Friday, December 19, 2014

What Education can Learn from Literature?

How do Humans Keep Record of their Lives?

David Christian in his TED Talk, ‘A History of the World in 18 mins’ described how human beings are different from other species. A mouse lives its whole life and gathers information about its various experiences. But when it dies, all this information goes with it. But a human being is different, because from the time of the caveman, to the 21st century method of microblogging, we have had the habit of recording our thoughts and describing our experiences. 

So when a human being passes away, traces of their lives are left behind through the books, journals, photos and several other records of their lives. When you add all these records together, you get the story of human civilization. 

Literature is one such method of recording memories and insights about human behavior from different times and places. Great literature often takes you through culture, time periods and lives of several different kinds of people. 

Education has a lot to learn from literature.

1) Understanding of Human Behavior A well-written novel will give you an intimate insight into the minds of the characters. In understanding the characters of a book through their experiences, flaws and strengths, you actually get to live the life of another person when you are immersed in the book.

2) Develop Empathy – Recently, while reading ‘100 Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I suddenly felt like I was transported to another world. As you read a piece of literature, you are actually looking at the world in the novel, through the characters perspective. This helps you step into the characters shoes and understand the world from their viewpoint. You actually empathize with the other person by living the other person’s life through the book.

3) Feel Emotions you have not felt before – Humans are emotional beings as well and understanding the emotions we go through on a daily basis should be a major part of individual’s education process. I recently read a book titled ‘Sacred Games’ by Vikram Chandra. As I read the book, I felt several different emotions based on what the characters in the book were going through at that point of time. This included joy, fear, anger, lust, revenge, hatred, love, compassion, acceptance and more. In reading the book, I got to live a richer emotional life. I am sure it is the same with several other great works of fiction.

4) Understanding a different culture and different country – Most great literature has represented local culture and people well. I started the habit of reading very late in my life. For a long time, my world was limited to what happened at school or at my home. But when I started reading, I got a chance to visit several different cultures and countries through the eyes of the writer. I understood the life of the Indian living abroad through the work of Jhumpha Lahiri on the NRI experience. The book 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez showed me what life was like in a Latin American Village. Reading Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall helped me understand the Tarahumaran tribe from Mexico better. Thus I got a glimpse of the people, rituals and culture of several countries from the comfort of my home. Books had opened up a new world to me.

5) To be more observant and aware – Reading literature helped me understand why it was so important to live in the moment. Great literature often describes the simplest of things in the most beautiful way. This could be a family meal, or a walk by the countryside or the laughter of a child. To really understand and appreciate great literature, you need to live through these situations yourself. So that when you have a family meal the next time, you can relate it to a family meal situation described in the work of a classic you had read recently. 

6) Live another person’s life and Live in another time of HistoryThe most important educative experience that literature gives you, is that it lets you live another person’s life for a while. When you do this, you get the rare opportunity to look at a world from a new perspective. You realize the world is much bigger than just your perspective of it. As human beings have evolved so has the way we have learned to live our lives. By reading a historical novel on the World War 2, you get to live through another period of time and appreciate and understand your situation better. 

Through a love for literature you can be a different individual, live in different periods of history and understand different cultures. It opens up a whole new world for the student. The points mentioned above are all learning experiences. How can we create similar learning experiences in educational institutions is good question to ask.

Let us Learn Together
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