Killiney Kopitiam and Existential Pedagogy

When we lived on Grange Road, Killiney Kopitiam (67 Killiney Road, Singapore) was my breakfast haunt on Saturday mornings. It was best to go alone, or with someone who didn’t want much chat, score a seat outside, next to the road, and read the Saturday Business Times between mouthfuls of lemak curry chicken and roti prata, finished off with slices of kaya toast. A good time too for thinking.
Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road

Am still brooding over pedagogical methods for teaching people to read their Bibles.

Was looking today specifically at the sort of instructional design that emerges from idealism, phenomenology, and existentialism. Might have misunderstood stuff, but here goes anyway:

Idealism is an ontological concept that says that reality consists only of minds. The physical world is only an illusion, a product of minds.

Phenomenology (closely linked with Edmund Husserl) is the epistemological concept that says therefore that all we know is our subjective reality. It is meaningless to seek out an objective reality. Our perceptions and internal experience are all that matter. As Albert Camus put it:

This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world around me I can feel, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.

Existentialism (Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre et al) then says, in light of the above, that since there are no truths about human nature, the individual is free to make his/her life in whatever way he/she wants.

In this worldview, inauthenticity is the biggest crime one can commit. Inauthenticity is when the individual allows him/herself to be defined by social categorisation, by conforming to the pressure to be a certain sort of person, or to adopt a particular manner of living, or to ignore their own moral or aesthetic judgements. Inauthenticity is being a “moral person” because by doing so, one subjects oneself to traditional external ethics.

Authenticity then is to be true to one’s own personality, spirit, character, despite external pressures.

Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney RoadThe aim of education within an existential worldview would be to allow students to learn that the world is absurd and without intrinsic meaning, and their lives are limited and temporal. They must then learn to be authentic by unilaterally creating and re-creating their lives through their own free will.

Of the educational curriculum, James Magrini in Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Education calls us to recognise and seek:

to overcome the injustice of a curriculum that embraces and privileges certain modes of knowing about others, such as an epistemological model favouring analytic-logical-empirical clusters of knowledge over more intangible forms of knowledge, those associated with the arts, which include the intuitive-perceptual model of knowledge…
Curriculum making conceived existentially, as opposed to following a product-process model (Tyler, 1949), which in great part determines the trajectory of the education in advance of actual student learning, would attempt to adopt a process-product line of curriculum development (“curriculum-envisioning”). This would allow for the curriculum to develop and evolve autonomously as the learning unfolds. In this “existentially” conceived curriculum, benchmarks are merely temporary, transitory, and malleable, they develop along with the learning process.

Instructional design then, is along the lines of the constructivist model I looked at previously. Magrini again:

The method of pedagogy must allow for the student’s development of her own unique possibilities, which is why the existentialists would reject a standardized curriculum and an authoritarian model for teaching. An “existential” curriculum would include a diverse content as well as an array of varied pedagogical methods, which would, importantly, include ample opportunities for peer-initiated and peer-directed learning.

Educators should plan lessons that embrace and incorporate aspects of the student’s emotional and intellectual autobiography (Grumet, 1992). However, it is not only the aspects of one’s unique life-story that matter, it is also important that students understand the major role that “history” and “heritage”play in shaping who we become-history’s authentic role not only forges our past but as well contributes to the future enactment of our possibilities that we gather from our“heritage”

The instructional methods employed should not be resemble the out-dated authoritarian model,where the teacher is the “superior” possessor of knowledge and the student the “inferior,” empty vessel waiting to be filled (Freire, 1970). This is model for pedagogy views knowledge at an objective remove from the student, and demonstrates no concern for the place of the existential “lived world” in the curriculum as shared by both teacher and student. Knowledge, according to the existentialists does not reside at a remove from our “lived world”  and in addition is constructive. Thus pedagogical techniques should stress the co-creative, co-responsive, and co-participatory aspects of education. This is not to indicate that the teacher allows the student to dictate each and every aspect of her education, for teachers need to be in command of the subject matter in order to first tailor it to fit the students needs. In relation to this issue, Heidegger (1952) famously stated that the most difficult task for educators was to learn how to let students learn

kaya toast, Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road
One’s first instinctive criticism of this worldview would be that there is no evidence or basis for these theories. But of course, that would be refuted by the presuppositions of this worldview – that there is nothing objective that can be quantified or measured.

