Why learn about learning?

paulo freire

Paulo Freire

The learning process is human, organic, and complex, in that each individual, unique in his experiences, identity, as well as socio-historical context, transforms the act of learning into an absolutely personal and self-transformational experience. However, for that process to be a truly transformational one, both of the learner and of the world surrounding him, it is necessary that the learner engages the object of study, as well as the act of studying itself, in a critical manner. For Paulo Freire, it is this critical stance facing one’s object of study, and throughout the act of studying, which propitiates the fundamental goal of education, that of creating, re-creating, and co-creating knowledge, ultimately re-creating and reinventing the world around us. This is the critical stance in face of the search for knowledge which realizes the full potential of education, which is to bring about change.

If we are to understand the act of studying, of searching for knowledge, as a process of (re)creation, then we need to admit that the process is dynamic in its nature. Critically engaging a given text is establishing a dialog with its author. It is by means of this dialog, of this questioning, and this critical vision that knowledge can be reinvented, rewritten, and recreated. For it to be so, it is necessary that the learner has a heightened sense of agency, that is, that the learner sees himself as being the agent of his education; that he acts as subject in his search for knowledge, in his learning journey. The attitude of letting oneself be domesticated or indoctrinated does not lend itself to the critical posture advocated by Freire. The subject must penetrate the text, imbued with a sense of curiosity, fearless of letting himself become problematized by his dialog with the text.

The act of letting oneself become problematized is an act of surrender to the dynamic and organic process which is learning. Being open to learning is embracing uncertainty, for the act of learning critically presupposes an engagement with the text with an open and inquisitive mind. It means to venture into the unknown. The journey of learning becomes even more revealing if we let ourselves be humbled in face of the search. Being humble is being critical, in that learning is a challenge that requires hard and systematic work, and that many times may demand more than what we are capable of responding in a given moment. We must, therefore, persist and look to become better equipped to return to the text/object of study ready to understand it, to establish a fruitful dialog with it.

It is the duty of every educator to search for self-knowledge and self-reflection as a learner. Living the experience of learning first-hand opens up a channel for important insights into the learning process which may result in disruptions necessary for the refinement of our teaching approaches, methods, and techniques, for our being/becoming educators with the full potential to foster the kind of learning experiences which will instill our learners` curiosity and critical engagement with their own education, as well as the world around them.

In the words of Paulo Freire:

“Studying is not an act of taking in ideas, but of creating and recreating them.”

FREIRE, Paulo in Considerations regarding the Act of Studying (1968)

On Community as Curriculum & Absolute beginners #rhizo14


Just as week 5 draws to a close, I finally found the time to do some catching up on some ‘fiery’ blog posts, among which are Jenny Mackness’s and Frances Bell’s, and kinda grasped Jaap’s jokingly (or not) warning me about joining #Rhizo14 over half-way through as I did. Apparently, things got a bit messy in the scholar/ignoramus interplay, and funnily (or happy-go-luckily) enough, I myself made a comment on FB in which I expressed my astonishment at the degree of erudition I’d been encountering in the course. I had no idea at the time I made the comment that all that frisson had been developing, although I began to grow suspicious that there was something in between the lines of the hush-hush tone of the replies to my ‘erudite’ comment. “Down with the power structures!” was my humorous reply to the thread. I hadn’t yet lost my innocence at that time. I have now…

Little did I know that, at the moment of my verbal fist, I’d already been tapping into an underlying issue regarding the very nature of Moocs – that which in the context of TEFL we refer to as a mixed-abilities/mixed-levels groups. How does one go about teaching any curriculum to a group of absolute beginners, plus a couple of lower-int, upper-int, and a handful of near-native speakers (a CEFR letter soup, literally)? That, to me, seems to bear some resemblance to what I’ve been experiencing with you guys, among whom I’ve found myself to feel like an upper-int student (at best!) Taking this course with such a richly varied collection of individuals is an absolute privilege, and one hell of a ride, I tell you. I have been exposed to more hard-core theory in this course than I ever was, say, taking Anthropological Theory 2 back as an undergrad. Not that I was able to decode a lot of it, but still, as much as I, too, feel a bit ‘cold’ when theorizing ensues, I also appreciate the fact that these guys are exercising their vast academic knowledge and I’m getting to be an avid listener, sometimes even an interlocutor in my own terms, of course. I deviate a bit… but back to the point I am trying to make here, it takes one extremely self-confident, experienced and flexible individual to fulfill the role of the ‘teacher’ in a group of this nature.

Again in the universe of TEFL, having a ‘misplaced’ student in a group may generate an array of issues, one of them being that an obvious approach from the part of the teacher will need to involve catering to that specific learner’s needs, customizing the input and trying out different approaches to see which one will engage that learner and hopefully bring about some learning. How would that play out in a massive open online course, in which “absolute beginners” find themselves shoulder to shoulder with “educated native speakers”? Easy. Instill a sense of community among them. Get them to engage with each other, disagree with each other, share seemingly unrelated content with each other, and you just might end up having some sort of assemblage of individuals that share a sense of belonging, an intuition that there are no dumb questions, that the scholar may learn a thing or two from the absolute beginner, that insights may spring up from such conversations, and breakthroughs might be just waiting to happen to some of us. What a wonderful aura of potential!

A lot has been said about the meanings of ‘community’ and ‘network’ this week. My impression is that the word ‘community’ implies affective bonds that commonly ensue among people who occupy neighboring/common spaces. ‘Network’ has a more dynamic feel to it, in that it pressuposes connections with a purpose in mind. Having said that, I am left wondering whether the attempt at defining these concepts is at all helpful (or even useful) to an understanding of community as curriculum. One thing is certain, a communal feeling of unity is fertile ground for relationships, which could possibly result in strong connections. People (as opposed to machines) are socially-oriented. It is in their nature to look for supportive environments, for it is in those environments that they feel comfortable enough to be. Be whoever they are, whoever they want to become, modified and improved by the connections made with others.

The journey of Rhizo14 has made me think deeply and intensely about the meanders of the learning process. It has also made me challenge the established system in which education has been commodified, primed and packaged as something unattainable by the masses. Coming from a country in which 85% of its population spend their free time watching television, such issues speak closely to me, both as an educator and a citizen. I don’t wish to be naive to the point of believing that there are no power plays in the network society. However, I find it rather positive that more and more educators, scholars and absolute beginners alike, are using the available connections to think, to converse, to theorize, and hopefully begin spinning the wheel of change.

Thank you to all scholars and absolute beginners that have enticed me to learn through cheating (from you all), to enforce my own independence (and go looking around for connections and sources so as to acquire new literacies), and to question the status-quo of print media (which made me linger towards the tribal campfire). It’s all worth it. It’s co-constructed learning, and what’s more communal than that?


Absolute beginner