Attitude Basics Video Series
by Don Berg, Founder
This is the Attitude Basics video series to introduce you to the foundations of the philosophy of putting attitude before academics.
The series lays out only the most basic points, so for further depth of understanding you can read the variety of essays that are on this site.
To play all the videos in succession here is the Attitude Basics YouTube Playlist.
Episode 1: Embrace the Paradox of Learning
Episode 2: What's Educational?
Episode 3: An Educated Person
Script- Attitude Basics 1: Embrace The Learning Paradox
Good day, Today I am starting a series of short talks on the most basic principles of attitude first education. The first principle is to embrace the learning paradox. Learning is on the one hand automatic, unconscious, and impossible to avoid. But it is also deliberate, effortful and avoidable, exactly the opposite. Traditional classroom practice assumes that learning is exclusively deliberate, effortful and avoidable. The same paradoxical features are true of seeing, so let me demonstrate.
Look at my face and keeping your eyes open and pointed at my face, seeing my eyes, seeing my chin, seeing my cheeks, seeing my mouth, Now, stop seeing my nose. Keeping sight of all the other features of my face use all your will power and self-discipline to stop seeing my nose.
How about it? Of course, you can't. Your brain is hardwired to see all the parts of my face at once and so seeing my nose under those conditions is automatic, unconscious, and impossible to avoid. But with a slight tweak in the instructions I can demonstrate that seeing also has the opposite properties. Now, look at my face and in any way you can stop seeing my nose. Under these circumstances your will power and self discipline can be put to good effect because seeing my nose is now a deliberate, effortful and avoidable task. Learning has those same features. It is paradoxically both ways. No matter where you are or what you are doing you are automatically and unconsciously learning.
What you are always learning are these three things: 1) how you are managing your own and other people's attention, 2) how you exchange resources with your environment to meet your needs, and 3) the patterns of consciousness that occur by being embedded in those attentional power structures and resource exchange processes. But, modern elementary schools do not take these as the most basic lessons to be learned. Elementary schools are charged with delivering academic skills. Mainstream elementary schools are charged with eliciting from children the symbol manipulation behaviors also known as the 3R's of readin' 'ritin' and 'rithmetic. And learning those specific skills IS a deliberate, effortful and avoidable task.
Mainstream classrooms are a logical extension of the ancient academies from which they derive their primary purpose, so their methods assume that learning, in general, is also exclusively deliberate, effortful and avoidable, not paradoxical. Mainstream classrooms essentially ask kids to stop seeing the teacher's nose but they ask some kids in a way that enables them to comply while other kids are asked in a way that makes it impossible. Observers of those classrooms see how one set of kids simply did what they were asked while the other set of kids did not. The observers correctly conclude that there is a problem.
But because they are embedded in the system that does not even consider the possibility that learning has a paradoxical nature, they pass around lots of blame and propose solutions that don't work because they only understand half of the paradox of learning. Mainstream classrooms implicitly assume that the properties of learning the specific skills of the 3R's are the properties of learning in general. This is not the case, and what I call the attitude first approach to learning means teaching kids to practice learning in general before making them narrow their learning to specifics. This confusion about the true nature of learning is like the confusion about the true nature of light. In physics, up until the twentieth century, the idea that light was, in fact, simultaneously both a wave and a particle was inconceivable. But, after we came to properly understand light it enabled us to develop the technology of lasers. Einstein himself laid the theoretical foundation for lasers and the technology followed.
The assumption that learning is exclusively deliberate, effortful, and avoidable is dominant and the paradoxical alternative is mostly unthinkable. But in this case practice has lead the way, not theory. Dan Greenberg, one of the founders of Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA, teaches the entire Kindergaten through 6th grade math curriculum to his students in just 6 weeks. But he only does so when there is demand for the course. At Sudbury demonstrated desire to learn is required before courses are offered, which is just one of many ways to put attitude before academics. Mainstream classrooms set up situations in which they fight against the automatic, unconscious and impossible to avoid aspects of learning.