And the Christian would object that it is God who defines right and wrong and morality, and reality, and the meaning of life, and the certainty of the future. At which, the existentialist would blow a giant raspberry and point to the self-referential pre-suppositions of existentialism.

But hardly any existentialist is a true solipsist of the Eastern mysticism persuasion, I’d think, so while I’m not too bothered with the validity of the worldview itself, its practical application suiting the convenience and what seems to be the natural self-centredness and selfishness is saddening.

However, might some of the pedagogical designs that emerged from this worldview be useful for a worldview that sees ample evidence for divine revelation?

The Orange Playground by The Necessary Stage and Story-telling

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary StageRather enjoyed the evening at the Black Box dungeon of the Marine Parade Community Centre watching some works-in-progress from The Necessary Stage‘s The Orange Playground. TOP, says the publicity material is “an incubation programme where artists can freely experiment using The Necessary Stage’s unique devising methodology”. Four TOP Labs each year provide “a space for free, ad-hoc collaborative “jamming” and play between The Necessary Stage and other artists working in different genres”.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

Not sure how similar TNS’ current methodology is to this report:

Activity 1: Find a spot in the room, walk to the spot with eyes close. Arms up to protect yourself from banging onto each other.

Activity 2: A and B. A do a sound that B can identify. B close eyes with arms up. A has to lead B with their sounds. B has to identify and follow.

Acitivy 3: A and B. Two straight lines. Do a mirror image of A’s pose. 10 secs. B cannot try the pose. Then After 10 secs, B do the action. Layer: Twos, and Fours

Activity 4: One straight line. Hands on each other shoulders. Specs out. Using your hands, feel the person’s facial features in front of you. In one straight line. The first person leads the line. Eyes closed. Break free. Now, find back the person of that is standing in front of you.

Activity 5: Card games – Using no. 1 – 10. Choose a card. 1 represents the least. 10 represent the best. Without seeing your card, put it on your forehead so that others can see. Base on the no., treat the person according to that. Then, on the scale, arrange yourself what u think ur no. is.

Activity 6: With scenarios. Take a card and put on forehead. Two volunteers. Taxi and Doctor scenes. Base on how the other party treats you, find out the no. on your head.

Activity 7: SPICE. Self-development on characters and personality. Get to know their individual personality better. Builds their character. By impersonating or creating characters, they explore the different characters and may even find their ‘self’. Builds their improvisational skills. Aspects of individual: S – Spiritual P – Physical I – Intellect C – Cultural E – Emotional

Ethel Yap of Lab 4 did talk a little about card exercises and how character-development was helped by values being assigned to different aspects of the worldview of each character, for example, one character might be a 10 for patriotism.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

How did they decide on the themes for Lab 4? Oh, Haresh Sharma said, I just made them up – censorship, education, and revolution.

Devised theatre, in this incarnation, is interesting. I’d always assumed that in any sort of work of art, authorial intent was the impetus for any attempt to convey that message.

I suppose just like models of instructional design, theatre-making methodology is dependent on worldview. The methodology of collaboration, says Alvin Tan in his Masters of Philosophy thesis, is based on democratic principles, a major tenet being respect of individual rights.

But I wonder if this erroneously conflates equality of rights with equal function. In a democracy, each citizen has the right to vote, but they do not all perform the same job, nor does this preclude any sort of hierarchy. But Alvin’s view seems to be that any imposition of vision by the playwright performing his traditional function, would be hegemonic – a bad word in these (post-)post-modern and post-colonial times.

Regardless of the validity of such presuppositions, my first thought as a potential member of the paying audience was, would I want to fork out good money from a limited budget to see the result of some people’s masak-masak? I don’t think this value-for-money consideration is uniquely Singaporean.

This is not to say, though, that I am unexcited by the prospect of this sort of collaborative effort. It sounds really fun, and part of any creative process, whether officially or not, includes experimenting and jamming. And a good part of the fun would be the uncertainty of its result. But unless the play (pardon the pun) comes together as a fresh coherent whole (by this I do not mean in necessarily a traditional linear plotline etc. sense), watching the process (or even better, participating in the process) would be more fun than watching the result. Because we all know the usual conclusions of committees – as architectural wisdom goes, the designs that win building competitions are always the second best ones, because committees work on compromise.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

Now many of Alvin/Haresh’s collaborative plays are excellent. Would love to have been a fly on the wall to see how their jamming sessions worked, the interaction between the different parties, how the plot evolved, and whether Alvin or Haresh had veto rights. However, would anyone else have the self-discipline and editorial ability of Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma be able to do the same? I would love it if many others did, or if they found their own method of theatre-making.

