Education is not a preparation for life but is life itself. - John Dewey

Friday, December 7, 2012

Point of View

Once upon a time there were six blind men who all lived in the same town. One day the circus came to town and the men went to see the elephant. But how could they? The first man said, “We can feel him.”
 “That’s a great idea!” said the rest. 

So each man went to feel the elephant. 
The first man touched the elephant’s big, flat ear. He felt it move slowly back and forth. 
 “Oh” he said, “An elephant is like a giant fan!”

The second man touched the elephant’s leg. “Oh, an elephant is like a tree!”

The third man felt the tail and said, “No you are both wrong. The elephant is like a rope.” 

But the fourth man disagreed. He felt the elephant’s pointed tusk and said, “Ouch! An elephant is like a spear.”

“No” said the fifth man, “Can’t you tell an elephant is like a wall?” He was feeling the elephant’s huge side.

The sixth man grabbed hold of the elephant’s tusk. “You are all wrong! An elephant is like a snake!”

The men continued to argue, each one certain he was right. “It’s a fan.” “No, a tree.” “Surely a rope!” “No, it’s a snake!” “You’re wrong. I’m right!”

Finally they got tired of shouting at each other and they all went home. So none of them ever found out what an elephant really was.

I read this story to the 7th Graders last week as part of a series of guidance lessons on bias.  It generated a great discussion about perspective, assumptions, and judging.  Each character in the story clings to his own experience and each walks away with an incomplete understanding of the elephant and of each other's experience.

We reflected on how our experience may be different from someone else's in the same situation and how our truth may only be a part of the whole picture.  At which point, one student said, "That's like Plato's Cave."  The other students leaned in with interested, questioning expressions.  The student explained how the people in Plato's Cave were shackled to the cave wall and could only see the shadows of reality, never the true, authentic reality.  "They could never see what was really going on."

Wow.  I was impressed with this student's insight and I was equally impressed by the rapt, respectful attention of the other students.  

After we spent some time digesting this story and imagery, I described experiencing a house by looking through one window.  I can look through the window and see into a room but not see the whole room.  I certainly cannot see the whole house.  Each of us might look through a different window and have a completely different sense of what lies within the house.  

Possibly, if we all shared what we each see through our window, we can move closer to the truth about what lies within the entire house.  

Share your point of view honestly and bravely.  Honor and respect the perspective of others.  No small challenge for the typical middle school student.  No small challenge for any of us.

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