A few bears do learn to ride bicycles–in a circus. Only because humans teach them. On the other hand, humankind learns all their life.
To learn is a lifelong endeavor. From learning how to suck your mother’s nipple to get out of bed when your body is wracked with arthritis there’s always was, is and will be something new to learn.
(Audit of the Universe, chapter 10.6)
When humans look up at the cloudy sky and wonder about the weather, pick up their daily newspaper, listen to the news or watch it on their mobile phone, they’re learning about the world around them and about themselves. When learning stop, life stops.
Learn, Learn, Learn
We learn all day long, every day and we don’t realize just how this singular activity sets humankind apart and above every other creature on Earth. It’s not that humankind is singular, it’s that humankind is so singular in so many ways. But nobody states it in so many terms, it’s as if humankind is scared to know who they really are.It's not that humankind is singular, it's that humankind is so singular in so many ways. But nobody states it in so many terms, it's as if humankind is scared to know who they really are. Click To Tweet
Today education and learning are big issues, big business and even bigger question marks. There are thousands of methods of how to learn a foreign language, a trade, a sport, a hobby, how to perfect your game, on-going training … not to talk about kindergarten, grade-school, middle-school, high-school, college, university, post graduate and who knows how many stages I’ve left out.
Learning is so prevalent that we take it for granted. Error, it is unique to the human race. Some, like the Nobel prize winning Malala, have made it their lifelong quest to open doors so others–in her case girls around the world–can go to school and get an education.
No creature leans a foreign language–expect humans. Parrots might project a few dozen words but they cannot converse with another parrot and certainly not with another bird. English speakers can learn French and converse with anyone else who speaks Moliere’s language. Living first in Montreal, Canada, then in France, where the French is not the same, to say the least, is a learning experience in itself.
First of all, mastering your own language, one of 6000 worldwide, is never-ending. I was just reading Stephen Jay Gould who had master penmanship. His use of action verbs and expressive adjectives makes the words explode off the page. Reading his prose is a trip into English. Not only am I learning his specialties-paleontology, evolutionary biology, and history of science–but, I’m immersed and enraptured by his writing style. Oh, but to learn and come close in transmitting my message to you.
No creature learns a trade to earn a living–except humans. I went through a two-year apprenticeship in the diamond cutting industry. The goal was to learn how to take a rough diamond and go through the 4 stages so it would be the sparkling gem that adorns a newly married finger. I started out with the most challenging stage: cleaving. Diamonds have grain just like wood. As you can take an ax and split a log along the grain so it is with diamonds.
You have to learn how the grain runs in a diamond and you have to split the diamond where there’s an impurity–in order to have two pure pieces. It’s an art and some cleavers will spend hours peering into a precious stone to find the best way to cut it. You’re working with a compact but costly chuck of mineral. You also have to consider the cut with regard to the final pyramid shape–pointed at one end and flat on the other.
Then there is the sawing process–just like with wood, cutting across the grain–done with high-speed as-thin-as-you-can-get circular saws coated with diamond dust. This is followed by rounding–forming the round girdle before the final polishing stage where 57 exact-angle facets are glistened so the light dives into the gem and reflects back into your eye with all those scintillating rainbow colors. Get the angles wrong and the light goes through the stone. Each stone is a new challenge for a new work of art.
Learning diamond cutting never ceases. I, however, made a choice and modified my career, taking me out of that industry.
Montesorri Learning Method
No creature develops a learning method–except humans. And in particular, Maria Montessori. Neuroscience has confirmed the critical periods of massive learning absorption with children zero to six years old. Montessori recognized this in the late 1800’s by being around and witnessing children’s extraordinary powers of learning. Her method incorporates what I consider, at least for this blog post, one of the most important lessons of life: learning how to learn. Today’s parenting and schooling are focused on facts, figures and percentile scores. That’s how-much-you-know. It’s not how-well-can-you-learn, your-curiosity-to-learn, love-of-learning.
Montessori literally integrated learning-and-life. Learning reflects life and life reflects learning. Today one of the key preventive measures for Alzheimer disease is keeping your mind active–learning new skills–whether they’re motor (woodwork-art-musical instrument) or mental (sudoku, word puzzles, chess) challenges. Notice what learning is: the mind at work, the mind growing. Remember, it all comes back to the human mind. Watch this video to see how cultivation of learning right out of the cradle not only prepares us for life but maintains us alive.
Focus on the fundamental lessons the Montessori learning method inculcates. And, it’s not facts and figures.
1. Free Choice
Children can choose what pedagogic tools they want to work with (they may consider this as ‘play with,’ but this is where work and play are intertwined, where a child’s propensity for curiosity and discovery are harnessed). They decide how much time they spend with a particular tool.
The classroom is not a ‘free-for-all.’ In fact the environment is minutiously prepared for the child’s development and an experienced teacher is present as a ‘guide.’ The key to this learning is: liberty with responsibility, choice with limits. This is not the place to expand on these two principles but certain fringes (probably many more than that) of society today prone unlimited liberty and unlimited choice–with the disastrous effects we’re witnessing.
Free choice yes, anything-goes and anarchy, absolutely no.
2. The importance is not the results but the journey
The materials-tools used are auto-corrective. One of the keys to learning and life is that mistakes are inevitable. it’s impossible to be perfect. If someone gets 100% on a test then the person isn’t perfect, the test is imperfect. A mistake is the end-result of a journey. A math solution is the result of the method of calculation. What’s important is to realize that the method is lacking something. Focus on reorganizing the method and you’ll reach the answer. Montessori kids will first make a mistake–inserting different objects into their respective holes–then they’ll try something different until they see it works, then they’ll do it again and again until they comprehend, by themselves, what’s happening.
We all make mistakes. But do we learn the right method FROM our mistakes? Do we learn where we went wrong so we can correct it next time? That’s a life-lesson. Watch the video to learn about the journey.
3. Practical Life Skills
Lifelong principles to live by–that’s what we all sorely need. Solving problems (fitting odd shapes in the right space), social skills (interacting freely with other kids of different ages and races), discovery (of new smells and sounds), independence (choice of tools to work with), Auto-learning (there won’t always be someone there to push you), auto-discipline (tidying up material when you’ve finished), manners (waiting your turn for tools), error-correction (seeing you’ve stepped over the line).
Through all of the physical exercises and learning of facts and figures, learning life skills is the most important lesson both children and adults can learn. Getting the correct result and high marks is wonderful, but reaching that result by applying the proper mental attitudes and ensuing actions is by far the biggest benefit of learning.In solving problems the correct result is wonderful, but the proper mental attitudes and ensuing actions to reach that answer are by far the biggest benefit of learning. Click To Tweet
Learning never ends. Learning is another human singularity.
This blog post is an excerpt from chapter 10.6 of the book Audit of the Universe
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