Have you ever felt like you needed a jump start? Just couldn't find it in you to learn one more thing? In Emergence Personality Theory, we call these times, "Dead Stops." even had one? Painful, aren't they? The thing is, there are ways to get yourself moving again, especially if you know what it is you're trying to achieve. In a word, "momentum." This then is what we're about to explore How "Momentum" Eases the Pain of "Dead Stops" in this chapter of What Kills the Love of Learning?
"Momentum" as the Balm for Our Not Knowing Something
Last chapter, I mentioned I have weeks in which I find it difficult to begin writing the next chapter. What makes me do it then? In a word, "momentum." You see, I find it far easier to make the effort to keep writing than to restart myself from a dead stop.
Why rely on momentum though when Emergent Learning lasts forever? Because it is not natural for me (or for anyone else, for that matter) to simply choose to "learn by emergence." Why not? Because even with all Emergent Learning's potential good, it appears, it is far more natural for us to run from the present day pain of "not knowing" something than to admit it and face it head on.
"Not knowing" then, seems to be the dreaded, dank, dangerous swamp from which all true learning emerges. All true learning. Moreover, "momentum" seems to be the "running start" we need in order to make it across this swamp.
Said in other words, Momentum Learning eases the pain we feel each time we realize how little we know. Including how little we know about our wounds. This also includes the pain teachers feel whenever they realize that most of what they teach will long be forgotten even before their students' hands hit the classroom doors.
In a way then, momentum is the "anesthesia" for the pain of "not knowing something." And this "something we do not know" can include anything from why we overeat or feel depressed to not knowing how to do math.
This then explains why people tend to prefer momentum-focused solutions, such as OA and Weight Watchers, and therapies such as Cognitive / Behavioral. Even when these things do not heal, they ease our pain and give us running starts.
It also explains why parents seek tutors for children who get stuck in "Learner's Block." Most tutoring is momentum based as well.
So what exactly does momentum do that makes us feel better? It's simple. Moving in any direction feels a whole lot better than being stuck. It also feels good to temporarily rise above our cognitive and behavioral limitations. Thus, as we spoke about last week, the good we feel from Momentum Learning stems mostly from how it temporarily allows us to feel we are becoming "more." Then too, as we rise above the fear this knowledge may be beyond our ability to learn, we feel hopeful.
In effect, we believe, if we follow these paths, we will "come to know."
Of course, because these good feelings are entirely momentum based, they last only as long as we remain immersed in the stream of the momentum. Which can be pretty tough to do considering this "continuing" requires we either have a world class teacher on whose momentum we ride or that we tap into our own limited supplies of will power.
In effect then, momentum-based "solutions" are never permanent. Moreover, the minute the momentum dies, our good feelings disappear as we fall back to the true level of what we know.
When this happens, we experience what I call, a "dead stop." What is a dead stop?
A dead stop is a total loss of all forward "learning" momentum, both the momentum of the external learning milieu, and the momentum of the internal emergent learning. Getting writers block, for instance, is a perfect example. As is quitting the gym, or ending therapy. Or failing to attend AA meetings.
All these things are "dead stops" in the learning process. And the pain we feel stems entirely from the sure and certain knowledge we are stuck somewhere in the learning process.
When Our Learning Momentum Comes to a "Dead Stop"
What does it feel like to come to a dead stop? In a word, it feels frustrating. And at times, agonizingly painful. No kidding. Moreover, we all feel these kinds of shame-filled experiences, many, many times over the course of our learning lives.
We usually do not refer to them though as a loss of learning momentum. We usually say things like that we "quit" or "failed."
Or that we "procrastinated" and "gave up."
Or that we're "losers" or "failures."
God, aren't we mean to ourselves, we humans? Amazing we have any love left in us, what with how hard we can be on ourselves at times.
Consider how differently this might feel were you to alter a few of these words. In fact, which feels better to you? That you "procrastinated"; "quit"; "gave up"; or "failed." Or that you lost your "learning momentum" and came to a "dead stop?"
Which feels better to you?
My point is, we all suffer these losses of learning momentum. Many, many times in our lives. And because we do, this makes losing our learning momentum a normal and natural thing for all human beings to experience.
We simply do not have God-like learning powers. We are, after all, only human.
In fact, we could actually say "being human" is having "limited learning momentum." Why? Because nothing we "ordinarily" learn is permanent. Nothing. The key, of course, to understanding what I've just said lies entirely in the word, "ordinarily." You see, we all, by nature, try to rely on momentum to carry us forward. And beat ourselves up when we do not keep trying.
