Whats in a name?

We are accustomed of getting satisfied when we know the definition of something unknown. Introspect and we will find many examples from everyday life where we know without understanding of concepts. Is understanding more important than knowing?

We often go bird watching with a birding group. Whenever somebody spots a bird, many are keen to know which is it – the name of the bird. The moment the name is established – satisfaction dawns on the birders faces. Many of them stop watching the bird further. The newcomers to the group invariably learn that the identification, the name of the bird, is the most important thing. They quickly scribble and make checklists of the birds seen. The number of birds seen soon becomes the glory factor.

But some, are least bothered with the name. They just look on and on – seeing how the birds looks, what kind of wings, how she hops or flies, what she is trying to do, how her neck moves, how the call goes, what kind of tail and beak, what colour eyes, what tree or place to perch she has chosen, and so on. Some of these bird ‘watchers’ have no notebooks, they just fill their stomachs with wonderment.

In learning too, a similar parallel exists. There are many who are keen on naming the learning, defining it, finding the end result, the right answer. A child asked, “what is this, what is it used for?” Pat came the reply, “It’s a sickle; it is used to cut crops”.

So the boy now “knows” the name (sickle) and its usage. Knowledge is gained. Everybody is happy.

But not me. Yes, knowledge is gained – but without labor, without usage of any mind– muscles (abilities), without involvement of creative juices. Such knowledge is limited and superficial. Yes knowledge is gained, but without emotions, without love (for learning).

I am least bothered with the name. I would ask, “Lets see how it looks, what shape it has, where and how are its teeth, are they sharp, what is it made up of, how it is similar yet different to other things that look like this, for what all you think we can use it, and so on.

Somewhere I ask, why are people in a hurry to reach the right place, the destination. Why are people in a hurry to know, to establish, to finish, to conclude. Perhaps we want an end result so that we can feel good about it, feel satisfied that we know, feel complete. So maybe its just convenience, its quick and simple and it serves purposes like examination, or image, or social confirmation.

That naming, defining, concluding “limits learning” is immediately not so obvious to many. Say your child exclaims, “Mumma, see sugar has gone” and you mutter, “Yes dear, it has dissolved”

The child has ‘come to know’ that when you stir sugar in water it vanishes and this is called “dissolved”. However the child actually knows nothing about dissolving: why sugar dissolves, how come we do not see it after dissolving, what exactly is the role of stirring, why do other things do not dissolve, why does dissolving change the taste of water, how else has dissolving changed the water, how can we get sugar back after dissolving it, will sugar dissolve in every liquid, how much and how fast sugar dissolved depends on ……. it can go on.

I am not implying that one has to convert every exclamation into an experiment. I am suggesting that let us not satisfy the need to know. Let it hang loose. Let the hunger, to understand, to make sense, be not satisfied. Such a perpetual hungry state of mind will make it naturally motivating for the child to explore, learn and grow this spark into a raging fire.

There is another bigger danger of this naming, defining, concluding business. It not just limits learning, it may limit the learner.

When I think I know, I start thinking that I know a lot. And not only I stop knowing about a particular topic, but in general I become lethargic towards learning. I roam about with this ‘cup is too full’ belief. Not only is the danger of one becoming too haughty but also of rejecting all subsequent learning opportunities. Least I want children at young age to think that they know. I only want them to know how to know, how to learn, how to discover, validate and apply what they need and know that they still do not know and to keep wanting to learn. So, as a parent, teacher, and specially learner – this is what all I will do:

Learning with Labor
All along my childhood, i was told to study hard, when i was hardly studying. I was only gobbling up what others had either left for me or cooked for me. But the word study means to observe something. It means to explore, to make observations, to make effort to collect my own data, to be with a phenomenon. Learning in some ways is about the input and not the output. So can I make the child put effort for his learning?
Can I get him to construct his own learning? Literally invent his own wheel.

Learning via mind muscles
Not knowing could mean a feeling of flux, of change, of instability, of confused state of mind. And for reasons unknown to me, human mind does not want these states. But the paradox is that these states are inevitable – we are anyway in flux all the time, we are changing all the time, learning and knowledge is only growing and getting evolved all the time. Are we, in an attempt to gain control over our learning environment – assuming that it (learning and knowledge) is limited, turning ourselves away from reality.

Lets take this insight from an infant, who is not bothered by his lack of knowing; by his incompleteness, essential confusions – rather who revels in the very mental mire – with the sole purpose to learn MORE.
Can I let the child stay with confusion?

Learning with creative juices
Funnily creativity word itself is locked up in its definition. Most people I meet relate creativity with arts 🙁
How many of us talk of walking creatively, of sweeping floor creatively or solving a social conflict creatively. A child who is ready to break, maul, rip apart, throw, desecrate, laugh at, scorn at, compare, relate, see the learning and its process in its infinite forms is the one who is floating in the realm of magic and joy of learning.

This requires unconditional acceptance of self and our abilities and at the same time utter nonacceptance of all learning in itself. I had read a bumper sticker once, which declared, “Thoughts can change directions: that is why our heads are round”.
Can I see each child’s mind as a maverick, bent on creating own pathways?

A story to sum it up:
A man went to a monk and requested, “O wise one, please teach me”
The Monk smiled and replied, “But I know nothing”.
The man tried to argue, but the monk kept replying, “I know nothing”
So the man at last said, “Surely you know how to make tea, you can teach me that?”
The monk replied, “But I do not know how you make tea, and how million others in this world make tea. So my knowing of how to make tea is so minuscule and that it can be considered as naught”
The man insisted, “But you can at least teach me how you made it yesterday?
The Monk, rising, beckoned the man and said, “How I made tea yesterday, I cannot make the same today. But, come, we can make tea today, together.