Learning About Outrospection
Modern Australian philosopher Roman Krznaric introduced the term outrospection to describe how we come to know ourselves by developing relationships and empathetic thinking with others. This can help overcome stereotypes and barriers about those who are different and build a foundation for individuals to join together in empathetic movements for change. Museums are uniquely suited to help visitors “step into the shoes” of other people in different times and places. This is the research focus of Carol Keogh who has studied the role of museum educators in modern and contemporary art museums. She finds that art museum educators “frequently highlighted empathy as a way to help students feel understood or as a vital tool in leading a successful inquiry with a work of art.”
MOTAL Exhibitions—Tapping Outrospection
MOTAL’s exhibitions take thought-provoking journeys through history and through contemporary issues that foster empathy. The museum wants to call special attention to Two Roads, One Journey: Education in China and the U.S. during this month that celebrates Asian and Pacific Heritage, https://asianpacificheritage.gov/.
This MOTAL 1800 square-foot exhibition follows a day in the life of two 4th graders who attend very different elementary schools, Ping in China and Sam in the U.S. They both live in cities, attend middle-of-the-road, similar-sized schools, and are good students. MOTAL’s exhibition objectives lead visitors through a series of steps that align with the process of developing an empathetic understanding of the people of China. Are their roads to the future really separate or are they on one journey together? If the cultures are so different, can their destinations be the same?
MOTAL’s exhibition objectives lead visitors through a series of steps that align with the process of developing an empathetic understanding of China:
Visitors LEARN similarities as well as differences between classrooms in China and the U.S. For example, backpacks and their contents like those used by Ping and Sam are on display.
When Ping fills her backpack, it gets quite heavy (10 to 12 pounds), not because the individual books weigh much, but from SO MANY books—texts and practice workbooks. Even though each paperback book is quite slim, much like a young child’s paperback picture book in the U.S., they all add up. Students in both China and the U.S. are reading more materials online in recent years, but when American students do have books, they tend to be several pounds each.
Through discussion and special exhibition programs, visitors RELATE to the concepts and stories presented. Sharing personal experiences broaden and deepen the understanding of classrooms in the United States, China, or elsewhere. For example, pre-visit classroom preparation for school groups, facilitated by teachers and then by docents at the exhibition facilitate “perspective-taking” where U.S. students can envision themselves going to school with Ping.
Visitors can then REALIZE how China and the U.S. can benefit from learning about each other and work to IMPROVE education in their communities. Carol Keogh writes “perhaps exploring the work and life of individuals different from ourselves can prompt students and viewers not to bypass or ignore our differences, but to see ourselves as part of a common experience. This speaks to the potential empathy holds as an important tool in social change.” This is the heart of “outrospection.”
Below is a sample of the many comments that visitors left about the exhibition. Not only does the exhibition see the Chinese educational system in a new light, it also speaks to American citizens who attended elementary schools in China.
“The exhibit was great! Everyone should see it. It is a transformational journey between two cultures which can learn from each other” --Mount Saint Mary’s University visitor.
“This exhibit is very educational and simple for everyone to understand. I think the comparison between the 2 children is the most interesting part. As a Chinese American it’s even funnier to see the mix of the two inside my own life.” --A teen, Fullerton Arboretum.
Emerson Little, who reviewed the exhibition in the Early December 2016 issue of The Fullerton Observer, wrote, ”On a more personal note, my mom grew up in Hong Kong, so she was able to closely relate to Ping’s experience.”
Readers interested in words will probably enjoy remembering the term outrospection, for it is an interesting adaptation of the well-known term introspection. Introspective individuals take the time to observe their own emotions and thinking. Outrospective people reflect on external relationships and experiences to think deeply and carefully and grow as individuals. Surely a museum setting is a great environment for that, for the term museum comes the ancient Greek word for muse which, as a verb, means to consider something thoughtfully.
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