Learning How to Learn

Hey, peoples.  How are you?  You look good.  Taking care of yourself.  It’s good to see you again.  Come  here, you.  Show me some love.  Yeh, it’s been too long.  How’s the family?  Good.  Good.  Glad to hear it.

Me?  I’m doing fine.  Work is good.    Trying to find some life balance.  You know.  More time for the hobbies and maybe a social life.  Same ol’.  And Leika’s hanging in there.  Getting old but she’s still got some pup left in her.

Oh, actually I did want to get your advice on something.

Environment

I’ve got a young relative who’s having some trouble in school.  I feel like I could really help if I was around more.  There aren’t any big math people in my family, for example, whereas I majored in Electrical Engineering and practically have a minor in mathematics, physics, modern physics, computer science and of course electronics.  What I mean by that is that E.E. is challenging and contains a LOT of disciplines.  It’s intense, as a timeline of my GPA would clearly demonstrate.  Looked like a graph of NASDAQ circa late 2008.

My family is old school, mostly.  My mother’s side of the family is very stoic and is more or less a matriarchy.  If they see a 9 year old hugging his mother they’ll say, “You’re too old for that.”  Or they used to say, “Men don’t lean on other men.” That kind of thing.

As if the male of the species is supposed to be a stony edifice and swallows his own pain and isolation for nourishment.  And women are martyrs in one way or another.  Like I said.  A bit old school.  That’s one aspect that I can not brook.  Don’t get me wrong.  My family is great.  They’re generous, kind, warm, sincere and nurturing.  My siblings and cousins are such great people, raised in that old school ethos.  Even the outliers, however troubled they may be at times, are beautiful, talented people.

Anyway, in my mind, denying a child appropriate affection is the equivalent of emotional abuse, but I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.  I mean, I lived it.  When I have kids they will NOT be brought up that way.  They’re going to know that their Mom and Dad adore them.  If they’re different and a little weird, those differences will be celebrated for the gifts that they are.  And when they get out in the world they’re going to be beacons of friendship, warmth and love.  Possibly.  That will be a possibility for them if I have say in it.

On the other hand, my father’s side of the family is very affectionate.  The men give you big ol’ bear hugs when you walk into the room.  The women give you a hug and a peck on the cheek.

That’s the way it should be.  I’ve been instilled with both of these approaches to social interaction, which may be why I’m so confused and confusing.  🙂

Anyway, this young relative needs overt, unambiguous attention, approval, acceptance and affection.  Some people are just like that.  And my family isn’t the place to get it, unfortunately.  That’s not how they roll.

I’ve been hanging out with my nephews, although not enough.  It’s fun, though.  You know what a know-it-all I can be and how much I like to teach.  I sent a really good Marvel Comics drawing book.  It’s so good I bought one for myself and was practicing a little tonight.  It’s even got tracing paper built into it and exercises to practice in the book.  Comes with a pencil and a few pens/markers.  This one:

Book Cover
Book Cover

We tried doing an electronics project but that s.o.b. was hard.  Not designed very well, the hardware and instructions aren’t very user friendly.  So I sent another more kid-friendly one, Snap Circuits 300.  Hope they got it.  It was delivered and left on the porch according to the tracking number.  I want one.  The 750 model lets you hook up to the computer for a kind of oscilloscope.  Brilliant.

Learning how to learn

So this young relative in particular, who I’ll call Chowder for the purpose of this blog entry,  I’ve asked questions to try and figure out his head space.  To see what’s going on and what he’s thinking.  Is he distracted by anything in particular?  Not feeling well?   My family has made a diagnosis of ADHD.  And you know what that means.  Trying Ritalin.  I strongly disagree.  I’ve had trouble getting to sleep thinking about that on some nights.  It stresses me out.  Even if it had the desired effect, it’s still only treating the symptom of … whatever.

Anyway, I sat down with Chowder to do some drawing and that electronics kit thing the other weekend.  Just to hang out.  He wanted me to teach him how to draw but is very, very hard on himself.  He thinks that being good at something means being good at it.  Period.  He doesn’t understand the concepts of effort, discipline, practice and frustration being a part of learning.

So I said:

“I’ve been thinking about something.  You need to learn how to learn.”

“What do you mean?  I need to learn how to learn what?”

“How to learn anything.”

“How do I do that?”

“Well, the first thing for you is to realize that mistakes are a part of learning.  You can’t be too hard on yourself.  And you can’t give up.  When I used to take guitar lessons, my teacher could always tell when I hadn’t practiced.  And he would tell me that if you sound good then you aren’t practicing.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means, that if you sound good then you’re playing something you already know.  That’s not really practice.  That’s playing something you already know.  But if you try something a little harder than you’re used to or a little faster than you’re used to, then it’s not going to sound good, right.”

“So are you saying I have to make mistakes to learn?”

“I’m saying … well, not that you have to.  But you will.”

“I don’t get it.  What’s the difference.”

“Well … that’s close enough.  Just … you don’t mistakes on purpose but they’ll happen when you try something you don’t know.  Mistakes are a part of learning.”

What do you think?

So that was lesson one on how to learn how to learn.  “Lesson” 1.5 was breathing.  How to calm yourself and relax your mind so that you can absorb information.  Or the beginnings at least.  I didn’t have the words for it last time, really.

What should lesson two be?

I want to teach Chowder — haha.  That’s crackin’ me up.  I want to teach my nephews that your brain is a tool.  It’s not some vague thing that does what it does and that’s it.  It’s not an appendix that does what it does and that’s it.  It’s a tool.  It’s a muscle.  You can train it and shape it to do just about whatever you want to with enough effort.

You can train your brain to let you do somersaults and back flips, play speed metal, solve a Rubik’s Cube, walk on your hands, juggle chainsaws and bowling balls, and/or to be as open and empty or still as a meadow at mid-day.

There’s no one else to convey that message to them.  And it shows.

I’ve ordered some interactive educational CDs.  I want to sit down with them and go through them.  I’m thinking that I want to move closer to Dundalk even if my commute doesn’t get any shorter because of it.  So somewhere north of DC?  That way I could help them with their homework after work sometimes and split the difference between my DC metro friends and Baltimore friends.  Deep Space G.  We’ll see.

Some of you have kids.  What’s your take?  How do you encourage learning?  How do you deal with low self-esteem?  Or do you?

Help me with my avuncular lesson plan, won’t you?

Playlist:

Sail On
The Commodores

SledgeHammer
Peter Gabriel

Living for the Love of You
Hil St. Soul

Champange Supernova
Oasis

Fear of a Black Planet
Public Enemy

Journey to Satchidananda
Alice Coltrane

Summer Lightning
Ephraim Lewis

Birds and the Bees
The Bird and the Bee

Black Hole Sun
Soundgarden

Hells Half Acre
A Whisper in the Noise

Closing Time
Semisonic

St. Elsewhere
Gnarls Barkley

After the Love is Gone
Earth, Wind & Fire

The Church of What’s Happening Now
Sia

How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore
Joshua Redman

Vincent
Don McLean

Soul Food to Go (Sina)
Manhattan Transfer

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