Listening to Understand

Finding the third space requires a person to look outside of what they assume to know and have civil conversations with others in order to completely understand their own and others’ perspectives. While these conversations may be uncomfortable, it is important to listen to others who have different views than you to expand your own perspective. If one does not make an effort to understand others’ perspectives, then they themself will not grow into the most knowledgeable and well-rounded person. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explained in her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” about how when she was a child she was only exposed to books that featured white children in Europe; she was never aware that African children, like herself, could be featured in picturebooks because she was never exposed to that type of literature. It is important for people to read, listen, and hear from people who have multiple different perspectives in order to get a holistic view of the world. In order to construct an individual perspective, a person needs to be aware of other people’s needs and livelihoods. With this more well-rounded perspective, a person is then able to understand the complexity and difference of someone’s lived experience instead of jumping to conclusions based on their singular story.

In a time when our country is extremely divided, I have adopted the efforts of finding my third by having very difficult conversations with my peers about politics. I hold liberal views, so when I have conversations with some of my conservative peers, I find it frustrating to listen to their perspectives. Nevertheless, engaging in civil conversations have allowed me to learn so much about different political perspectives and myself. Even though I disagree with many of the arguments made about the pro-life movement and private health care, I have been able to find my third by cementing my own perspective, after hearing and understanding other ideologies. My new beliefs were based on a more holistic mindset of political beliefs instead of just my own. 

My brother and I having a conversation about current events
Picture credit: Alivia Klinghofer

To find your third space, you need to listen to others and come to your own conclusions about a topic. Once you find your third, the only way to make an influence on the world is to take action and share your knowledge after coming to that realization. Sisonke Msimang claims in her TED Talk, “If a Story Moves You, Act on It”, that “listening is an important but insufficient step towards social action.”  She continues to teach her audience about how you need to fight for the world to change by educating others about what you learned to help them find their third. Many societal injustices are normalized because people don’t talk about them and just accept the reality. Simply having a conversation can ignite social change by acknowledging injustices in the world and demanding justice. 

“You need to fight for the world to change by educating others about what you learned to help them find their third”

These conversations begin a series of widespread change. Lucy King talks about how one disturbance to the social structure causes a disturbance to the whole social system as we know it. In her TED Radio Hour interview with Manoush Zomorodi titled “Finding Another Way”, she told a story about a swarm of bees living in a beehive next to a herd of elephants. For their whole lives, they lived in constant tension but accepted the realities of their lives. It took just a tiny stone being lightly thrown at the hive to cause the bees to swarm out of their nest and for the elephants to charge away. Finding your third is so important because just like the bees, one disruption to the cycle of socialization can spark a domino effect of change. Even if these conversations are uncomfortable and cause heated, yet civil, debates, they are imperative to creating positive social change and allowing others to have the information in order to find their third. It would be too optimistic to claim that every political conversation in our country will end with a conclusive agreement. This is because everyone was raised with different values and principals which structured their minds to have beliefs about separate issues. Ross Snyder attempts to equivocate all humans in his paper “The Person Sitting Next to You”, by saying, “the person … is really a whole colony of persons, of people, met all during a life”. These people that we meet make up our personalities and are the basis of our assumptions and opinions. We are born without any preconceived notions about the world, so our families, friends that we meet, and the information we are exposed to shape our opinions. When I have political conversations with my peers, I understand that every person has been raised with different morals and under different circumstances. I now use this sympathetic view when finding my third because I don’t only take in my lived experiences with my perspective, but the experiences of others. When having these conversations with others, one must acknowledge and be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is going to agree with them.  Nevertheless, listening to people you disagree with is imperative to understanding others’ perspectives and truly finding your third.

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Philosophy of Learning

What we learn in high school shapes students into well-rounded citizens and proactive learners, but the education system today isn’t structured to teach in the most effective way. Steven Wolk wrote in his essay “Why Go To School?” about the inefficient ways that the curriculum prepares students for life tasks. Wolk suggests that “our schools … use critical and moral inquiry as a way to shape individual identity.” Taking the curriculum away from outdated textbooks that have repeated the same lessons for years, teachers should structure their curriculum to the needs and learning styles of their students. Instead of learning about shapes and angle measurements in geometry, the teachers should structure their math class in a way that students can clearly see the correlation between what they are doing and how that can be applied to their lives.

I often stare at my homework and ask myself, “When will I ever have to use this in my life?” Truthfully, I most likely won’t have to use the majority of what I learn in school during my life. By the time I entered high school I knew my strengths and weaknesses; I liked to write and I loved history, but I wasn’t so good at math. I knew I wasn’t going to become a doctor or a mathematician. The number of hours that I spent struggling through math problems that I forgot by the end of the year is appalling to me. If the school system allowed us to choose our classes based on what we were interested in, students would be so much more prepared for their futures because they would have more experience in what they wanted to go into from a younger age. I’m not saying we should stop having math classes, but the traditional math classes that students take may not be the most beneficial for every student’s future plans. Maybe there could be a class that could be offered for students who might not want to go into a job that requires a lot of math expertise. This class could teach about the economy, the stock market, and how to manage your money as an adult. These classes would still use the critical thinking skills that are used in math, except they would be used in ways that the students could see be relevant to their lives in the future.

Ashley McCall speaks about restructuring the curriculum so that it caters to the needs of each student in her article “What If We Radically Reimagined the New School Year?” McCall advises that teachers should “structure student’s learning around their lived experiences.” If we structure the curriculum about student’s direct experiences, then they would find more connections to the information and become more interested in the content. This could be done by integrating current events into discussions or activities such as the election and the coronavirus pandemic. The curriculum should be structured to the needs and interests of the students to prepare them for life outside high school