‘education’ – big picture vs details

11/09/2014

…Or, a bird’s eye view VS earthworm’s view, if you will; this post is part of the infamous ‘education’ series at this blogsite. This is an unfairly long essay – so, feel free to runaway, NOW! :-)

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In my earlier avatars I have been part of the surreal corporate world, and I have met with quite a few folks there, who proudly uttered pearls of wisdom such as, they are the “big picture people, ya know” – accompanied by a swagger and those irritating & condescending ‘air quotation’ marks made with their index fingers.

Invariably, they were bosses and/or pretenders. They never interested me. I never respected them. It is their loss, ahem! ;-) I continue to meet such vainglorious  people off and on (yes, it takes one to know one). I tell myself that we do require diversity, don’t we? Honestly, we require diversity in every field – some species die, some survive, some mutate, some become mutant monsters, some are well meaning, some are not, some are for positive actions, some others are for mere reactions…

… In any case, any kind of diversity results in that, much-required colourfulness, in an otherwise staid world. Like in the corporate world, how I would have loved to have something else instead of the drab grey, dull coloured shirts and trousers and drabber black suits and cleanshaven faces and powerpoint slidesets…

My opinion is that, it is fairly easy for any person to be a big picture person. Of course it is important to know the overall context in which things have to be placed, interpreted and acted upon. But, having this ‘ability’ alone would be as hollow as that of a hippo’s yawn, if that ‘ability’  is not at all accompanied by the perseverance that would make the details happen, or the demonstrated ability to make things happen – the earthworm’s detailed way, the toiler’s and doer’s path.

But, for some strange reason, the self-styled pureplay ‘big picture’ people think that they are doing some significant value addition at the highest level like ‘policy level interventions’ and all that! However, implementing even their own big-picture, is a menial job meant for the masses, and so these menial jobs do not merit their attention.

So they treat all the folks who have to be implementers with scorn, and strut about with a halo around their hollowheads. Without any demonstrable and workable ‘big ideas,’ they drift rather eloquently from some darn idea to another damn idea. Frankly, the world works in spite of them.

Incidentally, in the computer software industry, I have met with many such ‘Heads of Business Units,’  ‘Practice Heads,’ ‘Senior Architects,’ & the self-styled and self-absorbed  ‘hackers’ most of whom are utterly useless ‘big picture’ people, with no demonstrated ability or inclination to look at the guts of the program / code, which a menial programmer would crank out; these ‘big picture’ folks cannot at all be bothered with tiny details – nor are they capable of singling-out trends from a given morass of data. All these ‘big picture people’ would have in the IT context, at any given moment are, empty phrases like ‘design patterns,’ ‘frameworks,’ ‘value proposition,’ ‘top-lines,’ and ‘bottom-lines,’ ‘process orientation,’ ad nauseam. Of course, these big-pic folks are out there in every darn domain…

.. However, well – on the contrary, I have NEVER so far met a person, even ONCE, who said, “I am a ‘details’ person, ya know?” – I wonder why.

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I think, the ‘details folks’ are the actual doers. The world works because of them. They don’t have time for the ‘quotation marks in the air’ nonsense. They also are aware of the big picture, contextual interpretations and all that, but are actually busy doing a honest day’s work, and are really earning their wages…

When applied to the infamous field of ‘education,’ of course, there are so many big-picture people that strut around, mouthing various philosophies and approaches. But with many such second-hand & retail philosophers and learning merchandisers, strangely, there are no details at all. If at all they are there, they are mighty esoteric and are happily lost in some mumbo-jumbo with no relevance or applicability.

