Learning to unlearn is the highest form of learning. ~ Buddhist proverb
At its very core, education is an innate expression of curiosity; a longing to understand and be part of the world; a manifestation of purpose and passion that every person carries within them. ~ Carey Elizabeth Smith, Co-Director of the Body Therapy Institute*
I’ve been troubled lately with the question “How do we learn?” I don’t mean specifically how kids learn in school, or how adults learn at a new job position… I’m rather curious how do we learn anything in general!
You’ve probably heard it many times — our biology teacher in grade school was wrong to teach us we only have five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and scent. We have many more — though there’s disagreement how many exactly, the number is probably higher than 10 — from some which sit on firmer scientific ground, like the sense of balance or gravity in our inner ear, to some which are murkier and may fall into the myths and legends rubric, like your parents “feeling” when you’ve got yourself in trouble 😉
How about emotions? Many researches have tried to answer this and everyone seems to be in agreement that one can’t enumerate all possible emotions as they’re virtually limitless, but could still distill what is believed to be the set of basic emotions leading to all of the others. However, even the number of basic emotions is disputed and ranges from as low as only 2 (pain and pleasure) to 11 or more (anger, aversion, courage, dejection, desire, despair, fear, hate, hope, love, sadness).
Being interested in human personality and what shapes it, I can’t stop but wonder if we’ve truly explored the effect of the emotions on what most people (including myself) call group identity — the main driver that seems to be shaping individual humans that belong to a given group to behave more alike, thus increasing the group coherence.
How is it possible that kids who don’t have a chance to attend the best schools or grow up in “not so nice” neighborhoods sometimes manage to “escape” from the grip of their environment and grow into adulthood to be regarded as well-mannered, successful, respected, etc? The opposite may happen as well — most parents would say it happens way too often — but the question of going from bad to good has a less obvious answer than what the common sense may suggest for the good to bad direction.
I find many people confusing the notion of peer pressure and peer group influence when it comes to the question what shapes their kids’ personality. They’re too quick to jump to the obvious conclusion: the kids go to school and this is where they socialize with their peers, so it is this interaction and pressure to conform to fashions and accepted trends among the peers in their school that ultimately has the biggest influence to them. The accepted wisdom, then, suggests the answer is simple, in their early school age years, the kids are shaped by their schoolmates!
It’s compelling to extend the same line of reasoning to the cases where the kids spend a lot of time doing activities outside school — like spending lots of time “on the street” with the neighbourhood kids, training for a certain sport for many hours each day, spending huge amount of time on Facebook and similar. To make the answer work for those case instead of referring to the school peers, we can just point at the peers in these other groups as the ones shaping the kids in question. If only this was so easy — good parenting would simply turn into a research to find the best school to send your kids to, or the best sports club to sign them into! While parents do this (including myself here too 😉 the answer is unfortunately not that simple.