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Why do we have a preference in what we want to learn?

>> 7 November 2007

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself - Lloyd Alexander

Today I am wondering why it is that we have a preference in what we like to learn and thus most of the time find easy to learn.

Why do I find reading about and learning the English language or geography easier than say mathematics (the current three subjects I am more or less struggling with at the moment)?

I'm sure a scientist will find a very scientific answer to that. But since I don't have a preference for math, I don't particularly like sciences in general either and so his opinion does not interest me :-)

I am convinced that one can learn or learn to do just about anything. I am convinced that I can learn math (yes I can!), even understand it and be able to explain it to someone. However, I will not have acquired this knowledge with pleasure and ease. And I firmly believe that pleasure and ease play a big role in how well we learn and are thus able to keep that knowledge alive.

The cornerstone of education is guiding children in the right direction to learn certain things but above all teach them to enjoy learning them.

When I went to school (we're talking primary and secondary) learning was not presented as fun. It was something you had to do - like a chore. No wonder most kids found school to be a drag. I quite enjoyed the fact that I was learning something. I was quite proud to have acquired a new knowledge and would let everyone around me know it too :-)

I realise however that most of the everyday things I learned, I learned without realising I was learning them: my mother tongue and local language, how to walk, use scissors, cut my bread, play with others, stand up for myself, buy ice cream, plant a tree, name all the animals, swim etc. And those are the things that stick.

I do agree that we have to learn certain general things in order to function in this world (math and accounting do help when you have to do your yearly tax declaration - although I guess you could pay someone to do that and be done with it too...) and have a basis to survive (get a job, cook a meal) and 'make it'.

One might even discover something new to like. I went to a drawing class once with my other half. Because he likes drawing and I wanted to be with him. The teacher taught us how to draw with the right side of the brain. And guess what? I liked it. I always thought I couldn't draw and in one short lesson I was proven wrong because someone used a different method to teach which clicked with me. It was like someone was telling me 'you can do it, you have talent, you are creative, pursue'.

The same happened with singing. I joined the local church choir like every girl in primary school. It was led by the same teacher who already wasn't good at instilling the pleasure side of learning in class. For him, every young girl was a soprano. Hence the immediate conclusion that I couldn' sing because as soon as the songs went above a certain note my voice just went mute :-) I am a definite alto I found out much later when I learned that my voice is an instrument I just needed to learn how to play.

So I am all for trying new things from time to time. And I have found gratitude in finishing a math exercise because I finally 'got it'. But pleasure and fun are not the same. Why do I continue? I am looking at the goal that's at the end of it. I know that this is just the road that I need to travel and get behind me in order to reach that goal that will (hopefully) give me that satisfaction and fun that I am looking for. I hope not to get discouraged and stranded on the way. I try to focus on the road as well and see the beauty of it (there are sometimes flowers growing on the side of each road) instead of just looking ahead at tomorrow and maybe missing something that have been fun after all.


La delirante 8 November 2007 at 09:06  

Hi! Very interesting post! I have tagged you ;)

Barb,  10 November 2007 at 05:22  

Howard Gardner has the answers to your questions in this post...
He first identified seven different kinds of intelligence in Frames of Mind.

Linguistic intelligence: a sensitivity to the meaning and order of words.
Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability in mathematics and other complex logical systems.
Musical intelligence: the ability to understand and create music. Musicians, composers and dancers show a heightened musical intelligence.
Spatial intelligence: the ability to "think in pictures," to perceive the visual world accurately, and recreate (or alter) it in the mind or on paper. Spatial intelligence is highly developed in artists, architects, designers and sculptors.
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use one's body in a skilled way, for self-expression or toward a goal. Mimes, dancers, basketball players, and actors are among those who display bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
Interpersonal intelligence: an ability to perceive and understand other individuals -- their moods, desires, and motivations. Political and religious leaders, skilled parents and teachers, and therapists use this intelligence.
Intrapersonal intelligence: an understanding of one's own emotions. Some novelists and or counselors use their own experience to guide others.
Then, Gardner identified an eighth intelligence, the naturalist intelligence.
We all learn differently and we all have different strengths. His work changed the way I taught my Special Ed. classes!

mary k 16 November 2007 at 00:35  

Interesting post, MiMi. It's true that learning comes when we're expecting it, as well as when we're not, when we're enjoying, as well as when we're not (although when we are emotionally engaged in an activity, it "sticks" in our brains more readily than when we're not).

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