• Issue 108 / November - December 2015

    Birth of Physical Principles of Educational Philosophy

    Sermed Ogretim

    I remember a renowned author saying "I don't talk about the articles I want to write; because when I do so, I fail to write them." I also remember a anonymous person shouting at people, "if you have a good idea, keep it to yourself; otherwise you will not realize it," Interesting, isn't it?

    I experience these feelings all the time. That's why I am a bad teacher, I suppose. I talk a lot about good things, and then I fail to practice these good things. It is embarrassing to be among people when you have so many flaws in your life, despite the many gazes focused on you. But this horrible state is exactly the same state that led to the discovery of my famous theory of education.

    It all started on a sunny, July morning at school. I was lost in my own thoughts, and suddenly the director dropped in to instruct me on how to be a good teacher. For every single suggestion of his, I had my own objections, and in the end, I convinced him that I was doing the right thing but that the students had something wrong with them. Of course after he left, I mumbled to myself, "I know I am the one doing something wrong! But, do you have to teach me about my wrongs this way?"

    This was the moment things started to precipitate in my mind.

    The word "mindset" does not imply a static state. Rather, it refers to a set of behaviors with a certain goal. Therefore, it is like a steady motion. Changing a mindset means a change in behavior, hence the first law of education:

    "A mind is set unless a teaching is exerted on it. This is called mental inertia."

    This law was first treated with a little bit of hostility, because it was counter-intuitive. Think about how children learn for a moment: you must tell them the same thing over and over, in the hopes that they will do it as instructed. If you don't tell them every single time, they won't do it, even if it is required – e.g. brushing their teeth, having a bath, turning off the lights, putting away their clothes, etc.

    These examples imply that an action must be taught every time. But the first law I put forward says that if a person is doing something, they are going to keep doing it unless they are acted on by another person to teach them otherwise. In other words, if you tell your children to brush their teeth before going to bed, they should be doing it thereafter.

    This was a major obstacle I had to overcome. If the children were not continuing the action they were once told to, they must have been acted upon by another teacher; one who was preaching they go in the opposite direction. And, if it is not the parents doing that teaching, then who is it?

    After a long depressive and contemplative period, I was struck once again by the same notion. Just like a mindset is not a static concept, a mind is not static, either. It is dynamic, and it interacts with its surroundings. As a result, the mind forgets. Therefore, the more dynamic a mind is, the higher is its tendency to forget. This explained it all! In natural settings, a learned force is always opposed by a forgetting force. This is why the effect of the teaching fades away after a certain time.

    From this, it follows that if you could isolate a mind and prevent its interaction with other things, it should exhibit the behavior outlined in the first law. In fact, it is exactly what has been observed in history among those who seclude themselves in a cave or monastery in the hopes of attaining certain spiritual aspects. It is also the same phenomenon observed at boarding schools.

    With the first law firmly in place, I felt the need to express the thoughts I went through in a separate statement. Real life settings were all about the co-presence of various teachings, and a person would exhibit a mindset according to the net effect from all of them. But, what was strange was the fact that people who shared the same conditions – i.e. received the same teachings – were affected at varying levels. Some would both gain and lose a behavior very quickly, whereas others would gain the same behavior very slowly, but after learning, would not lose it very easily. This property was part of their character, and remained constant throughout their lives. I summarized these findings as the second law of education:

    "A mind changes according to the sum of all teachings exerted on it. The ratio of the sum of the teachings to the net change is called the stiffness of that mind."

    Due to my success with the first law, the first half of the second law was accepted. But I cannot say the same for the second half. It implied that a person who exhibits less change after a lesson has a stiffer mind, whereas a person who exhibits more change after the same lesson has a less stiff mind. Of course, people did not welcome this thought – because it was true!

    How do I know? Hah! I just read it. People's minds were stiff towards my first law already; why should they not be stiff towards the second? After all, this is their inherent property. I told them this fact as bluntly as I am telling you. They did not accept it.

    Later on, when assessing this situation on my own, I was once again faced with my "bad teacher" memories. Why was it that every time I tried to teach something, it was received with a negative reaction? And why, when I am talking about a fact of the mind, am I the first one to ignore it?

    Once again, I found myself in that depressive-contemplative mode. As I educated people, I became ignorant of what I just taught! Wasn't it supposed to be that knowledge increases as you share it? Perhaps yes, but there was a catch! More people knowing the same thing did not imply more acceptance and practice. In fact, as I was teaching something, I was consuming the will power that could otherwise be used to practice it; as I was sharing knowledge, my attachment to it decreased...

    But why?

    It was discomforting and ironic that, at the same time as I taught people wisdom, they secretly taught me ignorance towards that knowledge. Was this it? Was this mutual teaching what intrigued me all along? Wasn't it that after sharing my ideas, I had to work on my own mind in order to recover from that reciprocal teaching? Maybe I was learning something from people as I taught them, and I had to un-learn it.

    With these thoughts in mind, I formulated the third law of education:

    "When a teaching is exerted on a mind, there is a reaction from the learner to the teacher. This is called the teaching-then-ignoring principle."

    When I shared my third law with others, it was simply ignored. And that convinced me of its correctness, because I started to ignore their ignorance. It didn't matter whether others accepted my ideas or not. For me, witnessing their real life confirmation led to a total conviction (i.e., mental inertia), which brought an unparalleled power and comfort. I was like Galileo, who once uttered, "the Earth is orbiting the sun, whether you accept it or not."


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