Games

I was chatting with a friend over the weekend about a colleague of ours who spends countless hours designing games for her communication classes.

She's always making game boards, spinners, decks of cards, and other such things out of everything from cardboard to plywood, to god knows what else.

I recall many Fridays where I would be up in the office thinking I was alone until I would run into her and hear about her latest review game - and then I'd feel quite frustrated for her students.

Of course they are not upset - well not the majority of them anyway.  The common practice in High School is gaming in opposition to serious thought, work, or discussion.  The assumption here is a common one: the students can't handle that sort of interaction and need something simple and fun, not deep conversation or the raising of serious and intense questions.  The students are used to the classroom as a place of the simple, easy gambit that always ends up with the best possible reward.

At the university level we should not continue this practice, but replace it with another game.  A book I'm currently reading (translation: thumbing through when I don't want to dissertate) by R.H. Blyth makes me think of an alternative.  His book Games Zen Masters Play is a nice study of the koan as a pedagogical move rather than a true, spiritual revelation. This is not to say that you couldn't have one from playing the koan game (many experiences I've had in classes with good teachers were due to some sort of posturing on their part for sure).

The reason these work effectively is because the Zen master performs the role of someone who has a deep, hidden and important secret that the student isn't quite ready for.  This motivates the student to push, investigate and try to answer the question in a way that would gain approval or interest of the master.

Of course this can turn into a bad sort of 1950s pedagogy pretty quickly, with elitism and all of its dangers lurking right below the surface.  The additional element here is that this is a performed interaction of "knowing something" that at any moment could be revealed. There isn't a correct or right answer, such as the review board games might offer, but instead a few frustrating questions that the student can't quite put out of her mind, but also can't quite answer to satisfaction.

Once a student has learned all they can from a Zen master, the master provides them "transmission" which is a secret ceremony where the great truth is revealed. By this time though, the student understands there is no great truth; the master and the student are the same - puzzling over a few questions that make engagement with the world a dizzying, frustrating and brilliant experience.

Or perhaps there is a great truth revealed there after all.