Monday, June 09, 2008

So, whose extension are YOU?

There used to be the most dreadful song called "Barbara's daughter" which included the lines:

Are you Barbara's daughter?
Are you Barbara's child?
Gee, you sure look like Barbara.
You've got Barbara's smile.
To my ear, it represents the worst kind of whining, self-pitying country and western music on the planet. The trouble is, I AM Barbara's daughter, and I do look rather like her (but I don't really have her smile - that came more from my Dad), so people used to sing it to me an awful lot, and I was always expected to react as if it was a new joke.

I grow tired of people trying endlessly (and unsuccessfully) to adopt a South African accent, and trotting out phrases with which I am expected immediately to identify because of where I was born.

Have you noticed how people have a tendency to think of other people as extensions? My Dad never knew me (or my sister) as people. He knew us as his daughters. He couldn't have told you a darn thing about either of us as people. If we showed any hint of being unco-ordinated (as teenagers are wont to do) or if we argued with him, he would snap at us, "You're just like your bl**dy mother!"

My younger son gets so tired of having hordes of swooning girls breathily asking "Are you so-and-so's brother?" When I phone the school, I say "It's so-and-so's Mom, here." On the rare occasion that I phone the landline at my husband's office, I identify myself as "John's wife". When my kids bring friends home, they say "This is my Mom/Dad" which is hardly helpful information. On one of our holidays on the tiny Swedish island where my mother-in-law grew up (but left more than 50 years ago), a complete stranger approached my husband and asked "Är du Stina's son?" (Are you Stina's son?).

We seem to spend much of our lives being identified as somebodys' something. Yet I think most of us would dearly like to be seen for who and what we are. My sister once gave me a birthday card that read:
From those who know you, those who love you, and those who know you and still love you.
That's what it is, isn't it? We want to be known and accepted (or even rejected) on the basis of who we really are. Not on the basis of some assumption about ourselves as extensions of this or that person, place or thing.
The reason I raise this is that I suggest it is a tendency we need to guard against in our professional capacity. Teachers who teach the younger siblings (and even, in some cases the offspring) of pupils they have taught before sometimes have a tendency to assume that they will show the same talent or otherwise for the subject, that they will have the same tendency to play practical jokes or argue or whatever it may be. A science teacher once told me that she knew the moment she saw my younger son's name on the register for her class that she was in for an exciting year, having taught my older son. Since my younger son never quite aspired to the stellar potential of his brother, the poor lad was set to be a disappointment from the off. Hardly fair!

Are we sometimes guilty of viewing the target audience for our learning resources as being the users of the resource? Thereby reducing them to extensions of a "thing".

When we are developing a learing resource, an approach we often take is to draw up a panel of fictitious people who will use the resource. We give them names, ages, hobbies and interests, family circumstances, etc. and we consider at every stage whether the learning resource is going to meet their needs. They are at the core of the development process.

It's a start.

I'd like to see us find ways to broaden our perception of our learners as people, individuals - even when we are delivering an e-learning solution to an audience of thousands.


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia Ora Karyn

I so identify with what you say here. I have six children and I cringed at some comments I hear about them. Yes, they're all my children, but they are also themselves (and so individually different too). Even I can see that :-)

But I was an only child. Despite the genetic connection with my parents I was 10 inches taller than my mother and a good 7 inches taller than my father.

My mother was very bright and my father not so. I wondered what they meant when relatives said "he takes after his father".

One had the audacity to suggest that perhaps I wasn't my father's son in polite conversation with the family. I interjected and pointed out "yes I am my father's son, but for that matter I'm also my mother's son." That stopped the conversation while they thought for a while. Then a new subject of conversation was begun.

It's a case of 'if the shoe fits ...' but I still can't understand some of the assumptions made. We are all humans. We have our similarities. But let's also celebrate our differences.

Ka kite

Anonymous said...

@Ken It never ceases to amaze me how people formed from the same gene pool can be so completely different from one another. There are times when I shake my head in amazement at my two sons who are so different from each other. To the extent that one is confident to the point of arrogance and the other riddled with insecurities. It's tough trying to find a way to treat them equally but not the same...

I'm not very happy when people tell me I'm like my Dad. He was an insecure alcoholic who committed suicide. I don't want to think of myself in those terms! And yet, I can't deny that many of the traits that make me who I am came from him. I just don't want the world going on suicide watch when I'm feeling down because of my Dad.