Space and Learning

This is a talk I gave in a natural learning group gathering. Most of the stuff in the talk can be found in my other blogs. Here I just put them together under the umbrella of space.

Here I want to talk about two level of learning from the point of view of space. One level is more fundamental level of what is learning and how we should learn. Another level would be conventionally viewed more practical and more like learning skills.

For the fundamental level, I want to talk about three things: no-learning and learning; belonging to a space; learning in different spaces.

No-learning and learning:

I have to talk about no-learning before I talk about learning. No-learning is playing, or doing activity. So no-learning should be our primary activity. Learning should only be the secondary activity. Only by playing with friends and playing in society, will the learning needs arise naturally. By occupying people’s time with schooling (and TV) and turning the secondary activity into primary activity is to make people passive, and thus unable to learn.

In the Sudbury Valley School (SVS), there is no class, no homework, no exam. Children basically just come together to play with each other. So SVS is just a safe playground for kids to play(do activities) together. When kids play together and interact with each other, learning needs arise naturally. For example, when other kids talk about music, then you want to learn about music. When kids want to learn, SVS becomes a comprehensive supportive learning environment. SVS has library, computers and Internet. SVS also has teachers, and the children can request for classes if they feel they really need. By making learning easy, learning becomes a natural process, and kids want to learn.

The stories in SVS usually go like this. Some kids will be very interested in fishing or playing basketball. So they will do fishing for the whole year. They look up everything in books and Internet related to fishing. They ask all sorts of questions related to fishing. And they actually do fishing a lot. They tried every way to learn how to fish and really become experts of fishing. After one year, quite often, they will get bored with fishing, and want to switch to some other things that interest them (This is of course, very natural. Schooling, by fragmenting children’s time, makes them never able to accomplish any learning that interests them at the time, so they never finish it and get over it.). But since they have learned how to learn by learning fishing intensively by themselves (and thus have seen the whole landscape of learning), when they come to other subjects, even like mathematics, they know how to learn and they learn very fast.

Another story was told by an experienced SVS teacher. One day, some kids came to him, requesting a mathematic class. So they set up the time. When the time came, the teacher showed up. But the kids didn’t show up. The teacher felt a little annoyed because in SVS they emphasize a lot on independence and responsibility (the kids need to be responsible for their own learning and for the school environment they have. Kids also take part in important decision making in the school matters.). So the teacher found those kids, asking them why they didn’t show up for the class. The kids said they totally forgot the class because they have read the book by themselves, had understood the subject, and totally forgot the whole class thing.

So when I talk about learning, I have to first talk about no-learning. Compulsory schooling, is essentially to make people unable to learn by putting up the pretense of learning and isolate people away from real life and thus make them lose the sense of space with themselves and with the outside space they live in.

For more on this, please read my previous blog article:

Belonging to a space:

As I said, compulsory schooling is to make us lose the sense of space. What is space? When we play, it is our inner space interacting with the outside space. When we play music, this inner space can be particularly our ears. When we play in a society, it is particularly our mind. When we play soccer, this inner space can be particularly our legs, our eyes and so on. When we play, our inner space enjoy it, and have fun when it is able to interact very well with the outside space. This outside space can be the musical instrument, can be the soccer ball, can be the space we live in: the community, the city, the country, or the culture. This outside space, horizontally, is the geographical space we live in within various scope. Vertically, the outside space is our history: the history of a local community, the city, or the whole culture.

When we do activities, we don’t necessarily know how to do everything of it very well. So we need to learn. To learn is to know about the outside space, and let our inner space adapt to the outside space naturally. Especially with society and culture, it takes tremendous amount of learning.

The inner space is inside the outer space. Thus the inner space needs to belong to the outer space it is in. It is natural for people to have love for the town they grow up in. The rivers, the hills are the space they belong to. When people belong to a space, it fills meaning to their lives and it automatically offsets many negative things in their lives. When we look at the great people, how can they be so passionate about what they are doing? How can they sacrifice so much for their community or their culture, going through so many pains, even to give up their lives? It is just because of their love of the space they belong to.

So learning is to be aware of the space you live in. To learn about the space, it takes a lot of efforts. Horizontally, we need to be aware of the space we live in. So one important method of learning of the society is traveling. When you go to another city, you will notice a lot of things about the city that you previously live in. For example, even you have lived in New York City for many years, there are many things you just didn’t pay attention to. You took them for granted. But when you go to another city, it is much easier for you to notice the difference. So by going to different parts of a country, you will notice various cultures and thus be aware of the whole space. When you just lived in one city of US, probably all your impression of US is just one city. When you go to some other parts of US, then your internal mental space of the space of US also expands and becomes more concrete. When you go to some very different cultures, you recognize people are basically facing the same fundamental questions as human being living in this world. Thus you understand more of your self, your inner space, your conciousness, who you are.

