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We have a Knowledge Instinct, an innate drive to learn and to make sense of our environment Perlovsky, Psychology experiments with college students have examined the connection between curiosity, knowledge acquisition, and pleasure. Subjects asked to rate their curiosity for a series of questions and then to rate their pleasure at receiving the answer, report that the satisfaction of curiosity i. Neuroscience lends further evidence of a direct learning-pleasure connection, demonstrating via fMRI that the region of the brain associated with reward—the striatum—is activated during learning Kang et al.

Fear is an emotional state associated with a coordinated system of responses in response to perceived threat Boissy, ; Nesse, It is the precursor to avoidance, to fighting or fleeing, which amounts to making a change in our relationship to the environment Nesse, The feeling of fear is a negative sensation for the majority of individuals, if the threat is perceived to be real Rolls, Like learning, fear is a trait of other mammals Boissy, Yet accepting the existence of emotions, like fear, in nonmammals is problematic.

Consider again C. If we are to accept that learning is inherently frightening, we must also accept that C. If we are not prepared to accept the presence of emotion in nematodes, we cannot conclude that fear is inherent in learning. Unlike nematodes, human beings are complex, learning, emotional entities. Perhaps fear is inherent in the kind of learning humans do, rather than the simpler, invertebrate kind. How fearful humans are differs between us, as a result of the genes we are born with Tellegen et al.

Rational Herds: Economic Models of Social Learning

This plasticity and variation is congruent with fear as an emotional and physiological phenomenon related to, but decoupled from, learning in us as well as worms. Theodore: Learning is Transformative. Moses did learn to lead, despite his fear. To do so, he drew on faith. Open-eyed, he pushed forward towards revelations previously unimaginable. His case demonstrates that fear and trembling is inherently intertwined with learning.

It also shows the transformation wrought by the leap of faith required to learn. This is manifested most literally in Cecil B. Moses, portrayed by Charlton Heston, climbs Mount Horeb to sacred ground, where the voice of God echoes forth from a bush consumed by fire that does not burn. He has visibly changed. His hair has turned white, his eyes blaze, and his stature becomes commanding.

His transformation is obvious to everyone who sees him. Not all learning is of this biblical sort and the transformation that learning provokes is not always apparent and literal. When I was in the sixth grade, for instance, I learned that whales have blowholes. This startled me, yet my hair did not turn white, and my eyes remained unaltered. The same year, when I learned that whales are mammals I had twinges of difficulty, but I could exercise faith in the textbook and the teacher and accommodate the new knowledge into my belief system by shuffling some rather inert facts around my mental cupboard.

Whether whales were mammal or fish was of no consequence to me. But when this same teacher showed us a video explaining how whales had evolved from wolf-like creatures, I nearly choked. This fact made no sense in my mind, which was stamped with a Greek Orthodox mindset. I could not fit this fact anywhere. To do so meant or would mean , I had to revise my entire cognitive structure and rethink who I was as a human being in this place called life. My mental cupboard would need a total renovation. Since then, it has filled me with trepidation to learn about evolutionary biology and to try to reconcile it with my own Christian ontology.

This is the territory of fear and trembling. Judy: Anxiety Prevents Learning:. Fear and exploratory behaviour are in conflict in animals Corey, , suggesting that anxiety prevents learning, rather than being a necessary precedent. Fear, then, in at least some respects, blocks the precursors of learning—curiosity and exploration. The familiarity that comes with learning, however, soothes fear.

If learning itself is not inherently frightening, perhaps other universal correlates of learning evoke the emotion. Learning involves change—in the brain and in behaviour. For humans these changes amount to transformations.

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Expectation of uncertain change could cause some people anxiety in as much as uncertainty causes anxiety. Individual rats differ in their response to uncertainly. Some rats are highly anxious and have low exploration tendency.

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Others tend to be much less anxious and be highly exploratory Mallo et al. In other words, individual rats are more or less fearful of new situations, and these differences are associated with differences in the brain, dopamine levels for one Mallo et al. If rats differ in personality in this way, it is likely that individual humans do too. Uncertainty will be anxiety producing—fearful—for some but not for others. The point remains: learning is not inherently fearful. Theodore: Fear is Inextricably Linked to Education. Fear, I argue, is the root of education.

