Approaching a Child Centric Way of Knowledge

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Knowledge is shaped and in turn, shapes the knower. This process of learning is central to the reproduction of human society. However, with the onset of modernized/routinized and even ritualized cults of learning, education may often tend to lose it essence for the young. Given this situation, how can we rediscover the process of knowing that is sensitive and open to the child’s needs?

Jinan.K.B is an educational activist and associated with various schools and is – based in  LayamKerala.

All living beings learn as learning is what sustains life and it is the ‘learning’ process that not only ends up in the creation of knowledge but is also responsible for forming the knower.  This process is a two-way tool. As the knower is creating knowledge, the knowledge is also creating the knower.

Blend Images/Alamy Stock Photo
The wonder of learning / Image : Alamy Stock Photo

But by externalizing knowledge, mechanizing the learning process and institutionalizing the learning space, modernity has created havoc in the consciousness of human beings who in turn have created havoc on earth. The ontological reversal of knowledge preceding the process of knowing has alienated man from the very process of life and misunderstood the purpose of living itself.

Knowing is the process by the human beings transforms oneself. Life gives the opportunity to man for his refinement of all qualities of what is the real potential of being human.

Children, knowledge, and learning are the most misunderstood phenomenon of modernity.

Modernity can be defined as the ‘beingness’ that got formed due to mediated learning rather than direct knowing, by using the mind rather than the whole being, by engaging with the description rather than the described. This means the WORLD is replaced with the WORD, Experience is replaced with reading and thinking and the senses are replaced with the mind and this is causing a fundamental rewiring of the cognitive tools, cognitive process, and the cognitive source.

Learning is a word that got prominence due to the reduction of a holistic process in which the total being is formed. In fact, the word formation would be a more accurate word to describe what is happening to the child because the child automatically absorbs and imbibes the totality of the experience. The modern crisis is a crisis in cognition. From human beings, we have become human knowings. We seem to ‘know’ but can’t ‘be’. Knowing is so integral to our being that one need not make any effort to know. Knowing happens naturally, unconditionally and is choiceless.

With the advent of modern schooling contextual and existential knowledge creation in communities disappeared. People became mere recipients of de-contextualized readymade knowledge. This not only made thousands of years of culturally diverse, ecologically sensitive knowledge to disappear but also ensured that such knowledge will not be produced anymore. Schools rewired our cognitive ability to create knowledge to consume ready-made knowledge of experts. Senses and experience are replaced by text and reasoning, humility and openness are replaced by pride and arrogance. Power made us blind to nature’s process of knowing and being. The genesis of present schooling in India is based on the conception of Mr. Macaulay which was meant to produce Indians with British culture. The modern Indians have continued and perfected this even after the British left some 60 years ago. This has resulted in a change in our worldview, created dependence on western universities and also created the deep-rooted inferiority complex. The colonized mindset has become normal for the modern Indians so much so that there is a total disbelief when such questions are encountered.

Destruction of indigenous ways of knowing and being has been another impact of modern schooling and its hegemonic knowledge system. We, the so-called educated have eliminated knowledge of humanity which evolved naturally over thousands of years. Colonizer ensures that not only the knowledge is killed and replaced with their ‘knowledge’ but also the very process of creating knowledge is damaged. Modern education is not about knowledge. It is about politics, propaganda, and advertisements. It starts at a very young age done very cleverly so that the student is not even aware of the trap. The best way to kill a culture is to establish a school. But more fundamental is the way the total worldview is imposed, what constitutes knowledge, its categories, the process of knowledge etc. Once this is done in two generations the colonized will almost completely forget their own culture, will have the colonizers ‘knowledge’ installed firmly and also the colonizers ‘aesthetic sensibility’. Colonization is done very cleverly and the colonized is often not even aware of this. The colonizer himself often thinks it is done for the benefit of the colonized. (Read ‘to hell with good intention’ by Ivan Illich to get a good picture of this hypocrisy) In fact, what I have been feeling is that the colonizer himself is a victim. He is the victim of the printed word.

