The Cultivation of Memory II
Bill Long 8/5/09
Learning the Flowering Plants
In order to be successful, learning must be "child" or "person-centered." It has to arise out of the desires of the person who learns. Then, as it progresses, it should be pursued according to the natural level of interest of a person. What is the right "pace?" The person will tell you by his/her actions and attentiveness. But here is how I would design a learning experience or curriculum based on the flowering plants. Though this looks simply like an exercise to learn about plants, in fact it is one designed to "jump-start" learning and the memory in such a significant way that knowledge, desire, retention and recall will increase exponentially in a person. They will, in fact, be a new person. How to do it? Very simple.
I would have a greenhouse or other protected location for plants/flowers. At that location I would have about 300 or 400 distinct plants/trees. Each of them would be labeled, with both the popular name and the Linnaean name. Only the genus and species name, and the cultivar if appropriate, would be given. Then, the first assignment for the learners, who would come to me for learning instruction just like people attend seminars to improve various things about themselves (this one is to improve memory), would be to go out in the garden with a pen and paper, and write down the names of 10 of the plants that they liked. It could be that they loved their color, smell, appearance, etc., but the only criterion is that the plant or tree appealed to them.
After they had written down their information and were ready to leave the greenhouse/garden, I would ask them to return to the plants and make sure they could name them without the help of their notes. Then we would return to our place (the "lodge"), and people would be required to study briefly about each of the plants by looking them up online. This would entail viewing other pictures of the plant, learning how to distinguish it from other species of the same genus, and perhaps even learning some historical or other facts about its care or name. Then, after this was done (and all of this would probably take a morning), we would eat lunch and then gather together for the afternoon. The agenda would be for people to share with each other their list of 10 and the reasons for it. From hearing the descriptions of the other persons (and perhaps viewing some of the pictures--since people would have internet access as we spoke together), each individual would be asked to make a list of about 10 others they would like to get to know--in the near future.
Taking the List and Making it One's Own
Learning often falls short when people don't take what they learn and "encode" it in a way that enables them to recall it, draw upon it, and use it to their maximum advantage in encounters in the future. We have trouble, as it were, handing off new knowledge to the courier who will take that knowledge and pack it away in our files deep in the recesses of our brain/storage unit. And, even if we hand it off correctly, we aren't usually in a position where we know the courier well enough, or the shape of the storage units, so that we can be sure exactly how the information is handed on and stored. Thus, when we send the courier to "retrieve" a bit of information, and retrieve it immediately, s/he balks and doesn't know what we are talking about. In this way we end up losing about 90% of what we think we learn or take in to our lives.
The goal of the training would be to lose nothing of what is taken in to our lives by way of learning. That is why I wouldn't let the people, even if they were eager, learn 10 more plants or trees until they had fully mastered the first 10. In the thorough learning of the first 10 is the method that will eventually bring them freedom to learn as much as they desire for the rest of their lives. What is that method?
Learning the "10"
So, all my learners have made a beginning in learning ten things/plants. They have their lists, they have listened to each other, and they have learned some things about the flowers and plants they love. But they aren't ready, yet, to go on. Much more needs to be done. They need to find a way to make their learning beautiful, that is, to take the plants they have learned and so internalize the new knowledge that it can become an engine for their future learning. So, we go deeper. The principal method by which we go deeper is to learn more about the Latin names. Plants may be known in a number of ways in English ("mother-in-law tongue" or "snake plant" are generally the same; "airplane plant" is the same as "spider plant"), but they only have one Latin name. To be sure, sometimes that names changes over time--and that fact will eventually be an interesting one to learn for our learners. But for now we will assume that each plant/tree has only one Latin name.
What can be done with the name? The next essay will help us on that one.