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The role of learning in our lives is vastly beyond our common conception

From the molecular activity of our DNA to the neural activity animating our behaviors, human beings are innately adapted to be adaptive – to learn. From gene expressions and brain wiring, to social-emotional development, linguistic proficiency, abstract thinking, self-reflexivity, vocabulary growth, artistic expression, reading, writing, academic achievement, job success, professional development… and on and on… every aspect of human life is profoundly shaped by learning. (see: Learning)   Babies learn to become children, children learn to become teens, and teens learn to become adults. Learning, more than any other human activity, shapes virtually every dimension of each and all of our lives (see: “I” Am Learned“We” Are Learned). How well we grow through the traumas, challenges, and disadvantages we experience depends on how well we learn. How well we rise to the opportunities and advantages we experience depends on how well we learn. From our emotional health and maturity, to our mental health and wisdom, our innermost growth and outermost achievement depends on how well we learn. But it’s not just what we learn or how we learn, our lives depend on how well we learn in general - on the health of our learning.


Learning has a dark side

Learning can be profoundly maladaptive. Learning  can be physically, emotionally, socially, linguistically, cognitively, intellectually and academically unhealthyMost of our unhealthy behaviors are learned (see: Unhealthy Learning). Children can learn in ways that misorient or disable their learning (see: Maladaptive Cognitive Schema). Children can learn in ways that cause their emotional intelligence to avoid learning (see: Mind-Shame).  Unhealthy learning is the greatest impediment to the health, happiness, and success of (most) human beings.

Artificial Learning

We only sense now. We only feel now.  We only think now. We only learn now. We are naturally ‘wired’ to learn from what is happening on the living edge of now.  But modern human life requires an unnatural kind of learning. Reading, writing, math, and all their abstract, conventional, and technological outgrowths, require our brains to process information in complexly artificial ways. Whereas we learn to move, feel, touch, smell, taste, hear, emote, walk, and talk by reference to the immediate internal feel of learning them, in the artificial domains we learn from the external, abstract, authority of who or what we are learning from. In natural modes of learning we learn from immediately synchronous (self-generated) feedback on the edge of participating (falling while walking). In the artificial modes, (other-provided) feedback can be way out of ‘sync’ with the learning it relates to (test results in school provide feedback far downstream from the learning they measure). Most of the children who struggle in school are struggling with artificial learning challenges. In reading, for example, our brains must process a human invented ‘code’ and construct a simulation of language. It’s as artificial as a CD player.

Today’s  unprecedented challenge

In any long view, everything depends on how well we educate our children. Today’s young children will become adults in a world profoundly unlike any world any human being has ever lived in. They are growing up in a world in which the rate of change, the complexity of change, and the implications of change are far beyond our ability to reliably predict (see: The Challenge of Change). What should children learn in order to be prepared for life and work in a future we can no longer envision? How do we prepare children for a future in which how well they learn – in ways and about things we can’t teach them in school – will determine their success? Obviously there is much we must teach them, but just as obviously, there is nothing more important to their futures than how well they can learn when they get there.

Learning Stewards

Because learning is involved in everything, changing how we think about learning changes everything.

Our work is about getting these and other critical distinctions to ‘catch on’ and become elements of the mental models we use to parent and teach (steward the learning) of children.  Our professional development and community learning events provide educators, parents, counselors, and community leaders a first-person experience that changes how they think about and therefore steward learning.

This site has four intentions: 1) to engage you and learn together; 2) to present elements of the caseNeurological, Cognitive, Emotional, Intellectual, Spiritual, Educational, Vocational, Social, Economic, Political...  for “stewarding the health of our children’s learning” – for becoming fundamentally concerned with learning to care for how healthily our children learn their way into becoming adults; 3) to present distinctions critical to differentiating healthy and ‘unhealthy learning‘; and 4) to introduce new models of virtual and real-world relationships that exhibit this ‘stewarding healthy learning’ orientation in action.

“We can no longer assume that what we think children should learn is more important than how well they can learn.” 

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This site is a continual work in process. Its pages are working drafts that will evolve over time.  If our work interests you  please share your thoughts, feedback, and comments and consider subscribing to receive updates about new posts and articles.  If you think what we are doing is important, please consider contributing whatever you can to our non-profit work (see side panel). Together let’s ignite the dialogue. 

