Metacognition (n.); awareness and understanding one’s thinking and cognitive processes*

When I learned this fantastic buzzword from my 5th grade teacher (shoutout to you, Mr. B) he described it as “thinking about thinking.” I always thought that sounded silly – just by acknowledging the existence of our thoughts aren’t we, in essence, thinking about thinking? It was only today that the practical meaning of that word finally hit me. I was working at a little pizza joint in town just like every other Sunday morning. It was turning out to be a rather slow day for lunch when two young women walked in with three young children – two girls of around preschool age and a little boy propped up on the one woman’s hip. I was my normal, chipper, friendly self full of customer service smiles and a helpful attitude.

Only… it wasn’t normal. It was really early in high school when my mom heard me answer a phone call from my friend’s mom and laughed – apparently my voice was a solid ten octaves higher than it was typically. She started calling it my “customer service voice” – that fake voice with those fake smiles I’m paid to serve out that normally adorn me. But today, it was different.

After all was said and done and the group had their food and was happily (and noisily – gotta love kids) eating, it dawned on me: all those smiles and the sweetness in my voice had not been fake – it was all genuine. They were a pretty rag tag group – the type it’s easy to draw judgments about when you pass them on the street. The two women were covered in tattoos and piercings while toting around three noisy kids, all of which didn’t look a hair related. Now, I grew up in this type of family – of my three siblings, two of them are half-siblings so we barely look anything alike, and we were always loud, covered in dirt, and missing our shoes. But that hasn’t stopped society training me to analyze these qualities in a negative manner. This time, however, I wasn’t standing on some pedestal pretending to enjoy their presence. I wasn’t analyzing every piece of them. They were just people, and I was glad to have them around.

The fact that this shift is only beginning to happen now is very important. You see, I am a dual major and my favorite of those majors is Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. As ambiguous as that sounds, we (in the department) essentially focus on differences among humanity – gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, class, citizenship status, et cetera. I’m essentially trying to train my mind to recognize those differences and the way they interact to affect the lived experiences of individuals. So, really, I just have this burning desire to free myself of any learned prejudices and stereotypes and judgments and just see the beautiful soul that lies within. And as much as I have enjoyed and benefitted from my WGS education thus far, this is the first time that it really struck me that’s starting to happen.

Honestly, I feel like all of this sounds silly and isn’t quite coming out right – I’m trying to explain as well as I can. But only a week in and I can already feel the large effect being a Heston Fellow has been said to have on people, according to fellows of years past. Only one week has progressed of an experience of a bit over two months and I am already recognizing something shift, ever so slightly, within me.

These past five days have been a complete whirlwind of new experiences and new information, which I’m sure the five other Gettysburg fellows will talk plenty about. But I just wanted to take this first post to really emphasize the importance of experiential learning and metacognition – thinking about thinking. Analyzing your initial perceptions of people and why you perceive them that way rather than another way is crucial in this world, I think. However, that alone is not always entirely effective (it wasn’t for me, at least) – pairing that with experiences, throwing yourself into situations of discomfort, deconstructing those feelings, and working towards a level of comfort – working towards removing those mental barriers that tell you that difference is scary and bad rather than wholly wonderful.

This past week has been exhausting, but it has shown me what people mean when they say, “you never stop learning.” Every experience can be a learning opportunity –  an opportunity to open your eyes wider than before. Tired as I am, never before have I been so excited to see what next week has to teach me.

Jade Kling ’17