Learning What We Don’t Want to Learn

Habits of Mind, Body and ActionThe first Habit on our poster is ‘Embrace Learning’. Don’t let the soothing tone of the word ‘embrace’ deceive you. We could have just as easily described it as ‘Learn whether you like it or not’.

Learning can be like that. Thankfully, most of the time, and certainly at KCS, learning does feel like a warm embrace. It’s delivered by teachers who evidently care about their students and about making learning as positive as possible. And so it should be.

I’ve been reminded recently, however, about the underbelly of ‘embrace learning’, a side that was always intentionally part of that Habit, but that may have gone unnoticed, hidden in the shadows of the ever-more pleasant type of learning that is more the norm here. I’m talking about those important lessons in life that we resist, the lessons we’d prefer not to learn, but learn we should. They may challenge our character, or reveal a sandy foundation upon which we had built mighty assumptions. These lessons may arise when exams yield lower marks than expected; sometimes they arise when we’ve done something we’re later ashamed of; sometimes they will trip up students who otherwise find learning very easy, but then are faced with a topic that is annoyingly difficult to understand. Though these examples focus on the young, we’re never too old for these lessons. And while these examples focus on others, I don’t pretend to be immune.

Humans are generally a comfort-seeking lot. Daniel Willingham, cognitive scientist and author of Why Students Don’t Like School, argues that the brain strives to be as efficient as possible, lazy even, preferring to do as it wishes and not as it is forced to do. Add a dash of limited understanding, bias, immaturity, emotion, or over-confidence, and you have someone ready for one of these most humbling lessons. If they embrace it.

Most learning should feel like a warm embrace. But growing up and being our best self will include these more challenging lessons too. While decidedly uncomfortable, the reward for their steep price is broader understanding, growing maturity, more rational thought and healthy humility. Resilience, thinking flexibly and the ability to persist, three other noteworthy habits, also grow as a result.

That’s learning worth embracing.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

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