Significant aspects of my life were unpleasantly derailed near the end of high school and into college, apparently because I’d fallen in with the wrong crowd. Drugs played a part in that downfall even though I wasn’t a heavy or habitual user, probably only categorized as “occasional.” Make no mistake, drugs had a negative impact, but I realized recently that my use of drugs came after, and to a large extent as a result of, earlier failures in education.
I’d done well academically, particularly early in life, but as I rolled into middle and then high school my interest in learning waned. It was no longer the joyful passion it had been, it had become a burden. That change in attitude occurred before drugs accelerated the decline.
I’m sure that with some imagination one could have a field day naming one or another psychologized, complicated reasons why my attitude toward learning changed, but none of those common, offhand “explanations” would have opened the door to a solution for me. And they wouldn’t help in providing a broad solution that could reliably and workably help today’s children circumnavigate the problems I encountered.
Blaming my change in attitude on the increasing complexity of material doesn’t suggest a broadly workable fix to the problem—we can’t mandate that all subjects suddenly become simple.
Blaming my change in attitude on me by claiming I’d reached the limit of my abilities is a mindset that says education can’t help students expand their potential.
As a culture, we have said for decades that there is power in education; power to transform, improve and uplift. And it can be true.
Setting aside the unworkable, the overly complex and the defeatist reasons for my educational decline, I’ve come to recognize something simpler, almost too simple to take into account: as a society we do virtually nothing to teach our children how to study.
We teach them to read, we teach them to add and subtract, we teach them to sit in a class and then we push data in their general direction, hoping that something sticks. Inspired teachers are an exception; they engage and enlighten and we rightfully prize them highly.
But, short of a few suggestions for how to take better class notes or condemnations for failing to apply myself, nothing was done to teach me how to study.
I was thinking about all this after reviewing the results of a “study of study” carried out in the mid 1960s by the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.
Mr. Hubbard was engaged in teaching students of Scientology from around the world. He wanted to better understand the principles underlying effective education and how to shorten the time between textbook study and professional-level application.
What he found is that by changing the way a subject is taught, the approach of the instructor, his students’ mental and emotional reactions and engagement could be materially improved. Intrinsic in his method was to include students in their own education by teaching them how to study—clarifying the purpose of study, delineating a technique to conquer difficult subjects, and isolating the three foundational barriers that blockade effective study.
We live in a technological age, in a world awash in change where no one can comfortably coast their entire life in a single profession. Education—the ability to study, learn and apply in life the materials covered in a classroom—is no esoteric activity reserved for the elite: it is a vital necessity for anyone wishing to prosper or even survive.
In his summary of findings on education—delivered nearly fifty years ago—Mr. Hubbard anticipated the macro-trends we see today that spring from inadequate education. He detailed the national and global problems generated when education isn’t widely available and noted that it is the individuals and groups who can’t study who are marginalized, overwhelmed and often relegated to the trash bins of history. His solution, of course, was to effectively raise literacy by finding simple, teachable methods that empower students to tackle any subject. His belief that virtually any student is capable of mastering any subject was radical when he introduced it and, unfortunately, is still not an established educational principle despite his having developed the technology to actualize it.
Perhaps of more direct concern to students, parents and grandparents, is the stark reality that failures in education often predate, predict and precipitate failures in life and the gamut of problems afflicting too many youth, including drugs.
Education is a silver bullet—when it is effective, engaging and empowers students to become lifelong learners who can apply what they study. To achieve this, we must teach youth the skill that underlies all successful future learning: how to study.
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