The printed word rewires the complete cognitive system- the tools for knowing, the process and the structure. This removes emotions, feelings, senses of his being making the culture fragmented and masculine. (Harold Innis, Eric A. Havelock, Marshal McLuhan, The Alphabet vs. The Goddess by Dr. Leonard Shlain .This brings up a fundamental question which is what exactly is meant by the term ‘learn’. The totality of the situation is impacting the total beingness of the child. Isn’t it better to use the word forming rather than learning or to expand the meaning of the word learning to mean forming!  This also means that we become what we learn/ engage or interact with. In the way, all that we do in life is to make ourselves! All our action is a doing unto oneself. Just as the cycle teaches you how to balance and ride cycle and water teaches you how to swim by making the necessary changes in you or by transforming you, the written word also transforms us to know it’ll learning is a result of the inner transformation. The characteristics of the object of learning will have to imbibe by the learner in order to know it.

We are formed by our cognitive source!

If the world is our cognitive source we become the world and if the word is our cognitive source we become the word. The neural structures are formed by the way we experience and as we are trained to read, read and read, think, think and think our cognitive process gets restructured to understand the word. Reading- thinking- reasoning…learning the printed word takes away the life. Knowing from inside is what all living beings are engaged with to connect/ rediscover the existential life-sustaining knowledge as they engage with the outer world.The organized and linear aspect of the written word fragments us and establishes REASON as the process of understanding. Reasoning usurps the self-organizing capacity and short circuits real comprehension.

Reasoning and conscious memorization fulfill the same function which is to store information. Conscious memorization is just dumping information using force and reasoning is organized the way of storing information. The brain will pick up skills from what it engages with. Reasoning behavior is picked up from dealing with organized information from books, ideas etc. And then we say the world is disorganized! Learning is the basis of life. Learning is the natural mechanism to sustain life. We are internally designed by nature to learn in order to live. We have tools with differing capacities to support learning.  Children learn the world, the way they experience it. Just as food forms the body the sense inputs form the mind. What the child learns, left to itself is the way the world is- the totality of their context. The world awakens the child to the workings of the world in the child. Each species does this by engaging with the world autonomously. The context awakens the particular qualities to root ourselves in that space. So children are learning the way the world looks, the quality or the property of its materiality and the functions, processes and the various phenomenon that happens around them. This is the most scientific way of understanding the world around as well as sharpening the tools to understand the world and developing the qualities to be in the world.

The integrity of the world is retained by this integral way of relating to the world. The holistic nature of the world awakens the holistic nature of the child. ‘Knowing by being’ is the process by which children imbibe and there is no compartmentalization of subjects- language, art, science etc. Child by nature is integrated and whole and so is the world and fragmentation of modern human beings is due the way they are made to see fragmented and compartmentalized world right from childhood.  Cognitive conditions of modernity force children out of this biologically rooted way of being and knowing and schooling totally reinforces rationality as their cognitive process. Creation of knowledge is the natural process and it is through spontaneous play and making of toys that children understand the workings of the world. Natural play awakens qualities of creativity, spontaneity, leadership, and followership, collaboration and cooperation and the making of toys help children to understand how things function, quality of material, process etc. Children are introduced to words much before they experience the world around them. Instead of children naming their experience adults around give words to their experience. They are also introduced to the written word in this manner.

Slowly the hearing and seeing action is forced to bypass the experiencing faculty and directly give input to mind. This constant process rewires the cognitive process thereby eliminating the physiological functions in the act of making sense of the world. Experience no longer informs the mind; the mind directs what to experience! When experience proceeds the words, as we experience the world it is almost like language fell into place. Respecting and acknowledging the ability in children to make sense of the world was the basis in traditional nonliterate communities. The integrity of experience and language is worth noting and it is in this manner we make sense of the world too. The real meaning of learning to speak is that the child learns to articulate her understanding of the world. The child’s language cannot be separated from the experience she is having of the world. There is the integrity of its experience of the world with the language or languages she uses to express or articulate.

We impose through language whatever is not actually present, for example, week, month, year etc. All the artificial categories and divisions are imposed on the child through language.

