Paul Hawthorne's Web Site

banjo head, banjo psych logoEffective Learning and How to Get Back To It

"You can accept, reject, or examine and test any new idea that comes to you. The wise man chooses the third way." - Tom Willhite

This aphorism is the on ramp to more effective learning. I studied with Tom Willhite for a long time and he was the one of the most direct, no holds barred teachers I have known. He said that it was the fastest way to communicate and learn, if I could handle the data and not invalidate it with my beliefs.

A little thought will make this clear. The first two are the most common patterns. If someone is in the habit of agreeing all the time, their mind is like a garbage can, with whatever ideas just poured in. The least damaging result of this is confusion, conflicting ideas and random actions. There will be no constructive change. To disagree at once based on past experience automatically removes the possibility of learning anything new. This is called being a skeptic, one who can find a problem in any idea. Skeptics never accomplish great things. It is curious that we give such value to skeptics and critics, yet I have never seen a statue erected to one. The payoff of being a skeptic is to be safe, never wrong, and never the fool, and in extreme cases, being stuck.

The third way is the only valid way to learn anything, testing an idea and assessing the results. I want you to consider all of the things that I present in that light. Be appraised that my viewpoints about the learning situation most teenagers and adults are in are often controversial, definitely politically incorrect and most importantly: they seem to be accurate. They are worth considering because of the insights and results to be gained. Central to the situation is the facet of culture that we are taught and conditioned to learn more slowly as we reach adulthood.

This is easy to assess. Is a society and the schools it contains in the business of truly creating mavericks? Of course not, it nominally trains people who will fit in, be normal and keep things going, and not change significantly once they are adults. It also trains them to believe that they cannot or need not change significantly once they are adults. Why else would someone ask, "Am I too old to learn (the banjo)?"

Of course you (or anyone else) are not too old, no matter what your age, as long as your mind and body functions, if you are willing to pay whatever prices in time, effort, and whatever it takes to do it. The highest age I have heard to start at is 88. There is the possibility you will find some new and valuable avenues of expression, too. Someone has to do it.

If you dare to investigate my assertions about schooling and enculturation in general further, look into John Taylor Gatto's website and his magnum opus The Underground History of American Education available there online to read and meditate on, perhaps digest. He has provided ironclad documentation of what I figured out over 30 years. Study can allow you new conscious choices instead of habitual ones.

Learning to express yourself through a musical instrument is a large project indeed, and the reward of this effort is immense. It is the payoff in joy, self expression, esteem and a feeling of confidence of being able to do what you set out to that makes it worthwhile. Furthermore, if you are willing to adopt a childlike attitude, be naive, and keep seeking and integrating the ways into who you are in which you learn most quickly, the process will be speeded greatly and it will be a lot more fun. You will wind up being a different person, one who can play the banjo. Take special notice that it will not be fun all the time, and if that is your (unreasonable) expectation, you are doomed to failure.

It is good that you don't have to be retrained to do many of the things of daily life each time you do them. There would be a tremendous effort needed if each day you had to relearn or be fully aware of the all steps to get up in the morning, shave, shower, put on clothes, etc. In this place, homeostasis is useful. The idea I am suggesting is it is possible to get to the point where playing the banjo is just as natural as speaking. It is very likely you will encounter resistance from yourself on the way.

If as you read through these little essays you decide you've been victimized, you have missed the point. When you are lost and have a map, what you need to know is where your are, and then you can plan ways to get to where you want to go. Banjo Psychology 101 and up is about realizing where you are, and what it takes to move on. Most of these patterns are common and basically simple, and we have been trained not to consider them. These essays are literally the tip of the iceberg, and I have found it valuable to spend a lot of focus retraining my own habits that are no longer desired. The reading list is a good place continue your quest if this idea appeals to you, and this is a lifetime endeavor.

Read on at your own risk.


Last Updated 15 Jul 2006 by PJH

Edited 03 Apr 2007 by WF