Tag Archives: learning

Story: Enthusiasm Is the Best Teacher.

For the weekly videos, I now tell a story. I’ve realized that for me, and I think for many people, a story is what holds my attention and makes a point most powerfully.

This week’s story: Enthusiasm is the best teacher.

 

Do you agree or disagree? Do you find yourself intrigued–or not–by other people’s enthusiasm?

If you want to read more along these lines, check out…

Have fun that’s actually fun–for you.

Just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean that it’s fun for me.

What do you find fun? A question that’s surprisingly hard to answer.

You can check out the archives of videos here.  More than 1.3 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Secret of Adulthood: When the Student Is Ready, the Teacher Appears.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

Have you ever had an experience when a teacher appeared, when you needed one? I find this to be almost uncannily true.

Trick Question: Can One Coin Make a Person Rich?

Assay: I’m struck, when I reflect back on my education–years in grade school, high school, college, law school–by the things I remember. From all those years of study, what do I retain? Not much. But at odd moments, a random fact or  snatch of poetry or phrase will float into my mind.

For instance, I can never see a daffodil without thinking of a line from Milton’s “Lycidas”: “And Daffadillies fill their cups with tears.” Now, why do I remember that? I don’t even remember reading “Lycidas,” but that one line I remember.

This morning, I caught myself thinking about something I read in Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly. I read this passage many years ago, and have never looked back at it, until just five minutes ago, but I’ve never forgotten it.

I’m quite impressed myself that I remembered where I’d read this idea; in fact, it isn’t even in The Praise of Folly itself, it’s in a footnote that explains a reference in the text to “the argument of the growing heap.”

According to the footnote, the argument of the growing heap is:

If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

In my memory, I recalled this argument as: “Will one coin make a man rich?”

I think the “argument of the growing heap” has stuck with me because it captures a paradox that I grapple with in my own life, and which is very significant to happiness: Often, when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time,  a sum of those actions is very meaningful. Whether we focus on the single coin, or the growing heap, will shape our behavior.

Take going to the gym. You don’t feel like going to the gym, and you say to yourself, “What difference does one day make? It doesn’t matter if I skip today.”

True, any one visit to the gym is inconsequential, but the habit of going to the gym is invaluable. Does one visit to the gym make a person healthy? Ten visits? Eleven? Finally, you have to say that no one can be healthy unless one visit to the gym can make him or her so.

When we’re trying to find excuses for ourselves, it’s easier to point out the low value of the one coin. By reminding ourselves that the golden heap grows one coin at a time, we can help keep ourselves on track.

What about you? Do you ever make the one-coin excuse to yourself? How do you stay focused on the growing heap?

It’s a bit unnerving to consider how much learning I’ve forgotten,  but education is more than an accumulation of facts that may or may not be remembered. As William Lyons Phelps observed, “Herein lies the real value of education.  Advanced education may or may not make men and women more efficient; but it enriches personality, increases the wealth of the mind, and hence brings happiness.”

Ever Had Such an Intense Interest in a Subject That Learning Was Easy?

As I’ve noted here before, I’ve recently become obsessed with the sense of smell — which has been an interesting experience, for several reasons.

One reason: this obsession has reminded me about the nature of learning. I’ve been struck by how much I’ve learned in the last few weeks. I went from knowing almost nothing about the scent of smell to knowing…well, quite a bit more. And without any effort, any drilling, any assignments on my part. Quite the contrary. I’m gulping down books, jumping around websites, eager to learn more, more, more.

The same thing happened when I was working on my Churchill biography. In college, I’d taken classes that covered World War II, and I had to force myself to do the reading, and I struggled to memorize the facts. But through the lens of my limitless fascination with Churchill, I couldn’t get enough of these materials, and I remembered facts easily.

And what’s strange — for me, at least — is that this interest clicks in so suddenly. Two months ago, if you’d handed me Chandler Burr’s The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York, I would have been only mildly interested. But last week, I was racing to the library to get it off the shelves. Same thing with Churchill. I went from mild interest to wild curiosity in the space of an hour. I remember that hour very well.

The desire to learn strikes me as quite significant. Sheer curiosity! It’s so powerful. When researchers tried to identify the factors that allowed third and fourth graders to recall their reading, it turned out that the students’ level of interest in the material was very important — thirty times more important than how “readable” the material was.

I was talking about this aspect of learning with a friend, and she said, “So you’re saying, being motivated to learn makes the learning process easier.”

“No!” I answered. “There have been plenty of times when I’ve been motivated to learn, but I didn’t desire to learn.” Law school, say. I was highly motivated to learn, but I had to make myself learn the material. And I saw people around me who loved the material, who learned effortlessly.

In the past, I might have fought against my interest in the sense of smell, out of a belief that it was unproductive to spend so much time and energy on it. Now, however, I let myself follow such interests as far as they lead — and these passions give me great happiness. Happiness from my interest in the subject, and also from the happiness that comes from the atmosphere of growth created by gaining knowledge.

I started asking my friends, “Do you have an area of weird, crazy knowledge? Where you know far more than most people, without making a special effort to study? A limitless curiosity about a particular subject?” A surprising number of people answer “Yes.” How about you? Do you have an area where you have an intense desire to learn? And that subject could be anything — baseball statistics, song lyrics, anything.

*This subject makes me want to pull Johnson’s Life of Samuel Johnson off the shelf, because I keep being reminded of passages that I know I shouldn’t quote at length here — so the next best thing is to re-read them all.

*If you’re also looking for a good book, please consider The Happiness Project (can’t resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.

“A Desire of Knowledge is the Natural Feeling of Mankind.”

From The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell:

On Saturday, July 30, [1763] Dr. Johnson and I took a sculler at the Temple-stairs, and set out for Greenwich. I asked him if he really thought a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages an essential requisite to a good education.

JOHNSON: “Most certainly, sir; for those who know them have a very great advantage over those who do not. Nay, Sir, it is wonderful what a difference learning makes upon people even in the common intercourse of life, which does not appear to be much connected with it.” “And yet,” (said I) people go through the world very well, and carry on the business of life to good advantage, without learning.”

JOHNSON: “Why, Sir, that may be true in cases where learning cannot possibly be of any use; for instance, this boy rows us as well without learning, as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors.” He then called to the boy, “What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?” “Sir,” (said the boy,) I would give what I have.” Johnson was much pleased with his answer, and we gave him a double fare.

Dr. Johnson then turning to me, “Sir,” (said he) a desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind; and every human being, whose mind is not debauched, will be willing to give all that he has to get knowledge.”

I was talking about this passage with a friend and couldn’t resist quoting it. Samuel Johnson! One of the patron saints of my happiness project. (Note: I added paragraph breaks to make it easier to read online.)

* I’ve become a real sleep nut, because once I started getting more sleep, I realized how much better I felt. A fascinating article, How little sleep can you get away with? discusses research that shows that although we think that we’ve adjusted to a lack of sleep, in fact, we’re very impaired.

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