If "What is value?" was the ultimate question, then this is the holy grail. We'll use the same pattern of thought we've been building up to try and get a foothold...
First, we must understand what learning is not. It is not the acquisition of knowledge - that is properly called wisdom. It is not the ability to memorize content and pass an assessment - that is called regurgitation and has the same relationship to real learning as that between how birds feed their young and the moment they are ejected from the nest and must either fly or die.
Learning how to learn is more like a process. But it is a process with very specific characteristics. It requires a sincere desire to know; a determination to develop the discipline required to practice what you know every day; a passion that will not let you stop until you know; and a heart clear enough to know its own intention for pursuing knowledge at all.
Q: Learning is not the acquisition of knowledge. It is a process powered by what four characteristics?
A: A sincere desire to know; a disciplined determination to practice; passion; a clear heart.
Unless you're burning to find the answer, and unless you're willing to give up everything in the pursuit of that answer, you will never truly learn it. Learning how to learn is not something you can learn about. You just have to let it happen by being constantly aware. When that which illumines the unutterable question you are shines through, you must follow its trail without hesitation.
The secret fire at the core of your being might have nothing to do with building a better web: you must still be honest enough to follow it. Ultimately, learning how to learn is a discipline built on a deep trust in what we could call the underlying pattern. You have to trust that you will come to know what you need to know when you need to know it. This creates the necessary neurological conditions for useful knowledge to take root.
Q: Truly learning how to learn is not just an intellectual process. We have to let it happen by cultivating what?
A: Constant awareness.
The rest is practice. Practice, practice, practice - until you realise that there is no difference between practice and perfection. That what you most wanted to know was here all along, right with you - closer than your jugular vein - and all that work and struggle and acquisition and desire and practice and letting go was just to bring you back into this moment, right now.
There is nothing else to learn about. Nothing more to know.A Surprisingly Educated Public¶
The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.
As is often the case in these personal briefs, the primary focus is you. However, this does not exclude an awareness of the environment in which you exist and which often shapes the things it is, for instance, possible to learn about in the first place. To understand how useful knowledge not just takes root personally, but may be propagated collectively, we turn once more to Ivan Illich and an essay called School: The Sacred Cow on pages 52-58 of the linked copy of Celebration of Awareness.
Gradually, the idea grew that schooling was a necessary means of becoming a useful member of society. It is the task of this generation to bury that myth.
This will be a difficult task. Schooling has developed a formidable folklore. The begowned academic professors who we have witnessed today evoke the ancient procession of clerics and little angels on the day of Corpus Christi. The Church, holy, catholic, apostolic, is rivalled by the school, accredited, compulsory, untouchable, universal.
Participation in a 'production system', of no matter what kind, has always threatened the prophetic function of the Church as it now threatens the educational function of the school.
The radical deschooling of society begins, therefore, with the unmasking by cultural revolutionaries of the myth of schooling. It continues with the struggle to liberate other minds from the false ideology of schooling - an ideology which makes domestication by schooling inevitable. In its final and positive stage it is the struggle for the right to educational freedom.
The basic purpose of public education should be to create a situation in which society obliges each individual to take stock of himself and his poverty. Education implies a growth of an independent sense of life and a relatedness which go hand in hand with increased access to, and use of, memories stored in the human community.
This presupposes a place within the society in which each of us is awakened by surprise; a place of encounter in which others surprise me with their liberty and make me aware of my own.
Such awakening resonates with two other deep notes struck in this course. In Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse makes the distinction between being trained to win, and learning how to continue the play with ongoing, dramatic reinterpretation:
To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.
Surprise, or unexpectedness, is also the measure Illich's contemporary Claude Shannon used to define "bits" of information in his mathematical theory of communication. If you enjoy being formally surprised, you may like this paper, especially Section 2.6 on page 8, followed by a reference to Bayesian surprise on page 13.
My friends, it is your task to surprise yourselves, and us, with the education you succeed in inventing for your children. Our hope of salvation lies in our being surprised by the Other. Let us learn always to receive further surprises.