Yin and Yang


Below is an overview and a rationale for this Lesson. 

If you are a teacher you may wish to go to the Lesson Plan  

This lesson (from a student point of view) begins here with  Marvellous.Medieval.Matriarchs

Teacher Focus: Encourage reflection on divergence in cultural experience, as reflected in aspects of the history of women during the era of the crusades.

Prerequisites: This exercise should be undertaken after some preliminary exploration of the medieval era has already been done. It is a critical exercise and dependent to some degree on sufficient background knowledge.

Student Focus: Students are given a comparative study in the form of web research, to investigate the phenomenon of the plight of women left behind while men are on crusades on the one hand, women who had political power on the other...and, err...on the third hand (a rather alien concept) the experiences of women who were neither powerful, nor experienced an ‘ordinary’ life, but rather were targeted and murdered, fairly systematically, as witches.

By developing awareness in these three areas, it is envisaged that students should develop an understanding of the differences in experiences that any one group can experience. Students will be encouraged to draw from this an understanding that this applies to any given historical era.

Student Task: Working in groups so as to develop collective answers and to allow for a broad spread of research, students undertake web site readings and answer questions developed and available on the same web.

Annotation for this lesson regarding the nature of History as a discipline

  “No criticism is without an implicit – if not explicit – theoretical position”

Jenkins, K., Re-thinking History, p 69, Routledge, Wiltshire, 1996.

 It seems to me that there are currents in history as there are in life. I am here, acknowledging my own theoretical position. One of these is that things are never black and white, there are always shades of grey in experience and in History. The case of women in History does involve certain consistent experiences and generalisations may be drawn from them, but they cannot be held up as the entire truth. To do so would be like saying that there was Yin and there was Yang...and ignoring the Yin within Yang and the Yang within Yin.

 Not acknowledging this grey scale leads to the development of simplistic concepts, but being aware of it allows for a depth to be applied to the study of History that engages the mind and stimulates some depth of understanding. The courtesan Ninon wrote to her lover in the 1600s, “Shall I tell you what makes love dangerous? It is the sublime idea we may form of it” (1). I could replace the word ‘love’ here with the term ‘grey-scale’ and feel that the statement was just as true and just as poetic. The danger of course lies not in the effect on the individual, but on the cumulative impact such thinking would have on state apparatus.

 This lesson is designed to facilitate the development of analytical skills.

Gergen, K., The Saturated Self, Chapter 2, From the Romantic to the Modern Vision of Self, Harper Collins Publishers USA, 1994.

Analytic thinking characteristically proceeds step by step, but additionally what is important is whether or not the learner is aware of the steps involved. From Brunner’s perspective learners are generally aware (McInerney, 1998, p93), but from my perspective a missing element is often that analysis generally begins on the basis of certain unrealised assumptions. Things then become true only because they are being considered in a particular way. This is fine, unless the information is assumed to then be ‘true’.

 I am interested in the development of the skill of a more questioning type of analysis, even if this means less ‘certain knowing’. In fact I think a state of knowing you don’t know can be very useful. From a constructivist perspective the orientating framework I am describing here is that described by Cobb (Cobb, 1994 cited in McInerney, p5, 1998) when he talked about students having their own ‘way of knowing’. In other words, an orientation of this lesson in terms of curriculum theory is to encourage students to develop fresh (or refresh their current) perspective, and within a supportive and reciprocal environment.

 A second orientation is to make effective use of hypertext. This lesson is based on my own web site and which I am still engaged in designing and developing. Synder (1996) made a list of what he considered essential to enable the learner to construct knowledge and I have incorporated many of these concepts into this lesson.

 A multi-layered learning approach is facilitated by hypertext that allows interdisciplinary connections (for example, you can jump to a map of an area that is being described and then jump back).

 Synder also encourages allowing students to assume responsibility for accessing information and sequencing their exploration based on the meaning they derive from it. I have had limited success with this as I found it conflicted with structuring a path that could be fit into a lesson period, but it is enabled in the regard that there are three or four different ways the same lesson could be done in the same time frame, by different students within the same class. It is not really necessary to read the material sequentially.

 Additionally I have constructed this lesson so that student collaboration and independent activity are both equally possible, within the same lesson. Working with hypertext and computer labs does allow a degree of flexibility in teacher role that cannot be replicated without these facilities, as students have both material and instructions available to them on demand, loading as required, freeing the teacher to concentrate on the development of critical abilities in all students and supporting individual students with particular needs.  Computer laboratories are not appropriate for all (or even most) activities but they do offer some unique opportunities themselves.

 One of the wonderful things about history is that it facilitates our understanding of our own position in life, assisting us to develop some sense of context. However, to do so it is important to avoid the enormous generalisations that are sometimes applied to an epoch, an era, a tradition, or any other perception of a historical ‘reality’. In developing this lesson I have tried to focus on an approach that will facilitate students questioning generalisations about women’s experiences in the Middle Ages. I have done this by focusing on three different extremes. These three positions could possibly be summarised as power, repression, and stability / stagnation, but these again are generalisations. The real fact is that even within these experiences there were major differences. It is hoped that students will develop an outlook on the Middle Ages that incorporates an understanding of divergence in experience, and that they may in future include this in their consideration of any historical information.

 In philosophic terms, this lesson is about the concept that all experiences are made up of Yin within Yang, and Yang within Yin, but in practical terms my focus on facilitating the development of  awareness in students of something that was well summarised by Russell and White when they said:

 "Nothing…as history will tell us…is ever that neat."

 White, R., and Russell, P., Memories and Dreams, Reflections on Twentieth Century Australia, p13, Allen and Unwin, 1997  

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