Learning to learn

[div class=attrib]By George Blecher for Eurozine:[end-div]

Before I learned how to learn, I was full of bullshit. I exaggerate. But like any bright student, I spent a lot of time faking it, pretending to know things about which I had only vague generalizations and a fund of catch-words. Why do bright students need to fake it? I guess because if they’re considered “bright”, they’re caught in a tautology: bright students are supposed to know, so if they risk not knowing, they must not be bright.

In any case, I faked it. I faked it so well that even my teachers were afraid to contradict me. I faked it so well that I convinced myself that I wasn’t faking it. In the darkest corners of the bright student’s mind, the borders between real and fake knowledge are blurred, and he puts so much effort into faking it that he may not even recognize when he actually knows something.

Above all, he dreads that his bluff will be called – that an honest soul will respect him enough to pick apart his faulty reasoning and superficial grasp of a subject, and expose him for the fraud he believes himself to be. So he lives in a state of constant fear: fear of being exposed, fear of not knowing, fear of appearing afraid. No wonder that Plato in The Republic cautions against teaching the “dialectic” to future Archons before the age of 30: he knew that instead of using it to pursue “Truth”, they’d wield it like a weapon to appear cleverer than their fellows.

Sometimes the worst actually happens. The bright student gets caught with his intellectual pants down. I remember taking an exam when I was 12, speeding through it with great cockiness until I realized that I’d left out a whole section. I did what the bright student usually does: I turned it back on the teacher, insisting that the question was misleading, and that I should be granted another half hour to fill in the missing part. (Probably Mr Lipkin just gave in because he knew what a pain in the ass the bright student can be!)

So then I was somewhere in my early 30s. No more teachers or parents to impress; no more exams to ace: just the day-to-day toiling in the trenches, trying to build a life.

[div class=attrib]More from theSource here.[end-div]