It so happened that, a few weeks back, a friend (I don’t have many of them, I wonder why!) and I were discussing one such ‘big picture’ framework for education that is being pushed, rather vigorously, by a group of folks who ought to know better, considering their 100+ years of combined background in ‘education,’ and otherwise reasonable & mighty achievements; please note that the good intentions of this group of folks are not at all in doubt. But, a detailed and workable implementation framework (that addresses the child’s developmental needs appropriately) is the ONLY one that can deliver the goods, which in my friend’s opinion, was sadly lacking in this group’s framework; they asked for a feedback and a feedback was actually given – folks who have known me (or my friend), know that if someone asks for a review or feedback, they really would get it – that would have our frank assessment and our own current take on the situation with its (and our) limitations and everything else. However, the feedback from my friend was met with unnecessary defensiveness and stonewalling on part of the group!

… Hmm, merely well-meaning people with no stomach for folding back the relevant feedback, are actually a problem, I realize in retrospect. They cannot be bothered with details at all! Further, I think, when one asks for a feedback, he/she only wants to listen to positive things (they want to merely feel good), and if by chance an inadequacy or two are pointed out, then it is taken as a personal affront by them. Such are the ways of our elite, sheesh!

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Philosophies and approaches are, per se, fine. But, there are many questions, that lurk within the labyrinthine corridors of the otherwise empty, high-level placeholders such as ‘cognitive needs,’ ‘meticulous scaffolding,’ ‘spiritual needs,’ ‘compassionate education,’ ‘awareness,’ ‘sustainability,’ ‘mindfulness’ etc etc…

Instead, let us consider these questions, for a starter… (a sample listing)

  • What do we want to do with our lives?
  • What do we do with the children?
  • Why should we do, what we plan to do with the children?
  • How do we help them learn? How do we help them become self-directed?
  • How do we help them to listen?
  • How do we inculcate in them, the basic norms of behavior?
  • How do we know if we are not helping a given child?
  • How do we follow the ‘inscrutable exhortations of their souls?’ (thanks: Bill Watterson)
  • How do we inculcate in them, a spirit of robust work-ethic instead of systematically creating inveterate system-beaters out of them?
  • Do the questions that trouble an average and half-baked adult (um, such as yours truly) – the BIG questions of life – such as peace, happiness, why me, materialism, spirituality, ethics etc etc – trouble the children at all?
  • Shouldn’t we be allowing them to live fully and respectfully, instead of forcing them into random monikers that we want to slot ourselves in?
  • Are we going to turn our perception of our insecurities & inadequacies – in to some random lesson plans for the children?
  • Are our unfulfilled lives dictating us –  to force our children to do things one way or some other way?
  • Where are the centred rock-solid adults who would be with the children?
  • Where are the folks who know the theories as well as practicalities of this beastess called  ‘education’ ?
  • How are we going to find these responsible and committed adults who would fit into a canonical definition of a ‘teacher?’ Can we attract them by our sheer brilliance? Our commitment? Our passion? Shared vision??
  • Are we centred in the first place?
  • What are the pedagogical approaches? Does the child need them? Or the approaches that you want to adopt for children / school, are the ones you want?
  • What are the opportunity costs of pursuing a particular pedagogical approach?
  • Where are the pedagogic materials? For a starter, where are the normalized & graded flowcharts of presentations/lessons that flow with the curiosity of the children?
  • How will the learning possibilities be captured and acted upon?
  • What are the possibilities for the adults to grow up & learn, alongside?
  • Where is the environment that would bring out the best in children?
  • Where is the approach towards addressing various developmental stages of children?
  • Are there any broad (and detailed) approaches that we are aware of, approve of and are good at being usable?
  • Why would we need to reinvent the wheel – if we are reinventing them, that is.
  • Have we learned from our past errors or judgment and are embarking on some implementable vision or are we merely trying to prove a point?
  • In this age of complete outsourcing of education to everything else, by many parents – how do we deal with them – the parents and their hapless children?
  • What kind of responsibility can a given school assume in this context of ‘outsourcing,’ with respect to children?
  • How does one identify the parents that are likely to be helpful?

Questions, questions –  there are zillions of ’em. But, all are about details, more details, and layered details – nothing else… And, this part listing is not merely applicable to only the philosophy of Montessori.

And, I am not even talking about operations and allied details, with nothing but ONLY hygiene factors associated with them!

