Posted by Manjima Misra
Reflection is an integral, yet neglected component of both teacher development and student growth. Rene Descartes, an enlightenment era philosopher conceived the process of reflecting as the foundational premise for self-consciousness. In Cartesian philosophy, reflecting starts with doubting and questioning and hence, if we extend the Cartesian argument to present day pedagogy, we will realise the transformative impact of reflection on both educational reform and social reform.
I argue in this article that training teachers and students in reflection based educational practices is an essential curricular requirement in order to develop the critical thinking skills which are fundamentally important for any kind of social progress. For instance, in order for us to be feminists, we all have reflected on our lived experiences to develop an understanding of the patriarchal social paradigm and the starting point for us was to question this patriarchal social paradigm.
Reflection essentially means that we are both, the subject or agent who reflects as well as the object who is reflected on. Similarly, in feminist reflection, we are both the subject who analyses patriarchy as well as the object on which patriarchal ideology acts. This is evident in how mothers-in-law, inspite of being women themselves, instead of being an ally for other women and sharing solidarity, sometimes share an antagonistic relationship with their daughters-in-law in popular cultural narrative of India. Thus, while we interact with patriarchy, we both act and are acted upon.
However, the path to change the toxic cultural narrative which I just cited is through reflective practice where the mother-in-law reflects on her internalised misogyny and then corrects herself. However, this reflection is difficult to come without equipping individuals with critical thinking skills. The critical thinking skill of reflection needs to be inculcated in individuals right from their formative years so that they can unlearn toxic cultural practices.
According to John Dewey, a 20th century American educational philosopher, the process of learning essentially begins with experiencing a specific situation and subsequently reflecting on that experience. Dewey emphasised that learning comes through a student’s interaction with a real-life situation.
If we are to apply Dewey’s theory to present-day teaching contexts, we see that the application of this theory is abysmally low in the Indian primary educational setting.
In order to apply this innovative theory, teachers can set an interactive classroom context dedicated to discussing real life experiences with students and dealing with those experiences. The teacher can encourage students to share their experiences in their classroom and note down their reflections on those experiences in a journal. Another approach can be role play enacting and drama through which students are asked to respond to a given situation spontaneously by assigning them different roles to play in a hypothetical situation.
The teaching of humanities and social sciences at school level in India is excessively focused on memorising facts and being able to reproduce those objective facts accurately. This is a self-defeating approach when it comes to expanding a student’s social awareness. To tackle the absence of emphasis on reflection based critical and analytical thinking at school level education, Donald Schon’s theory on reflection is a useful reference point.
Donald Schon, a 20th century American philosopher classifies reflection into ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’. Schon’s work has been developed into a third component called ‘reflection for action’. Reflection in action means reflecting in the heat of the moment. Reflection on action means looking back at the past experience and reflecting on it in the present. Reflection for action means reflecting in present to plan a future course of action.
For example, let us say the English teacher has taught a feminist poem to his/her students. As the teacher explains the poem to his/her students, they encourage their students to write down their spontaneous initial responses to the poem. They then assign a home task for the students in which they have to write an analytical essay on the feminist poem. The teacher assesses the students’ assignments and gives them individual feedback. The students engages in reflection based on the teacher’s feedback in order to frame their arguments in future critical writing assignments.
Fundamental to the endeavour of making our socio-cultural context equitable for all genders, is the endeavour of building our teaching context based on reflective practice. Since reflection involves experiential learning, and the feminist reform movement is shaped around the actual lived experiences of various gendered active or passive agents, subjects and objects, any kind of feminist progress would be non-existent without reflecting on our entrenched problematic assumptions or faulty oppressive principles that eventually lead to the perpetual patriarchal cycles of actions such as the oppressed daughter-in-law eventually growing old into an oppressive mother-in-law.
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