Monday, December 22, 2008

Perspectives on teaching, learning and education

Perspective 1:

Learning is a 3-step process.

Step 1: Take input (read, watch, listen, get taught etc.)
Step 2: Goof off. Immerse yourself in some completely unrelated task. (The input goes into a temporary memory storage location, which keeps only the latest stuff. Goofing off lets your mind mysteriously form internal connections that transform the input into ‘learning’. This is not a conscious activity and your rational mind usually has no control over it)
Step 3: Re-express the input in your own words. (If the re-expression is not coming from memory as happens in most rote learning it seems possible that the connections have been formed in step 2 and ‘learning’ has happened)

-Based on Sri Aurobindo’s views on ‘Integral Education’

Perspective 2:

Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man.

-Swami Vivekananda

Perspective 3:

Classical definition of growth or development:

The subject of a lower level becomes the object of the subject of the higher level.
(The subject can only be aware of objects and not of itself. So when we are able to ‘objectify’ an experience, we have moved on to the next higher level. It is like a box within a box within a box)

-From the works of Ken Wilber

Perspective 4:

Enlightenment is an accident. Meditation makes you accident-prone.

-Ancient Zen saying

Startling conclusion:

1. Learning is an accident. Learning inputs makes you accident-prone.

(You can substitute ‘learning’ with ‘personal growth’ or ‘education’ and the sentence will still be valid)
2. Learning happens INSIDE the learner and the best learning inputs and the best teachers cannot guarantee learning.
3. Where good learning inputs can help is
  • If the learner ‘almost’ knows something, structured inputs can help crystallize this learning
  • If the mysterious learning process happens on a regular basis the learner unknown to herself develops faith in her ability to learn
4. If a teacher understands this process her perspective on her role vis-a-vis a learner will surely change. The dominant worldview encourages teachers to believe that learning happens as a result of teachers pushing inputs at learners.

The mysterious last word:

Were purpose clear, all would seem vain to you.

Your ennui would haunt a shadowless world
of neutral life and untransforming souls.
Something of disquiet is a holy gift.

Hope, which in your eyes lights up dark alleyways,
does not arise from a more settled earth.
All your splendors spring from mysteries;
The most profound, not self-understood,
from certain night derive their riches
and the pure objects of their noble loves.
The treasure that irradiates your life is dark.
From misty silence poems arise.

-Paul Valery (Modern French poet)


  1. Hi Arun,

    Did you get the Valery excerpt from Seymour-Smith? Because I can't find this passage in any of Valery's poems.

  2. Yes. :-)

    I have some mostly bad English translations but this is from Seymour-Smith. He says that this excerpt is from 'La Jeune Parque'.