World is the curriculum, not the Word : Part 1/3

Re-visiting why, what and how children learn

Jinan Kb

Learning is the basis of life. All living beings are cognitive beings. All living beings learn. Learning is the natural mechanism to sustain life. They are internally designed by nature to learn in order to live. They have tools with differing capacities to support learning.

Before we go further into exploring the ‘human’ learning ecology, it is important to remind ourselves of our biological nature and that all biological beings learn in accordance with the internal laws of each species and their given contexts. Even though modern man wants to assert his difference and boast his greatness from the rest of the life forms, it is important to remember that we have minor similarities with all life forms and also some abilities that other living beings have. Let us keep this in mind as we explore the learning process of human beings.

Cognitive conditions dictate not only what and how we learn, but also what we be.

In this sense culture is the cognitive conditions and the cognitive source. We are formed by culture as much as we are forming the culture. I would like to draw your attention to the primacy of cognitive condition / space in the act of knowing / being. Through the following four situations the above point will be easier to understand.

First situation

Children in Bangalore slums can speak about 4 to 5 languages by the time they are 5 years old.

Look at this situation carefully.

There is no one teaching consciously, no one is learning consciously, no memorizing, no syllabus, no order of learning, no test etc etc etc. Knowing is happening all the time whether we want it or not. None of the methods we use in our schooling system are used here. In most parts of India people who study up to MA cannot speak in English unless they have folks speaking English at home. These children (of the slum) also pick many skills in the environment – electric repair, auto repair etc in the similar fashion. Women learn cooking in the similar fashion. It is not learned in order. Whatever is seen or experienced is absorbed without choice and the mind re orders whatever has gone in. Self organizing system is the word invented to explain this in cognitive science.

Two most important lessons are:

  1. Conscious memory is not needed and
  2. Reasoning is integrated with non- reasoning or we could call this spontaneous reasoning and the way they remember without conscious memorizing could be called ‘organic memory‘.

These are our biological capacities, which are not learned but awakened.

Second situation

People in indigenous non literate communities do not have the concept of ‘waste’ nor do they have a word meaning ‘waste’ in their native dialects.

They do not WASTE and they use whatever comes in their way. So the children living in this cognitive space do not learn about waste. An attitude is built due to this. 

But in urban situation, we have in our living space itself a basket named ‘waste paper basket’ and this situation teaches the child about wasting. That there is something called waste and they can waste etc.

Third situation

Once a friend of mine was in a village market. There he came across a 12 year old girl making and selling beautiful bamboo baskets. He enquired whether she could teach him to make such beautiful things. She replied she doesn’t know how to teach. Then he requested whether she could teach him how she learned.

She was puzzled by this question, thought for a while and answered that she did not learn!!!

Fourth situation

A ten year old child who behaved like an autistic person was brought to an orphanage. By mingling with other children who did not have autism, he became completely normal. On enquiring it was found that his parents were both autistic. The child imbibed or imitated their behavior. This was found also with a child who learned to limp from his father who actually had one leg short.

Isn’t it important to study the cognitive conditions that enabled this learning? Imbibing, imitating, absorbing and learning happened naturally from what children experienced.

All the four situations point to learning that happens naturally and as per the logic of biological and physiological processes at work.

Children learn the world, the way they experience it

What the child learns, left to itself is the way the world is. The world awakens the child to the workings of the world in the child. Each species does this by engaging with the world autonomously.

The process of being in the world is already in the new born in general terms and the particular space awakens the particular qualities, quite like the way child learns particular language. We are born with knowledge of life as well as knowledge of the species. The context awakens the particular qualities to root ourselves in that space.

So children are learning the way the world looks, the quality or the property of its materiality and the functions, processes and the various phenomena that happen around them. This is the most scientific way of understanding the world around as well as sharpening the tools to understand the world and developing the qualities to be in the world. The integrity of the world is retained by this integral way of relating to the world. The holistic nature of the world awakens the holistic nature in the child.

Knowing by being‘ is the process by which children imbibe and there is no compartmentalization of subjects – language, art, science etc. Child by nature is integrated and whole and so is the world and fragmentation of modern human beings is due to the way they are made to see fragmented and compartmentalized world right from childhood.  Cognitive conditions of modernity force children out of this biologically rooted way of being and knowing and schooling totally reinforces rationality as their cognitive process.

Children imbibe choicelessly what they experience. The content of the learning is based on the way life happens in nature. All living beings learn and to sustain life is the purpose of all learnings. The details depend on the learner and the context in which the learner is located. The hen, dog and man would learn different things from the same environment. All are equipped with the tools and skills get developed or awakened as each one engages with the context. The dog’s hearing and smell sense is far superior to the man’s because of biological necessity and may be, what the hen can see we may not see. What matters is that we are equipped as per our species’ requirements to live. This is awakened by the external context and conditions.

Children, wherever they are born – east or west – are born with the universal and eternal knowledge and the potential to root themselves to their respective natural contexts and also at the same time awakened to their full potential by the universal and eternal contexts, but the contexts are more and more becoming disconnected from the real natural contexts and instead of awakening, conditions are set for conditioning the child. Children are also misled from the real world into the world of words. Language traps them into a make believe two dimensional world.

The school has become the main and organized site of destruction of the eternal, universal knowledge and the context. So intervention is required there also. So research needs to be done as to know how to help the child retain its inherent capacity for connecting to the eternal.

But before all this, deep study has to be done with the help of children about how to be in the world by setting up conditions for their awakening. That is to learn from children how to organize the space. This requires total attention and sensitivity.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.