Re-designing schools with the paradox of learning in mind means figuring out what methods of putting attitude before academics will work in each particular learning community. When we can make attitude the highest priority in every aspect of the school situation then we will get laser-like learning.
Lasers are a natural extension of the inherent paradoxical properties of light and in the same way, with proper understanding, schools can be designed to embody natural extensions of the inherent paradoxical properties of learning. Once we embrace a proper understanding of learning then we will be better able to amplify the stimulation of human potential. But it's going to take some design changes to both schools and classrooms before that can happen.
Thanks for watching.
Script- Attitude Basics 2: What's Educational?
Hi, I am Don Berg. This is the second in the Attitude Basics Series: What's Educational?
The dominant answer to that question is whatever the state declares to be educational via the standards they adopt under the thoughtful advice of legions of experts. The experts can presumably tell whether various activities, information, and materials have educational value, or not. For instance if you look at standards in all the English speaking countries of the world I would guess that you would find that reading Shakespeare is considered an obligatory educational activity in all those countries.
I agree that reading Shakespeare MIGHT be educational, but what would make it so?
One of the key assumptions behind adopting it as a universal standard activity that ALL students MUST engage in is that the expert consensus must mean there is something objectively educational about it. Simply by reading Shakespeare a person is better educated than they were before, right? When we examine the English speaking people that we take to be educated there IS a very high correlation between their having read Shakespeare and being highly educated. But correlation is not causation.
I propose the alternative explanation that what makes something like Shakespeare's works educational is not any objective quality or feature of the works in themselves. Rather education arises out of some combination of the quality and quantity of attention invested in an experience of that content by the learning agent.
So, when kids turn their attention to Shakespeare, if they merely skim over it and move on as quickly as possible then there was little educational value in the experience. Most kids encountering the old english as part of a school assignment will just skip right to the Cliff Notes in an attempt to pass the test and avoid as much actual reading of it as possible. They invest their attention in gaming the system, not learning the content. The fact that they can, and do, game their schooling in this way reinforcesmy point about the learning paradox in the first episode of this series. The kids are learning something from the experience, but it's not the lesson the teacher wrote down in the lesson plan.
Instead of allowing Shakespeare to remain a lesson in how to game the system we can take two steps to make it a more legitimately educational experience. The first step is enabling the learning agent to have their in-built reality simulator activated by the words of the Bard.
The second step is to explore the world created by the Bard's words such that the learning agent gains insights into his or her own world based on how Shakespeare portrayed his. These two steps are necessary for making any experience more authentically educational. That is: 1) activate the learning agent's reality simulator, then 2) allow the learning agent's simulator to run simulations based on the learner's experience of the content. This is why direct experiential learning is the most effective educational method. Immersion in the activity itself as it occurs in the real world is the most reliable way to activate reality simulators and enable learning agents to test the accuracy of their simulations. To see how Shakespeare's work has been used in this way in school all the way down to Kindergarden I recommend the documentary film A Touch of Greatness about the teaching practice of Albert Cullum.
I suspect that the high correlation between highly educated individuals and their having read Shakespeare is mostly a coincidence. Shakespeare's works did not make them educated. What made them educated was, in the more likely scenario, being in a community that facilitated attentional investments of better quality and/or greater quantity in their experiences, or, in a less likely scenario, simply having the gumption and luck to make the right attentional investment choices on their own.
Now, this way of thinking about education will make standards-based instruction more effective by providing a crucial pre-requisite to engaging learners in the pursuit of standards. Standards can be a wonderful tool, but only for those who have committed themselves to achieving those standards. I want Joe the Plumber who is fixing my toilet and my brain surgeon and the teenager flipping my burger to all meet minimum objective standards of competency to ensure my health and safety. But, in the absence of their individual, personal commitment to achieving objective competence then the standards cannot be consistently effective.
Putting Attitude before Academics is all about ensuring that the people who show up are fully committed to becoming competent. Anything less than a full commitment is a waste of everyone's time and energy because what makes their experience educational is not any objective property of merely experiencing the content. What DOES make their experience of the content educational is the quality and quantity of attention they invest in that experience.
Thanks for watching.
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