Learning How to Learn

Learning How to Learn August 31, 2021

When I was in school, I dreaded going to class. I didn’t enjoy it and, to be honest, did the minimum I could to get by. Which is interesting because I am a natural learner. I love to explore and question and discover.

As students around the country are getting back into the routine of school, I hope they are more into it than I was.

I wish, as a kid, I had internalized just how valuable and essential learning is. I think we too often present learning as a chore, a painful obligation. We focus on what kids need to learn. But the real value of school, and in all of life, is learning how to learn. For me, that was the key to everything.


The Vision of Learning

Just like everything else, true learning starts with a clear vision. When I really think about it, maybe this is what set me on the wrong path in school. The vision was not clear. I was a kid and I had to learn these specific things and that was the end of that. Get to work.

I wonder if this attitude has trickled down from that hard-working, baby Boom generation. The one that so often views work as work. It doesn’t have to be meaningful, it just has to pay the bills.

Whether or not that is true, it is indicative of our attitude toward teaching young people. They just have to “pass”. They have to do this to set themselves up for a career (which they aren’t going to like, so they might as well get used to not liking it in school).

But learning is so much more important than all that. And, to be fair, I was in school a billion years ago and we don’t have kids, so maybe the attitude has changed. But it occurs to me that the best way to teach kids information is to teach kids the value of learning.

And this goes for all of us.

Learning is valuable because it expands our capacity to address life’s opportunities. It teaches reality, the truth of how the world works, in order to give us a framework for wisdom and purpose. Wisdom, not knowledge, is the end of learning.

Kids so often say, “why do I have to learn calculus (fill in the blank with just about any subject), I am never going to use this!” That kind of statement, in and of itself, mirrors the kind of vision we present to them. We present learning as obligatory paperwork, like filing your taxes, rather than one of the great joys of life and as the key to finding a life of true purpose.


How to Learn

In America, we are very often preoccupied with the right answers. We want things to be more simple than they are. And so, we want to teach our kids the right things. Give them the answers.

Any teacher will tell you this is a poor way to get them to learn. That whole teach-a-man-to-fish thing. We need to teach kids how to think. We need to learn how to think ourselves, for that matter. Learning is an endeavor toward wisdom.

I think we have lost sight of that. We want people to consume a certain narrative, to regurgitate what we think rather than empowering them to think for themselves. 

To wrap this blog up, let me pose a couple questions about how you learn:

  • How do you take in new information? Do you run it through the filter of what you’ve already decided (already been told), explore its possibilities and ramifications, and/or assume either its beauty or danger upfront?
  • How do you teach others? Do you usher them toward taking ownership of their decisions or do you try to make their decisions for them?
  • How do you view learning? What are you actively doing to improve, to develop, to grow?

In the end, we are all trying. None of us has a monopoly on knowledge, much less on wisdom. But learning is the incredible gift we are given to help us pursue truth more honestly and effectively.

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