Deer Park, Jerusalem. Photograph by Yishay Shavit.
Deer Park, Jerusalem. Photograph by Yishay Shavit.

I’m in the midst of a 3 day seminar on “Service Learning” lead by Cathryn Berger Kaye.  We’re covering a lot of ground and the entire experience might best be summarized as a “feast of inspiration.” Today we took a deeper dive into the topic of reflection. Kaye argues, persuasively (and to an admittedly sympathetic crowd), that reflection is an essential component of all service learning and indeed all learning. Our work today got me thinking about what reflection means to me. So here’s a few disorganized and unoriginal thoughts on the topic of reflection.

Human beings are meaning making creatures. Whereas other animals seem to be perfectly content to live unexamined lives, we aren’t. We want and need to make sense of life. Rather than simply going from experience to experience in an unthinking and unfeeling way, we find ourselves constantly asking questions, making connections, and generally engaging in a series of processes that infuse our accumulated experiences with meaning(s). As we evaluate, revisit, ponder, and interrogate our lived experiences we weave them into a coherent (or at least semi-coherent) narrative. That narrative is our life. As far as I can tell, reflection is the banner under which all these meaning making processes reside. Reflection is what allows us to construct the series of experiences that befall us in our embodied existence into a meaningful life narrative that, understandably, places the “self” at the center as the perpetual protagonist.

As an educator and as a human being I’m interested in liberating the word “reflection” from the variety of narrow uses that it has acquired in its linguistic history as an abstract noun. In classroom terms that means severing the concept from its inevitable use as a pedagogic tool to see if the kids “got” the lesson. Rather than being a short prompt that comes at the end of a lesson, or worse as someone in our seminar shared today, being a euphemism for the perfunctory mea culpa that comes with a child being forced to confess to some wrongdoing, let’s acknowledge that reflection is something much more robust and dynamic.

Reflection is the ongoing, iterative, undeniable, human process of transforming experience into meaning and of connecting the dots of our lives into an impressionistically purposeful life.

A (hopefully brief) reflection on “reflection”