In the history of education, unrest is most evident in the rhetoric of progressive education, which has been the subject of my research for the past seven years. Progressive education is not an entirely historical phenomenon. We know the latter by its moniker, or slogan, 21st century learning. Consistently, progressivists argue that the current age is qualitatively and quantitatively different than the one that preceded it. Alarmingly, the age to come will be exponentially different. Schools, consequently, need to be re-conceptualized. Progressive education is a pedagogical response to an existential realization: The world we inhabit today is qualitatively different from the one that we inhabited as children.

Purposively, it serves as the means by which we might align schools more meaningfully with the qualitatively inimitable world of the present. It is, further, an instrument of change within a rapidly changing world. Progressivist pedagogical philosophy, in other words, is philosophically grounded in anxiety regarding the relationship of schools to social reality; operationalized, however, it is the catalyst for greater dissonance in that relationship.

The first is relatively uncontroversial: The social world that we inhabit is changing. The second is bolder, but also more exciting: The social world that we inhabit is changing at an increasingly accelerated rate, which renders the taken-for-granted world unrecognizable to us with alarming quickness. From the Palaeolithic era to the end of the last ice age, a span consuming The world is changing.

Educationists are, thus, enveloped within a continuum that stretches from the traditionalist to the progressivist. The first position argues that we must stand strong and lean upon those beliefs and customs that have allowed us to survive and thrive. The latter position says that we must flee the past, let it be disassembled, because it is both moribund and obsolete.

The progressivist mindset, which predominates, dictates that life evolves and that our institutions and we must keep pace. As noted above, technology is not only an exemplar of rapid social change but also it is the very thing that promises to help us mediate that change in the future. Today, technologies are framed as necessary media in an educational life.

Society evolves quickly and inexorably, and technology stands as the most apparent metaphor for that evolution. To be fair, humans have always clung to technologies of various sorts for salvation. What distinguishes us from our forebears, perhaps, is the intensity with which we cling to the promise. This promise holds that as the world transforms in unpredictable ways, technology will evolve apace with that transformation.

It promises to mediate the uncertain future for us in increasingly sophisticated ways. It promises to mediate our fear. Without this promise, we may conceptualize our future in apocalyptic terms. We do so with great regularity. How else might we explain the roaring success of the AMC series The Walking Dead and, with it, the entire zombie genre? Apocalyptic projections are not unreasonable. The polar ice caps are melting, and poverty, famine, disease, and war continue unabated. We cannot be blamed for turning to education—the projection of ourselves into the future and the attempt to manipulate or control what is to come—as a means of planning our salvation.

While learning can be defined as adaptive behaviour of individuals to their environment, a collection of individuals may also be described as learning. Such societal change in behaviour is termed cultural evolution. As evolutionary ecologists Molleman, Pen, and Weissing explain:. Models of cultural evolution use insights from theories of genetic evolution to study how cultural variants, such as ideas and beliefs, spread through populations of individuals by social learning. Social learning based on imitating the behaviour of successful individuals can lead to an evolutionary dynamic similar to the spread of alleles under natural selection, whereas learning by adopting behaviours from others more randomly leads to a process resembling genetic drift.

Perhaps, in the sense of cultural learning, societies fear learning.


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We are, in general, followers highly influenced by others Cialdini, This helps to explain why a group of regular college students in participating in the Stanford prison experiment Zimbardo, were so influenced by their assigned roles of prisoner and prison guard that they became highly-stressed victim and sadistic victimizer in less than six days.

It helps to explain why people told by a researcher to inflict electric shocks to the point of torture in an experimental situation will obey, despite witnessing apparent pain as they increase the voltage Blass, ; Milgram, The propensity of individuals in groups to adopt the behaviour of others seems to obey complex rules Chamley, ; Rendell et al. These rules include copying a leader, a more technically skilled acquaintance, one who appears to receive a high pay-off for their actions, or, waiting and watching the fate of others who try things first. At any one time, we might expect a proportion of a population in any given instance to conform and use what others do as a compass for their own behaviour, while a proportion of a population instead avoid copying others in favour of learning direct from the environment.

