What You Learn And How You Learn It

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think–rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other people.” ~ James Beattie, Essays … 

Why do we learn? Is it merely so that we know what others know and can perform better on standardized tests, as many politicians and policy-makers would have us believe, or is it so that we can be better thinkers, better decision-makers, wiser parents to our children and youth, more confident individuals–things that help to enable us to make our lives, and the lives of those around us, much fuller and more meaningful, much happier and fruitful? The majority of societies and cultures of today tend to be more focused on learning information rather than process, on learning by rote rather than learning to be creative and expressive, on learning to consume rather than create. Sadly, there are far fewer people these days, who are able to understand how things work and what is happening behind the scenes, and far more interested in amassing mindless information such as television, movies, video games, and celebrity gossip.

So just how are we expected to grow as individuals and reach our potential, and how are we to find our purpose and value in life, if our public education systems are not focusing on teaching the skills and abilities that will help us to do so? Children do not only need to be fed information, they also need to learn how to learn. And although we cannot do much to change the way children are taught in schools on a broad level, we can change their attitudes towards learning–we can help them to realize what they want to get out of their education so that they can become what they want to become, and continue forward that which they want their children to learn and become as well. This begins at home–in the values and morals that we teach our children and the ways in which we guide and instruct them–and is then reinforced by society.

As Ayn Rand once wrote: “The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life–by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past–and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.”

Ultimately, no matter what is taught, or how it is being taught, our education is up to us–we determine what we desire to learn and what we effectively will learn. And although the thoughts of other people can be of value to us in our lives, they should merely act as a catalyst to spark our own thoughts, and never take the place of our own critical thinking. After all, if we only learn things so that we can present them later as our own thoughts, then we really have learned anything at all–we have simply attained a certain level of knowledge without furthering our understanding or developing our own personal beliefs and ideals.

Take charge of what you learn and how you learn it, and that which you are teaching others.

Questions to consider:

What’s the difference between learning information and learning to think more effectively?

How can we affect what we learn and how we learn it in positive ways?

Why do educational systems tend to be rather rigid when it comes to what they teach and how they teach it?

For further thought:

“We provide an education in specialization. We produce clones for the modern world. We throw people into a mold, which we call an education system, to form cogs for the global economic wheel, all the time dangling the golden carrot before them as incentive and reason. Truth be told, our modern education systems crush the very spirit they claim to instill. We need to return to the ancient Greek ideal of educating the whole person and crown that ideal with our modern understanding of spirituality, as we strive to nurture every aspect of the human person–physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.” ~ Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life


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Filed under Commentary, Food For Thought, Living, Opinion

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