10 Responses to Home

  1. Alexandra MacLeod March 28, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Like your research. I live in Scotland with a respected education system but it unfortunately fails the children who do not just fit it. My son who took 7 years to get the diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum disorder has been out of education for 2 years and will be leaving the system with no qualifications which is so sad for me as he is intelligent and has a good memory for information. He has dyslexia which schooling wouldn’t diagnose until he was 11 years old teachers thought he would progress naturally so tests weren’t done and home work became an issue. I think you are correct and I believe if my son had had help with his dyslexia early it could have stopped him from avoiding education altogether because of lack of confidence. Just because a child looks able it doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling anf often the children struggling are embarrassed and just muddle on or drop out of education early. I personally think there is not the input or provision in place that there should be and educational experiences differ from school and teachers like a lottery, unfortunately my son was unlucky.

    • Learning-Activist June 27, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

      Thank you for sharing, Alexandra. I’m sorry to read of your son’s story. There are so many millions of children suffering from the learned delusion that they can’t learn and that their difficulties are somehow their fault. Your story exemplifies the acquisition and consequences of ‘mind-shame‘. But the reason this is so pervasively perpetuated is not specific to dyslexia. Our systemic incompetence in dealing with dyslexia is but one ‘tip of the iceberg’ symptom of our general ignorance and negligence about learning. Children are learning to be ashamed of their minds in a great many other social and educational situations (that are less obvious). If we cared about the health of our children’s learning – if that was our starting point and center of reference – your son’s story would be different. I’m not saying that some dyslexia isn’t innate, rather that the difference between the initially innate condition and how it manifests in actual processing is learned. The pathway from the innate condition to optimal performance is always learning. The best thing we can ever do is steward the healthiness of that learning. Everything else is a statistically contrived protocol – it will work for some and make things worse for others.

    • Muhammad July 30, 2012 at 4:04 am #

      ” “How, then, did our primate brain learn to read?”Consider that while we now only conedisr understanding words on paper as reading ,that the ability to understand natural marks in nature and develop a story and meaning was important to the primate and later man to survive. That pile of animal dung, temperature,smell, taste, appearance and composition in combination with specific shaped and size of marks on the ground could convey paragraphs of written material. By reading the signs that early man could know what animals passed, how long ago, what direction, how fast, how many, how big and what they had been eating and probably when they last had water.How long would it take a modern man to learn to read and understand that natural language? I would guess years.Man understood the need to read signs and symbols before writing and the better readers prospered more than the poor readers just like today.

    • Sowmya July 30, 2012 at 6:47 am #

      I don’t remember not being able to read eiethr. I read *all the time* though – I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t read! What’s really amazing is when you see a 4-year-old just pick up a book and read – that’s what my daughter did. I have no idea how she did it, and after the struggle I had with my older daughter, I just kind of watched in wide-eyed amazement. No one really “taught” her. She’s 5 now and reads over my shoulder, and except for longer words does pretty well with it (I have to watch what I have up on here sometimes!)The human brain is a wondrous thing, isn’t it? And the later readers do catch up – my older daughter (7) went from not being able to read on entering 1st grade to reading chapter books independently half way through that year.

    • Xanthe Jay February 18, 2014 at 5:14 am #

      I work at a professional level with pre-school educators and childcare services and it is an area where there is a huge gulf between theoretical understanding and practice of child development. I feel that there is a need for a massive paradigm shift in what we understand by “education” before nursery schools can begin to deliver healthy learning. I think the debates on these pages are so necessary. I do also have a personal story a bit similar to yours, Alexandra which brings home painfully how much our education systems fail our children. My son, now 17 was at primary school in Scotland and although on entry to P1 was assessed, it was never followed up for all the reasons you quote, even though he showed classic signs of dyspraxia – very poor spatial awareness and coordinaton. We left for France and since the age of 9 has been educated at French state schools. His school life was chaotic but he achieved passes at crucial moments just allowing him to squeeze through to the next stage. Now a year before his final school exams he has hit a wall. He has a positive diagnosis of dyspraxia (done without help or support from school – luckily I have a cousin who is a GP who gave me invaluable advise), and has quit school feeling a total failure. We support him and build his confidence but it feels like we are constantly having to repair the damage the education systems inflict on him …. this is the sad truth of it and it makes me angry and very determined to do what I can in my small way to open eyes and minds to how different it could be.

