Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Disposition to Learn

Being willing to be told one is wrong is a necessary disposition for learning.

Docility is crucial for a learner.  In fact, it is a necessary condition for learning, which means that without it, learning cannot occur.  Unfortunately, docility, or the quality of being docile, has taken on the sense of being quiet and meek, shy and retiring, unable or unwilling to raise one's voice.  Yet, as with so many ideas and words in English, if we look at the Latin root we come to a better understanding.  The word "docility" comes from that Latin verb docere, meaning "to teach."  Docility is, therefore, quite simply the quality of being able to be taught, which is not an inherent quality or one shared by all people at all times.  In other words, not everyone is docile.  Not everyone can be taught.

Consider for a moment the obvious.  You could not be taught how to change the oil in your car if you were asleep.  Your dormant state would leave you incapable of learning.  The same would be true if you were listening to music loud enough to render people unconscious.  Unable to hear what the instructor was telling you, you could not learn.  You would likely learn little to nothing about changing your car's oil if you were being instructed while observing the bone protruding from your broken leg.  The intense pain and shock would make you less than docile.

These, of course, are circumstantial limitations to docility, and many people recognize similar limitations at work in the lives of school-aged children.  Poverty, violence, and abuse are but three.

Yet there are other behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets that can limit or entirely block or support a student's docility.  Some of these are derivative of circumstances and others are within the direct control of students themselves, but taken together they form the disposition for learning that every student brings into the classroom, and it is this disposition that determines whether a student at any given moment in any given subject is docile enough to learn.

Perhaps the most significant attitude leading to a docile disposition is the willingness to be told that one is wrong.  Consider two proverbs and the lyrics to a pop song.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.  (Proverbs 12:1,  ESV)

Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.  (Proverbs 15:32, ESV)

One night, me with my big mouth,
Couple guys had to put me in my place.
When I see those guys these days,
We just laugh and say,
"Do you remember when?"  ("Cherry Bomb," John Mellencamp)

It is no insult to be told that you are wrong about something.  Admittedly, there are better and worse ways of telling someone this, but regardless of how the information is communicated, a person must be willing to accept it when it is true or he cannot learn.  It is a necessary, a without-which-not characteristic of being docile.

One the best ways parents and those entrusted with the care and nurture and education of young children can prepare them for a lifetime of learning is to help them understand what it means when they are told that they are wrong about something.  It means that they are wrong, nothing more and nothing less.  It does not mean that they are bad.  It is not a statement about their character, unless, of course, that about which they are wrong is a moral action.  It does not mean that the one stating the fact thinks ill of them or will no longer love them.  This last statement is vital to understanding this key component of docility.  My telling a student that he or she has formed a verb incorrectly in no way indicates my lack of love for that student, but rather is proof of my care and concern.  I would not want my students to make fools of themselves by writing something incorrectly.  I love them too much.

To be sure, this is a mature concept to grasp, but then education is largely an enterprise for the mature of any given age.  Those called to the shared journey of discovery that is education must help those on the way know how to accept when they have been told that they are headed down a wrong path.

1 comment:

  1. Will. Disposition. Mindset. The need for what C S Lewis called "men with chests." Building a person's inferiority, their virtue. Thanks Steve!


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