Are you skeptical?Are you too open to teachers? What makes children so open to teachers? And what makes many adults so closed to them? Finally, what kills the love of learning? This week, in our ongoing series on education and learning, we're going to begin to take a look at these questions, starting with something I call, the "Teachability Index."
"From Arrogance to Naivete"
The most famous question Jimi Hendrix ever asked was, "Are you experienced?" Well I'm certainly no Jimi Hendrix, but I can ask questions with the best of them. So let me ask you some.
Have you ever felt really excited about a personal discovery, but when you tried to share it with someone, you got shamed, ridiculed, or totally ignored? Or blown off with a snide remark? Has this ever happened to you? Painful, isn't it?
How about this. Have you ever had someone say to you, right to your face, "That's bull!" or "You're full of $~#%!" or "You think you know everything, don't you!"
Ever had someone say these kinds of things to you? Then think about this. Some children repeatedly hear things like this, again and again during childhood. Some children even hear them in the one place wherein they should feel safest sharing their discoveries; in the classroom.
In truth, most of us have heard these things many times. Or at the very least, we have heard them said to others many times. Is it any wonder then that when most of us hear an unfamiliar idea, we feel downright skeptical. Or else we simply listen blankly then change the subject as soon as the person stops talking. Or scowl politely then walk away, never having asked a single question?
What makes us do such hurtful things to each other? And what ever happened to our openness to learning?
Over the next few weeks, we're going to be exploring these questions.
We're also going to be looking at some ways in which you may be able to reclaim some of your natural openness to new learning. And some of your openness to teachers as well.
Why do this?
For one thing, because I think we blame teachers far too often for what is not working in our schools. Granted, there are a few teachers who are pretty toasted. You know, the ones who couldn't get a job at McDonalds super sizing big meals. Or the ones who belong on heavy doses of thorazine, circling aimlessly around a quarter mile track.
In truth though, most teachers are good caring folks. Genuinely motivated, concerned people who would like nothing better than to find better ways to reach their students. Unfortunately, when kids lack interest, we all too often blame teachers. Or the school. Or the school district. Or the world of education in general. I know. I used to be one of the loudest blamers.
What happened to me?
I discovered emergence. Then I tried to share what I'd found with others. Talk about naive. I thought people would feel as excited as I felt about what I had discovered.
Did they? Not really. In fact, what I found was, nice or not, most people are either so skeptical or so naive that you basically end up talking to the air. Or walking on egg shells. Sometimes you even end up feeling like you should apologize for even having had an idea. Unless, of course, you're one of those Harvard professors. You know, the ones with thirty years experience and a whole alphabet after their name. Along with at least one best selling book. Maybe two. Maybe more.
What's my point? Just this. By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have become either so skeptical or so naive that for all intents and purposes, we are closed to new learning. And to teachers as well.
Sadly, it seems, the more alphabet soup you have after your name, the more closed off you are. I know. I've spent years trying to talk to many of these folks. And most of them shut me down faster than a fire in a fart factory.
How can this be true though? Aren't these folks the very teachers we turn to for help?
Indeed, they are. However it turns out, most of them wouldn't know a new idea if it bit them in the ass, let alone have an interest in discovering anything other than things which reinforce what they already know.
Surprisingly, I've found this to be much less true of regular, everyday folks. In general, they seem to be far more open to new learning than the so called experts. In fact, the average guy or gal is hungry for real teachers. To see this, simply stand at in the doorways at your local Barnes and Noble. What you'll see is amazing. We literally spend hours and hours looking for authors who will talk to us in words we can understand.
So are normal folks as open to the learning process as this implies?
Not really. In fact, most of us put books back if we haven't attained enlightenment by the end of the book jacket. Why? Because by adulthood, most of us end up very reluctant to immerse ourselves in the pain of the personal learning process. Instead, we either blindly take as true what the accepted "experts" tell us, especially if they were on Oprah, or we blatantly bash whomever dares to voice a new opinion.
What ever happened to the way we used to learn as children? Eagerly exploring things for ourselves, with open minds, and genuine curiosity, the way a Madame Curie or an Albert Einstein would explore?
What happened to us anyway?
