OBSTACLES TO LEARNING: INFORMATION - 1987
(presentation paper from a talk at the Cupertino Union School District)
before children acquire language, they seem to make discernments. Sometimes
these non-verbal judgments are observable in the preferring of a
particular toy or activity, at other times much more subtly so, they appear in
the more dynamic experiences of learning to crawl or walk or drink through a
straw. Somehow the childs proto-emotions and actions are responding to some
awareness, though not necessarily self- or consciously so.
The process involved in such discernments seems to imply a non-verbal
awareness, though again, not necessarily a self-or non-self, or conscious or
sub-conscious, one. Notwithstanding a particular identifiable orientation it
does however seem that the process includes being aware of differences and
being capable of more than automated pre-disposition with respect to them. In
other words capable of learning.
This is important in that if verbal discerning uses verbal concepts and
elements for a comparative basis, what is the basis of non-verbal discerning?
Relatively speaking, non-verbal discerning seems to occur in relation to
dynamic differences and qualities of the feeling or energy the
environment evokes within the child.
The reason for examining this is to provide a background from which to
explore some potentially different views about learning. It is therefore
important to move from here seeing that a significant difference between verbal
and non-verbal awareness is the basis involved in discernment. Having
established that there is a difference, we can begin to entertain the notion
that the dynamic co-implications of these different perceptual processes are
near the root of learning.
As children we learn most rapidly and profoundly through a primarily
As adults our capacity for learning is limited by how well the non-verbal
and verbal learning processes generally co-operate and specifically
The childs transition from non-verbal orientation to verbal
orientation is crucial to the subsequent capacity for learning.
Verbal awareness is not just the awareness of words, but the organization
of awareness by images, symbols and words. Non-verbal awareness is not just the
non-awareness of words but the non-word-symbol-image nature of awareness. One
is, relatively, content oriented, the other process oriented - but both are
meaning oriented. Meaning in this case being the result of discernment.
To further ground the importance of such thinking consider the
relationship each different basis of discernment yields with respect to meaning.
What is non-verbal meaning? It can be described in words but can it be
experienced in words? As children we non-verbally experience meaning in relation
to learning to walk but while we can describe that meaning, we as consummate
walkers no longer experience it. In contrast, what do we mean by verbal meaning?
The meaning associated with words? As the semanticists are fond of pointing out,
words do not have meanings. They are vague and ambiguous and are given meaning
by the context of the perceiver.
The common denominator of this circular problem about meaning, is that
meaning is an interplay between the object, subject or event and the verbal and
non-verbal context of its perception.
This is difficult to grasp because the process of non-verbal awareness is
no longer entirely within the direct experience of the adult-self. We do have
non-verbal experiences, but we no longer have a non-verbal orientation with the
world. In the adult the experience of awareness is dominated by the verbal and
by the self, both of which being relative abstractions of the more direct
relationship with energy or attention which is non-verbal. The point
here is that the verbal minded orientation is a different reference basis or
contextual ground then is the non-verbal. Consequently the nature of non-verbal
awareness, is an entirely different self-world view. The discernment
processes differ in verbal content and the relationship of that content to the
meaning attributed them by disparate contextual views.
The importance of understanding how different self-world views relate to
learning can be understood by considering:
If between people of generally similar verbal development there is the
capacity for such differences over the perceived meaning of a common event or
object that they could conceivably lead to the annihilation of awareness as it
is known, then between the verbal
and non-verbal the potential for difference in meaning is, comparatively,
Having now seen that the verbal and non-verbal bring different
contexts to the perception of contents, how can we reconcile the
fact that the verbal grows out of, or at least is in someway rooted in, the
non-verbal? In other words if the verbal is initially the result of non-verbal
learning how can they imply such different perspectives?
To begin to see how this relates to the relationship a child has with
information, consider the relationship between the non-verbal and verbal in the
child who is acquiring language.
The first field of activity is the association of an object or, an event
relating objects, to a sound. Both the sound and the non-sound perception are
associated together both in what is the beginning of verbal memory and also in
relation to the non-verbal dynamics of discernment. There are a multitude of
co-implications. Essentially, non-verbal inner responses, recognitions, feelings
and discernments are given verbal labels.
