Remember to remember

I’m not so sure. And I’m glad of it.

‘Learning as remembering’: the purest definition of measurable learning, but cognitive not ontological. I understand learning as predicated on other characteristics, for example ‘meaning-making’, ‘identity change’ or ‘attitude change’ as characteristic of personal growth. I’m warned that all learning involves long term memory. As teachers are we ventriloquists, then? I thought we were trying to initiate agency.

Let’s take that last one – attitude change: an individual goes through sets of challenges and conflicting principles that lead to an intrapersonal change in personality: can they necessarily recall the experiences and process that lead to that change? They may experience a disorientating dilemma in the process of manouveuring through various thresholds, they may ‘feel’ overload, or cognitive dissonance, being pulled one way and another in decisions, and there may be an adolescent tension in bringing everything to mind and balancing all judgments before summarising their (newly emergent or existing) point of view. (I use the ‘word adolescent’ to describe any stage of liminal disorientation where change occurs and we are not clear what is happening to or around us).

Reflecting (as a skill of thinking-learning needing practise) may allow them to revisit who or what their previous disposition was, but I would propose that already, like a snake shedding its skin, they have firmly rejected previous incarnations of thought and attitude. They cannot resist the step-change; they must continue to move forward. Therein, something is learned, but it – this transformation – is not entirely based around memory, nor is it easy to track, measure or assess. Identity change is subtle, yet dramatic, and learning – whatever that looks like there – plays a part in that process. Is it metacognitive, or natural? Is there a difference? Should those step-changes in growth be metacognitive, or should they be allowed (empowered) to learn by trial and error? To learn to make mistakes and bad choices to learn from in future (if…).

What I’m trying to describe is a little bit like that old TV show The Wonder Years, where the kid has a sense of deep epiphany in each and every episode (while Joe Cocker sings over the credits). Unfortunately, most ‘personal change’ is not so easily understood in the lived moment: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” Kierkegaard said, as an adult. Personally, I feel young people live in a state of perpetual becoming, so aren’t predisposed to look forwards and backwards as routinely and consistently as we adults do. There is a learning taking place in each and every sensorily loaded moment, if we are alert to our environment. How is this tracked?

It’s curious how educators get better at educating as they get older; at least, this has often been reported to me by students who associate older teachers with better gatekeepers of knowledge. Curious because we get further away from adolescence, these key stages of confusion in life, as we get older and possibly have less in common with students’ Lifeworld, which is so important for us to see and understand as educators. Remember what it was like to be a teenage student, to be curious about the world, to want answers, to look to others to guide us through that process of explanation. To ask questions rather than be the receipient of questions.

And what do we give them? Not meaning-making about the reasons for the state of this weird world, but emphasis on recalling details – dates and definitions, numbers and words – because…well, the meaning of that is lost on me.

Because – I think – we want everyone to retain things, because it’s easiest to see and measure that and be satisfied that we’re doing a proper job.

I raise this, just because of the definitions around the term ‘learning’ as redolent on memory, as if this learning thing always has a fixed concrete point, whereas the reality of it is its wonderful abstract, incongruous nature. Evidence is a brilliant thing for asserting knowledge, but it’s not the be all and end all of what we know – only what we know up to now.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Remember to remember

  1. A really good post. I certainly think the answer to your questions lies in a broader question. What is the purpose of education, specifically FE? Just reflecting on some points, I have the following questions…

    Does the more we know about the world/topic/ourself enable us to ask more questions, make sense of things and have greater agency?

    Do we have a responsibility as educators to minimise the mistakes and teach the skills to progress into industry, as opposed to a trial and error approach?

    Can we teach learners meta cognition without a grounding in knowledge of the area?

    I’m glad you’ve written this as it’s certainly helping me develop my thinking. Thank you

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