The Inner Course of Learning

One of the most important developments over the last two decades has been the opportunity for life-long adult education.  However, one of my concerns is that education has been more geared towards career development or having something to do during the dark winter evenings rather than the pursuit of personal maturity.  All education –no matter what the subject area – needs to address the in-formation of students and not just provide information.  The reality is that education is no index of maturity and that is been so evident in the social, health, religious, economic and political crises that are currently being experienced, not just in Ireland but worldwide.  Bullying too has emerged as a frequent experience in many workplaces and that includes universities.  When the Dail is in session the aggressive behaviour of our political leaders leaves a lot to be desired and one needs to ask the question what educational process has led these elected individuals to behave in ways that any teacher in a primary or second-level classroom would challenge firmly?  It appears to be that whilst the educational opportunities that are widely available are to be lauded the intentions underlying these courses require examination.   When delivering a course I consider my own interiority and to what degree what I’m teaching reflects my own beliefs, understanding of myself and how I want to be in this world.  | am particularly focussed on the inner course of students because I know that  their responses to what I teach will be totally determined by the present state of their inner terrain and level of personal and interpersonal maturity.  It is by encouraging and noticing their responses to the material that I gain insight into their inner worlds and they into the unconscious processes that are guiding their responses and that together we can maximise what they can gain from the particular course they are attending.  Whether or not lecturers see it, each of their students has a different teacher and each student responds to what the lecturer says in a different way –no matter what the subject.  All education needs to be geared to the individual and it is the mature teacher that knows that you cannot address a group; a group has no head or heart!

There is an old saying ‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears’ which suggests that some students are not ready for learning or, indeed, that some teachers are not ready to teach.  However, I believe that the student is always ready to learn but it may not be the knowledge being presented by the teacher.  For example, a colleague of mine suggested that you cannot teach a hungry child!  My response is that the child is ready to speak about his hunger and the teacher’s focus needs to where the child’s attention is at.  Similarly, when a student in a classroom is experiencing considerable inner turmoil, it is the mature teacher that notices and provides the opportunity on a one-to-one basis for the student to speak about what he needs to resolve the blocks to his mature progress.  To condemn the student’s inattention out of hand is a call for the lecturer to examine his or her own inner terrain and ask the question ‘how is it that I’m not in a place to draw out and create the safety for this student to acquire the learning he needs to resolve his inner turmoil.  After all the word education comes from the Latin word ‘educare’ – meaning to draw out.  Education is not about instilling information but about creating the opportunity for the student and teacher to know self.  On this latter point a teacher’s level of personal maturity plays an essential role in how he or she teaches.  After all personal effectiveness is the basis for professional effectiveness, but, regrettably.  the practice of examining one’s inner and outer behaviour  in order to resolve the emotional, social, intellectual, sexual, behavioural and creative baggage we all undoubtedly carry from childhood has not been an integral part of the training of educational (and not just) professionals.  We are now paying dearly for this very serious omission.

My experience is that it is deep unconscious emotional processes – and not intelligence – that determines not only what we learn but how we learn.  Equally such unconscious processes determine what and how we teach.  Opportunities need to be created for students to ask the question: what attracts me to a particular course?:

  • Is it to please my parents/others?
  • Is it to impress others?
  • Is it to fill a void?
  • Is it because the subject so energises me?
  • Is it because it is something I have always wanted to do?

The answers to these questions will reveal a lot about the student’s inner terrain and, maybe, for a deeper inner learning to occur before attention can be fully given to their chosen subject. Those who teach need to ask similar questions but I will leave that to another day.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/National and International Speaker/Author of several books including The Mature Manager. He will be giving a talk on The Adventure of Learning at the Lifelong Learning Festival, UCC, Boole 2, 7-9pm on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010.