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Learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. It is through learning that we continuously recreate ourselves and become able to do things we were never able to do before. Learning enables us to perceive the world afresh and our relationship to it. As we learn so we further extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life itself.1
To learn is to explore, to go beyond what you thought you understood. It’s to ‘freshen you up’. It’s to make better sense of things which previously were muddled. The more we learn the more confident we become in looking after ourselves. King Alfred (he who burnt the cakes) once said, “The saddest thing about any man is that he be ignorant, and the most exciting is that he knows.”
To young children play is their most important form of learning. As they play so they learn to experiment, to develop their imaginations, to act out parts and pretend, and when they make mistakes they learn to do things differently in the future. They learn that life is full of ambiguities, paradoxes and conflicts, and that truth is often stranger than fiction. They are excited by novelty. So, too, are some older people; “To be successful I have to be innovative”, said a highly successful young entrepreneur, “I look for discontinuities, and the unusual. That’s where there’s confusion, and confused people are desperate for new ideas. People call this the boundary between order and chaos. That is where real learning takes place, the point at which the old systems are breaking up and new opportunities are starting to form. That is where the action is; that’s where I need to be.”
Between the sparkling, inquisitive eyes of children and the purposeful step of people in their prime, is Shakespeare’s “whining schoolboy… creeping like a snail, unwillingly to school”. School often fails to excite youngsters who see little connection between their zest for life, and the routines and rigours of the classroom which, while they might make sense to a teacher, leave many a child convinced that learning is not for them. It’s an old, old, problem, “How I suffered! Because I was a mere boy I had to obey my teacher in everything. I did not understand what I was taught, and was beaten for my ignorance. I never found out what use my education was supposed to be”2. That was a pupil in Rome early in the third century… long, long ago, but an observation that seems timeless. Excitement is the very essence of learning, but schooling − when it misses the mark − can be insufferably meaningless. That Roman schoolboy later became St. Augustine who wrote in his “Confessions”, “I learnt most not from those who taught me, but those who talked with me”.
In the days when there were significant regional differences in how people spoke in different parts of England it was said that a parent chastising a child who had made a bad mistake would say, in the south of England where they like to see themselves as sophisticated, “That’ll teach you!”. Northern parents were more down to earth; “That’ll learn you”, they would say pushing the responsibility firmly onto the youngster’s own shoulders.
It’s through our ability to learn that we keep in front of the game, it’s how we become the people we are.
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Thesis 2: 24th August 2006