There is no single theory regarding how people learn that applies effectively and indefinitely to all people. People are like snowflakes: no two are alike. Since each person is different in so many ways, why should the way that each of these people acquires information be the same? Learning styles and the aspects of learning that make the learner comfortable are as individual as the person itself. Every person, through individual experiences, comes outfitted with several aspects of their personality as well as experiences that are either conducive to learning or detrimental to the learning process.
I feel that there are several things that contribute to an individual’s ability to learn. The way that a person is raised plays an enormous part in the way they acquire information, as well as the motivational level at which they do so. Their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual surroundings have an enormous effect on the choices that they make as well as the direction they steer their lives in. It sounds very cynical, and not very optimistic, but I believe that human beings are neutral until they are influenced by their external environments. Obviously, there is no way to prove this theory, as it is impossible to raise a child with no interaction whatsoever.
As Maslow stated in his higherarchy of needs, a human can survive on just the basic parts of the needs pyramid (food, shelter), but they also need love, emotional attachment, a sense of belonging, and the ability to express creativity. To cite an example, I remember reading a study about premature babies who spent the first several weeks of their lives in an incubator. These children were studied throughout their lives to document the functionality of relationships that they had with other people. An overwhelming number of them were found to have emotional problems, and difficulty forming loving, strong, and lasting relationships. The doctors in charge of this study stated that because the infants had no contact with other humans for the vital first weeks of life, they were missing the ability to forge essential emotional bonds with other people. This lends credibility to the idea that even if a child were missing external stimuli, they would still be lacking in some aspect.
I also believe that heredity can play a certain amount of importance in the way that development and learning takes place. For example, if a child is born with a genetically inherited disease, development can be stifled on its most literal level. A physical deficiency can cause enormous problems for any child to overcome. A child with a genetically inherited disease can often feel ostracized from his/her classmates because of the difference in physical makeup and development. This can cause severe psychological problems within the child, as well as learning deficiencies. Children who feel ostracized from society because of a hereditary condition will sometimes lack the academic confidence and ability to excel. Certain addictions such as alcoholism or a drug addiction are said to be hereditary as well. Obviously, any addiction that impairs judgment, motivation, and ability to function on even a most basic level can interfere with learning and development. A chronic drug and alcohol abuser will not emotionally, intellectually, and physically progress as well as a person who is unaffected by these addictions.
The lessons a child learns from his/her parents are invaluable. Domestic environment plays a huge role in education. Parents are the first people that a child looks to for information, wisdom and guidance. If a parent has lacking skills in this department, the results can be disastrous. The child may go on not knowing the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. If a parent teaches good work ethics and solid morals, the child is equipped with a better foundation for making sound decisions than a child without this instruction. Perhaps the child belongs to a culture that teaches life lessons, ethics, morals and such that counter the culture the child is later exposed to. This can cause great problems for the child, and cause him or her to not want to participate. Often we confuse a child’s reasons for not participating in school for a lack of ability, when it’s really something else.
The child simply may not feel like they fit in or that they have nothing to offer, so they don’t bother trying. My views on socioeconomic status and performance are still unclear, even to me! I feel that anyone can succeed when given the proper tools. However, I also feel that some students when given the proper tools do not know how to use them, and vice versa. A child from an economically poor family can be academically gifted, but if they are put in a situation where they are ostracized for their economic status, it can stifle their desire to perform. The same goes for a wealthy student. I think we often underestimate the social pressures that are put on children and young adults regarding their economic status. Until people learn to view one another strictly on the person themselves, and not the things that surround that person, this is a problem that will continue to exist.
In connection with this, the responsibility of who should handle the upbringing of a child is an enormous topic of controversy. Some cultures say, “it takes a whole village to raise a child”, and in a sense I agree with this. I don’t believe that raising a child is the sole responsibility of any one single person or even one contingent of people. Raising a child is the responsibility of parents, teachers, friends, acquaintances, and even our government officials. Yes, it’s a bit bigger than a village! Everyone that comes in contact with the child (including strangers) has a hand in raising him or her. The things that people say and do in front of children have a lasting impression on them. With the rise in divorce and broken families in recent history, it can be assumed that many children are not getting the attention and emotional support that they need and deserve.
Therefore, the responsibility to contribute to the lives of these children shifts to the rest of society; mainly onto teachers. There is nothing wrong with spreading the responsibility around to other people, as long as the parent does not abandon their responsibility to the child. In fact, if a child were to be raised solely by the parents, I think that the child would be missing out on quite a bit of what society has to offer. The child would be restricted to knowing only what the parents know. Their ideas would be regurgitations of the parent’s thoughts and ideas. Essentially, if a parent were to deny their child exposure to the rest of the world, they would be creating a clone in their own image. The unique thing about human beings is just that; we’re unique. Much like the snowflakes I spoke of earlier, we should all be different.
To me, learning is a vital and necessary part of a person’s life. It’s a thirst that must be quenched, and for me knowledge is the beverage. Learning is the process by which we not only gain information necessary for survival or for a job we need to do, but it’s necessary to be fulfilled as an emotionally stable, complete human being. We learn so much more than language, math, science, and social sciences in our lifetimes that I think we realize until we stop and think seriously about it. We learn about human nature, relationships, happiness, and self-fulfillment. More often than not, these things cannot be found in textbooks, but can only be learned through experience. I also think that as we age, learning and the importance of it becomes very clear to us. Many of us who are enrolled in these classes for our master’s degrees are not doing it so much for the marginal pay increase as we are for our own personal love of learning. I know that for me personally, I am a bit of a “school junkie”. Even though it causes me stress, which is added to my other responsibilities, I have a specific educational goal in mind for myself that I know I will be able to reach in the time I have allotted for myself. I know I can do it simply because of the love I have for learning.
Although many things about learning and development remain a mystery there are several things that remain certain; it’s necessary, it’s important, and when the instruction is delivered properly, it becomes a vital part of the learner.