Are we crazy, or are we missing a big secret?
Your point here makes a lot of sense to me. But going back to elementary school for a minute, I think there's another possibility. When you learned about Sumer but also Columbus and also the American Revolution, you were picking up a lot of background information that you take for granted now. Do you know (now) that the Sumerians didn't have telephones? Do you know that big sailing vessels were important in history? Do you know that machine guns came around sometime between, say, the American Revolution and World War II? Do you know that people of the past spoke a bunch of different languages, and some of them had writing but some didn't? That and an unfathomable amount of other background stuff is what you really learned by studying specific topics in elementary school. That's what I think, anyway.
I find my brain has a"Raiders of the Lost Ark" type warehouse stacked with crates. Ask me from a cold start to write everything I know about (Sumer)(fill in any topic) and it won't fill a sticky note. But let the situation warm up, put me at a table with 2 or 3 other folks all working/discussing at remembering tidbits about (Sumer), and my brain will...churn. Memories will be word-associated, triggering crates to be prybarred open in that metaphorical warehouse, dust billowing. Facts about (Sumer) expressed at the table will be increasingly met with "Oh, yeah, that sounds familiar", "Oh, that's right!", all the way to actual offering of my own tidbits of information.
Playing any game of "Trivial Pursuit" or keenly following an episode of "Jeopardy" will start that churning resurrection of knowledge/memories.
A clearcut example in my life was a few years ago. I sat down to draw a map of the little town where I spent ages 4-7. Casting my mind back thru the decades, the map began mostly blank and what was there was pretty dry. Then the churn began. Here was the barbershop, here was the drygoods store, here was the school, here was the gas station...and it kept going. I didn't just remember the gas station, but the name of the owner...and she had an iron Case eagle logo-statue...and before I finally called it quits, I had a richly detailed map of landmarks, places, and names.
I guess it's all there. Just requires a sincere need to haul it out in the open.
"[Students] understand that they will gain great power if they just keep going." I've always had trouble keeping going when I get frustrated learning new stuff. I learned something cool from a podcast episode https://hubermanlab.com/using-failures-movement-and-balance-to-learn-faster/ (could try 29m15s) which has really changed my thinking and behavior around frustration and continuing through it. Basically the feeling of frustration when learning is evidence of increased brain plasticity.
I don't know any of this stuff first hand, so sorry if it's a bad paraphrase of an oversimplification but FWIW my neuroscientist friend says it's a decent model:
1) During active learning (e.g. trumpet practice), little markers are being left on the brain indicating where structural changes should be made to encode that learning
2) These structural changes to the brain that encode medium->long term learning mostly happen later when we're sleeping
3) The effectiveness of the markers being placed is correlated with the presence of a particular neuromodulator cocktail in the brain (epinephrine, dopamine, and acetylcholine if that means anything to someone else)
4) This neuromodulator cocktail is released when we make errors, i.e. when we recognize our performance differing from our model of how it should have gone
5) We can feel the presence of this neuromodulator cocktail as frustration. (measured presence of these correlates strongly with reports of the experience of frustration)
So the conclusion here is that feeling frustrated when trying a new skill is actually evidence that your brain is in a great chemical bath for doing the most effective learning. For me, this principled argument goes a lot farther than the standard "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" advice. I'm not tough ◡̈
Thanks for this beautiful piece. I probably won’t remember much except that I felt inspired and moved by what learning could feel like. I had a similar experience with a psychology teacher in high school. He had fun, positive vibes. He also told us on the fist day of class that he quit his job as a banker to teach, which intrigued me at the time as someone who felt that a job solely for money felt wrong. I still remember that, over 10 years later, studied psychology as an undergrad, and am now a grad student studying child development. Still not sure if this is the path for me, but I will always remember that teacher.
Don't you think this forgetting of learned information has to do with the fact that you, in particular, didn't ever need that learned information again, so your learned pathway through the synapses and neurons of your brain, freshly triggered and ready for new use was never used again? And thus, you forgot?
