Tag Archives: Ubuntu

Standing In The Company Of Giants, Instead Of Only On Their Shoulders

Our society envisions success as a ladder: Those who climb to the top do so one at a time. I think that’s bunk. I’d like to see success as a wide road to a mountain top, with room enough for everyone to come along.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been talking about an African philosophy that’s being used in Awesome Elementary School by a fifth-grade teacher there, Mrs. C. She’s been helping her students understand that success can only be measured in a group basis. Individuals can go well, but, if they are the outliers rather than only the leaders, if they do not use their skills and knowledge to aid those behind them, then those dudes and dudettes haven’t really succeeded at all.

Ubuntu, the philosophy Mrs. C has been spreading through her class, is one that encourages people to help those around them do better, while also helping them realize that they also can accept help from others without being ashamed or worried. Personally, I think it’s done some wonders in her class, having observed it in action.

In talking to Mrs. C about Ubuntu and her class, I wondered if this kind of thing might help out little dudes and dudettes who aren’t using this to make their school day better.

“One of our class goals is to be better people! We practice and talk about it every day. A child is not educated if you forget the human aspect of their lives. I always tell my kids that you cannot be perfect, but we must try to be the best we can be. We are all on a journey and practicing Ubuntu can help us make good choices and treat others with compassion.”

There’s folks all over who get onto schools and teachers for not doing enough to turn the little sociopaths who enter schools into well-behaved worker drones who have the right skill sets to step into menial, low-wage jobs. Although, looking back, I might have mixed up a couple things in that last sentence. Let’s just say that teachers and schools get a lot of flack. Some people think they do too little. Some think they do too much.

Helping parents to mold the little mushy minds is, I think, one of the most important jobs for which a school or a really good teacher can strive. Stuffing a little dude full of facts doesn’t help him develop the love of learning necessary to succeed in academics further up the line. Training a little dudette to be compliant, but only think of her own success, won’t help many people aside from her own self.

Mrs. C is doing a great job in helping to bridge that divide between strictly academics and some sort of feelings retreat. It’s a lesson we adults can learn as well. Helping others does not mean we hurt ourselves.

Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where spontaneous acts of kindness were the rule instead of the exception? When everyone succeeds, we are all winners.

“I am who I am because of who we all are.”

Words to live by.

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Awesome Elementary Brings The Awesome — Again!

Mrs. C is a fifth-grade teacher at Awesome Elementary School in Charlotte and she’s bringing a great, African philosophy into the classroom to help her kids find a more harmonious path through life.

Just for the record, there is no Awesome Elementary School. I’m using a nom d’frenchwordforschool. Also? Mrs. C does have more letters to her last name, but we’ll keep it that way because I’m all about not using actual names here. Just ask my kids, Sarcasmo, Zippy the College Boy and Hyper Lad. Or my wife, known to me as She Who Must Be Kept In The Dark.

Moving on.

The philosophy, as I talked about yesterday, is Ubuntu. Which, according to Mrs. C, translates loosely into “I am what I am because of who we all are.” I love this philosophy because it says, basically, that no one can succeed if he or she doesn’t bring the rest of society with them to that success. We stand on the shoulders of giants, but we need to stand also in the company of giants.

Ubuntu is all about treating others with respect, with helping others who don’t have your knowledge or skills, receiving help from others who have different knowledge or skills than do you, and working for the good of the community as well as your own good.

“At the beginning of the year, I had my students read am article about Ubutnu,” Mrs. C told me. “It was a story about an experiment in South Africa and an anthropologist who was studying Ubuntu. To test it, he put a giant bag of candy under a tree and told a group of kids that the person who reaches the bag first can have all of the candy.

“The kids ran towards the candy, so excited, and, once they got to the tree, they started dividing it equally. My students were blown away, but really understood that Ubuntu is a way you live, a way to share, a way to care about others, a way to live in balance.”