We also need to learn vertically about the space, which is to learn of the history. A city of a long preserved history makes people feel living in the vertical space of history and connected with people in the past. By studying the great minds in history, we come to recognize that they faced the same fundamental questions we are facing today. Then you recognize their struggles as your struggles. You identify yourself with them.

Belonging to a space, is as Mr. Gatto said: love wherever you are, love whatever you do, love whoever you are with.

Then you can ask yourself, how much you have learned of all these in school? How did people become so passive in school? You can read more about this in Mr. Gatto’s article: . Here is my comments on this article:

Learning in different spaces and focusing on one big space:

Certainly there are many different kinds of activities. And for each kind of activity, it is particularly some aspects of our inner space interacting with some aspects of the outer space. Usually in any activity, it requires some participation of all aspects of the space, especially when the activity involves a big space. For example, doing business will be quite different from writing literature. Doing scientific or engineering work will again be very different. So people who are mainly involved in one particular activity will tend to be more sensitive to those aspects that are more strongly presented in those spaces, and be insensitive to other aspects of the space. But nevetheless every space needs other aspects as well. For example, writers who have more social experience and have more  hands-on experiences of doing things (which I identify more with business activities) usually write much better literature. My most favorite novelist is actually very good at mathematics and engineering (he actually wrote his own software to help him writing novels). His novels are full of imagination and logics, which is impossible for most other novelists. And he is more able to convey the truth in his novels.

So it is true that each activity is very rich of some certain aspects of space. As for each of us individually, our time and energy is limited. For our life time, we have to focus on some certain kind of activity in order to get very deep feelings of space. That particular kind of activity for our life time, is what I call the art of life.  This is the reasoning behind my belief that everyone needs to find the art of his/her life and do his/her best in pursuing that art of life. So this is why I say that my social dream is to help build a society where individuals are protected in their pursuit of arts, and the society provides various constructs to help individuals to learn horizontally (traveling, social gathering, organization and so on) and vertically (city planing, for example). By engaging in that art for life, people will come to very deep concrete feelings of space, and how the inner space and outer space interact, which is of course what Buddhism teaches. So this is why I feel Mahayana of Buddhism, as its practice is to save all people before saving myself and help all people to reach to the other shore, to me means to help build such a society where more people can pursue their arts of life freely and experience of their true self. Such art of life of course should be big enough to be worth engaging your whole life in. As it becomes bigger, it becomes more challenging and more interesting. For me, my art of life is social software and natural learning.

Since one particular kind of activity will be rich of some certain aspects of space, and since we need to learn every aspect of spaces in order to be really good at one activity, it is easier for us to learn those aspects in the activity that are rich of those aspects. For example, business, to me is about action, about interacting with society and various kinds of people. So if I want to learn about interacting with people and society (or acquire such qualities of doing action), I will try to do a lot of business activities. In doing business, if you can be very creative, you will have endless means to use, and you don’t have to be very aggresive. If you have a very strong liberal arts background (for example, you know the history very well, and you understand the trend of the human history), it definitely helps you steer the big direction of your business activity and you can stay a lot ahead of other people and be more at ease. So this is why I feel when I recognize that I need a certain quality to do my current activities better or to be a full human being, I always go to activities that are rich of those qualities to learn them.

By acquiring all these aspects of spaces, our minds will be more in tune with the outer space, and we will be more flexible to apply our minds creatively to our current situation at each moment depending on the nature and stage of that situation. That is what I call: be able to grasp the truth at every moment. It is a lot of fun. It is actually the most fun.

So compulsory schooling, by dividing knowledge into just a few majors, and sort people very early at their age into various categories (scientists, artists, or businessmen) is to make people unable to understand the whole world, and thus become powerless and have to become labors (either manual labors or mental labors) to be employed by the top management. (For more on this, you can read:

As for the practical level of learning or learning skills, I talked about resource-driven learning and layer by layer learning. For layer by layer learning, you can reference it here:

If I have time, I will come back later to talk more in detail of resource-driven learning and layer by layer learning (TODO). They are essentially about space.

I can talk forever about space and learning. If you think along the line of space, I am sure you will realize many things yourself. So I will leave the rest to your discovery.


1 Comment

Filed under Chan/Zen, Featured Essays, Learning, What is Learning

One response to “Space and Learning

  1. Pingback: Natural Learning in Compulsory Schools « A hacker of the Internet for the purpose of growth, fun, and creation

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