Such models suggest that the complexity of sociality and our interactions with our environment in a curriculum context have the goal of reducing uncertainty, albeit an ultimately unattainable one. Our evolved suite of behaviours that allow us to learn, to adapt to our surroundings, are inevitably imperfect because our surroundings continually change, like shifting sands beneath us. Again, through this lens of evolution of social learning, in as much as uncertainty contributes to fear, learning is a balm, not a cause.

In this sense, it is difficult to declare outright humanity resistant and fearful of change. Relatively speaking, we embrace it. Yet, no matter how rapidly we adapt culturally, it will not be fast enough. From an evolutionary standpoint, cultural evolution in the realm of education, as elsewhere, is inevitable. Changes in behaviour are expected, but there will never be an ideal reached.

Theodore: Fear is noble. Fear is, I argue, a natural state of life inexorably tied to education. Further, education is those personal struggles that we engage in order to subdue our fear. Education is, at its very best—at its very substance—dissonance, conflict, and unrest. I do not mean that education is a threat to physical or emotional security but, rather, that it is a disruption, an unsettling, and an overturning. The best and most worthy of educative experiences are transformative. They slip outside the parameters of safety.


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  • They require dramatic and epic leaps of faith. As Kierkegard reminds us, this leap of faith puts us in a place of fear and trembling. It is an irrational space that requires greater courage of heart than power of reasoning.

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    One must perpetually be unsettled; one must ceaselessly exercise in order to learn. Judy: Learning is Natural and Pleasant. In a learning situation outside the formal setting of school, do people exhibit fear? My own childhood, spent in a northern mining town devoid of appropriate parenting, was full of fear and uncertainty.

    Learning was a source of comfort and pleasure, alleviating both fear and uncertainty. Reading books about worlds removed from my own and the people who studied them, like the ocean floor and Ancient Egypt, not only provided escape and a measure of agency in my immediate environment but also hope for my future. Learning in a less formal sense, perhaps more importantly, was imperative for avoiding sources of fear.

    Learning about my environment, and myself was crucial for navigating through it alive. The woods are dark, and predators lurk. Leaches wait in the swamps, and blizzards surprise. Knowing the lay of the land, the habits of predators, where the leaches are thickest, and how to read the signs of weather make living in the woods a far less fearful place than it could be.

    Theodore: Fear, Faith, and Despair are Intertwined. As a teacher, I have despaired. As a student, I have felt, frequently, strained to the point of breaking. As a citizen of the world, I have wept at injustices and passed hours in vigils, candles ablaze. Much has made me ache. Throughout the most profound of all my teaching and learning experiences, I have been fraught with fear. The magic realist, Jose Saramago , reminds us in many of his beautiful novels, we must undergo long journeys to travel very short distances.

    We are unable to close the doors and windows of classroom or mind and dispel all responsibility for the disturbingly epic travesties against humanity and earth outside our classroom, self, and hearth. The world is full of fear and trembling; as educationists we have a significant role to play in enclosing such injustices, ills, and disturbances into spaces of learning and wrestling with them, frequently.

    The company and kindness that I might be best inclined to consider educational, in times heavy and associated with fear, is the assumption of responsibility and complicity we each have for the state of the world. Curriculum is enabled by diversity. It is because of our differences, rather than despite them, that we have learned about ourselves and about the potential for conversation to curate curriculum inquiry.

    We see our curriculum conversation on fear and learning as a meeting space that we shared while maintaining our unique epistemological perspectives. Theodore was unable to convince Judy that learning was a frightful thing. He used all of the references that he could draw on, recent and biblical. He was aware that he drew on warrants that were, perhaps, unfamiliar to her, and he cited these warrants in a way consistent with his philosophical background.

    Judy served as a foil to Theodore, so that his opinion only became more entrenched and clear as a consequence of the conversation with another who saw the world differently and used a different language to make sense of that world. Stock photo. Search Results Results 1 -8 of 8.

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    Send to text email RefWorks EndNote printer. Rational herds : economic models of social learning. Responsibility Christophe P. Physical description xiv, p. Online Available online. Full view. Business Library. C47 Unknown. More options. Limited preview. Bibliography Includes bibliographical references and index.