Tuesday, June 4, 2013

An Ode to the Word of Learning

My About.me bio concludes with a line beginning "I'm into learning..."

This morning, going through and making some edits, I had to wonder if that would mislead people into thinking I was more of a bookworm and less of the social education entrepreneur that I wanted that to imply.

I waffled, and I really feel like education is a dirty word these days.  I don't want to EDUCATE people, I want to facilitate the social experiences that lead them to learning gains. I have to confess though, that I can't think of the right word to blend social facilitation and independent learning into one.  "I'm into realization" sounds too buzzwordy and obscure, to me.

So am I missing the mark?  I think the answer is yes, but with a caveat.  The kind of people I love are life-long learners.  Even deeper than that, they are seekers of truth and experience.  I hope they recognize a kindred soul in those three words, almost as if sharing a fetish or recognizing membership in an exclusive club (of course, learning need not be exclusive, but that's a different post).

The human meta-cognitive ability to learn about learning about learning, has got to trump opposable thumbs. It enables us to develop our brains through a runaway feedback loop, the results of which are the mind-boggling arrays of philosophy, culture, science and technology.  Being into learning is that most sacred of confessions of transcendence.

So here's to the learners.

Monday, June 3, 2013

There is more to Heaven and Earth...

Does power exist without violence?

Can one be right in spite of the facts?

Today, I was involved in a discussion about why French students must learn philosophy, based on this article.

There's also chatter over at Y-combinator today.

While awkwardly touched-on in the article, (apparently a man recently committed suicide in a cathedral in defense of his philosophical beliefs), strangely absent from the discussions was the mention that philosophy often endangers its students.

I have met enough philosophy students to know that they are not the best-adjusted people upon entering college.  Who am I to judge? Neither was I. I'm a college dropout, via a mental health withdrawl.

(Warning: generalization ahead.) The students who turned to philosophy wound up in some sort of terrifying secular cult.  They suffered the same as I, plus drug addictions or self-destructive behavior, plus some really nutso theories that they struggled to reconcile with the challenges they confronted in reality.

Newsflash: Some of the biggest names in philosophy are wrong.  Maybe their ideas are 'logically' defensible.  But there is often an implication that philosophy in the whole has some sort of applicability to real life.  This can cause its adherents incredible grief.

I suffered similar grief, complicated by the overwhelm of a thoughtful existence.  It's a crazy mixed-up world we live in.  What was my greatest recovery?  Not religion or philosophy, but experience.  I bought a motorcycle and spent my savings riding around the country for four months.  Best money I ever spent.

It gave me the anchor of experience, a vital reference through which I might view my personal struggles.

The trip also taught me to respect practical considerations, and with a busted motorcycle, by myself,  in the middle of nowhere, I would quickly learn whether an idea worked or not, regardless of how implausible it seemed.

It is implied that philosophy is one part math or science and one part art or literature.  The truth is, science cannot exist without some way to test your ideas.  I would strongly support a philosophy that required its students to test every supposition, every tenet, every theory. Otherwise, it does not deserve the affiliation.

To gain a belt in a martial art, one generally has to spar.  This is the application of the theory, the student's own interpretation of the structure they were taught, as applied to a realistic confrontation.

This is why I strongly support the US style of learning philosophy in a historical perspective.  As a student you get to see, at least from someone's perspective, whether or not the ideas worked in a given real-life scenario.

Today, though, I meet very smart kids who don't know how to figure out workable solutions to basic problems.  With the social and environmental issues facing my generation and beyond, we cannot afford this sort of education.

In the US, students of all forms desperately need support in learning to apply theory to reality.  Basic philosophy might help, but there are serious red flags in the way philosophers and professors can convince so many students to believe assertions which are useless, completely ridiculous, or sometimes downright dangerous.

If you think philosophy professors are harmless, just look at the recent controversy at Geneseo. Not only did a professor lecture with grievous ignorance of the social issues at hand, but his list of publication is a laundry list of half-baked ideas and misguided application.  This is a clear example of someone stewing in academic privilege for too long.

Outward Bound's co-founder, Kurt Hahn, thought about things differently:

"I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion."

His methods? Experiential learning, the real-time application of knowledge as it is learned.

Critical in this age is not just philosophy but a balance between the thoughtful and the applied.  Perhaps a blend of Outward Bound's leadership training and France's core philosophy?

A well-honed tool is useless without application.