Feature: Beyond The Box

By Dr Nurul Muiz Murad (nurul_muiz@oum.edu.my)

When we think about thinking, it might dawn upon us at some point that our thoughts usually circulate within a rather tight and rigid compartment. Our thoughts are boxed in, as it were, preventing us from departing from certain presumably “correct” ways of thinking and looking at the world. The box keeps us “safe” within conventional codes of conduct and cognition. It keeps us from exploring uncharted mental territories for fear of the unknown truths which we might discover for ourselves.

What is this box that keeps us fenced in? Often this box is invisible and unmentioned, though its constraining presence is very much felt. Authority figures often construct boxes to keep their followers under mental lock and key. For example, religious fundamentalists would distort the meaning of religious scripture to control and condition the behaviour and thinking of the ignorant masses. Ideas which
contradict the assumed sanctity of received dogma are frowned upon and are usually met with punishment. While this may be good for the vested interests of the powers that be, it is questionable whether this is good for those confined by the box.

This is not to say that we should do away with the box entirely. The box is comforting because it gives us a sense of order and regulation. The box gives us a safe platform, a foundation upon which to build our expectations of life. But too much order makes the mind older. We need to redefine our relationship to the box so that we can think outside the box while having our feet firmly planted within its orderly borders.

Let us imagine for argument’s sake that the box in question is our education system. Admittedly, our education system is flawed; many graduates have been produced yet not all will make the grade. The over-emphasis on grades and examinations has created a certificate culture, where we equate intelligence with the number of As obtained. Despite all this, nobody in their right mind would claim that
this particular box is defunct and should be dismissed as irrelevant. This is too harsh a stance to take.

It is important that we know precisely what the box can offer and what it cannot. Our education system may be instrumental in providing us a context to acquire book knowledge, but it is certainly no substitute for actual immersion in the realities of the outside world. The outside world is bigger than the box which attempts to describe it.

We learn about theories and concepts within the box; outside the box, we learn which theories work and which don’t. The box gives us a starting point from which we draw our point of reference, but the moment we step outside its borders, we need to drop all preconceived assumptions and our presumptions of knowing. Now we know that we don’t know.

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As a tutor, I believe that I can help learners to create learning spaces by:

Encouraging them to think independently by giving them short essay tests
Encouraging them to work as a group
Adding variety to the assignments and encouraging them to think from a different perspective
Ensuring that the tutorial room is always conducive for the learners
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