Thoughts on the ‘learning threats’ – a hidden tension in learning and education

In a recent conversation I mentioned something that was interesting.  I spoke of what I called the ‘learning threats’.  These are the various types of ‘threats’, given in public schools, Colleges, and Universities, that basically force people to have to learn a certain way, usually by a certain period of time, and in a certain way.  Basically, I said that I felt that these ‘learning threats’ were more of a hindrance than anything else.  In fact, I think they are destructive.  This point of view originates from observations I’ve made over the years as well as personal experience.  I see references to it continually with kids nowadays, especially, and with University trained people.

The ‘learning threats’ include things such as:

  • Threats of failure.
  • Threats of low grades and scores.
  • Threats of not being accepted in some way.
  • Threats of being a failure.

These create a condition of “perpetual threat” that if you don’t learn what they want, the way they want, by a certain time, you will suffer as a result.  As a result, it ‘forces’ learning to take place.

Its interesting that I remember joking about this way back in about 1990 when I was at the University (though using different words) and people almost spit on me for it.  Either that or they ridiculed me for it or acted with contempt.  In other words, people were so controlled by it that you couldn’t even mention it!  In effect, people actually supported it.  This was not because they believed in it but, rather, because they are helpless to it . . . agreeing with it gives them a sense of control.  Its then that I knew that this was an unspoken power and a continual presence in schooling and that it was influencing things.  As a result, I have watched for it over the years.

As I’ve watched it over the years it appears, to me, that this condition creates a distorted attitude about learning which, in my opinion, has sort of ruined learning nowadays.  Its continual presence ‘colors’ learning and influences learning attitudes, what it is, and what learning consists of, as well as what ‘success in learning’ means.  Its done this by forcing certain conditions in the school or learning environment such as:

  • Its created a ‘politics of learning’ revolving around the “power” of who is accepted, who fails, etc.  This has created a condition of various forms of “power” associated with learning and, accordingly, how that “power” is used.
  • Many people find that “education” becomes nothing but a form of achieving and manipulating this “power”. 
  • It has created something like a ‘learning class system’, where a persons prestige and success is determined by the “power” they have received “officially” by the learning establishment (such as a University degree)
  • It has brought into learning a lot of needless red tape.  Everything has to be done properly, in a certain way, with the right procedure, and so on.  If its not done the correct way then it is discounted and a person may even be penalized by it.
  • Because of all the politics and learning it has created all these shifty and devious ways to ‘get around it’ or, rather, to ‘manipulate the system’.  Even while I was in school I could see all the stupid little shortcuts people did in order to “pass”, most of which entailed no learning, nor reflected it but, yet, appeared ‘official’.  In this way, it has turned learning into a big game of delusion.
  • It has instilled a superficiality to learning.  Its created conditions where learning is revolving around power, politics, red tape, and so forth and not about learning itself.
  • It instils ready-made and accepted viewpoints about things that must be adherred to in order to pass.  In that sense, people are as if required to  “accept viewpoints, under the threat of failure”, so to speak, whether they like it or not, believe it or not.  This has tended to created a slavish mentality in learning nowadays . . . if we don’t do it the way they want, we fail.
  • It instils fear and apprehension in learning.  I can remember all the “panic” over the fear of failing in school.  People spent more time panicking than anything else.  For some people, this has gone so far that it has created a continual sense of ‘tension’, ‘uptightness’, or ‘nervousness’ associated with any learning.
  • Its instilled a false sense of knowledge, that just because a person “passes” they know.  In this way, “passing” is important only in the fact that it gives them a measure of “power” that they have received “officially”.  In other words, “passing is power” and that’s what matters most.
  • The ‘learning threat’ has become one of the many things that has turned learning into a matter of administrative control.  In short, how well you do what the administration says determines your “success”.  The ‘learning threats’ are part of how administration keeps a control on things and people. I should point out that the adminstration can range from school adminstration to regulatory controls to government requirements.  In other words, learning has become a medium of many forms and types of administration and it displays its power through the ‘learning threats’.

In ways such as these the ‘learning threat’ has, in my opinion, undermined learning as well as distorted it.  It has instilled into learning, knowledge, and such a hidden threat that lurks unseen behind it all . . . always there but never mentioned generally never even known.  My own observation is that when people talk about learning, knowledge, and such there is often this tension that I can feel, a nervousness, a heightened apprehension.  I was always mystified by this.  The hidden tension caused by the ‘learning threat’ makes it so that people quickly argue about things, quickly dispute things, quickly disagree, and quickly get uptight.  I noticed that a ‘relaxed air’ was seldom seen with learning, knowledge, and such.  This is because the ‘learning threats’ are always hovering over it all and everything associated with it. Its presence is one of the reasons why I do not like to talk to people about things, and why I don’t like to debate or argue things with people . . . there’s too much tension.