  2. Holly Kaminski July 26, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    David, what you are doing is truly wonderful, and I appreciate all your work and effort. I love Rick Lavoie too and love all the work he does. I guess as a mom with 2 dyslexic children, the big question I have, can the system change? I don’t see it happening. Everything you talk about makes perfect sense, but those that hold the cards in education, I don’t believe have kids on their minds. Teachers are not even trained properly to teach reading anymore, they are forced to use the John Dewey ideals, which have been around well over 80 years. Accessability starts from the heart, there has to be a will from those that have the grip hold on the system to want to help our children. The biggest problem the parents have is the fight with their schools. We parents have to become lawyers, doctors, and teachers now. Most parents I know have to actually teach their children, because of all this learning through discovery methods. The fix is easy to me, just go back to the basics and lay that foundation down, and build from there, but if one has never mastered those basics, they will struggle in everything, and society views those folks as misfits, like there is something wrong with them because they don’t conform. Thank goodness parents can still homeschool for now, and Think, it’s not illegal, yet. Society needs to start preserving and protecting life, will it? I look at all these kids that struggle, and feel sick everyday, what have we done to our children? The value of life is getting less and less, it’s like these kids are just treated as animals. I hope and pray that someday we adults can change, and access how to better serve our children. Thank You.

    • Learning-Activist July 26, 2012 at 9:59 am #

      Thanks for your comment Holly. Your question “can the system change?” is one of the key questions. But the problem isn’t reading or going back to basics. It’s much deeper and more insidious. In my view it’s how we have learned to think about ‘learning’ – how we compartmentalize it into the status of a mental utility rather than the central dynamic of being human. Like I said in COTC PHASE 2, “for every child and adult who struggles and for all of us as a society, ’reading problems are always a consequence of ‘learning problems’”. Having a misorienting view of learning infects everything about how we think about educating and parenting. We could never have gone to the moon or developed the modern digital world with Newtonian physics. We needed a revolution in our basic assumptions to take the next steps. Same for education. Most efforts to reform education are analogous to rearranging the litter box and expecting a new breed of cat to jump out it. Until we understand the vast and profound dimensions of learning in our lives (that we are currently oblivious too) our efforts to improve the ‘system’ will be misguided and only prolong our ultimate challenges. Your children are fortunate to have a mom who cares enough to learn how to help them. For every family like yours there are probably 20 that haven’t a clue what to do. As for ‘someday we adults’ changing… Yes, that is the tipping point and for me we could best describe it as “no longer assuming that what we think children should learn is more important than how well they can learn”. Thanks and all the best, David

  3. autismtoohumanDaniel Pech November 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Children learn to walk naturally, that is, without explicit instruction, simply because children are their own ready instruments-and-contraption. This is unlike both probabilistic spelling codes and really giant bicycles, neither of which are readily learned even by adults who’ve never experienced either kind of contraption. A one-to-one spelling code is like a scooter bike: such a bike is relatively easy to learn to ride, because its tipping altitude is only inches off the ground. Whereas, a probabilistic code is like that really giant bike: if you haven’t yet acquired the instinct to which riding a bike is a mere extension of the ability of walking, then, even without ‘bad’ instruction, being pushed into trying to learn to ride that giant bike is likely to be that much more frustrating. How badly can you be instructed in learning to blink if you already know how? Answer: not likely bad at all, and only if some/all of your own instincts about it are more-or-less prevented by the mechanics or manner of the instruction.

    A probabilistic spelling code is not itself a disadvantage. At worst, it is the key point of opposition to a society which, both because of and in spite of its sheer economic success, is made up mostly of parents who far more effectively are concerned with whether their child is ‘admirably’ ‘keeping up with the Jones’s kid’ than they are with whether their child is keeping up with himself. These are not those parents in third world countries who live in such poverty-of-advantage that they do not expect their children ever to get a better life than they had growing up. No, these are parents who see worldly success so promisingly within reach that they become not only greedy for it, but feel themselves robbed of it at any point at which they get less of it than they expect.