Because of the process of co-implicating experience in both non-verbal
and verbal terms, learning is rapid and profoundly deep.
The first step then, in acquiring a language, is one of attention
focusing on the association between the sound and its referent. Dog is dog. Tv
is Tv. Mom is Mom. Ball is Ball etc.. This first step is arbitrary with respect
to non-verbal awareness. The child accepts that a shoe is a shoe without
demanding to know why.
But, the child does encounter difficulty when the words being accumulated
do not represent labels for non-verbal discernments. When, before his non-verbal
perception can distinguish a difference, he is forced to acquire one verbally:
Water, Milk, Apple Juice, Orange Juice, Grape juice, etc...instead of
juice. If he hasnt made a non-verbal distinction between them,
where do the labels go? The acquisition of such words prior to the ability to
differentiate their meanings non-verbally can keep them from co-implicating
themselves in a common concept.
The next typical step is learning to associate sounds heard with visual
symbols - the alphabet. Here again other than the inability to differentiate
auditorily the B from D or P, which comes along quickly with
heightened sensitivity to difference, the child co-implicates the symbols with
their sounds in both verbal and non-verbal ways.
The next step is the visual recognition of words. Here begins the more
subtle problem. The pronunciation rules of language can not be conceptually
understood, there are insufficient verbal support elements and concepts. As
such, when the sound of a word pronounced is in non-resolvable conflict with
respect to the prior co-implications regarding the sounds of the letters that
comprise it, what happens? The
process which has guided and energized the child is wrong, without having
a way of understanding (non-verbally) why. The emphasis is placed on
relying on arbitrary associations rather than co-implications.
Such accumulations, when learned, operate like a barrier to
on-going learning in two important ways:
They help to develop and fortify a schism which takes place between the
non-verbal and verbal. The child learns to rely upon the authority of the verbal
without necessarily understanding why because he is made to feel his
previous non-verbal process of understanding is wrong. How do you explain to a
three year old why eye is not spelled i?
Everything he has learned says otherwise and if his previous notion and
the new association cant be reconciled and yet the new is correct by the reckoning
of a superior authority he separates within himself. The child learns to
distrust the very process which has guided him through the marvelous learning
feats which have made him what he is.
Memory that is related to external association without being co-implicated with
the non-verbal, when recalled in its original context, prohibits the conjunction
of non-verbal and verbal meaning processes. Except for the possibility of
a later insight which could co-implicate the memory, it will remain as an
insulator to understanding. Because verbal associations are sustained by the
dissipation of energy of non-verbal processes their ability to later
co-implicate with related understandings requires more mental energy than
otherwise required. Such accumulations are not available for faster, lower
energy free-associations, therefore they are more limited from
participating in learning and creating.
Jumping now beyond the small child, we all have these characteristics.
When the meaning in learning, elementally and conceptually, is not
co-implicating verbal and non-verbal awareness, the energy of attention
dissipates. To have learning so co-implicate, the orientation of the learner
must be towards meaning. As meaning is not in the words, events and objects but
in the learner, the learning environment must communicate at the learners
level of meaning, stretching it but not disengaging it. The learning environment
must be meaning oriented
To condense and summarize; the childs early learning is guided by the
inner response to qualities and differences in energy - not verbal content.
Miraculous learning occurs under these conditions. As the verbal accumulates to
the threshold of participating in perception, its accumulating inconsistencies
(not reconciled non-verbally) aggregate and de-sensitize the learner to what has
up to this point guided the learning process. As this condition proliferates it
imposes increasing limitations to the childs capacity to learn. The growing
tacit acceptance or resignation of this situation results in rigidness of self
and a mechanical mentality reflective of the associations maintained at higher
levels of arbitrary abstraction.
All of this said, the relationship a child has with information is not
alone in its subtlety or encrusting side-effects. Once children acquire a
verbal orientation their relationship with the entire world is riddled with
arbitrary associations which override their otherwise natural tendency
for co-implicating the verbal and non-verbal. But our relationship with
information can be, relative to the other factors, easily changed.
If we can become sensitive to the potentially profound damage to our capacity for learning our relationship with information implies; we can use that awareness in interpersonal relationships and through technology to make available to the learner, of all ages, many different opportunities to perceive the meanings which will co-implicate what is being learned. This is the significance of the information age.
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