Laker Notes: Reflecting on a time without textbooks
From shoe box dioramas with miniature clay people, to life size models of birds and carefully crafted portraits of historical figures — elementary school days were filled with projects galore. Every bag of beads, piece of ribbon and scrap of felt found a home in the hall closet. Here, supplies new and old awaited their own purpose. Perhaps it is the effect of the digital age, but it seems that PowerPoints and stock images are the new standard here in high school. While the hall closet of supplies gains an inch of dust, my bedroom floor gains pyramids of textbooks and novels; what a difference a decade makes.
I have grown used to textbooks, critiquing them as would a film critic with the latest movie. I revel in crisp, new pages but find certain changes quite distasteful. Whether it be a switch from diagrams to generic images, or the oversimplification of mathematical problems provided as references, such alterations can be quite startling. The style of learning I have become accustomed to, a way of paper and on-your-own lessons, still changes year by year. (Don't even get me started on digital textbooks, the most "convenient" eye strains ever to be invented.)
Let me make clear, however, that I am by no means disparaging our school system. Rather, I suggest that teachers adopt a more imaginative approach to the projects they present. In order to increase interest in a subject, one must view it as more than that: as more than a singular topic. The world is full of intersections and culminations; there's no need to put a world of circles in boxes.
I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to my Japanese teacher, Noriko Sensei, for integrating out-of-textbook lectures into our curriculum. By inviting speakers of varying backgrounds into the classroom environment, we are able to see another part of the world without ever leaving our desks.
Back in September, a guest speaker from the Wakai Ura Senke Association visited. Jan Sensei, as we referred to her as, was a master of the tea ceremony. She spoke of how a ceremony works — the tools involved, the process, and the attire — while demonstrating it for us. She even offered everyone a steaming cup of matcha tea to sample. All the while, Jan Sensei answered any and all questions we posed, providing stories in between. She spoke of a quaint room surrounded by falling snow, and a journey in the dew covered mountains to find the perfect spot for tea. Even though the ceremony is steeped in tradition, she taught us that it can be experienced by anyone, almost anywhere.
In October two guest speakers, Kurt and Rie, from the Nikkei Center visited. Nihonmachi, Portland's Japan Town, was at the center of the conversation. In a fusion of Japanese and English explanation, we explored pictures and video interviews. With World War II as the background, we saw how increased tensions were beat with determination and hope, concepts which may seem distant in times of hardship. Images of original restaurants, school children and Rose Parade queens painted a picture of a world nearly forgotten.
With knowledge of tea ceremony and local past in mind, in November we heard from another guest speaker — this time on meditation. Straight postures at the ready, 10 minutes were spent in complete silence — a time for letting go and being.
Zen, the spirit behind meditation, was then applied to arts other than meditation. Sumo, flower arrangements, archery, and the aforementioned tea all possess the essence of zen, of focus and peacefulness.
With the help of Noriko Sensei, these opportunities have allowed me to do more than explore Japanese culture. They showed me an alternate way of learning, a manner in which space and time did not matter for the world was brought to us. I love textbooks as much as the next person, but they cannot explain everything in life. I need a person to do that. As such, I encourage other courses to adopt a similar method of learning when they can, one without slideshows and stock images, but one with real stories straight from the source.
Peyton Poitras is one of two
Laker Notes columnists.
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