The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The unknown known

In a recent article, Casey shared how the normal school dynamic may have an impact on student’s ability to become healthy and confident learners.

She described how in a school class, teachers will often ask a question and call upon students to answer it. May it be the answer to a mathematical equation, facts about history, or whatever else. Built-in, in the way such a question is brought to the class, is the idea that the one who gives the right answer first wins the praise.

For a student, it then is easy to develop the logic, that knowing the right answer as fast as possible is what’s necessary to be appreciated. However, this will also depend on how the teacher reacts to a wrong answer. If the method is to simply pass the turn until there is a right answer, the one in the known clearly wins. All those who don’t know find themselves struggling with some part of the learning process as well as their self-worth.

For years, this led to leaders having to know the right answer to be appreciated by their team. If a leader doesn’t answer a question, the team may even assume that he is voluntarily not sharing. They put aside the hypothesis that he may not know the answer yet himself. They learned that the teacher knows.

Another ingredient defining the context of learning is the focus on the individual. In the ’60s the personal development movement established a few assumptions. These were that we as individuals are responsible for our own behavior, that we control our destiny, and that we can make things happen by ourselves. It was an effort to liberate individuals from external pressure. One that assumed that to solve the problems of human existence and social intercourse we only needed to work on the perfectibility of each individual. While none of this is false,

it remains an optimistic idea. It also is an idea that leaves aside how individuals often behave differently when they are in a group. It also misses that even when individuals are alone they remain subject to established ideas and culture.

The movement missed seeing the pressure it was putting on individuals. By shifting the view away from bringing the right answer to everyone in the class it moved it for example to bring the right answer to one’s own audience. The theory being, that the answer is right if people follow. Perfection now means to define oneself and to do so well enough that others follow.

While this is a bit of a rant, it is also a learning I’m taking away from a workshop I’m attending.

I can see how pushing the impact of the group aside only transformed that impact into the necessity for the individual to do the right thing for the group. It assumes a one-sided locus of control.

We are exploring the respective impact of the group on us as well as our impact on the group. In doing so, all of us try to develop an input that can be welcomed by others. As we connect with our own experience we seem to filter things into those that can be shared and those that can’t be shared. We assume responsibility for the way we feel making it a personal experience, that is we assume in some cases that we know that it only belongs to us. It is as if we would be protecting ourselves from not knowing the right answer. However, whenever we decide to share the experience it starts to transform itself and we learn that we didn’t know. We still struggle with sharing assuming that we need to know what it means. However, sharing and accepting that we don’t know usually leads to new insights emerging. And we learn that knowledge emerges from our experience. It’s a learning that results from the assumption that the group is more than the sum of its parts and the willingness to accept that it exists as a separate system.

An association that comes to mind to get a glimpse of that process is brainstorming. Whenever it is welcomed in a non-judgmental way, it comes with the potential to create something that has not been known before. There are still many steps to follow, but it starts with knowing that we don’t know and can’t think ourselves to the idea.

In our workshop, it means to welcome what is being said without making ourselves subject to what is being said. It is not being shared as information against individuals, but as information for the group.



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