As I was growing up I was constantly told that I had a lot left to learn. It’s a side effect of being the youngest in the family. After a point, I just give up on my epiphanies because what may seem like an epiphany to me, is just a memory for my parents and sister. There’s a humility to learning, it makes sure you’re always in touch with your own obliviousness.
Now as I get back to my academic pursuits I’m perturbed by the huge pile of readings I downloaded yesterday. Partly it’s my fault for downloading more than I should have. You keep telling yourself it’s just one chapter until you have about six thousand pages worth of readings that are in your folder. Sorting through them was an enormous task. Now as I get down to reading them I wonder if I’ll ever reach the end of it. What was more terrifying was that there are so many more readings out there than the ones I downloaded yesterday that are still floating on the internet waiting for me to get to them.
Learning is more about unlearning, you need to shed your biases, need to step outside your comfort zone and look at things through various lenses. You can’t afford to be overconfident. See, in school, we were told the “correct” answers. There was one standard answer that we had to know and it had to be similar to the one others got. Now, I realise answers are relative, subjective and have no form or shape. If you feel like you have a “correct” answer, it probably means you’ve got the wrong one.
We’ve always been told to learn, we’ve been told exactly what to learn and how to learn. In the process, our horizons of knowledge have shrunk. In college, selective studying was the norm and I was always asked why I did every reading on the list. People loved reading lists and loved to be told what the “essential” readings were. But I soon realised, that even a reading list handed to you by a professor was only a small portion of the knowledge out there. Learning became about reading, although in my head learning was always about perspectives and not answers.
If we go into subjects in Humanities with the idea that we’ll do certain readings, we forget the purpose of the subject itself. Even choosing one reading over another is choosing one perspective over another. I always found myself in conversations where people discussed methods of studying to make studying easier. Everyone’s process was different. It’s those differences that one day translates into our professions and life in general.
I met a couple of people who asked me how I would recommend they study, but I tried not to give them any advice that was rigid or specific. To be honest I never had one method of studying anything. Just like my handwriting, my process of studying was varied it changed from page to page, time to time and subject to subject. Sometimes I’d make notes, sometimes none, sometimes I wrote and revised, sometimes I would call out my answers, sometimes I’d study with music, sometimes in silence. I had no one practice. Anything I would have told them would have been a lie.
Learning has become a competitive process, where everybody, even the best of friends must place themselves on a scale and measure how well they do. Institutions treat students like sacks of potatoes to be sold not people. I suppose it would be too simplistic of me to say that we must place ourselves outside the system.
At one time I wondered why learning is so inaccessible. Is it necessary for authors to write in the most confusing manner they can? Do they need to be cryptic and write with so much jargon? Like everything else, learning is a privilege and after a point, we take our privileges for granted. I am educated but not learned. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who doesn’t understand a complex reading because the author just refuses to say what he can in one sentence and decides instead to take pages to get to the point. Research papers need to be read with a thesaurus in hand.
Research is an impenetrable space. How many people read research papers for “fun”? How many of us would go to a library and pick up a research paper, instead of a storybook? We read research because it’s necessary for our academic progression and the research we might want to do one day. It’s work or homework.
Then we complain about the opinions people have saying they haven’t read the research. Why should they? Research always comes with qualifications and hierarchies. You wouldn’t consider an undergraduate paper at power with a paper produced by an author with a PhD. I am not saying that the quality of papers doesn’t improve with qualifications. I’m saying that we don’t allow fair debates. We limit scope and access then complain about why it doesn’t reach people. We don’t learn, we’re constantly trying to overshadow instead.
I learn not just by reading, I learn through interactions and lived experiences. But we need to be able to provide proof of our learning. Application forms ensure that even personal growth must be quantified. Even to be allowed to learn you need to have a qualification. We completely forget the cost of learning. Our parents paid for our schooling, didn’t they? I have immense respect for those students who supported their own education, it’s not easy. I know my private-school education came at a cost for my parents who put together the money to put both children through school and through college. Cost of education has increased exponentially.
There is a standard understanding that when you compromise on the cost you compromise on your education. Then we wonder why all the kids around the world aren’t enrolled in schools and don’t go on to pursue further studies. I realised this when at sixteen I was teaching as social service. If public school kids need to learn English from sixteen-year-olds from private schools to do well in their exams then imagine what their “qualified” teachers must be teaching them?
I am not trying to look down on the education system, but there needs to be intervention. Learning is so much more than education. So when I downloaded all the readings I could yesterday, I knew I would have to read all of them, because I get free access in libraries because my parents are paying my university to give me that access. I have a 100% attendance because every hour that I skive is one period another girl or boy in India couldn’t afford, to be in my place.
I have much to learn, and what I learn isn’t just what these books and readings will give me it will be what I do with what I learn. Will I pass it on? Will I make something of myself so I can help someone else? I am more than my education. I am a person who still has a lot to learn. Maybe that’s why I feel this pressure to learn because I don’t take it for granted that I can.