The English etymology of the verb "learn" is rather interesting: "I know" with a base sense of "to follow or find the track," related to "sole of the foot" (via). Learning means to have travelled the distance, to have walked the walk.
Meaning that there are no short cuts for certain knowledge. I used to begin one of my classes with a discussion about that. And indeed, I seem to be rather concerned again with the question of education and knowledge, because knowledge is ostensibly supposed to take place in formal learning institutions. But so often, this does not happen - in my case, because the course I teach that speaks to this has become an elective, and I was told yesterday by some of my students that some of their friends didn't opt for it because it was "too much work" (oh, dear readers, all I do is ask questions like, why is this important?) One of the best lectures I've ever heard was given by Prof. Thurman, in which he enumerated the spiritual tools that one learns as a university student.
He began by explaining that a way of living in ignorance or misunderstanding leads to suffering. A way of living in wisdom, however, is liberation, a complete happiness that enfolds others, becoming human. The way to freedom through understanding can be paved by higher education.
While the ensuing discussion was in terms of Buddhism, I could not help but see the points as being universal. There are two types of "dharma":  textual and practical. The textual 'laws' involves discipline, discourses and systematic, scientific texts. In other words, one learns to focus and concentrate, to receive someone else's message, and understand it in their terms, and how to engage with other texts. Practical wisdom includes moral and ethical development, and a higher education in wisdom: a knowledge of the nature of reality, a gnosis, γνῶσις.
The higher education of wisdom is not blind learning (there is no dogma, one is not to become a parrot!). It involves an analytical seeing, insight; it is critical mindedness. It is both active and imaginative.
Along with critical mindedness is an investigative kernel: one visualises, one can transform oneself, such as by developing compassion towards others as one takes in knowledge of these other experiences. With such teaching comes certain guidelines, including self awareness, an understanding of emotional or other hindrances, the danger of sloth. A big part of this learning is self control.
But ask good students: even if they do not consider themselves spiritual, if they are doing well in difficult subjects, they have mastered self control. However, they may be lacking in the ethical components or in humility. An important aspect of spiritual learning - which is of crucial importance to learning if it is to be holistic for society - is that we don't know how to use our minds, which is why we are to try to develop discernment.

At the first level, we can gain the wisdom of learning, which is purely academic, and doesn't necessarily change a person, but at least it is calming, and affords concentration and learning that can be remembered. Then, there is the wisdom of critical reflection: the best of liberal learning, which features the analytical debate (the questions I ask my students). It is energetic, it engages the emotions, it exercises the mind through logic, examples, rhetoric. It is also instructive in that how one argues with someone else shows what one's thinking will be (it is how, as well as what). The ability to talk with another improves one's ability to talk with oneself.
So, imagine generations of students who limbo their way out of developing these basic skills. Not only are they not educated, but they are not spiritual, either.
Thirdly, there is the wisdom of meditation, which is experimental and experiential. It becomes intuitive as a result of sustained learning. It is the necessary movement from critically reflective wisdom to deep, experiential wisdom. It includes self critical insight (despite what one knows, one might be wrong), and is only achieved if one's insight hasn't been consistently repressed. Because sometimes the heart sees things the mind cannot see.
We come to learn that too much distraction - too much information - can be counter productive. We uncover mistakes in thinking, such as categorising one's own self ("I'm this, I'm that"), in rigid, permanent categories, which is a delusion that makes life difficult. In contrast to this is flexibility: if we are angry, for instance, we do not have to agree with ourselves. In my own words, we sometimes develop our affinities (like mine, towards education), and when these affinities are not met in life (like students not wanting to be asked questions), then one can experience frustration, anger, fill in the blank. However, if one is able to detach from this - such as by understanding someone else's point of view - then one does not have to feel angry, but accepting. Like Confucius said in response to the slothful student, one cannot carve rotten wood, so one should not be angry at such a situation, but accept it for what it is.
What I would like to underline here is that spiritual learning crosses over with higher learning. Reading comprehension, for example, tests one's ability to understand a topic from another point of view. That is spiritual. My question is: if such skills are not insisted on at a general level in institutions of "higher learning", what kind of teaching are we providing? What kind of society can we expect to be produced by students feeling entitled because they hold a diploma, but lack the higher stages of wisdom: critical reflection and experimental/experiential wisdom?
To return to the beginning of this post, learning is supposed to be something experienced. If students are not given the tools to enable them to experience what is being taught, are they even actually learning?
This post is in part a response to Sofia's third podcast, but also my continued attempt to articulate an effective argument as to the vital importance of higher education and critical thinking. 

Elements: Animus.

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