|Sep 28, 2004 5:52 pm
| Jerry Waxman
|| In wrapping up a semester, I asked a couple groups of university students to NOT be students for an hour. I asked them to have a discussion in English, a foreign language to them. This was their English class. For today, I wanted them to talk about their own thoughts, not the thoughts of someone else that they can read from a paper. The question was, "What can we (you, me, world leaders) do to make this world better?"
I shouldn't have been so disappointed with their responses. Even though they had a week to prepare, what they said showed little insight. In addition to the language barrier, it is apparent to me that students are not adept at having original ideas. In Asia, it is more common for students to sit and absorb what the teacher says, with little or no time for asking questions.
Their answers were general; The government should control diseases (seems Bird Flu is coming back.) by supporting research. There should be be some controls on population growth. People should conserve energy by turning out lights when not using them, and by having large shopping centers open later and close earlier (but my suggestion that students trade in motorcycles for bicycles was not received well at all.)
In all, I was actually pleased that my students spent some time considering problems in the world and their own connection to the world. Watching and listening to them has given me an idea:
I think that not only Asians but also westerners have put limits and boundaries on their thinking. Just a while ago, I saw a business opportunity ad right here at Ryze, asking for "leaders only" and "no thinkers please." I guess they want people who will just take action without deliberation. That's the kind of "leaders" who are already running the world. The question is, Is this as good as it gets? - - - Are we - am I - way off in fantasizing about a world that is better than what we have now? What is "better?"
Day after day now we hear political leaders telling us that there are terrorists in the world. The leaders are defining the biggest problem. Am I allowed to wonder if that really is the biggest problem? Then they say that there is only one way to deal with the terrorists - and that is to confront them head on where they live. And everyone who listens to this responds pavlovian style with applause, and never does anyone challenge the idea. I saw this today, as the Prime Minister of England spoke to Parliament and reiterated that "The world is better off without Saddam."
Reality check; looks like things got worse once Saddam was out. This doesn't suggest that putting him back in will make things better, but let's be fair to the truth; there is little or no correlation between how much 'better off' the world is now and the ousting of one dictator.
So what am I rambling about? I cannot speak for the world. Too many people seem to agree that a world without thinking is just fine. I can only speak for myself: I would feel much better about the world if there were more thinking in it. Thinking includes challenging assumptions - and challenging assertions. Thinking is the root of all action. If we are masters of our own individual ideas, then we are not servants to someone else's ideas of what life should be like.
To make the world better, educators should have thinking workshops in their classes.
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