Akan datang? Edit:

Just remembered Emma Coats’s 22 Rules of Story Basics (from Pixar). Sticking it here for reference:

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Perhaps all the stories in the world that have been told, are being told, and will ever be told, follow a limited number of plotlines? See Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories:

I particularly like Maya Eilam’s infographic presenting more of Kurt Vonnegut’s theories about archetypal stories.

Then there’s the usual dramatic structure, aka Freytag’s Pyramid.

Aerogramme Studio has a little collection of writing tips, but these assume a single author rather than a committee.

Worldview Bias in Instructional Models in Education, and Stalking Flat Whites in the Coffee Shops of Singapore

If Singapore was a safari and flat whites were exotic animals…

[In your best David Attenborough voice] Singapore. One of the many places on earth where  you can experience the full majesty of the coffee bean. There’s so much more in the bean than we ever imagined…etc…

It came as a shock to me, one day in my not-very-innocent-anyway youth, to realise that the glorious (educational) nature programmes like the ones Attenborough narrates are by no means objective; they are heavily skewed in favour of the worldview of the writers/narrators.

Then this afternoon, while considering the instructional design model to use for several groups I’ll be training in the next few months, I realised again that such models are by no means objective:

  • they are highly dependent on learning theories, and
  • these are themselves dependent on epistemological presuppositions,
  • which cannot be separated from all sorts of wobbly foundations of metaphysical nature.

Which would be best to instruct people on how to understand the Bible for themselves, rightly interpreting Scripture?

To be discussed another time. For now, the continuing search for the best flat white in Singapore, and an attempt at objective reviews of the coffee (disregarding ambience, instagrammability, service, convenience of location etc.):

Wimbly Lu, Singapore Wimbly Lu, SingaporeIn the lowlands of Lorong Chuan, a curious red-and-white beast marks the entrance of Wimbly Lu (15-2 Jalan Riang, facebook). Within the narrow confines of the cafe, the smell of chocolate is strong. For a place where coffee isn’t the focus, they make a decent cup.

One Man Coffee, 215R Upper Thomson Road, Singapore One Man Coffee, 215R Upper Thomson Road, Singapore One Man Coffee, 215R Upper Thomson Road, SingaporeOne Man Coffee (215R Upper Thomson Road)

  • beans: One Man Coffee Seasonal Espresso Blend (Brazilian, Columbian), Axil Coffee Roasters (facebook)
  • crema x microfoam: bright
  • flavour x body: a promising decent cocoa-citrus body at first
  • aftertaste: watery

Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, Singapore Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, Singapore Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, Singapore Assembly Coffee, 26 Evans Road, SingaporeAssembly Coffee (26 Evans Road, facebook)

  • beans: Speakeasy Blend, Liberty Coffee (facebook)
  • crema x microfoam: good microfoam, cocoa
  • flavour x body: creamy milk chocolate, macadamia nut
  • aftertaste: medium finish

The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, Singapore The New Black Coffee, 1 Upper Circular Road, SingaporeThe New Black Coffee (1 Upper Circular Road) – was very excited to stumble upon this. Almost like a enomatic machine for coffee!

  • beans: Caballero (Honduran), Tim Wendleboe!!
  • crema x microfoam: micro-smoothness, red fruit?
  • flavour x body: creamy chocolate
  • aftertaste: long finish
  • beans: Sermon (Brazilian, El Salvadoran, Ethiopian), Verve Coffee Roasters
  • crema x microfoam: smooth
  • flavour x body: a hint of blue berry in cocoa
  • aftertaste: medium finish

Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, Singapore chicken ramly. Chye Seng Huat Hardware CSHH Coffee Bar, 150 Tyrwhitt Road, SingaporeChye Seng Huat Hardware (CSHH) Coffee Bar (150 Tyrwhitt Road, facebook)

  • beans: probably Terra Firma, Papa Palheta?
  • crema x microfoam: cocoa, nut, smooth
  • flavour x body: cream, cocoa, nut
  • aftertaste: medium finish