“I” am Learned

Biologically adapted to be adaptive, we are neurologically plastic – we are, constitutionally, learning oriented beings.

The only thing I can say for sure about me, is that I am who I learned to be. How about you? Who are you other than who you learned to be?

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 plasticallyadaptive. 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.
  • 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.

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

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2 Responses to “I” am Learned

  1. Wayne Jennings March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    I’m excited about this new venture. Your earlier meeting program Is most valuable and I prize it. Thanks for your good and continuing work.

    I used to do a newsletter about the brain and learning for some 20 years. I found the book Human Brain and Human Learning by Leslie Hart (deceased) very useful for understanding how the brain works in a general sense.We still mostly ignore certain key factors about the brain in schooling.

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