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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stop and Think

Welcome to my virtual school. I am Balu Athreya, a retired pediatrician. I was taking care of the physical health of children with chronic illness for more than 50 years. Now, I wish to care for their emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. Will and Ariel Durant said that “ if a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children”. (The Lessons of History. Will and Ariel Durant, Simon and Shuster. 1968. Page 102). That is what I am trying to do.

For a long time, I have wanted to start a school of my own. The purpose is to provide a forum and an atmosphere in which children and adults can develop their own ideas on important issues, reason them out and reflect on them. My role will be to provide the fodder to chew on.

I even coined a name for the school - Svabodhanaalaya (that is a Sanskrit name for School for self-learning) or School for Reason and Reflection. But starting a school is not that easy. I need space, consistent availability of time, supplies, and ability to publicize and promote the course.

Then I realized that in this era of internet and virtual classrooms, I do not need physical space. I just need a virtual space. I already have a virtual space for clinicians ( Therefore, I asked myself “why not start a new blog site where I can share my thoughts on non-medical subjects?” I spoke with several people, some in education and some in IT. They agreed. That is how this blog site got started.

Welcome to my web site. This is my virtual school. The name is “Timeforthought”.

My original plan was to have three schools within this school - one for Physicians, one for children and grandchildren and one for everyone else. Then I realized that there may be problems addressing children directly. Indeed it may be better if adults look at the content first and then pass it on to their children or grandchildren in their own words, if they wish. In addition, if I write for children, I have to write at different levels of comprehension to suit different ages. Therefore, I combined the schools for children with those of adults.

There are two schools within this primary site. One is for physicians and you can see the link at the box ( The other is this site you are on and is meant for friends and colleagues and the children of the future.

The site for physicians and medical students will discuss clinical skills such as listening skills, observation skills, diagnostic skills, caring skills, communication skills, problem solving skills and helping skills.

The site for friends and colleagues will deal with several philosophical issues. The site will also include materials for children on subjects such as Listening skills, Thinking Skills, and Media awareness. The emphasis will be on Thinking Skills and tools to think with.

My habit is to keep notes in an organized fashion while I read. My readings include both oriental literature and western literature. It includes science and metaphysics and everything in between. It includes literature in three languages. I have synthesized ideas from many great thinkers, added my own thoughts and came up with some common themes. I wish to share them particularly with children and grandchildren.

This site for friends and children is a closed one. I do not want to go out to the rest of the world with these ideas before I try them out with family members and close friends. Please share your reaction to my thoughts, correct my viewpoints and challenge my conclusions. I can then polish my ideas and open them to the rest of the world.

Why do I want to do this?

As a pediatrician I am concerned about the way media are shaping the world-view of all of us, particularly children. There is a need to make children aware of danger zones in mass media, “informatials”, propaganda and advertisements. Come to think of it, we adults can use some help too!

This is the age of information and communication. Because of the nature of explosion in knowledge and information technology, there is an enormous potential for communication and cooperation. At the same time there is also potential for misuse of information, spreading of wrong information, brainwashing and miscommunication. The sender of information will always seek an advantage to influence us. It is up to us, the receivers, to learn how to sift useful and beneficial information from wrong information and misinformation.

The second reason is that I love teaching. As a teacher I try to support my statements with my own reason or better still with the writings of respected teachers and elders. With this in mind I plan to share the names of several books I have read and summarize them for you. In addition I hope that some of you will go to the original texts and taste some of these classics.

The third reason is that I feel that traditional teaching methods emphasize logic and dialectics and not reflection.

Scientific methods of observation, generating and testing hypothesis, reasoning, consideration of alternate explanations and analysis have contributed enormously to the acquisition of new knowledge and to our understanding of the universe. Traditional teaching methods also emphasize dialectics to arrive at conclusions and convince others. These are time-honored methods. However, there is very little emphasis on the third mode of acquisition of knowledge, namely reflective learning.

I plan to focus on Reflective Knowing at this site. The emphasis will not be just on the acquisition of information, but on the ability to reflect on the information we have acquired and the ability to integrate it into our value system.

The fourth reason is that the current definition of thinking is not accurate, as pointed out by Prof.Edward de Bono. De Bono argues effectively to show that words and language are useful for communication, but not for perception or for thinking. (Read his book on “I am right….You are Wrong”, Penguin Books, 1991) He shows how most of our thinking uses logic, whereas most of the problems and pitfalls in thinking have to do with perception and inability to look at a problem from different angles. This requires an open mind and imagination, humility and creativity.

More importantly, all of us, particularly children need time and supportive atmosphere to reflect.

It appears to me that there are four basic requirements to be good at reasoning and reflecting. They are: ability to LISTEN to others (includes reading widely); ability to listen to oneself (REFLECTION); TIME to reflect and TOOLS to reason and reflect with.

You have to make the time. I will help with ideas to fulfill the other requirements, within the limits of my knowledge.
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