Ingo Swann (17Oct97)
It would be wonderful to organize information about LEARNING by following the step-by-step method that can be so effective regarding other areas of information.
Within a superficial approach to learning, or within a cursory glance at what's involved, it might seem that learning is straightforward, and that the steps involved are only one -- and which step consists of STUDY, study of simple stuff first, and then increasingly difficult stuff anon.
It is quite surprising how this idea of learning
hangs on, and more or less is endlessly preached; surprising in the face
of the familiar fact that someone can study something -- and end up not
learning much or any of it.
When lots of study ends up in minimal learning,
educationalists like to introduce matters such as the student's questionable
motivation, snarled learning skills, memory retention lapses, early nurturing
that was somehow deficient, and etc., until it becomes clear to everyone,
including the student, that the fault is with the student for reasons both
visible and invisible.
It if were not for the fact that one can sometimes
encounter someone who HAS learned a good deal, but studied very little,
then it might seem that failure to learn is somehow a student's fault.
Whether this kind of situation is perceived as
important and significant by this or that reader of this essay, I'll simply
say, at the risk of making a categorical pronounciemento, that it IS important
and significant. I'll even offer up three suitable reasons:
1. Study and learning are two different species of processes;
2. Learning is always judged against WHAT is being taught, and if one fails to learn, well, what has been studied might be at fault, not the learner.
3. True learning (so called) is also always judged against what has been taught by a teacher or some teaching system. In other words, true learning requires a teacher. Thus, if someone manages to learn something WITHOUT having been submitted to teaching procedures to learn it, well, he or she is considered as yet among the unwashed and unlearned.
Of course, 2 and 3 above may be products only of
what is referred to as civilized cultures and societies in which the STATUS
of teachers and teaching systems whose monopoly over teaching AND learning
need to be protected. So within such civilizing aspects it doesn't really
matter what one learns. It only matters that one has been taught it, and
thus the actual meaning and value of diplomas and higher sheepskins.
Thus, in such kinds of systems, learning per se is not considered as meaningful -- since one can learn only what is being taught, and if whatever is learned has not been taught then it also is not considered as learning.
Also in such kinds systems, one usually can discover
the existence of approved and disapproved learning, or tolerated and intolerated
learning -- this being a subject I'll expand on here and there ahead while
attempting not to drool too much venom.
I'm not merely bitching here, but am indicating
that learning almost always is seen as an extension of teaching -- and in
which context a certain number of students are expendable, or constitute
permissible learning failures.
But I'm also hinting that teaching could be considered an extension of learning -- since if the need or desire to learn didn't exist, then there would be no occasion at all for teachers or teaching systems come into existence and flaunt their knowledge, mind-shaping wares, snake oils and other educational whatnot.
It has also been necessary to expand a little on
2 and 3 as itemized above, since those two contexts have a great deal to
do with 1 as itemized above.
Or, perhaps, it might be said: have a great deal to NOT DO with 1 above.
To clarify a little. IF the processes of learning
and the processes of teaching are different species of processes, then it
might follow that the processes of teaching should be formulated within
the light of the processes of learning. IF learning IS the goal.
However, IF learning IS NOT the goal, then the
processes of teaching need never take into account the processes of learning.
In such a case, no one (including both teachers and learners) need know anything about the processes of learning. So, if someone manages to identify some of the different kinds of learning processes, well, these can be ignored, played down, eradicated, etc. -- or safeguarded from public access by machinations of mind-programming operations.
In any event, if we examine some terms and their
definitions, we shall be able to note a rather curious thing as a result.
Our English term TEACH is taken from a Middle European term, TECHEN, which meant "to show." In English it means "to cause [someone] to know a subject," and "to cause [someone] to know how."
Here we immediately, and unfortunately, encounter
a gross fundamental difficulty. The difficult, in the most simple words
possible, is this: "to know a subject" and "to know how [to
do or effect something] are radically different activities. But both activities
are included, and somewhat obfuscated, within the contexts of the same descriptive
Additionally, most dictionaries defining TEACH
somehow manage NOT to refer to the concept of "to cause [someone] to
Thus, at first official nomenclature contact with
the term TEACH we find as follows:
T E A C H
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ./\ . . .
. . .
to know to know how to learn(?)
Moving on, then, the term TEACH is usually broken apart into active measure nuances:
INSTRUCT: methodical or formal teaching.
EDUCATE: attempting to bring out latent capabilities.
TRAIN: stresses instruction and drill with a specific end in view.
DISCIPLINE: implies subordination to a master for the sake of controlling.
