Developing the skill of critical learning can be very difficult. Seth Godin writes often about the current mass education system being designed to teach conformity rather than critical thinking, and unfortunately, I think he’s right – in general.
Critical learning is not the act of learning something important – it’s the process of learning critically.
Critical learning is the process through which your lessons are validated against your own internal knowledge, and harmonized with your ethic. In many cases, this can include unlearning much of your assumed knowledge, something that education as an institution does not adequately prepare us for. How much algebra and trigonometry do you use in your daily life? Not much. But what volume of that knowledge harmonizes well with consumer maths like taxes, ROI and others? Likely not much, unless you took business math courses.
Over-using the skill of critical learning can often send us into analysis paralysis.
It’s difficult not to over-think new skills. Harmonizing new knowledge with our assumptions and existing skills can encourage long bouts of comparative analysis, tracking, validation and, worse, the burgeoning fear of incomplete knowledge.
The easiest way to stop this process is to check everything against a simply mantra: What is this information for. What does it do? What does this knowledge enable me to accomplish?
Disciples have it particularly hard. We barely even know what we don’t know.
Being stuck with known unknowns is annoying, and can lead to over-zealous research. However, being stuck laboring with unknown unknowns can be even worse – many people, in the process of being groomed as Disciples are, either become prone to drastic errors because they over-assume their skill. Worse still, some become paralyzed by the certain sense of impending teaching, and fear to act before any lesson.
What does this mean as a Disciple?
When you’re learning, communication is important. In an educational or academic setting this usually consists of assignments given, then submitted, then marked and returned. All learning is retroactive and, thus, built for compliance rather than progress.
In a Discipline setting, communicative learning is far more active. You can’t just take instruction and run with it – when you’re a disciple, rather than just being a student, every lesson is live steel. Running is a bad idea unless you already know exactly what to do with the sharp edge of your new skills. Communicate with your teachers, confirm your instructions, and always be checking in.
What does this mean as a Teacher?
Academics and education are poor places for invested teachers. Those truly dedicated to the growth of their supplicants may find they strain under the retroactive, formulaic process of reportable teaching. There are always ways to stretch the experience – but the system is very fragile, and stretching into a Discipline structure without universal (system-wide) support may cause more issues than it remedies.
As the mentor of Disciples, your job is far more labor-intensive, and far more rewarding – but only if you do it right. As the soldier’s adage goes; as someone in a critical role, your job is to make yourself obsolete by, in essence, preparing your replacement. For soldiers that means making way for peace. For teachers, that means fostering such perfect competence and confidence – and communication – that your Disciples could replace you when they’re prepared.
Letting go of your learning formula will be difficult.
However, allowing real experience to guide your growth, and letting text books act as a simple reference, is one of the most effective ways to ensure sustainable, teachable growth.