And this made me think about learning; about how this system of rewards and punishments exists in our thinking about learning.
First, let me say this: Learning is NOT measurable. No one will ever convince me that it is. Learning (Not Education, with a capital “E”) – REAL Learning – happens this way: A “teacher” plants a seed inside a “student’s” head, heart and possibly even soul. The “teacher” may even water that seed, fertilize that seed but when and how and how slowly or quickly that seed germinates, matures then blossoms is entirely up to the student’s subconscious being. Every learner is unique in every context. Some people learn quickly all the time. Some people learn some things quickly and other things slowly. Some people learn slowly all the time. Some people learn some things slowly and other things quickly. The seed may bloom instantly. The seed might bloom a year later. The seed might lay dormant for 30 years then bloom when no one expected it to. All the while, the student does not consciously control when the seed blooms because this uniqueness is determined by everything the student is, has been through, and has the potential for being. Therefore, unless you hook a newborn infant to all of the brain-activity monitoring machines and have a trained psychologist performing behavioral tests on them from the day they are born until the day they die (and even then I would argue, no, that still doesn’t quite measure it), you cannot measure what that human being has learned, is learning, will learn. You can’t.
Within a system of “Education,” we test and we assign writing tasks to determine how much learning has taken place. At best – at the VERY best – we MIGHT be able to determine what this student learned on this one (very narrow, considering the entire canon of potential knowledge) specific topic at this one specific time in this student’s life. Even on that specific topic, the learning that they are able to demonstrate will be different on different days, depending on a host of external environmental factors and internal bodily factors.
The tests and writing tasks are graded. The student receives a letter. In “Education,” we tell ourselves that the letter represents how much learning was demonstrated but that is a lie. It is an absolute lie.
But MUCH worse than this lie is what living in a system of rewards and punishments does to students. The bottom line reality of a rewards and punishments system is that no one has any intrinsic worth. We are all only as worthy as the last action we took. We are either good or we are bad. We are either going to get a reward or we are going to get a punishment. We live in a constant state of seeking approval and reward so that we can feel worthy ALL THE WHILE fearing punishment which will be solid proof of our unworthiness.
We are caged animals. We are slaves. We are not free to be our highest selves because when we are stuck in a system of seeking reward and fearing punishment, we CAN’T discover our true purpose and we CAN’T connect to meaning beyond ourselves. We are mired in obsessive / compulsive actions CONSTANTLY begging for a sense of worthiness and fearing that we will be proven worthless.
The result of this enslavement in American students is that they disconnect from learning altogether. Because we tell ourselves that Education measures learning, students associate Education with their ability to learn; with how much they know. They learned very early on that they were either “worthy/good” or “worthless/bad.” Whether they were good or bad, or somewhere in between, they associated learning with a painful experience of having to constantly beg to be considered worthy AND fear a judgement of worthlessness. They came to believe that this is what learning is. They accurately realized that Education is a cage. So, whether they learned to play the game or not, they disconnected from REAL learning. They don’t learn to learn, to know their purpose, to connect to a meaning beyond themselves. They learn to feel worthy by getting rewarded for good behavior. OR they learn that the system believes they are worthless --and therefore incapable of learning.
Please note: THIS does not accurately characterize every context within our education system, mainstream or otherwise. BUT… I would argue vehemently that IF a student learns to love learning for the sake of learning itself, if a student engages in REAL learning, it is because either the teacher, the student or the institution itself is engaging in some form of teaching and learning that is outside the scope of the mainstream. In other words, somewhere in that context the system is being subverted. Someone within that context is trying to open up the cages and set the students free.
When we are free to engage in REAL learning, we know we are intrinsically worthy. We were born worthy. We do not have to beg for the carrot. We do not have to fear the stick. We learn because it gets us closer to understanding our specific purpose on this earth. We learn in order to connect to meaning beyond ourselves.
Open the cages with love, Teamies.