Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Gordimer, Ngugi, and Professor Duck

Earlier today I was dreading having to read some of the assignments for UNHP Global Community Challenge. I still have practically no idea what this class is about and I personally don't think the name could be more vague. I can't believe that this course is required for the Honors Program, I mean we are already taking honors classes why isn't that enough. But anyway, I approached this reading assignment with a lot of hostility toward the class and a pessimistic attitude about the relevance of the story to my life or to school in general. I was so surprised when I actually found the stories and articles interesting even though I wouldn't say I enjoyed them. The reason they were so interesting is that they made me think about the way that our culture as a whole thinks and organizes information.

Ngugi (thats his first name I can't remember the rest of it) wrote an article about how the things that we think separate us from other people and define us can actually serve as a way to connect us to each other. He briefly touches on how Western Civilizations have a very categorical way of thinking and how educational systems instill this type of mindset in kids from the beginning of their school careers. The rest of his article talks about how to bridge the gap between cultures by beginning to look at similarities instead af differences like our categorical thinking tells us to do. While Ngugi says that our categorical thinking harms us because we cannot be as open minded and accepting of new things and different people, I think there is another way that our mental organization system can be detrimental.

If we get so caught up in trying to categorize something new or seeing unusual material through our preconcieved notions and definitions necessary to categorize things, we can entirely miss what is truly present. I think that this problem is present in many areas of our lives. For example, when we learn at a young age how, say, vegetables should idealy look or what colors make up a shadow we are actually hindering ourselves later down the road. Though it might seem easy at first to learn things in nice neat sections, when we get older we realize that things rarely ever divide up that simply. Going back to my example with the vegetables and the shadow, when we attempt to draw an actually vegetable or a shadow on the side of a person's face we end up subconsciously mixing reality with our preconcieved notions. You usually end up making vegetables perfectly shaped or mono-chromatic and fail to see the many colors that are present in a shadow. It takes a lot of practice for artists to see what is actually there instead of drawing through what they think should be there. I think this same concept can be applied to the way we view different people or new information. Instead of seeing that a person is similar to us we can sometimes only see what our categories have already told us they should be like . When I approached this reading assignment I was ready to read something boring and pointless because that is what my school reading category is like, but instead I found it interesting and maybe would have enjoyed it had I not been so prepared to dislike it.

Well, to wrap up, I think that how people think is fascinating and I'm not as angry at UNHP even though I'm still not sure what the point of the course is.

7 comments:

Matt said...

hey, i enjoyed reading this. interesting how our organizational mindset can hurt us later on. very interesting topic. and now i'm looking forward to that class even less... i'm kind of interested how other countries teach kids if they do it differently than we do.

Daniel Hernandez said...

i completley agree with you and i haven't even taken unhp globilization. but yeah i thought the way you wrote this was very interesting which made me read it all the way through which i don't typically do.

peace out girl scoutt

SamFlan said...

This is very interesting material. It's good to see some honesty towards the class material (I also have that class with you, and, yes, it is boring). It is interesting how you noted that even your reading of this article was affected by the preconceived notions you had about the boring assignments in that class. Good relevant example! Overall, I found your insight wonderful and enjoyed the read.

Wendy Sumner-Winter said...

Good job!

cline said...

I agree with what you said about UNHP...I can't stand classes in which students can't be very involved..they just put me to sleep. I think the professors have good intentions, it's just hard to organize a huge class like that.

Poon said...

I'm really confused about the topics presented this week in UNHP. Professor Duck wanted us to consider the idea of keeping national identities, but when we went to smaller groups (on Thursday) the issue of projecting our own ideas onto to less powerful cultures was brought up. Essentially, I think the professors were leading us to consider that our society, or even "Western" society is not the norm. Maybe we should just leave other countries to do what they will, even if their ideas do seem backwards to us.

Sarah Lord said...

I took that class last semester, and I'm still not entirely sure what the point of it was. I did find it enjoyable though (I think I was in the minority there - it's easy, if nothing else). Last semester they sort of threw a bunch of things at us and let us make our own sense out of it.

I really liked your descriptions of how our habitual categorization is too simplistic. We rely so much on the stuff that’s already stored in our brains, so that we don’t have to consciously think about every little thing we encounter, we can just mindlessly blunder on without really taking it in (when I use ‘we’ here I’m talking about people in general. Not calling any of you guys mindless!).