The Mirrored Window: Education Beyond The Looking Glass

By Carol Homer. Carol, 27, is a support worker from Cheltenham, England.

The process of education is one of facilitating learning, and through learning we naturally grow. It is my belief that this expansion cannot happen without windows, through which we reciprocally interact with the word and allow ourselves the space in which to grow, but I would argue also that one needs mirrors in order to self-reflect, to filter and integrate what is being learned, and to act upon it. One without the other is likely to result in an unbalanced, distorted view, one either egotistical in nature or naively accepting all that is learned and asked of us.

Education: The transference of ideas, beliefs, thoughts, ’facts’ and skills from something or someone to the pupil. This occurs at any age as a continuously evolving process, both in a formal setting and through personal experience. Education necessitates a change in how an individual thinks, behaves, or feels, being vital for all spheres of personal and social advancement. Whether learning is achieved in a spoon-fed or autodidactic manner, the pupil must first access a source.

Consider an individual placed inside a room with four mirrored walls. With only their reflection to look at, touch, and talk to, they cannot learn anything beyond themselves. If those walls were windows, they could be looked through, giving a 360° view of the social landscape. They can be opened to touch, smell, and hear the animate world that surrounds the individual, and he or she has control of how far to open those windows, how far to reach out, and in doing so will have enabled a two-way transference of the social process we call learning. Coinciding with this, the fresh air on a gentle breeze enables the breathing room required to expand with new information. In an increasingly egotistical twenty-first century, it is perhaps more important, and indeed more possible, to turn mirrors in to windows.

Nelson Mandela stated that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. This implies that education is not merely a one stop process of learning; it has an effect, enabling the pupil to reach through the window and in turn affect their world.

The role of education is therefore to take in knowledge and beliefs, to be open to what is available, and to interact with it. But how does one know what kind of knowledge and information is important? With limited cognitive resources, there is an element of selectivity required. How does one decide what opinions and beliefs they agree with, or how to know how to act upon what is learned and which behaviours to ultimately take as a result? The diverse spectrum requires consideration and choice to integrate this on an individual level. With some many possible actions, choices must be made.

It is not enough to merely soak up this information or socially acquire it. We must sift through it, decide what is useful, what we feel in our hearts is a reflection of our own truth. This must be done in order for us to use such skills, knowledge, and beliefs in the world, and this requires a sense of self.

A sense of self gives us a foundation on which to build, an inclination of what we consider to be our own truth. This can be achieved through introspection. Mirrors provide the reflection required to analyse our own cognitions and feelings, allowing us to see what is important to us, what we feel we

believe, and what actions we feel we should take as a unique individual. After all, all thoughts and beliefs can be entertained, it is the self-reflection that enables us to willingly choose what not to accept or act upon.

Without a sense of self, the individual is like a porous blank canvas; apathetic, believing everything, acting on instruction alone. In this vein, education has the potential to manipulate, and even dangerously destroy those that consume it and act upon it.

Conversely, without the window, individuals are subject to only themselves, where only stagnant egotism can proliferate. Like a funhouse of mirrors, perception is likely to become distorted and limited only to what is put directly in front of it.

To be able to think critically and to act with character, the pupil needs to have experienced both the window and the mirror, allowing him or her to traverse the educational landscape both internally and externally.

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