Thursday, January 13, 2022

Playing Within The Context Of Community

Here's a simple, yet fascinating experiment you can try at home.

Ask someone to sit across from you and say words, pausing after each word to give you time to write them down. Whenever they say a plural noun (like "dogs" or "children") reply "good" or smile or repeat the word in a pleasant voice. Before long, the frequency of plural nouns will increase significantly.

There are a number of basic psychology 101 experiments like this. If half of a class is secretly asked to compliment anyone wearing blue, before long their classroom will be a sea of blue. If an entire class conspires to pay rapt attention to their professor only when they are, say, on the right side of their lectern, the professor will begin to spend all their time to the right of their lectern.

These are examples of unconscious learning or what is more often called "training." This can be used for benign purposes, like in the examples above, but it can also be used by bad actors, like con artists, to cause people into doing certain things or feeling in certain ways. 

It's tempting to view this phenomenon in a negative light, and when it is consciously employed as a training technique or as a way to manipulate others perhaps it belongs there. But the truth is that we are all, every day, in every conversation, unconsciously training and being trained by one another. Indeed, the sheer volume of what we learn from our fellow humans in this way far outstrips the relative drips and drops that we acquire through the kind of conscious learning we place front and center in our schools.

We all know that the kind of remote learning that we've been forced to pursue due to the pandemic is inferior to in-person learning and I would assert that this is largely why. It is much, much more difficult to "read" one another through a screen which means that most of the learning we do on a day-to-day basis is lost. We unconsciously miss our unconscious two-way street of connection were most of our person-to-person learning happens. This is why we get bored so easily, why we struggle to pay attention, and why we find it so exhausting.

Most of us learn best within the context of community because this is how our species has evolved to learn, which is to say it is an adaptation that has made us more fit for survival. The important feature of this phenomenon of unconscious learning is that it is a two-way street in which we are all "teaching" each other and while I've worried about the impact of remote learning on our youngest citizens over the past couple years, I'm far more worried about the one-way educational method we, as a society, have adopted toward them. The evidence seems to be that we learn best in the context of colleagues, peers and equals, yet we persist in shaping our schools as hierarchies. And it is in the nature of hierarchies to train and manipulate.

Our ability to learn from one another in this unconscious way is perhaps our greatest superpower as a species, yet we, at best, squander it in our current educational environment. Playing within the context of community, however, is how we unleash this superpower. Imagine what we could do if everyone understood this.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
"Ready for a book that makes you want to underline and highlight? One that makes you draw arrows and write 'THIS!!!!!' in the margin? Then you are in for a treat." ~Lisa Murphy, M.Ed., author and Early Childhood Specialist, Ooey Gooey, Inc.

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