To be in the Matrix is to do what everyone else does, often in ignorance of the greater context, hidden agendas, possible alternatives and even our own motives. To break out we need increased awareness, but the only way to become more aware is to gain knowledge. To gain knowledge we must educate ourselves. In a nutshell, the way out of the Matrix is to self-educate and ideally (for our own self-interests) develop a habit of lifelong learning.
Education is the key to living a successful life on earth, yet most people consider education as something we get from school. The true meaning of education has been lost and it is largely considered a passive process. This is not true. Education is really something that you must pursue pro-actively. It is something that you do for yourself and has little to do with formal schooling. Real education, self-education becomes an endless process of lifelong learning.
What is education?
I define Education as an on-going and self-generated process of acquiring first cognitive means to gain knowledge, and then ever more knowledge, so as to thrive. It is the process of acquiring knowledge for the purpose of a life Earth.
In this weeks episode of “Living outside the Matrix,” Mark Neale shares his professional perspective on education as an educational consultant and personal coach. We pick up the subject where we left off in episode 50 for this second part of our discussion on education.
What is knowledge?
I define knowledge as awareness of the facts of reality in conceptual form. Although some knowledge can be gained from direct perceptual observation this usually means that thinking is required to understand and integrate new concepts. In order to be sure that what we learn is true, information needs to be evaluated and checked against reality. Hearsay is not necessarily the truth. No information is necessarily true until verified by the evidence of reality by some reliable source. In fact, much information is demonstrably un-true!
Often we think we have arrived at knowledge but we may have used false assumptions in our thinking, or we may have been victims of propaganda. Questioning and seeking answers is a key part of thinking and this is the only way to verify that what we have is knowledge. If our understanding does not correlate with reality it is not true, and therefore it cannot be considered knowledge.
What is thinking?
Thinking is the deliberate and intentional mental process of reasoning with the acquisition of knowledge as its goal. There are many forms of mental activity such as worrying, remembering or imagining, that are not strictly thinking. Thinking uses our distinctly human faculty of reason in a process of asking questions, evaluating, judging, weighing arguments and facts, deducing and inferring to arrive at conclusions.
Thinking is the only means of acquiring knowledge (of reality). We must be aware that when we hear someone tell us something reported as fact that we cannot strictly consider it true until we can verify it by some other means. It is hearsay until we are satisfied that it is proven to be true. This obviously depends on trusting the source of the information and also the over all context.
Learning is best achieved in a non-coercive environment where the student has chosen to participate. When learning is forced upon anyone of any age it tends to be resisted and retention is not as good as when interest and curiosity are engaged. This is because thinking is volitional, you have to choose to do it. And you are more likely to choose to do it if you want to.
Lifelong learning results from developing a habit of thinking and trusting our own cognitive process and judgment. This is a process we develop confidence in as we go. We feel good about acquiring knowledge and the sense of efficacy this brings.
There are a few philosophical assumptions that underpin the habit of lifelong learning. For example, we have to hold the conviction that it is possible to know, we have to believe that reality is fundamentally knowable. We also have to appreciate (even if implicitly) that man is a rational being. This means that reason is our only guide to knowledge. We must also hold the conviction that we have free will (again even if this is only implicit and not verbally expressed). If we hold a deterministic view, then we undermine the motivation to think and reason to find the truth, we do whatever is pre-determined.
Another significant factor that must be in place is that we must appreciate that emotions are not tools of cognition, they do not give us direct evidence of the facts of reality. Once we give up on thinking and cease to trust our own cognitive process we tend to rely more and more on emotions – there is nothing else. When we observe people ‘going to pieces’ in a crisis, this is evidence of them ’emoting’ rather than thinking.
Lifelong learning tends to be discouraged by school attendance. This is because (in the Matrix) it is generally considered that you ‘go to school to get an education’. The implicit corollary of this idea is that once you leave school education stops. This is exactly the case for most people and any education that may have been occurring ceases.
Choosing the outcome
According to Mark Neale lifelong learning tends to be encouraged by being outcome orientated. Young people can be motivated by giving them the opportunity to look forward into the future and decide where they want to end up. What do they want to achieve? What sort of income do they want? When young people consciously consider their future – something that is sadly lacking in schools – they get motivated to achieve the goals they choose.
Developing awareness – in teachers as well as children
Mark considers that through developing awareness, not only of the external world but also noticing how we feel by introspection, children become more empowered to make choices. Awareness in the teachers can greatly facilitate the learning experience even in traditional schools. Supervision and monitoring of children’s behaviour should not crush curiosity, and mistakes should not be moralised so as to make the child ‘bad’. Not doing homework isn’t really bad in the same way that stealing is.
Mark also enlightened me to the realisation that there is no conflict between children being free to follow their curiosity and following a curriculum. He considers them as complementary.
Teaching and learning
Mark advises that we draw a line between teaching and learning, and he goes on to say that we must train the children to become self-learners. He makes no excuses for using the word training. But on reflection, I prefer not to use this concept.
According to the business dictionary, training means: Organized activity aimed at imparting information and/or instructions to improve the recipient’s performance or to help him or her attain a required level of knowledge or skill. The free dictionary.com defines it as the process of bringing a person, etc, to an agreed standard of proficiency, etc, by practice and instruction.
I am less comfortable with the use of the concept training children in general. I prefer to use the word demonstrate. In general terms, I demonstrate the way I think we should live and how we should behave. I prefer my children to arrive at their own desire to adopt my demonstrated actions as their own, rather than use rewards to train them. I consider this is too close to behaviourism which aims to control behaviour by rewarding the desired action and punishing the undesired, essentially harnessing the pain-pleasure spectrum to influence choices. It assumes that all behaviors are either reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment or are a consequence of that individual’s history.
As individuals grow and learn it is important to have purpose in life. Some people consider purpose to be intertwined with vocation, career or choice of work. I consider everyone’s ultimate purpose in life is to pursue their own happiness. This means to attend to our own rational self-interests and achieve our own self-chosen goals. What we choose to do with our time may change and may involve many activities, but the main purpose is the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is a much-misunderstood concept. learn more about it and how to achieve it here.
Learning to think for ourselves
I consider the ultimate goal for parents wanting our children to develop a habit of lifelong learning, wanting them to become self-educators, is to demonstrate thinking and encourage them to think for themselves. Once individuals know how to think and develop confidence in their thinking and in their judgment, learning will be inevitable.
The context of the world we live in has changed dramatically in the past few decades. The context of educating ourselves has changed enormously with the arrival of the Internet. This means that no one needs to go to any institution of education in order to self-educate. This is the ultimate scenario for empowerment. Never has it been easier to gain an education and to carry on the practice into a habit of lifelong learning.
The Internet makes all the information available. Our challenge today is to think sufficiently so as to discern between the truth and the propaganda, between what is relevant to us and our self-interest and what is merely a distraction to waste our precious time. Thinking is the key to education and to lifelong learning.
To contact Mark Neale, education consultant and personal coach, visit www.markneale.tv
I hope you have got some value from these thoughts and observations. As always please feel free to join in the conversation and leave a comment below. I wish you well