What we "ordinarily" do not do, of course, is to try to have "emergences." Why not? Emergences require we honestly admit we do not know something, everything from "how to stop drinking alcohol" to where to place semicolons. And furniture. And feelings.
Which makes all emergences "extraordinary experiences" regardless of where they occur; in a classroom; in the work place; in talk therapy; or in life.
This after all, is what amazes us so about these experiences. Each and every emergence is an "extra-ordinary" event.
What amazes us so about these events though? It's simply. We expect what "ordinarily happens." We expect "dead stops." And before this, we expect our learning momentum to fail. Why? Because learning momentum and dead stops are literally the norm for us regardless of who is teaching us or where the classroom is.
What few of us realize though is that in order to learn, we will have to get stuck. Why? Because Learner's Block is simply a normal stop along the road to learning. No Learner's Block, no learning. Moreover, the next stop on the path, momentum, actually feels pretty good. And can lead to Emergence Learning, given we face our fear of Learner's Block.
Knowing what is normal is the key here. What is normal is to go through a cycle of four learning experiences punctuated by dead stops. Know this consciously and personally, and learning becomes amazing. Literally.
One thing remains in our discussion of the Four States of Learning though. One more question. So if these five things are what always happen to us, why do we treat ourselves so badly when we experience them? The answer? The false belief that pain is the best motivator for learning. Learning should never be motivated by pain. In fact, teachers who use pain to motivate children should be made to walk the plank. Or at least, made to learn about how children actually learn.
The thing to remember here though is that teachers who use pain to motivate were each students who once suffered terribly themselves. And students who perhaps never experienced the real joy in learning.
The "real" joy? Yes. The "real" joy in learning, which is very akin to what kids feel when they're riveted to a video game. Or riding a dirt bike. Or practicing a martial art. We forget, these activities all involve learning, from the agonizing admission we don't know something to the exhilarating jolt of discovering we just learned something new.
Where, then, is the joy in academia? And what has been obscuring it? I think it is the pain we feel when we realize we have not known the path to true learning.
Momentum as the Step Ladder to Emergent Learning
So now let me recap what I've said so far over the past eight chapters.
Learning is a cycle of Four Learning States and one road block, five states in all. The five states are:
So what is so good about knowing these five things? A lot. For one thing, teachers who learn to discern between Momentum Learning and Emergent Learning can use momentum as the "step ladder" to Emergent Learning. They also come to realize how rarely an emergence happens out of the blue. Not for me. Not for you. Not for your teacher. Not for the Dalai Lama. Well, maybe for the Dalai Lama. But not for us. Why not? Because we all need running starts in order to jump up to higher places. This may even include the Dalai Lama himself. Or not.
And yes, rabbits and mountain goats and house cats can leap from what appears to be a dead stop up onto some higher place. But we humans can not do this. Not physically. Not emotionally. Not mentally. Nor spiritually. In each case, we need momentum in order to take the great leap we wish to take.
Herein then, lies the genuine good in things like meditation practices and four year college degrees. These years of momentum get us in position to experience "possible greatness."
They also give us "stepping stones" from which to make our leaps. As well as giving us a taste of what we could achieve, should we actually reach these higher places.
The thing to remember, of course, is that unless we learn to tell the difference between temporary greatness and permanent greatness, we may never achieve permanent greatness, other than by accident, that is. Which is, after all, a heck of a hard way to live a life; greatness "by accident only."
Kind of makes life, and learning in particular, a little too much like trying to win a lottery.
Contrast this with how teaching and learning could be were you to study with a teacher who guided you toward emergences. And yes, life and learning is still, in part, a lottery, even when you know this cycle of learning states. However, knowing Emergent Learning exists makes life a lottery wherein you have "inside" information. Literally.
"What you learn" gets inside of you.
Hopefully, you've begun to see how Emergence based learning and conventional learning differ. Even more important though, I hope I've opened your minds to how seeking the good in what logically seems to be a waste of effort (temporary good) can lead to the biggest gains (permanent good). And how learning to see the good in the whole learning process, including in "dead stops," can make this permanent good far more attainable. And teachable.
In the next chapter, I'm going to be introducing yet another new teaching and learning concept I've been exploring, something I call, the "Funnel of Specialization." No coincidence, we live in what some call, the Age of Specialization."
Unfortunately, our focus on specialization has created one of the more challenging crises we face in our grade-based educational systems today. Understanding why explains how some students feel "they are not being challenged" and why some students work "below their ability."
P. S. Some of you may be asking yourselves how this comments column evolved into a book on learning and teaching. My answer? We are, after all, called, the "Emergence Master Teacher's Group." Moreover, our mission is very much oriented toward learning how to teach, "teaching" and "learning."