Learning is not External. It is not Located Where you Think !

Studying is not learning; and the expectation that people
should first and foremost study is perhaps based on a
failure to analyze the true facts of the matter.
Teaching is – or should be ! – the act which aims to open
someone else’s mind to the possibility of learning, and
consists in its preliminary phase in an act of tuning in to the
other person, or people, involved. That may be tricky, as
it’s a two-way transaction. And after that – more difficult –
it involves leading the students to the Elysian Fields of
learning themselves.

The simple act of going there nonetheless requires a map;
intuition, focusing, calm, order, volition, judgement and
quite a lot of trust. It’s something which can be factored
into language learning lessons quite easily, in fact . . . And it
also seems to require personal contact (‘when two or three
are gathered together’); while it may profitably operate in a
group setting as well . . .
Then the eyes of the student and teacher meet ; and at
that moment of complicity, their real focus is not on each
other, nor even on the material under scrutiny; but first
and foremost – and for a split second! - on finding that
hidden and maybe frequently lost domain where real
learning really occurs. Once there, it will act upon us.

Julian Barnes describes adolescence – as portrayed in the
novel, The Lost Domain by Alain-Fournier – as a ‘double
negative… [which] becomes a positive’; but the lost domain
of learning is probably a surer and more readily retrievable
locale: all positives, if you can find it; and one fit to

dissipate any understandable clouds of negativity in our
adolescent students…! So what I’m wondering about is how
to create a brighter future, intellectually speaking, for
everyone … !
The domain of learning is also a place readily re-visitable –
certainly – by adults, free of complexes. . . And, once the
key has been found, by the children, too. . .
Before localizing this lost domain, however, we need to
debunk certain myths, e.g. that learning happens in the
classroom, or in a student’s mind after he or she has
encapsulated some small piece of information.
Facts can certainly settle then, and there, and – I don’t
dispute - increased maturity of understanding can naturally
arise; but this is part of living and growing itself; and is not
essentially related to learning. To true learning I give the
highest place; and I think Shakespeare was also talking
about it when he wrote, ‘Let me not to the marriage of true
minds /Admit impediments’. What happens, rather, in the
classroom in general — in pacific conditions if they can be
made to arise — is : the distribution of information and its
being noted down by students.

True learning may thus be rather rare; it needs to be
kindled, rather: and evoked. It’s the mutual opening of a
door to an new and mysterious world to which we have
access if we set up the conditions properly.

Michel Thomas, pictured above, discovered and certainly
knew how to set up those conditions, as can be seen if one
looks closely at the teacher-student exchanges in ‘The
Language Master’. And even where the adolescent
students he was teaching – who were never warm – remain
sceptical, he at least won all of them over, not so much to
himself or his material, as to the magic of visiting the place
where learning occurs, about which he was consistently so

It’s a place which can be visited only if the harmony and
psychological temperature of the classroom are sufficiently
connected, as a result of the compliant and co-operating
intelligences gathered there; who collectively can achieve
that ‘absolute zero’ at which a meditative approach to one’s
material arises: accessing the place at which learning, truly
occurring for brief flash, can be brought down from
Heaven to Earth.


Or up from the Underword, as the ancients believed . . .
Not only that, but we will find then that an account has
been opened in our name in this hallowed place; and that
the more frequently we revisit it, the greater the interest
there will be, which will accrue to our benefit. It’s
mysterious, but it’s as if some personal genius in the
Gardens of Learning, charged with maintaining and
improving the material of our unique consideration, is
there just for us. . . And however long the gap between our
visits, no worries, the genius will still be there for us!
One’s learning can thus improve without one’s doing
anything about it at all ! Nothing but a little waiting . . .

I remember being told that Dr Ruth Saw, an exceptional
but little-known Professor of Philosopy at Birkbeck
College, London, in the early-to-mid post-war period, when

asked on what basis she would decide whether to trust
another person’s artistic judgment replied, ‘I would look
into their eyes!’ Such tenderness was not much in tune
with the rigorous thinking of that time
But of her, Harold Osbourne, a kindred spirit, wrote:
There are people who are remembered for their achievements in Science,
in Art, in Philosophy…[and] the personality behind the achievements is of
secondary importance. There are others who were remembered for what
they were, for the direct impress of their personality and the impact of
that indefinable aura which makes personality what it is: Ruth Saw
belonged to the latter type. . .
So my stress these last days is less about how to achieve
things at all costs, than to be concerned with seeking out
exactly where learning may be found; and with nourishing
it and others’ personalities in the process. . .
‘I take no sides in these… disputes, these delicate storms in
Wedgwood porcelain..’ – wrote J.N. Findlay, a colleague of
Osbourn; and famous for his, The Perspicuous and the
Poignant: Two Aesthetic Fundamentals. . . and that’s wise,
too. But then he goes on:
‘Aesthetic canons spring from human nature as such, and
not merely from contingent human nature but from that

absolute human nature which makes us conscious and
rational animals. . . One cannot remove the persipicuous
and the poignant from the aims in which we qua conscious
develop an ever increasing zest…’
The same goes for learning: the abolute and trustworthy
spark which provides the real magic and meaning to our
intellectual and emotional lives. It’s part of ‘absolute
human nature’, and time it was more widely caught sight of.
Birkbeck College, London – a great inspiration to many…
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern
Ireland…a hair- raising walk to a new place.

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