To be honest, I'm not sure. However I, for one, am curious to find out.
Here then is what we are about to explore. Why are we either so closed or so trusting, and what has killed our love of learning? Do you know?
Are you sure of that?
Well, if you are, then are you also open to questions as well?
If so, then you'll surely be open to taking the following test. Especially if you, like Socrates, believe that the unexamined life is not worth living. Who knows. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you discover about yourself. Or at least, get a chance to practice your bashing skills.
Taking a Personal Inventory:"the Teachability Index"
Okay. All kidding aside. What has killed our love of learning? I'm not sure, really. And now that I've climbed down from my soap box, I'm not actually certain I can find this out. At least in the space of a few weekly columns. A few books, maybe? Perhaps. But in a few columns? I don't know.
Then again, I'm feeling pretty curious right now as to what has killed our love of learning. Still, it's such a big topic. And I'm certainly no expert in how people learn. At least, not an acknowledged, mega-lettered, Harvard type expert.
In times like these, I remind myself of what Frank Herbert said. "Fear is the mind killer."
So okay, Frank. I know. I should face my fear. I should let it go through me. But where should I, an every day Joe, begin to look at such a large problem? More important, am I being arrogant to even think I can uncover this all on my own?
To be honest, these were the kinds of things which ran through my head as I began to write this column. Where should I begin to look for how we lose our love of learning? And am I arrogant to think that I can even pull this off?
Surprisingly, I found my answers relatively quickly. Where? In the diagram you see above.
What's in this diagram?
It's a map, of sorts. A way to take a personal inventory. Of what? Of how open you are to new learning.
How exactly does it work?
Well, in the next few paragraphs, I'm going to attempt to show you. How? By trying to teach you something; my initial findings about peoples' openness to learning. Before we proceed though, let me first ask you this. Take a minute to reread what I've just said. Then ask yourself this.
What did you just feel when I you heard me say I was going to teach you something?
What I'm asking is, did you just feel yourself inwardly retract? In other words, did you close off to that I might say something you 'd not previously heard? Or did you feel curious as to what I am about to say? Be honest now. Did you really feel curious? If so, can you rate how curious?
For those of you who would like to find out, simply take a look at the continuum at the base of the diagram. Then rate yourself as to where on this line you just felt you just were, from totally closed, to totally open, to somewhere in between.
So where were you? Were you over to the left, toward the skeptical end? Were you over to the right, toward the trusting end? Or were you more toward the fringes or toward the middle of the range?
Now pause for a moment and take a breath. Now let me ask you. Did you just feel overwhelmed by what I asked you to do? Did you just go blank inside? If you did, then you are totally normal. You see, I've just asked you to do two totally new things, neither of which I've explained at all.
What two things?
One, I've asked you to act as if you understand the Teachability Index. Two, I've asked you to personally apply it to yourself.
So could anyone do actually do what I've just asked?
Perhaps. The real question though is, should anyone actually do this?
My answer. No. We should never just comply with what a teacher asks us to do. Even if the teacher is me. Why not?
For one thing, because this is not how real teachers teach. Especially if you, the student, have reached the age wherein you no longer feel comfortable being treated like a kindergartner.
How old would that be? You know this, I'm sure.
No surprise this is the age at which most children are officially capable of entering school.
So think about this. If expecting students to blindly comply with teachers is wrong, then what should we be doing when teachers ask us to learn?
My answer? We should first be asking these teachers, including our children's teachers, to explain to us what they are teaching, and why. Why? Because the essence of teachers, any kind at all, is supposed to be that they make us aware of our choices. Including the choices we have as to whether or not we should invest our time in learning what they are teaching.
In other words, teachers should first teach us what's in it for us, the reason behind our giving them our attention. Or if they don't, then at the very least, we should be able to ask them questions without getting reprimanded.
And if the teacher tells us, "you have to learn this because the school requires you to learn this." What then?
Then I'd suggest you do your best to get the help of a second teacher, one whom does welcome your questions. Know this should be someone whom is willing to either offer you an honest answer, or to honestly tell you they don't have an answer. And preferably, they should be someone to whom you have ongoing access. Like a tutor or an interested parent or friend.
Am I This Kind of Teacher?
