Friday, January 05, 2007

Wisdom and Learning

After discovering the MIT OpenCourseWare website and trying to share my excitement about freely accessing all this college level knowledge, I came to a disappointing conclusion. Even though my peers are teachers, my passion for learning things for the sake of knowing them makes me weird. I really would have thought that they could get excited about the idea of taking college course for free, even though there would be no records aside from the knowledge you would learn. I was wrong. It seemed to me this would be learning in its purest form, just for the sake of knowing. I never stopped to think the others would not put it that high on their list of things they truly desired.
After the abrupt letdown of making this discovery, I was thinking about how I define learning, wisdom, and intelligence; and what is learning's most essential components. Wisdom, in my definition, is not just the accumulation of knowledge, but being able to apply that knowledge to a problem or circumstance in a positive way. You can know everything possible about a thing. However, if you can't do anything but rattle it off verbatim, it doesn't seem to be very wise, after all that's trivia, thus trivial.
My three essentials for Learning, in order of importance, are 1. Prior Knowledge 2. Desire to learn 3. Intelligence. I sure many would disagree with my order so let me explain.

Number 1: Prior Knowledge
In my years of teaching <26> I have had classes that were all advanced kids, remedial kids, and of course the normal heterogeneous mix. I have found no matter how smart I thought the group, if they didn't have any prior knowledge of what I was trying to teach, even if it was a somewhat simple task for me, they would struggle and I was in for a very long day. Last semester I actually had a group that had so little prior knowledge about making commercials it took me weeks to get them to where they could put together a video on their own. No vocabulary, no knowledge of the parts of a commercial, how to sell a product, or what a script was; in their minds, commercials were just short little movies for entertainment. Until you give them something they can relate to in their own life, that they can build on it makes no difference how much they want to do it or how smart they are, you are going to have problems getting them to learn.

Number 2: Desire to Learn
Any teacher that has had their own class has known a student who wasn't the brightest light, but would always produce the best work, but not the highest test scores on your exams. It wasn't because they were smart as much as the fact they worked their butts off to succeed. These students had a desire to learn that brought them to success in learning. The same teacher can also name a student who had all the potential in the world, but had no desire to learn in their class and so failed the course. Not because they were stupid, but they made no effort to learn because they didn't want to know.

Number 3: Intelligence
Long ago, when I was getting my first degree at KSU, there was a professor who impressed me so much I took every course he taught. His name was Tom Parish and he had a definition for Intelligence that is the best I have heard in any class, then or since. Intelligence is a measure of the speed you assimilate knowledge. Even after I finished school and started teaching this always has seemed to be a great definition. When multiple intelligence research came out it made even more sense to me. My brother who struggled to make B's in school, has always been able to look at a machine or device, take it apart, and put it back together correctly. While I, who glided through school with A's, have to have a manual with an exploded view or I can't figure out squat. You can have someone who has an extremely high IQ and they do things that are incredibly stupid. Normally this is because they didn't have the prior knowledge they needed and they just tried something only to have it blow up in their face.

Intelligent people with the desire to learn will pick up the knowledge they need for understanding quickly, and then pull even, or surpass the others with the head start of a large prior knowledge base, but they have to accumulate some prior knowledge first, or they don't succeed, no matter how hard they try. Thus I rank them in this order. I would be interested in finding out what others think.

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