I think a huge and workable set of details and working hard, real hard with the jigsawn fractals to realize the big picture, over a period of many years, consistently taking in feedback, changing the implemented details accordingly, tweaking our own mindsets, is the only way our ‘big picture people’ could be redeemed. (but, coming to think of it, is this really worth the trouble?)

The God is in the details. Yes.

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On the contrary, I would say that, schools are actually not necessary.

You only need centred, open adults (with splendid work ethics and integrity) for the children, period. I have seen cases of absolutely self-directed children who are incredibly flowering, phenomenally branching out in all kinds of directions and planesonly because of the centredness of parents. These parents are very details oriented people, who also have the larger perspective (‘big picture’) in their view all  the time. Sadly, there are not many such good folks. Hence the need for good schools, I suppose.

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You may ask, how the heck do I know? How can I randomly pontificate? I am a big picture man, ya know? That’s how! heh!

I can even demonstrate how to do the ‘quotation marks in the air’ with my crooked fingers, with a swagger, with pursed lips and my neck drawn downwards – of course, for a price! If you are lucky, I may even say, without rolling up my eyeballs “education is an important component of life; it is an aid to life” – but I know in my heart that education is life.

And, without a wink & without even rolling up my darned eyeballs – I can say that – “We require systemic and policy level interventions. We need structural changes in the scenario of globalized education. We need more rules and regulations. We need more ‘fun’ in education. We need to make teachers and schools more accountable. We need a better curriculum and fail-proof pedagogies. We need to be more inclusive. … …”

Ta da!

… So,  I can comfortably & totally  forget the fact that the ‘education’ starts, flowers  & gets detailed-out at home. That it gets course-corrected at home. That we the parents, we-the-people are totally responsible for the outcomes. That the ‘education system’ – at least uptil the adolescence of our children – – is at best a prompter, that lies on the periphery – with lines that are spoken in hushed tones from the sidelines, in the gameplay of life. That the ‘education system’ is at best, a complement to what happens in leisurely-detail in the home environment – and can only supplement what is nurtured at home.

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A nice story, reproduced from my good ol’ scribbled notes is here: (Anecdote jotted down from some book, whose title I forget. Sorry.)

What else is there?

Joko-sensei, a teacher at the Zen Centre of San Diego, recalls that, one morning she was working, putting the finishing touches on the remodeled kitchen at the Los Angeles Centre, when the teacher, Hakuyū Taizan Maezumi-roshi walked in to see how things were going.

“Everything’s going fine,” Joko said. “There are only a few details to finish up.”

At this, the roshi scratched his head. “Only a few details?” he asked, looking puzzled. “But details are all there are.”

**END**

JournalEntry# 22nd March, 2010.

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These are some more posts on the ‘education’ beastess in this blog – feel free to ignore them.

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3 Responses to “‘education’ – big picture vs details”

  1. Prabhu Says:

    Very nice article. I usually refer to the ‘big picture’ guys as ‘powerpoint architects’ :)

  2. nparamasivam1951 Says:

    O! Too big an article.
    I could cover just 30% or so. It may take another couple of days to read fully and understand it. Within 30%, I read:

    // if by chance an inadequacy or two are pointed out, then it is taken as a personal affront by them. Such are the ways of our elite, //

    Most relevant to present world, I feel.

  3. Ramanan Says:

    Considering the queries (sample list) as the starting point, I take it that a quest to answer even a few queries (a the top of the list) on the part of school and parents will have a better impact on the students, than either one of them striving hard to answer the questions. I assume that yours is a case where the school strives hard to help the students, with very little support from the parents.

    Am i right ?

    ——>>>>>> Dear Ramanan, IMO it is true of most of the schools. I would blame the comfortable ‘outsourcing’ mode for many of these ills as also an arrogant and uncalled for sense of entitlement on part of the larger society, demanded from/off the basic service providers.

    And you are right about my current school. But, of course, even the elite schools in Chennai would suffer significantly from this issue. It is no simple problem – but it is vexatious.

    __r.


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