What about me then? Am I this kind of teacher?
Well if you were sitting here in front of me, I'd very much welcome your questions right now. You see, while I am no longer arrogantly closed to the ideas of others, I am also no longer so naive as to think any teacher knows it all. Including me.
This means, when I walk into the local Barnes and Noble seeking a new teacher for my hungry mind, I no longer look to see if the person I am drawn to is considered to be an expert. Let alone that they have a lot of letters after their name.
Rather, I look for someone who is skeptically open, loves their discoveries, is personally invested, and honestly human. In other words, I look for a real teacher. Someone like Albert Einstein. Or Leonardo Da Vinci. Or Sigmund Freud. Or Andrew Weil.
Okay. It's easy to see why I'd choose Einstein and Da Vinci. But why Freud?
Why Freud? Because like him or not, in his first book, he exposed himself to the scorn and arrogance of the experts of his day. And suffered for it. And didn't quit. Unfortunately, the beatings he took from these so called experts probably contributed greatly to his succumbing to the very same arrogance. You see, according to his students, he was a pretty hard man to talk to, especially if you questioned his ideas.
Still, when he almost died from cancer of the palette later on life, he used this pain to learn more about human nature. And then added what he learned to his teachings, in effect, that death is a powerful driving force.
And Andrew Weil?
Andrew Weil started out in much the same way. He risked his professional reputation as an M.D. and shared what were seen, years ago, as the opinions of a medically incompetent quack. Were they? Not at all. And today, we readily open ourselves to his, and similar opinions, on how we can better our health, both with traditional and alternate medicines.
Back in 1970, when he wrote The Natural Mind -- A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Consciousness, people were not so open to these kinds of ideas. In fact, if you knew now only what we knew back then, would you be open to hearing his advice right now as to how to improve your health? Or equally important, would you be too likely to simply take his word on things?
As for the Teachability Index and what I'm currently suggesting you might want to learn, how about giving it a real go now as to how open you are at this point in your life. Do you know for sure how open or closed you are?
Are you finding it hard to look? Then know this. Over the next few weeks, we're going to be talking about the ways in which we can better test for openness. And ways in which we can make changes should we find we are too open or too closed.
Will these changes be based on what I think you should be?
Not at all. They will be based only on what you yourself think you should be. After all, no teacher should have the right to ram information down your throat. Nor should you ever allow this happen, especially to your children.
At the same time, if you truly want to learn, then it's your job to be open to exploring the things your teacher says. As well as to resist simply accepting these ideas as true without first testing them out for yourself.
As for me, I currently see myself as being just east of the mid line, in the skeptical zone. More closed than open, but still very curious, and very personally invested in discovering new ideas.
So where are you at this point?
I invite you to come find out.
So now a confession.
In case you have yet to realize it, my whole point for this week's column has been to honor teachers. Why? Because teachers have a hard job. A really hard job.
I know. I'm a teacher.
But my shingle says I am a therapist, doesn't it?
Yes, it does. However, for those who have taken the time to investigate Emergence Therapy, you know first hand that most of what happens in my therapy room is that I try to help people to better their life by teaching them about human nature. How? Either by helping them to discover and heal the holes in their personal learning, or by simply teaching them, in some new way, "to fish for life."
In other words, emergence is like the old adage wherein, if you feed a man fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for life. We teach men, and women, to fish. For what? For a good life. And a lot of times, we succeed.
Unfortunately, some folks are either so arrogant, or so naive, that no matter how hard we try, they get very little out of what we teach. Whenever this happens, I get hurt. You see, while I once was so closed that no teacher could get in, I now know this was just a defense.
So what can we do to help our children? We can do what the great teachers taught us to do. We can keep trying. We can also keep searching for ways in which we can better help people to reopen to learning. And to teachers in general. Most important, we can look for ways in which we can search for these things together. You see, without connecting, we learn nothing. Which is what makes being around arrogant and naive people so painful.
Their arrogance, or naivete, keeps them and us from connecting.
Sad, isn't it? We've made information more important than people for so long, we forget that the whole point is to do it together. It's not too late though. We can change. All we need to do is to find the way to become teachable again.
Until next week then. I hope you're all well,