Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gotta unlearn this darn pedagogy

It all started with one man's, namely Frederic Vester, attempt to unravel the mystery behind the learning brain with his innocent "learning methods" theory.  It took flight and is used and believed by the world over.

Haptic, auditive, visual, and intellectual.

We can all relate with the aforementioned learning styles, but, aside from intellectually, how are any of them intrinsically a "learning" style?  Please analyze the shit out of this before you continue. 

Some of us need to see to believe, some of us just wanna listen to the love, and some of us always gotta get our hands dirty.  But seeing, hearing, and feeling are just 3 of the 5 senses at our disposal.  Remember there are also smelling and tasting.  Are there complex dogmas surrounding techniques that stimulate learning through tasting your material or smelling for it's meaning?  Aside from the occasional eccentric teacher who thinks smelling Italian cooking helps us learn about Italian culture I would say no.  To affiliate our senses with learning is tempting but I believe it is a gross oversimplification of the learning process that has led many people, like Frederic Vester, to develop theories that actually confuse us as to what is actually happening when we learn.

Let's first try to understand exactly WHY 5 senses.

We have 5 senses; they have been developed over a long time, each with a unique role, but all working for the one purpose of translating the outside world into a language our brain can use.  There you go.  Our senses are vehicles for information translation.  Period.  The brain needs the information translated for many reasons: one of which is to learn - to better adapt us to our impending environment, In other words, help us solve problems on our own.  But this is just one of the many needs for easily understood information.  Imagine how painful it would be if you had to think for a couple a minutes before you figured to put your hands out to cushion your fall.  Although you would never say this is learning, you would say a 5-year-old Korean child effectively reproducing vocally the English word "dog" to his teacher who has drilled it into his little mind through a fun little jig is learning.  Essentially the same process is happening with the two.  The only difference is that protecting yourself occurs much quicker because the particular senses involved with that information has been accessible to our brain for much more time - millions of years much more - so long that the process could be said to be instinctual.  But don't let the word deceive you, instincts are just habits, like learning a word, that have been passed down from such a far back ancestor that they are now part of your subconscious while language is relatively new so it still resides in the retrievable conscious.

The point that needs to be understood is that every second of learning occurs IN the brain so all methods to stimulate learning it should be focused there.  But what happens is some brains are better adept to use one sense's language over another and therefore that sense is predominately the venue with which most information is gathered and used to learn.  People than equate this sense as a form of learning and in turn focus all learning styles around it.  Learning is stripped from the brain to that particular sense and with it all methodology, ideology  and terminology.  It is like trying to get milk by sucking an empty bottle, not the udder.

What this means to me as a teacher is - our efforts to improve that actual state of learning are diverted to developing teaching techniques that only stimulate reproduction.

To show proof of this one need not look further than nearly any classroom in the world.  The classic scene is a room columned with the dark backsides an army of student heads with a over zealous teacher contrasting them with the dance of complacency as bits of unrecognizable matter splew from her mouth and bounce with a *PING* off the foreheads of each student.  Occasionally and mostly found only in Kindergartens and Preschools, you find a teacher doing the same dance - but you also see the students bouncing right along soaking up everything coming at them like a sponge.  But I ask, how is this different?  Both students are being pummeled with information and the only gauge of success is how well they reproduce it. 

I foresee a culture raised with these kind of reproduction techniques as a mindless robotic drone people who have lost the curiosity to know the "why" behind the every day and cease to discover their own personal solutions to their own personal issues that invariably sprout up around them as they haphazardly, albeit ignorantly, fuck with their environment..........................wait a sec......

Monday, March 11, 2013

All facts point to this

Near the end of the chapter "miscellaneous objections" in the book The Origin of Species, Mr Darwin uses a little quip about embryology to combat a naysayer by the name of Mr. Mivart.  He says that many characteristics of distinct species are not recognizable until after certain stages in their embryological development.  e.g. the wings of bats, the necks of giraffes etc.  He states that the development of an embryo sort of serves as a physical record of the (successful) genealogy of each species and that the fine grades of change each embryo undertakes to develop arms or eyes etc. are proof that these species could not have developed these characteristics suddenly and spontaneously.  This is all fine and dandy, I will not attempt to justify or negate this, what really stood out to me was how the earlier the stage of the embryo, the more cross-species the characteristics were.  All the way until the moment of conception when the embryo is no more then a newly joined sperm and egg and thus physically differs no more from a sparrow to a blue jay to an alligator to a human.  

This makes sense to our genetically savvy minds.  We all know that genetically speaking, humans differ from a mushroom by only a certain combination of letters.  But if you take this idea and put it into terms that speak closer to home like "nothing about being human is unique until after you leave your mother's womb", then maybe more thoughts would be provoked.  

Its true (in case you even cared enough to think it wasn't),  up until a point (A point not a single human can designate) we are no more unique in any physicality than your most rudimentary land crawler.  the only time we gain the title of unique is when we start to stick "I" into the picture of the world by flexing our self-conscious muscle.  But we have no idea when we are able to do this.  There is no record of this change in or out of the embryo.  We just couldn't  then what seems by happenstance we knew we liked purple tootsie pops the most.  

While with embryology we can trace with cut precision when our legs, mouth, brain etc begin to develop, there is still no way of tracing our consciousness.  This is because consciousness still hasn't reached the level of cross-species commonality to be held eligible of the exclusive rank of embryo.  Embryos are a secure path for change to make it into the next cut of reality, and it depends on each particular change's utility, paired with time, whether or not it makes the cut.  It is needless to point how useful legs are, and even more so under this embryo-bouncer theory, as they are developed during an embryonic stage.  Self-consciousness at the level of human is impossible to measure in any embryonic stage and as such it is possible to tell whether humans putting all their eggs into the mind basket during our trip down the path of evolution could be an action that ends dead.  

There still hasn't been enough time to tell whether the human's mind; over the hawk's eye, or snake's tongue, or ant's sheer number - is the ticket to the next big show and while our narcissism can't imagine any other reality, the reality is that until our minds, as they stand today, are developed completely while as an embryo, we will never know for sure.