No. 306

When it comes to the important subject of learning there is an old joke that perhaps you have heard, about the teacher who sent a note home to little Johnny’s mother. The note read, “Johnny smells.” The mother wrote right back, “Don’t smell him...learn him.” If you can understand the point of this joke, then you can also figure out why little Johnny had body odor. This is a cycle that unfortunately sets up in far too many homes across America, not only because of the hygiene, but more importantly how it impacts a child’s future. A child from a home where education is not important is at a severe disadvantage in today’s times.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back.” This is just another way of saying, what we don’t use we lose. I’m sure you have heard the term “atrophy” which means “A wasting or failure in development of the body or any of its parts.” This also includes the brain.
As I look back over the years of my life one of my biggest regrets is that I did not stay in college and get a degree, not only for what I did not learn, but just as importantly for me, is that I did not finish something I had begun. After I was thirty-five or forty years of age and became painfully aware of what I had missed, I began a course of study on my own that hopefully has helped me to remediate, at least to some degree.
To me, and hopefully to you too, learning is exciting and it’s something we should do each day of our lives. One of the things I have learned just recently that may be of value to you as well, is that there are FOUR LEVELS of learning. This concept was developed by Dr. Abraham Maslow, a noted psychologist who passed away back in 1970, but he made a great contribution to the behavioral sciences and why we humans do many of the things we do.
The first level he called “unconscious incompetence” which means we are stupid and don’t know it. The second level he called “conscious incompetence” which means we are stupid and do know it because someone told us. The third level he called “conscious competence” which means that we know that we know how. The fourth and highest level he called “unconscious competence” which means that we know and can do the things we do so well that we can do them without even thinking about it.
Here is a major point; we move from the level of “unconscious incompetence” to “unconscious competence” very fast because as Dr. Maslow believed, most people are a lot smarter than many of us give them credit for being. Here is an example that will bring some common sense to what I have been saying. Back in the pre-velcro days when most shoes had shoe strings. Can you remember what it was like when you learned to tie your own shoe strings or to teach one of your children?
At first, a young child does not know how to tie his or her shoe strings, next they become aware that they do not know how, “here mommy tie my shoe strings.” Next, they learn how to tie their shoe strings but have to think about how to do it and finally they learn how to tie them so well that they don’t even have to think about it. To visualize this concept, just think about the last time you had to learn something new.
When it comes to the important subject of learning, here is the challenge for every parent, teacher and leader in every field of endeavor. To constantly expose those in your charge to new and worthwhile things so they are challenged to go from the bottom level to the top level and then become stupid all over again. That’s learning, that’s growing, that’s exciting! (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)