of current psychology and neurology research. Knowledge is exponentially increasing. You buy a book one day, and the next you realize it is full of outdated information. While these cutting edge discoveries are undoubtedly helping a small part of an afflicted population, it takes so long for these things to benefit anyone in the general public. What is the point of such research if it is so far out of the reach of the population? There is a disconnect. A very dangerous disconnect. It demonstrates an inability to actually function as a democracy, as people in a world where the only constant factor is change. Because we choose to stick with our traditions despite the fact that new understandings should reveal more efficient paths to education, we are effectively preventing our next breakthrough.


While I fear reactionism, I think an open space to slowly come to your equilibrium point of understanding is a necessary place. Wrestling with views should be something encouraged rather than seen as foolish. I greatly respect people that feel comfortable enough in their intellect to change their mind, and so I will strive to do this as well.