The child if left alone will learn the way the world actually functions. There are day and night, we sleep in the night and are awake in the day, hunger makes us look for food, we cultivate or hunt.

So when we ‘TEACH’ what children learn is ‘TO TEACH’. In fact, as we grow older we acquire the ‘teacher mindset’ due to internalization or imbibing of ‘teaching’ experience. This is the way our biology functions. One learns to learn in a context where learning is happening. Learning is not a choice. Purpose of learning is already embedded in the structure of the living being.

The content of the today’s education is words. We learn the word instead of the world. Reading places us into a structure of knowing which is fundamentally mental and non- experiential. This act re-entrenches the reader into a mental, ‘rational’ being. The object of knowledge and the process of engagement alter the knower. The invisible nature and characteristic of the written word call forth from its user processes that are not the same when we are engaging with the real. We have to make up images that are often images of images from previous reading experience- as one text reminds us of another text, reason constantly working in the background to conclude. Understanding takes place in the realm in which cognition has taken place. Linguistic inputs are ‘understood’ in the realm of language.

Experiential inputs through senses are understood in the realm of experience and the processes are very different in the respective paradigms. Literacy reconfigures the biological aspects of making sense of the world into psychological.  From seeing to thinking is the shift that has happened to us without us being aware of. This shift may seem to be simple and innocent. But this is what transformed us from beings in nature to beings of nature. Some even consider this as advancement, an evolutionary step but the fact is that the biology of our being does not corroborate this. Literacy has made fundamental changes to the functioning of the eye, memory, ear and hence to the whole cognitive system- tools, processes, and structure. With the printed word becoming the primary cognitive source the nature of word has developed our cognitive system.

Learning is the natural mechanism to sustain life. Humans are internally designed by nature to learn in order to live. Both tools and the content of learning get developed in the act of living itself. So life is the context, content, and purpose of learning. So along with reorganizing schools, one has to also re-look at the so-called higher education.

The tragedy of the solutions being offered to correct the damages of schooling is done by people who are themselves damaged and is using their damaged thought process and tools. Unless there is a total shift in paradigm the solutions being offered will end up creating more problems.

Solutions to ‘think out of the box’ are a case in point. Everyone is offering solutions to get out of the box but no one is wondering how we got into the box!

Both Alternative education and homeschooling etc fail due to not going deep into the issues mentioned earlier. And more importantly the very making of a readymade and foolproof solution is the problem that modernity has invented.  From knowledge mode, we have to get into a knowing mode!

Pedagogy is understood as the manner in which the adults conduct themselves so that they are worthy of children’s imitation. The first question that the adult need to face is, are you worthy of their imitation. So adults are also freed from the role of the ‘teacher’ and possibility of true growth is opened up. They are free to do what they want. Off course modernity has misunderstood children, learning, content etc and that is the first thing all adults in the school must engage with. So adults observe children. The freedom and care that space provides give children to be autonomous. Naturally, they are doing all kinds of things that come very spontaneously and organically. Knowing or learning is part and parcel of this process. My proposal is to try to explore what can be called the cognitive system just like a digestive system, nervous system and muscular system etc as a function of the living being. We need not wait for the expert to tell us but using our own uncommon common sense we can explore.

But more important than all this is to recover our natural, biologically rooted cognitive system in which the self-organizing system with us function to ‘understand’ and not reasoning. Can we get back the habits of seeing, sensing, feeling? Can we trust life and not boast about man’s achievements which are nothing in front of life.

The objective is to create learning spaces so that they truly learn what is necessary for them to be sensitive, independent, intelligent, creative, self-reliant and sustainable and at the same time be rooted in their context/ cultural practices and wisdom knowledge. To develop a totally new kind of school/ space/ condition that includes the whole community and enables the growth of the natural, biological process in children to lead a sustainable, contended and harmonious lives – in harmony with nature, culture, society, family, and self.

To develop a sensitive pedagogy that will allow the natural flowering of the child’s innate potential. But before all this, a deep study has to be done with the help of children towards collectively setting up conditions for their awakening. That is to learn from children how to organize the space. This requires total attention and sensitivity.

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