SCHOOL: implies training or discipline, especially in what is hard to master or to bear.
TUTOR: to teach or guide, usually in a special subject or for a particular purpose.
GUIDE: to provide with guiding information, to direct a person in his or her conduct or course of life, to superintend training or instruction.
Thus, including TEACH we can quickly encounter
EIGHT categories all relevant to teaching -- and in whose basic definitions
the term LEARN is not mentioned.
Our English term LEARN is akin to the Old High German LERNEN -- and which apparently meant "to acquire knowing," this later evolving into "to acquire knowledge."
Thus, in English, LEARN came to refer to "to
gain knowledge or understanding of or skill in by study, instruction, or
LEARN also refers to "memorizing," but beyond that the term is not broken down into more refined categories as is TEACH.
Our English term STUDY is taken from the Latin term roughly meaning the same thing, with the exception that the Latin STUDERE either did or did also refer to "contemplation."
In any event, our term STUDY is defined (get this) as "the application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge; a careful examination or analysis of a phenomenon, development, or question; something attracting close attention or examination; also, the activity or work of a student."
Our English term STUDENT is defined as: one who
attends a school; one who studies; also an attentive and systematic observer.
Most dictionaries allow the term LEARN to somehow be pendant to a CONCEPT of STUDENT, but that term is not included in most of the formal definitions.
Beyond that, a STUDENT is presumably one who proposes to attempt the application of the mental faculties to the acquisition of knowledge, a careful examination or analyses of something, even if only regarding whatever attracts close attention or examination.
Whatever is involved is then the student's WORK or ACTIVITY.
(2) The fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.
(3) The fact or condition of being aware of something.
(4) The range of one's information or understanding.
(5) The fact or condition of having information, or of being learned.
(6) The sum of what is [was(?) or can be(?)] known and which consists of the body of truth, information, and principles acquired by mankind.
I might add that the body of truth, etc., presumably
includes what was once known but forgotten, rejected, or avoided.
In dragging the reader through the foregoing nomenclature bytes, I have reviewed what would seem to be the major constituents of teaching and learning. Some might assume that these constituents are all that is needed in order to undertake expeditions into teaching and learning.
But while I suppose that most of the major constituents
of teaching are included (at least regarding superficial formats of teaching),
it seems to me that the idea of LEARNING seems to hang about as sort of
a vaporous fantasy.
True, people assume that learning will occur because of teaching. But it can be noted that whatever the elements of learning might be, they are rather vague within the contexts of the nomenclature considered above.
Anyhow, the nomenclature autopsy is concluded (for
now.) And this frees us to move expeditiously on to another matter.
There can be little doubt that teaching and learning are among the most important attributes of our species -- and indeed of almost all social groupings within it.
As it is, our species seems to HAVE TO LEARN what
it takes to survive.
Which is to say that specimens of our species are not born completely or even partially programmed with broad-band survival knowledge -- a type of knowledge once referred to as NATURAL, INDWELLING INSTINCTS as regards other life forms.
Since the above idea IS the case, it would then
seem that the necessity of teaching and learning might have achieved enough
conceptual importance to have become included as significant topics within
the scope of philosophical inquiry and discussion.
I will now refer to THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY
compiled under the editorial auspices of Paul Edwards, and published in
1967 by Macmillian Publishing Co. in New York, and by Collier Macmillian
Publishers in London.
I have already referred to this encyclopedia in the course of other essays in this database. Although this encyclopedia was published in 1967 (thirty years ago as of this writing,) it represents an excellent compilation of philosophy up until then, and how things were considered.
Additionally, in my own estimation the year 1967 more or less signaled the end of what had been called the Modern Age, and so the encyclopedia serves as a kind of summarization of philosophical thinking as of the end of that Age. Whether anyone will agree with me on this estimation, most certainly after 1967 overall human affairs did depart into directions and necessities so new that former philosophical approaches to things and stuff grew increasingly useless.
For one thing, as human affairs went into the 1970s, interest declined in, of all things, PHILOSOPHY -- with the result that philosophical curricula began to be curtailed, and some institutions of higher learning canceled such courses and departments altogether.
Now, PHILOSOPHY was once thought of as "the
search for wisdom."
However, when WISDOM proved either too elusive, complicated or inconvenient, the definition was shifted to "a search for truth through logical reasoning rather than factual observation." I invite you to consider this definition with some care and interest.
On average, though, one of the central ideas of
PHILOSOPHY was to consider the meaning of things, especially if they were
important not only to human thinking, but to survival, progress, understanding,
and the accumulating of that stuff referred to as "knowledge."
