Biologically adapted to be adaptive, we are neurologically plastic – we are, constitutionally, learning oriented beings.
Can you remember yourself as a child? Try to remember yourself as far back as you can. What’s the difference between the ‘you’ you just remembered and the ‘you’ doing the remembering? Have ‘you’ changed at all? How did you become who you are today?
Scientifically, we know that DNA controls aspects of how humans progress from infants to adults. Intuitively, many believe that we have souls or soul-like essences that also influence how we grow up. But everything else about who we become, everything not ordained by biological programming (and/or divine agency...soul, essence, or whatever you believe, other than genes, that ordains who we become), we become through learning. Children adapt to the life-environments they grow up in (nutritionally, physically, emotionally, linguistically, socially, cognitively, academically). Children learn to become adults. The ‘you’ you were as a child learned to be the ‘you’ you are now. In profoundly underappreciated ways, for each and all of us, “I” am learned – “I” learned to be “me”.
- The body of an aboriginal child living in a jungle is adapting to his or her environment in ways that promote very different physical qualities than a child living in a city apartment. Eating and drinking naturally, the organs of such a child are different than the organs of an urban kid that have adapted to a diet of junk food and sugar water. We learn “life-styles” within which our bodies adapt (learn) (physically; healthily and unhealthily) to become how they become.
- Though genes determine much of our neural infrastructure, our brains are plastically-adaptive. Our brains evolved to extend beyond biological programming and wire themselves up in adaptive response to the environment they’re living and interacting in. The human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons but it is the trillions of connections between them that make us who we are. Some of those connections are DNA coded – the superstructures – but the vast majority of the connections form in response to our environmental interactions. Thus, in terms of what most makes one human brain different from another, our brains are learned.
- Though our capacity for speech is innate, we learn our way into our facility with language. Babies’ brains come ready to learn to process the kinds of auditory discriminations necessary to understand all human languages. They come ready to learn to control all the anatomy involved in producing the speech sounds of all human languages. But early on, normally developing baby brains learn to specialize in the languages they are being bathed in. Babies are born with the innate abilities needed for listening and talking and use those abilities to learn their way into listening and talking according to the language environment and conversations they grow up in. The richer the language environment and conversations the richer their facility with language.
- Aspects of our intelligence(s) are innate but everything elsephysical, emotional, verbal, literate, intellectual, social, economic, political... about our intelligence(s) is learned. Learning (v) is the exercise of intelligence. Learning(n) is the memory-effects of the exercise of intelligence (like muscle-effects result from physical exercise). To whatever degree our intelligencesAll of our 'intelligences': physical, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, social, spiritual, visual, musical, etc.. aren’t genetically determined, our intelligences developgrow - extend - adapt - evolve - improve - whatever other word you might prefer – through learning. It is through learning that your intelligence, whatever that means to you, is different now than it was when you were born. The environmentsphysical, emotional, verbal, literate, intellectual, social, economic, political... we grow up in and adapt to exercise our intelligence differently to the degrees that they challenge and support our learning differently.
- Though we are born with innate affects that determine much of our emotional experience, our emotional intelligence is learned. We are all capable of experiencing positive emotions like interest and joy and negative emotions like fear, anger, and shame. But we learn to manage our emotions quite differently. Children can learn to be tyrannical with their anger, experience sublime delight in music or become compulsive liars to avoid shame. We may be born with character traits but we learn our character. We learn our deep seated patterns of emotional behavior in the context of the relationships we grow up in. Self-disesteem is learned.
For each and all of us, learning affects everything.
“I” am the “me” I learned to be.
You are the “you” you learned to be.
We the people are the people we’ve learned to be.
Any meaningful reform of education must begin by re-defining, socially-broadly, the word learning. Learning isn’t just an ancillary mental utility, learning is the central dynamic of being human.
changing how we think about learning changes everything.
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