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We should reconsider how we interpret literature texts and nurture different creative views


Date Posted: 11/14/2018 6:07:52 AM

Posted By: SilviaMbugua  Membership Level: Silver  Total Points: 327

There is this really worrying culture in our education to promote a there can be only x set of answers for a question y even in subjects where it should not apply. In literature works, if a student’s answer was not in the marking scheme for a phrase or sets of phrases that could gather multiple interpretations, they are marked wrong. We are unintentionally pushing our students to interpret the world through the narrow set of lens hence killing creativity and critical thinking.

I remember in my high school I absolutely loathed poetry because there was a looming sense of failure associated with it. It wasn't just poetry but every piece of literature laden with metaphors and symbolism. Whenever I was asked for an interpretation my mind would consider several possibilities and it was a paradox to choose one because all could fit. Eventually, I would choose but I would almost always get the wrong answer. When the teacher revised the work in class, lo and behold there was apparently just one answer. I came to prefer questions that focused more on concrete things such as which lines had rhythms or where alliteration was used.

I being an abstract thinker, started conforming to concrete thinking styles after my thoughts were rejected and it didn't make it any easier that the teachers were most likely concrete thinkers. Abstract thinkers are those that see and perceive things that aren't occurring in the present hence they will have a more “out of the box thinking”. A concrete thinker concentrates on the facts of the present environment which hold only certain true constants. All of us have both thinking styles but one is more dominant. In the world of a dominant abstract and intuitive thinker, there are many possible meanings to a

piece of writing or art. For a concrete thinker, deciphering several interpretations of the same text is a waste of time because at the present, interpretation x suits current trends or what the syllabus stipulates.

Concrete thinkers might also come up with differing answers to the same question. Our perception of the concrete world and reality varies vastly depending on our individual experiences and this might explain why. For example to a person of a well off background who owns car hearing the following statement “fare from Thika to Nairobi is 300 sh” might not think much of this statement while a person who is financially struggling would complain endlessly of such exploitation by the conductors. Let’s dive deeper to another phrase, consider the words:
‘And with the grip of such intoxicating power,
Will became an illusion under your palm.’

A person who feels strongly about political issues in the country could interpret the words with a political theme in mind. They could say the words describe a common phenomenon in the government and the system where people rise to power and make the citizens slaves to the system either by implementing economically strenuous policies or in extreme circumstances assuming total dictatorship.
Another alternative interpretation can be considered by a person who has been through a tumultuous relationship where they were deeply hurt. In an unhealthy relationship an imbalanced power dynamic exist and more often than not, the party that gets hurt is always at a weaker position. They might be the ones being manipulated or taken advantage of hence they may forget their worth and stoop low to keep a partner who sits back doing very little.

As you can see those two explanations vary vastly in terms of themes and characterization. Both interpretations can stem from two concrete thinkers with the different experiences mentioned and an abstract thinker might perceive both possibilities without the experiences. In the first interpretation the villain or antagonist is the government, in the second the villain is a bad lover. The first explores the exploiting nature of government the second explores a selfish and manipulative lover, both in positions of power to assert control over their victims. Could you guess which one would have been marked the correct answer? The first! In this country politics matters more than matters of the heart, at least according to our syllabus.

I came to learn which themes mattered more on the marking scheme than others and adopted that one dimensional view of literature hence going against my natural state. My classmates too came to uncover this pattern and whether concrete or abstract thinkers we all ended up seeing literature using the same dogmatic lens. We were no longer letting our minds explore different possibilities and ideas because were operating using the same recurring constants our teachers had fed us.
The popular themes were mostly related to political oppression, the place of women, tradition and poverty. We would view all forms of literature given using a set of preconceived notions which is a tragic way to digest literature. It robs the student of the wonderful joy it is to drown in a maze of possible meanings that could be derived and discussed in a class setting so each student appreciates different points of view.

The Kenyan education system is slowly killing creative and critical thinking skills of its students unknowingly in favor of passing a set of exams. You will notice that if you give a group of students a certain problem even one not related to literature for some reason they’ll come up with similar solutions. In the real world, one dimensional thinking is not successful. Approaching problems from different angles is better than just seeing one side.

Teachers should stop favoring efficiency over their student’s well-being. I get that it is easier to have one or a specific set of answers to make marking easier but this uniformity and conformity is killing brilliant imaginative minds. If an answer makes sense especially in something like literature the teacher should consider the idea and even add it to the marking scheme. I’m not talking about a cleverly crafted answer of a student who did not bother to carefully read the text but one that gives a whole new fresh perspective that fits the writing in question.

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