  4. kidsntow January 14, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    David, I really connected with your “Children of the Code” segment. The interviews were wonderful. I could go back to many references to processing speed but that would take me too much time to ask about specific interviewees expressions. What can specifically be done to help my child with their coding issue, as in processing speed sub score on WISC-IV which is percentile at 5%. His vocabulary is (93%). Our son actually has very good comprehension even with the holes in the text he is able to read. He remarkably is able to figure out answers and is a good test taker because of this ability…but he will even tell you that he skims because he cannot read it all and it is easier for him to focus his mind on words he knows and make assumptions about the content, than to read comprehensively and try to figure out the jumble.

    His struggles with reading, spelling and his greatest struggle writing have persisted throughout his schooling, currently he is in 6th grade. He has had extensive remediation, more importantly we have shared with him his great strengths and his core weakness’s…at this point the shame factor is somewhat controlled by our unwavering and unquestioned stance with him and his teachers that he is in fact trying his hardest with written words, that the breakdown in his processing abilities are pervasive and that we are doing all we can to find a solution to this. In the mean time we are quite clear that he can learn other ways, which are just as valid as reading to gather information at school. He maintains high grades but we know he suffers daily from not being able to read, spell or write with out tremendous frustration and concentration and effort. I really admire what he is able to accomplish even when it is generally illegible. He reads a novel every week or two using bookshare and he loves to read this way…text to voice.

    What are your thoughts on his processing speed and what can we do to help build this area, or is it set and fixed? It seems to be the common denominator in his persistent inability to code and encode.

    What are your thoughts on digital text that allows him access to books by way of text to speech?

    What specific ideas do you have to adjust the learning environment to avoid the shame factor these kids experience?

    • Learning-Activist January 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      Hello Robbi,

      Thank you for sharing you and your son’s situation with me. Ben is very fortunate to have such a carefully learning oriented mother! To your questions:

      What are your thoughts on his processing speed and what can we do to help build this area, or is it set and fixed? It seems to be the common denominator in his persistent inability to code and encode.

      Yes. The brain machinery of reading must operate at or above a certain speed threshold or it just doesn’t work. Yet, remember, that speed is relative to processing efficiency. The worse the processing efficiency the greater the speed required (for any given time critical processing task). Using a computer analogy you might say that the user’s experience of a machine’s performance can be made more fluidly responsive by increasing the speed of the hardware or by increasing the efficiency of the software involved in processing.

      I often suggest ping-pong and the Simon game. Getting better at ping pong exercises the speed of attention. Though more motoric, it is still exercising visual/attentional tracking and unconscious decision making. The Simon Game exercises auditory discrimination and auditory memory and stretches both into greater speed. You could use a number of other board and card games and add a ‘rapid naming’ component to how they are played. Similar to ‘eye spy’, you could engage in naming as many things as possible while out for a drive (things the car is passing by quickly).

      FastForward and other neuroplasticity-science based products are also designed to exercise discrimination, speed, and memory. Though I appreciate the science principles in play in the design of such products I don’t have enough unbiased opinions about their effectiveness to recommend them. (see “Processing Distinctions” and all the “speed” points in the Brain’s Challenge chapter, and the video note from me about how the reading stream (constructed/simulated language stream) must move at a pace approximating the speed the brain is accustomed to understanding spoken language.

      In addition to boosting underlying processing speed, the other area to explore is ‘processing errors’. For that you’d have to a good understanding of his high frequency mistakes and then use exercises that isolate and vivify his processing errors while providing him with real-time corrective feedback. As a prop for learning to cue him through his errors try this (open to the “cues”) If you try this, please share your thoughts.

      What are your thoughts on digital text that allows him access to books by way of text to speech?

      “Potentially addictive yet probably necessary training wheels” – I would certainly use them to help compensate for his reading inefficiency so he doesn’t fall behind in his classes. Everywhere possible I would have him read along with what he is listening to. I also recommend contextualizing the use of these as temporary conveniences. You don’t want to demotivate learning to read.

      What specific ideas do you have to adjust the learning environment to avoid the shame factor these kids experience?

      The learning environment must be careful with shame. Stewards (parents, teachers and other involved adults) should help children contextualize their emotional experience of the challenge of learning to read in a way that minimizes their propensity for self-blame. Generally speaking, everyone (family, educators, peers) need to learn about how learning disabling shame can be and become more careful with how they prompt it.

      Thanks Robbi. Good luck and please so share more as you go forth learning to steward the health of your son’s learning.

      David

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