One of its effects  is that it has created something like a ‘learning tyranny’ by creating attitudes such as:

  • Everything must be a certain way.
  • There can be no variation.
  • If something is different its ‘wrong’.
  • A quickness to uptightness and anger.
  • For the people with “power” (fancy degree’s and all) they use it like a weapon toward those that don’t.

Its created a somewhat “anal” orientation with learning that is often ridiculous and upsurd.  In this way, learning has become something else than what it is.  It appears, at least to me, that its influence is too widespread and powerful and it has made too much of an impact.

Another interesting aspect of the ‘learning threat’ is that it tends to create what can be described as a ‘forced belief system‘.  The fact is that believing in what you learn is the best way to learn.  Its hard to learn things you don’t believe in.  Typically, though, few people realize this, which means that this is largely an unconscious tendency, hardly noticed.  This tendency makes it so that we actually develop a quality of making, or even forcing, ourselves to believe in things we other wise would not believe in.  In this way, people tend to become ‘education puppets’ believing in everything they’re taught.  In a way, it actually teaches people to blindly follow the system and NOT find things out for themselves (that is, actually learn).  In this way, the ‘learning threat’ actually hinders learning.

A lot of this has became apparent just recently as I often speak with University trained people.  I am often stunned at the difference between my point of view and theirs.  I tended to be very open, free, and variable with my points of view with an honest effort to inquire about things.  They tend to be strict, severe, “tense”, and overbearing, often displaying their “power” (such as that they had good grades or had a degree).  It became apparent that the ‘learning threat’ restricted people and inhibited their abilities, reasoning, and common sense.  It also tended to create a “learning class system” in their points of view, such as that having a degree made them automatically “right” . . . we who don’t have degrees, on the other hand, aren’t worth listening to.  In effect, their whole point of view was not about learning at all but about social position and “power” typically. 

But I have found that the ‘learning threat’ affects people differently.  For some people it can be beneficial and as if ‘spurns them on’, almost inspiring them.  For others, such as myself, it can become constricting and have a choking effect.  For others (what I believe to be most people) it creates a condition in which they must ‘adapt’.  That is to say, it neither helps or hinders necessarily, but they must change their stance in order to fit in.  This ‘changing of stance’ appears to constrict these people, in general, but allows them to “pass”.  In effect, its a sacrifice that is made.  As a result, one can see that the presence of the ‘learning threat’ is felt so strongly that it has the inevitable effect of creating a response in people to the effect that, in some respects, how one does in ‘formal education’ may depend on how one responds to the ‘learning threat’.  This would mean, then, that the people who remain in the ‘learning establishment’ (as teachers and professors, for example) is not a measure of their ‘learning’ but more on the fact that they handled the ‘learning threat’ well.  This would explain why the attitude of accepting the ‘learning threat’ is “taught”, so to speak, almost as virtue.  In fact, overcoming the ‘learning threat’ is often viewed as a “success” in its own right.  I can still recall how people made a big deal about the overcoming of the difficulties of education as some great achievement, as if it was a measure of learning itself.  Generally, the difficulties they were speaking of were the effects of the ‘learning threat’ (learning so and so information by so and so time, for example . . . the more difficult the information and time constraints the more the achievement).  This point of view was even looked at very highly at specific Universities where the ‘learning threat’ was, apparently, more pronounced (such as Yale or Harvard).  In other words, the ‘learning threat’ has become so pronounced a presence that its overcoming is viewed not only as an achievement but a measure of learning itself!   Because of this, people who had difficulty in not overcoming it were viewed with contempt.  Not only that, any mention of difficulty was viewed with contempt.  To ‘drop out’ or ‘fail’ is viewed as horrible.  I, myself, witnessed this.  This would explain why, when I mentioned it many years ago, people viewed it with contempt.  All this just shows how much power and influence the ‘learning threat’ has become.

The problem is that the ‘learning threat’ is not learning nor does it reflect or measure learning in any way.  It is primarily a phenomena of social relations and behavior.  This means that its presence has actually steered us away from learning and, in so doing, undermined it. 


Copyright by Mike Michelsen


This entry was posted in Education, learning, and over education, Modern life and society, Psychology and psychoanalysis, The 'system', 'systemism', and the power structure and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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