Saturday 25 June 2022

How Learning Feels

When learning works, it feels like a burst of energy. It is the energy of an explosion of new possibilities brought about through some revelation. It is a spiritual moment (something we hardly ever acknowledge) - even when it is learning about unspiritual things. Like the discovery of a new physical energy source, we can live off the energy of new learning for some time. 

Striving for this moment is not easy. Yet we are driven towards it for reasons we do not understand. Teachers often assume that the motivation is produced by the mere operation of the education system. But the education system exists because curiosity and the motivation to learn exists. The system has no explanation for curiosity, and it struggles to conceive of ways of learning outside of itself.

New possibilities are possibilities for new social action. It is not just what some sociologists call "agency", but a transformed social configuration. A learnt skill is a transformation in social connections and conversations. It is new dialogical potential. And dialogical potential begets new possibilities for learning and energy distribution among others. To talk of the energy of learning, we should also talk of the energy of teaching. There is an energy flow in these dynamics.

In natural ecosystems like ponds and meadows, energy dynamics are very important. Ecosystems maintain themselves by keeping the energy flowing between co-evolved co-habiting system components. If the flow is stopped - by environmental damage, for example - the ecosystem dies. 

Education systems have become tragically good at preventing flows of energy. Instead of allowing energy to flow, education systems hoard it, exploit it, seek individual gain from it, use it to make money, and seek to make ourselves "powerful" as if we are independent from everyone else. 

We do this partly because we do not understand the dynamics of energy. If we did, we would take music much more seriously because it is one of the few human activities which exhibits energy flow in a pure form in a human system.

Intuitively, I think we know this. It is a symptom of the education system that it prevents us from "knowing" what we know deep down. Somehow we need the education system to adapt so that  it helps us to steer ourselves through what we know deep down. It needs to ease our steering - particularly in uncertain times. It is a transformation from hoarding knowledge to assisting steering. Then perhaps the steering of learning will feel more natural.

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