The joy of leaching*
Words are abstractions -- pointers to things. And of course, abstractions are very useful. They are mental shortcuts to common understandings, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel each time we communicate. Most of what we are taught is through words and concepts -- this world of abstractions. It's just seems much easier that way. The problem is that we have a tendency to forget that abstractions are at least one step away from reality itself.
Abstractions are also how we attempt to make sense of a world that (we believe) would be overly complex without them. But is that really true? Isn't it the abstractions themselves that have grown more and more complex as we try to include all the little bits that don't fit our old ones, and as we wrestle with the edge cases that some how refuse to fit existing mental models ?
The problem is that our abstractions are now so familiar to us, and we have grown so dependant on them, that that is all we really see. We loose site of the underlying reality and mistake the abstracted world for truth. The world we see through our mental frames has become so comfortable and unquestioned that we forget it is a world within our minds. It appears real and joyless because we have so little recall of what it is like to experience life just as it is, unfiltered.
But there is another way to learn. One that doesn't take the comfortable, familiar paths that abstractions provide, but is focused on experiencing what is in front of us right now. It's not a mental exercise but an exploration and discovery -- an un-learning of what we hold as true, in order to experience reality as it is... sans abstractions.
Words are useful here too, but now more as markers than abstractions. We can use them as stakes in the ground to peg insights and flashes of inspiration so reason can fill the gaps in later. They help us to identify a shared meaning, and mark our exploratory paths.
There's an incredible power in two or more coming together to discover truths first hand. But this requires letting go of our old concepts of what a teacher and learner is (of one who walks a step in front and another a step behind) in favour of truly collaborative venture.
Strange isn't it, there's over 200,000 words in the English language and yet we don't seem to have a word for learning and teaching at the same time. I think it would be good if we did. :)
* actually 'leach', as a mash-up of the verbs 'learn' and 'teach', perhaps wouldn't be too far away form what we are after. I mean leach in the sense of extracting the essence from that which appears course and complex... filtering the truth from the soup of opinions and perceptions.
Bonus: Here's a wonderful essay called 'A Mathematician's Lament' written by Paul Lockhart, an assistant professor at Brown Brown who left to teach a mathematician's point of view to very young children. In his own words, "I want them to understand that there is a playground in their minds and that that is where mathematics happens."
Note: The video demonstrates a wonderful immersive and fun learning tool. What a great way to learn physics! You may have to click through to watch the video if it doesn't appear in your feedreader.