In this sense, then what is NOT included in the 1967 encyclopedia may be as important as what is.
The concepts of TEACHING and LEARNING are not found
in the encyclopedia as worthy of identified entries.
In that the concepts of teaching and learning might be included in other entries, one of course consults the encyclopedia's index to discover if this is so.
In the Index, one finds only one reference to the
topic of TEACHING -- and which reference regards "teaching machines."
The topic LEARNING fares a bit better.
First, the Index refers to "Learned Ignorance" as found mentioned in the entry for one Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), a theologian, philosopher, and mathematician.
Apparently, this Nicholas of Cusa held that "a man is wise only if he is aware of the limits of the mind [his own?] in knowing the truth."
This Nicholas of Cusa, having said this, it is
then of little wonder that no one has ever heard of him -- largely because
his statement is sort of worrisome to the idea that "knowledge is Power,"
this a much more popular concept.
This Nicholas also wrote DE DOCTA IGNORANCE, a treatise in which he proposed that "Knowledge is learned ignorance." The idea that there may indeed exist doctrines of learning how to be ignorant would clearly be unpopular, all things considered.
In any event, the 1967 encyclopedia also mentions
"learning" in connection with the entries for Perception, Psychological
behaviorism, and something called the "Learning of the Mind School."
The term "learning" is also mentioned in connection with the entries
for to individuals, one Maine de Biran, and Jean Piaget.
So, as it turns out there is no formal entry in
the 1967 encyclopedia for teaching or learning. The index mentions teaching
in only one context, while learning is mentioned six times (only).
Before moving on, it is of some minor interest
to discover that the 1967 encyclopedia DOES have an entry for "Laws
of Thought." This is worth minor interest in that it might seem that
TEACHING and LEARNING might have some relationship to the Laws of Thought,
or vice versa.
At least my humble self can't really conceive that teaching and learning somehow DO NOT involve THOUGHT, whether lawful or lawless.
In any event, regarding the Laws of Thought, the
1967 encyclopedia indicated that such laws consisted of three principles
"frequently discussed from the time of the Greeks until the beginning
of the twentieth century [at which time] the term has become obsolete."
The three principles are noted as "the principles of identity, of contradiction, of excluded middle, and occasionally [presumably as a fourth principle] the principle of sufficient reason." Now, "reason" in this instance, refers to the sister of "logic" -- the two otherwise known as logic and reason.
The implication here is that it takes a certain amount or quota of reason to be able to deal with the laws of thought, and so interest in the Laws or Thought became "obsolete" at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Earlier above, I have introduced the term KNOWLEDGE.
The 1967 encyclopedia does not have an entry for KNOWLEDGE as a "thing" in its own right. The encyclopedia, however, does have three entries regarding knowledge as:
The Sociology of Knowledge;
The Theory of Knowledge:
Knowledge and Belief.
Regarding KNOWLEDGE, at the beginning of the entry
KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEF we find: "The nature of knowledge has been a central
problem in philosophy from the earliest times. . . .
"The problem of knowledge occupies an important place in most major philosophical systems. If philosophy is conceived as an ontological undertaking, as an endeavor to describe the ultimate nature of reality or to say what there really is, it requires a preliminary investigation of the scope and validity of knowledge. Only that can be said to exist which can be known to exist.
"If, on the other hand, philosophy is conceived as a critical inquiry, as a second-order discipline concerned with the claims of various concrete forms of intellectual activity, it must consider the extent to which these activities issue in knowledge."
Well, I dare mention that few will consent to a
preliminary investigation of the scope and validity of THEIR OWN PERSONAL
knowledge -- and so whether knowledge is ontological or a second-order discipline
is more or less relevant.
Regarding BELIEF, in the entry for KNOWLEDGE AND
BELIEF we find: "Belief has had less attention [than knowledge] from
philosophers. It has generally been taken to be a more or less unproblematic
inner state, accessible to introspection. But there has been disagreement
about whether it is active or passive."
Well, insignificant little Moi might observe that
the world turns more on belief than knowledge.
As it is, though, the 1967 encyclopedia more or
less might agree with my comment above, in that in the KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEF
entry, THE DEFINITION OF KNOWLEDGE is given, and I quote:
"According to the most widely accepted definition, knowledge is justified true belief."
Ergo, it must follow that "true belief" is "knowledge." And which means that our species, although extant, is lost (or at least quite confused) -- and it is of little wonder that the finer points of teaching and learning have been irrelevant all along.