What do you know about what you know?

For the past few years, I’ve been drawn into the world of cognitive sciences and what learning is, what it entails, and how the brain works. To my mind, all teachers should have sound knowledge on the way the brain functions as it is the brain the ultimate place we work on. How could you possibly know that the things you’ve chosen to do in class work or not, and how can you assess the situation and perchance change tactics and your approach if you cannot fathom the inner work of the human brain?

Yet, it is such a complex matter that we can’t just assume that just because we’ve read a book or a hundred on the topic we already know what to do and what will work for sure. And this is not true only of the human brain, but all that goes with it. How do you become a better teacher? Take a course! But, how do you know that that course in particular has made you a better teacher? Maybe it is because the course is considered good by some people whom we respect, or simply because it is considered good by people we are constantly in touch with.

If that is the case, and I believe it often is, we are constantly validating our choices based on the collective knowledge, on the assumption that “if this and that person claim it is good, it is because it is actually good.” We don’t act like that simply because it seem to make sense. We act like that because we are programmed to act that way. You see, the brain is a collective organ, and it is the community that allows us to produce such great – or stupid – things.

“Our intelligence resides not in individual brains, but in the collective mind. To function, individuals rely not only on knowledge stored within our skulls but also on knowledge stored elsewhere: in our bodies, in the environment, and especially in other people. When you put it all together, human thought is incredibly impressive. But it is a product of a community, not of any individual alone.”

It is the power of the community that allows us to build and accomplish great things. It is not about one single individual, but about the many people that one single individual surrounded himself with. It is our choice of associations that shapes our thought. This means that you can indeed know a lot about a person based on the company he or she keeps.

However, as we are in constant seek of validation for our ideas and thoughts, we also have a natural tendency to seek those who think like us and refrain from bonding with those who think differently. It comes to a point in which our brain shuts to anything that might come from someone who thinks differently – think about the discussions related to politics, for instance. But that’s something we need to learn how to fight, this natural instinct of ours, if we are ever to achieve greatness.

One thing that bothers me is how little we recognise those who are close to us as valuable assets to our way of thinking, for our breakthroughs and discoveries. Why is it so hard for us to value the person next to us, but it is easy to value the contribution of someone we don’t spend time with, such as a book author? Perhaps we still need to make more advances in this regard. But we can take the first step.

I invite you to take the first step by saying thank you to people who are close to you and who have led you to your greatness. Tell them how appreciative you are of everything they do that allows you to be who you are. Thank them for sharing their mind with you, and for letting your brain thrive in a community filled with brilliance. If you, reading this text, start the movement, it might catch on. The collective brain in your community might be inspired to lead all individuals to do the very same.

“The secret to our success is that we live in a world in which knowledge is all around us. It is in the things we make, in our bodies and workspaces, and in other people. We live in a community of knowledge.”

What if you started giving to your community knowledge today? What would you gain?


P.S.: The quotes are from the book, “The Knowledge Illusion“, by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

Henrick Oprea

Henrick Oprea has been working in ELT since 1997. He's got a post-graduation degree from the University of Birmingham. He is the current president of BRAZ-TESOL. He currently works as a freelancer teacher trainer and educator. He believes that teachers are the ones who make the difference in any classroom, and this is why he is keen on sharing. He blogs about education and ELT at https://hoprea.wordpress.com, and you can also find him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. He's also a dad!

1 Comment
  • Teresa Carvalho
    Teresa Carvalho
    Posted at 13:22h, 20 novembro Responder

    Hi Henrick, this is a really insightful post. I have learned so much from the people around me, including fellow teachers, friends, and those who have generously, shared their knowledge with me, be it in my area or in any other field, Thanks for sharing yours.

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