Widening the Lens

The Nacirema are an interesting tribe.  In every Nacirema home, there is a black box, a sacred altar, that the Nacirema gather around nightly.  The black box is a central focus of Nacirema culture.  In fact, the black box is so valued that Nacirema homes often have several black boxes.  Indeed to be without a black box is to be truly cut off from Nacirema society.

By now, perhaps you are suspecting that Nacirema is American spelled backwards and that the black box is not an altar but a television and that when we discuss American culture the way we often discuss indigenous cultures, American culture can look just as exotic, strange, primitive, and superstitious as our portrayal of other cultures.

But there is an antidote to ethnocentrism and it comes in the form of a lovely magazine called Parabola.  If we want to understand others, we have to walk among them.  We have to listen to them and learn from them.  We have to widen the lens of our perception to begin to recognize how others view the world.  This widening of the lens leads to an expansion of consciousness.  We begin to see the world from a multiplicity of perspectives.

One of the gifts of volunteering for Parabola Magazine is having access to the magazine’s archives.  Of course, if you can afford to buy a complete set of the back issues of the magazine, it is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself, your loved ones, and particularly your children.  In the back issues, you will find many remarkable perspectives and stories.  Of course, in the current issue, Burning World, there is a wealth of brilliance too!

But I will share with you one particularly lovely article from the Clothing issue of Parabola.  In this back issue, the author examines Gandhi’s transformation of consciousness through the transformation of his clothing.  From the proper English barrister to the man in the garb of the peasant, Gandhi’s clothing was an outward expression of his inner change in consciousness.   Of course, anyone who has read Gandhi’s autobiography or any of the countless biographies on Gandhi knows that Gandhi was always in search of truth.  And in that search for truth, he was willing to adopt new attitudes and lifestyles.  Indeed this incredible flexibility of consciousness led the great man to once state, “It is not consistency I seek but truth.”

In the Clothing issue of Parabola, the man and his transformation of consciousness is examined through the fabric of his garments.  How brilliant an analysis and where else can such brilliance be found but in Parabola.

So, what does this widening of the lens through Parabola have to do with the classroom?  Well, particularly, in the World History classroom, to truly understand the tides of history, we must delve into the consciousness of culture and to delve into the consciousness of culture, we must have the courage to leave the shore of our certainties and swim out into new perceptions and new seas.

On the Corner of Huxley and Diversidad Streets

Have you ever met a cat killed by curiosity? Of course, the proverb, first recorded in 1598, was intended for a character in a play. In the original line, it was worry or sorrow as in care that killed the cat but since one of the actors happened to be William Shakespeare, the original verse lived to see another incarnation in Much Ado About Nothing. Yet even in its new incarnation, it was still care that killed the cat.  As the years passed, care became curiosity and young children have been warned ever since. But using a bit of Galileo, I have never seen a cat killed by curiosity and so, I simply don’t believe it.

So, what has any of this to do with teaching and specifically about teaching using the brilliant articles in Parabola magazine? A great deal, I must state. For one of the best vehicles for increasing a learner’s interest is indeed curiosity. In fact, the only thing ever known to kill the love of learning is boredom and the gateway to boredom is indeed a lack of curiosity. So, let me as they used to say in the sixties make the personal political or at least, the personal educational.

I have been teaching world history and world cultures since 1989. But the journey to teaching in the World History classroom began as a student in a Western perspective classroom. As a High School student, I studied mostly European and American history. I was accustomed to seeing the world through a Western lens. And then it happened.  As a college freshman, I was required to take one course in African history. I entered the classroom feeling well prepared (Ah, blessed arrogance) and then quickly was humbled. Suddenly, I realized how my preparation in one cultural lens had not prepared me for another cultural lens. In that struggle, I was hooked.  There was a lot more to learn.

As the years have passed, I have come to love the African proverb that “until lions have historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.” In a way, I have tried in my teaching career to shed light on the lions, on the stories that are not always told. And I have gone on pilgrimage in search of such stories.

Of course, the beauty of Parabola Magazine is that it is like a prism of a lens, refracting thousands of perspectives. In Parabola Magazine, the reader can journey with the Tuareg through the Sahara and then onward to the majestic world of the Sufi and still onward to the wisdom of the Talmudic scholar. Parabola Magazine is devoted to the world’s traditions and perspectives. In its commitment to outreach, Parabola Magazine has made it possible for many of its articles to be utilized in the classroom free of charge. And I have had the pleasure of selecting the articles and creating the lessons, lessons that educators and home schoolers can access on the Parabola website.

We travel many roads in our lifetimes and see many things but when we recognize that all that we have seen is but a fraction of what can be seen, we become curious. And in that blessed curiosity is the opportunity to look through the lens and to realize that there is so much more to see.

Let us journey together in curiosity in search of the so much more to see and let curiosity be our guide.

In curiosity,

Elizabeth