If you’ve stuck around here long enough to have read at least one or two entries, you’ll understand I’m not some hippy-dippy treehugger. I’m not about to go raging on about how values from different societies, more traditional societies, are always better than our own because they’re closer to nature. That’s bunk. Culture is culture.

That said, however, you’ve got to love this sort of thing. If Ubuntu philosophy can get a group of kids to share candy equally without any kind of force, to have them do it spontaneously. . . There’s something pretty darn special about it. That was Africa, though. How would it work here in America?

That’s something I’d really like to know. Good thing, then, that I asked Mrs. C about it. I asked her how Ubuntu was going in her classroom, in which it is an integral part of the culture there.

“Does it work? Well, the kids have definitely internalized it,” she said. “They will say things to each other like ‘That’s not showing Ubuntu’ or ‘I’m putting this on my Ubuntu tracker.’  (They track the ways they show Ubuntu every day.) That being said, my students still do not treat each other the way the philosophy dictates. Not all the time. Sometimes they get frustrated, use words that are not so nice, or are nasty towards each other. Like I said, its a process.”

Still, I think we can agree that it’s a process that needs to continue. In a world where kids have to be worried about being bullied, and where we as a society have to worry about bullies deciding enough is enough and going back to school with a weapon and a bad attitude. . . Isn’t it about time we decided to try and nurture a little caring and community spirit?

 

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Traditional Philosophy Helping Mold Young Minds

It was the second thing I noticed when I walked into her classroom. A big sign saying “I am who I am because of who we all are.”

Incidentally, the first thing I noticed when I walked into Mrs. C’s room at Awesome Elementary School, where I’m working as a reading tutor, was that the students didn’t have chairs and desks.Oh, they had desks and they were sitting down, but they didn’t have chairs. Instead, the students were sitting, balancing and gently bouncing on large Swiss exercise balls.

Because Mrs. C teaches a lot of kids with learning differences, she said she’s done some research about ways to keep the kids focused. She’s found that having the kids sitting on the balancing balls helps to burn off some of that excessive energy that can make teaching kids with ADD or ADHD or other learning disabilities such a drain on many teachers.

The kids, of course, love them. Except when they get carried away and start bouncing up and down on the Swiss balls like grasshopper on a sugar high. The threat of making them sit in normal chairs usually is enough to get them to settle down.

Despite having what seems to be a bit of a chaotic classroom, Mrs. C keeps things humming right along. She’s got the kids doing what needs to be done in a collaborative method. Heck, sometimes she even gives up the big desk to an especially hardworking student, sitting down elsewhere while the student works at her desk.

But this isn’t a story about how awesome Mrs. C is, or how she perfectly fits into the progressive traditional grove that is Awesome Elementary School (although she is, she does and it is). I want to talk, instead, about the philosophy that seems to drive her educational ideas. It’s called Ubuntu.

The dictionary definition of Ubuntu is quite dry, but illuminating: a quality that includes the essential human virtues; compassion and humanity. When Mrs. C translates it into English, it gains a bit of poetic license. “I am who I am because of who we all are.”

“Originally,” she said, “it was a South African philosophy about interconnectedness and community. It became quite popular after apartheid was overturned. I love it. It says we cannot become successful alone, we cannot fail alone, we are all in this together. It also teaches about the acceptance of others and ourselves by seeing us all through a community lens.”

That’s what I love about this. It harkens back to Hilary Clinton’s go-to catchphrase: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Let’s try and leave politics out of this and look at it for what it is; a plea for involvement beyond your own narrow interests.

Sure we parents would like to think we’re the preeminent forces for moral growth in our little dudes and dudettes, but, if we’re being realistic, we need to understand that society has a massive impact on what our children believe and how they act. Which is why we need to act for the greater good, as well as our own good, because the two are very much intertwined.

We’re running a bit long here, so I’ll be back tomorrow with more from Mrs. C and Awesome Elementary School.

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