So most of us forget alot, because we, in particular, never use this particular learned information again, ever. When you learn something, it will not stay there in your brain forever and be easily accessible. You have to use the new pathway to deepen the learning. You don't, you will forget the learning.
So: put yourself into situations where you need knowledge about Sumer, and voila. Or don't and forget. Like I learned to hit a ball thrown angry at me by a pitcher, and when I do this regularly, I can hit it easily. If I stop doing that for ten years, I cannot even hit a ball set up on a tee, you know.
As a high school science teacher for the last six years -- absolutely so true, every teacher should have to read this.
Great article! It's timely for me since I've recently taken to blaming lingering Covid side effects for memory lapses. On the other hand, my wife says I was always kind of like that, so probably it's a normal situation of remembering vibes, not slides.
I do wonder if the idea of "vibe management" should be considered with some care. It strikes me that the great thing about vibes is that they aren't really "taught", and yet there they are. Maybe they're so powerful in part because they're internally generated, and so personal. They're our take on things, not necessarily the intended take on behalf of the purveyor of vibes, whoever or whatever that may be.
If vibes are a bastion of individualism, that seems antithetical to management.
Been enjoying this Substack ever since I discovered it a few weeks ago by the way!
Have you tried spaced repetition? I found this article illuminating: http://augmentingcognition.com/ltm.html
Thank you for this unorthodox & thought provoking essay, Adam! I'm really going to ponder these ideas.
This notion of embodied understanding (as opposed to cerebral) ended up being the surprise focus of an analysis video Michelle Jia (of Sundogg Substack fame) and I did on a popular video journalist, Johnny Harris. Put in EH-language: give your audience concrete examples to convey the vibe first, then give the abstract ideas. Here it is for reference :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIKsEhX-vyU
This also feels related to the recent emphasis placed on a sense of belonging in educational environments. Dr Susie Wise's "Design for Belonging" is a great example; as is "The ABC's of How We Learn" by Schwarz et al, where Belonging is the "B" despite not being as heavily quantifiable as all of their other topics.
This is amazing 👏👏👏 I can't remember so much, but I definitely remember teachers that made me feel good, that made me confident.
That what is going in my mind buuuh, history is so amazing and thrilling
Vibes stick, it really feels true. Facts are fleeting - that does too. How do we use this to better retain? To alchemize dross into golden [rhymes with “retain”]
This is interesting, provocative, and an element of a far more complex process that leads to learning, recognition and recall. While the emotional context of a learning experience contributes greatly to that which is retained, the text limits of this essay prevent a more comprehensive exploration of this topic. Although it is not the authors intention, and this is an interesting perspective on an enormously complex and important topic, it runs the risk of leaving readers with the impression that simply introducing humor and fun will dramatically enhance the retention of information. Clearly emotion plays a significant role in learning, consider how the trauma of child abuse impacts the learning experience and subsequent life choices of of an individual for decades afterwards. That said, I am wondering what and how college students who are studying to become teachers, are taught so as to optimize their future students pedagogic experiences?
Good points, and somewhat similar to the thesis of a book called the Power of Moments. (Also, the Sacklers’ company sold only 4% of opioids, maybe google “illusory truth effect”)
Aside all else, I think we're all compelled to think learning must serve a bigger purpose that is only going to pay off in the future. School is a place that prepares you for an exam instead of showing the multiple possibilities for further learning (of course, this would not serve the reigning economic system but one can dream, right?). As you mentioned in another comment, classes should feel more like invitations, I plan on going back to college the next year and I already feel like it's going to be fun, precisely because that's what I'm looking for.
Thanks for reminding me of why I have always loved school. Most teachers have not contributed to my love of school. I've had to do almost all of it on my own. This is why I tell new students that they will get out of university what they put into it. (Disclosure: I am 64 and in the dissertation writing phase of my PhD, having obtained five degrees over the years since 1978. But not an academic. I just keep going back to school.)