Be Fearless in Learning New Things

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How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m just not a computer person”? How many times have you said it, about other things?

I do, all the time. I may not always say it out loud, but it’s there. “I’m not a cooking person.” “I’m not a car person.” Maybe it’s partly laziness… it can certainly appear that way on the surface. But it’s based on fear too. Fear of failure. Fear of wasting our time when we know we’re not good at it anyway. Fear of someone laughing at us for making a mistake. The thing is, we weren’t born that way.

John Holt was this outspoken advocate for school reform in the 1960s and 70s. Unfortunately he called it “unschooling”, which just makes me think of Arrested Development. Math makes Maeby feel partly cloudy.

math makes maeby feel sunnyAnyway, Holt observed how young children were naturally inclined to explore everything, without fear. Of course, part of that is just being dumb. Does that sound harsh? I’ve got 4 kids. The babies always crawl right up to something and bang their head. Like 50 times, before they start learning a little self-preservation.

But even as they get older, learning and discovery trumps fear. Picking up bugs. Looking under rocks. Climbing to the highest parts of the playground. Asking *so many *questions! At some point, the rest of us say, “Picking up bugs and rocks gets your hands dirty. Climbing on the playset leads to a broken arm. Jumping in a puddle gives you a cold. There’s such a thing as *too many *questions.” All we see are the negatives, the possible failures, and we focus on that instead of the potential to learn something new.

We become too adverse to learning and exploring, for fear of looking silly, fear of getting it wrong. Holt blamed the school system, but I’d say we’re all contributors (adults, parents, whatever). For one or more reasons, we lose our natural curiosity. “Fun” becalvin hobbes on playing](

So why bring this up? It’s not to discuss education reform (though I am a fan of home schooling). I just happen to think Holt made some good observations about the fear we develop.

In contrast (and a small victory for me), I spent a few hours the other night troubleshooting why the heater wasn’t working properly in our van. While researching the issue, my mind kept drifting back to “this is a waste and I’m going to end up calling a mechanic anyway, so why bother?” Then I tracked it down to a resistor, made one trip to the autoparts store, and (gasp!) fixed it. And I’m not even a car person! :p

john holt learning is the product of the activity of learners 320x240Like everything else, it comes down to choice. God bless all the teachers in our lives (licensed and otherwise) who have been so patient with us. But the reason we ultimately learn anything is because we continue to *choose *to learn. I’m not sure “despite our fears” is even a good argument to make. We need to become fearless again. Although if you bang your head on something, it’s okay to avoid it next time.

The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do. ~John Holt

If you want to read more about Holt, he wrote a few books too, which I intend to read at some point.

Photo credit: What is Learning? by Denise Krebs, licensed under CC 2.0


Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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