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What Is Truth?

Adapted from The Blind Men and the Elephant, an Udana parable attributed sometimes to Jainism and other times to Buddhism:

ONCE UPON A TIME, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

Having no idea what an elephant is, they decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway." So, all of them went where the elephant was, and touched the elephant.

"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.
"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.
"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
"It is like a big hand fan," said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
"It is like a solid pipe," Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

As they argued about the elephant, they got more and more agitated. Everyone kept insisting that he was right.

So, what now? According to one Jain ending, a wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason each one of you are telling it differently because you touched a different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you all said."

ATTENDED LESSON TWO on Evaluation Methods last night. A refrain and a recurring thought was: "What is Truth? Even the one who claims to use the most objective evaluation method can be and is subjective."

It was like the familiar "Instructivism versus Constructivism" debate again, and yet somewhat different. Our facilitator Prof H. had been deliberately steering us towards the realization that like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, "we can at most try to move closer to the Truth (or ideal solution); but we can almost never say that we have arrived there".

For example, all the evaluation methods available today for education management can largely be grouped within one of four paradigms: Empirical (Quantitative), Interpretative (Qualitative), Post-modern and Pragmatic (Eclectic). Every paradigm, even the pragmatic one, has its strengths and flaws. Thus, the need for triangulation, pragmatic "mix and match" according to context, and so on.

In addition, just as the communication and perception of truth depends a lot on the speaker's ability and the listener's receptivity, effective evaluation also depends a lot on the ability of the evaluator -- to focus on the right issue(s), ask the right people pertinent questions, sieve out irrelevant information and finally make the right interpretations.

Dr T.'s introductory lesson on Instructional Design Models & Practices in the earlier week seemed to resonate with Prof H.'s second lesson.

For example, as Robert Mager and Peter Pipe put it in their book Analyzing Performance Problems, "People do things for the strangest reasons. For equally strange reasons, they also don't do things.... If we label others as having poor attitude and lack of motivation, we are finger-pointing, naming a culprit and hinting at a solution instead of probing for the problem by asking, 'Why is this so? What causes it?' Similarly, we jump the gun if we look at inadequate performance and declare, 'We've got a training problem.' Again, this confuses problem and solution. Training isn't a problem; it's just one of the solutions used to solve problems that arise when people truly cannot do what is expected of them.

"The danger in leaping from apparent problem to apparent solution is that large amounts of time and money can be spent in throwing training at a problem that training cannot solve. Similarly, if you leap to a conclusion that someone's attitude needs to be 'fixed' and that what it takes is 'training' and perhaps a 'good talking to', you can end up blue in the face and nothing much changed. You need to dig a little deeper...

"People don't perform as desired for many reasons; for example,
(a) they don't know what's expected;
(b) they don't have the tools, space, authority;
(c) they don't get feedback about performance quality;
(d) they're punished when they do it right;
(e) they're rewarded when they do it wrong;
(f) they're ignored whether they do it right or wrong; and
(g) they don't know how to do it."

So, as Dr T. suggested, the model answer in academic circles in most situations is: "It depends."

(See also What Is Truth... II in SingleCatholicWoman.)

by tree#138680 on Wed Jan 21 04 8:08 am | profile


i had earlier signed up for this NIE program with some apprehension that i might be making a mistake, all because of adverse comments from several people and favorable comments from a few others.

Much to my pleasant surprise though, the instructors of two core modules this semester turn out to be pretty good ones so far. Have been enjoying myself so much that i wish i had signed up one or two years ago.

What is Truth? When does one trust the comments of others? More pertinent questions perhaps are: Who are these 'commentators'? Could they have different experiences, preferences, hidden agenda or other reasons that only God knows? Anyway, a group is usually only as good as its leaders and members who can come and go. Even a person can have his better and worse moments in a day. i can testify to this. ;-)

Posted by: tree#138680 on Wed Jan 28 04 7:30 am

What is Truth? (Adapted from Why did the Chicken cross the road? and More... Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?):

Kindergarten teacher:
To get to the other side.

It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

Bill Clinton:
I've met so many chicks. I can't remember.

eChicken2003 will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, balance your checkbook - and internet explorer is an integral part of eChicken.

Did I miss one?

Chickens over great periods of time have been naturally selected in such a way that they are genetically disposed to cross the roads.

Deng Xiao Ping:
A chicken that crosses the road is a good chicken regardless of whether it is a black or white chicken.

Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

The fact that you are at all concerned that the chicken crossed the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.

We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road or not. The chicken is either with us or it is against us. There is no middle ground here.

Lee Kuan Yew:
Every chicken should be given the opportunity to realise its full potential to cross the road. The brightest chickens should lead.

The point is that the chicken crossed the road. Who cares why?? The end of the crossing justifies whatever the motive there was.

Mah Bow Tan:
The chickens must pay before they use the roads.

We let our own ethnic chickens which are slower cross the road first.

It was an historic inevitability.

Philip Yeo:
All chickens have a MORAL responsibility to cross the road. If they don't, we'll name them.

SAEED AL SAHAF (Iraqi information minister):
The chicken did not cross the road. This is a complete fabrication. We don't even have a chicken.

Teo Chee Hean:
We have taught the chicken to think for itself and to cross the road in the most effective way.

I agree with George.

Posted by: tree#138680 on Thu Jan 29 04 8:25 am

Latest... Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?:

ON A YAHOO! MESSAGE BOARD (after ChannelNewsAsia reported that Singapore's Ministry of Health has issued a cautionary note to report all bird flu cases):
"Bird flu hits Singapore."

ALISTAIR CAMPBELL (former British Prime Minister director of communications, after a recent Hutton report called a BBC report unfounded and its editorial system "defective" for allowing the report to air. In a radio report, BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan accused the British government of "sexing up" intelligence in a dossier on Iraqi weapons to justify going to war. British arms expert David Kelly killed himself after he was revealed as the journalist's source.):
"What the report shows very clearly is the Prime Minister told the truth, the government told the truth, I told the truth. The BBC, from the chairman and the director-general on down, did not."

NYDIA GONZALEZ (duty officer at operations centre, after a four-minute taped portion of an operation centre call played at a court hearing revealed that flight attendant Betty Ong sounded calm and professional beyond reason during a 23-minute telephone call to the operations centre just before the Boeing 767 she was in slammed into one of the World Trade Centre towers.):
"Media accounts claimed that Betty was hysterical with fear... those accounts were wrong."

THAKSIN (Thai premier, after initially denying and later confirming the existence of bird flu in Thailand):
"It's a s****-up, not a cover-up."

Posted by: tree#138680 on Fri Jan 30 04 2:42 am

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