Cognitive development is a field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a child’s development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skills, the learning of language(s) and other aspects of brain development as compared to an adult. In other words, cognitive development is the emergence of the ability to think and understand. An enormous amount of research has been conducted into understanding how a child imagines the world and how s/he understands that world. Jean Piaget was a major force in such discovery and his “Theory of Cognitive Development” was the standard work for a considerable period of time. However, with more and more research, alternative models have been advanced that build upon Piaget’s earlier work. Amongst such eminent works, one would certainly include those of Reuven Feuerstein and specifically his interlocking practices that have provided educators with the skills and tools to allow students to build meta-cognition, or knowing about knowing.
Knowing about knowing can be portrayed as “connecting the dots” or building real connections that allow the learner to make sense of his or her own learning. In adult discourse the phrase “connect the dots” can also be used as a metaphor to illustrate an ability to associate one idea with another, to find the image or key feature that resides within a mass of data.
The recent weXplore trip to Washington, D.C. exposed us to many different events, thousands of different stimuli and a considerable mass of data. It would have been relatively easy to have been a witness as we journeyed through our itinerary and to have allowed each new experience, each different stimulus to resonate, be recorded and to have been stored. Yet meta-cognition implores us to seek connections, and as such I too sought to “connect the dots” that were available to me and to find comfort in the image that eventually crystallised.
I have to confess that I did indeed find it relatively easy to “connect the dots” and there emerged a number of images that I am keen to explore further. However, today I wish to share with you one “image” that I feel particularly strongly about and especially so in the context of THINK Global School and our contemporary world. I refer to our need to be committed to acting in the defense of that which we know to be just and right.
Not all of us are so fortunate as to live within a democracy that so clearly stipulates the freedom to petition, as is the case in the United States; enshrined within the First Amendment to the Constitution, which in turn arose from a modest provision made in Chapter 61 of Magna Carta. The Petition Clause allows for any nonviolent, legal means of encouraging or disapproving government action, lobbying, letter-writing, e-mail campaigns, testifying before tribunals, filing lawsuits, supporting referenda, collecting signatures for ballot initiatives, peaceful protests and picketing. Indeed the right to petition grants people not only the freedom to stand up and speak out against injustices they feel are occurring, but also grants the power to help change those injustices. The use of the First Amendment was the pillar that the Civil Rights activists used in their campaign for an end to segregation and the ultimate incorporation of black people into a plural society as equals, fully emancipated and provided for by the full weight of the Law.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived within the United States of America. His United States was not as we would now conceive it to be and he had a dream. His dream was visionary. He dared to speak out, to raise awareness of others and to challenge those in authority to make the essential changes that a conscionable society requested or demanded. His approach was peaceful and entirely based on the notion of non-violence that had been so successfully demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi. Clearly the manner of Dr. King’s death provides sufficient evidence of the fact that not everybody agreed with him. Yet, while knowing of the deep hatred that others felt towards him he never flinched from his beliefs while he was alive.
Ai Weiwei is a contemporary painter and sculptor who is an activist for freedom of expression and the role of art and artists in affecting social change. Ai Weiwei has no support from a democratic constitution and as such has suffered the consequences of being considered a dissident within his homeland, where he lives under a regime not known for tolerating dissent. Yet, he continues to document events and present the results to the public while facing the harshest of responses from his government. He is alone and is made to feel lonely, but his desire for social change carries him onwards despite, I would imagine, times of profound concern and possible anguish.
Individuals, who have no international name, as does Ai Weiwei, continue to petition, and many of them are possibly unaware of the existence of the First Amendment. They do so from a sense of deep commitment to a cause. The Arab Spring saw many such brave individuals, people who came out onto the streets and called for change. These people, these common people, faced the overt power of their non-elected governments and with the use of smart phones, social media and raw courage, they persisted and ultimately prevailed in bringing about the change that they sought.
The Shah of Iran, HRH Reza Pahlavi, is a believer that a process of similar non-violent activism will bring about the downfall of the ruthless governments of Syria and Iran. There are many people, “citizens of Syria or Iran, who desire that change, a move to a more democratic, secular state in which people have the benefits of fundamental human rights that were enshrined in the United Nations Declaration in 1948. Such activists face a ruthless and powerful adversary and are probably mindful of the quotation of President John F. Kennedy who stated “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.”
The history of the Middle East is complex as is indeed the history of Europe or any other part of the world. Those histories contain many examples of revolutions, but more importantly, an understanding of history is the story of you and me. Greg Simon suggested that appreciating that story helps to position us in the context of geography, ethnicity, economy, philosophy and culture. Further, he stated that we are human beings with empathy and going across different cultures, even within the same country, is a powerful drive towards understanding; connecting the dots.
As members of THINK Global School we work and live together and learn from each other. We bring our cultural “stories” with us, and if we learn to connect the understandings that are there on a daily basis we have the power to really comprehend. However, our school is not a static one, and we travel the globe extensively. We encounter people across borders, across cultures and across languages. But what do we do with these opportunities? How do we expect to behave as the “new people’ as described by Mr. Simon?
Nils Olsen explained that emotions have a powerful impact on decisions and decision-making. He suggested that one way to ensure that decisions were effective was to simplify your world and adapt your response accordingly. Such a view is at the very heart of meta-cognition, and as such authentically supports the notion of “connect the dots”. Why else would Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower have written, “The things that I saw beggar description…the visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty, and bestiality were overpowering…I made the visit deliberately to give first-hand evidence of those things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to change those allegations merely to “propaganda” after he personally visited the recently liberated Nazi death camps.”
In writing that statement, Gen Eisenhower was an activist. He understood his history, his story, and wanted it to be told so that essential change could take place. He was not mindful of himself as vocalist or for egotistic reasons, merely wishing to record his view to ensure that something similar did not happen ever again. We too have this opportunity. We too have, or will, see things that we know are not correct or are unjust. It is how we respond to those opportunities that will ultimately demark us as “new people’ able to connect the dots or merely as passive people who are unable or unwilling to act. A poster in the Holocaust museum stated it more eloquently than I with the following harrowing question, “What is your responsibility now that you’ve seen, now that you know?” or the ethereal response from Eli Wiesel, “Each individual must answer that question for himself or herself.”
As indeed we must find a suitable answer if we are to be those “new people”, those who are going to make a difference. To do so we must “connect the dots” and then we must be prepared to act, we must reflect, form opinions based in fact, raise awareness and then advocate democratic values and ethical leadership; while manifesting the same. If our story is to be a benign one, a successful one then we must consider the metaphor that Shakespeare put before us in “As You Like It, 2/7, when he stated, “all the world’s a stage, And all the men and women upon it are merely players; They have their exits and their entrances.” Contrast it with the power of the actors in “Sheer Madness” who introduced contemporary social commentary into their daily improvisations. They saw what was afoot and were not afraid to say so. They connected the dots and saw the image.
It is now our turn to commit a life of learning to learn, to know, to realize that learning has a purpose, which is not related to the world of work nor to access to further centres of study, to reflect and then to commit to a course of action even if that action brings us into contact with virulent opposition, but only if our desires are founded in the purest of ideals; democratic values and ethical leadership. Then will we be able to say that our dots were connected, and we lived our ideals.