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On the ways of learning by Mary Catherine Bateson


I am reading the Peripheral Visions: Learning along the Way by Mary Catherine Bateson. What a wonderful book.

A book of travels and of reflections about the multiple ways of learning, in particular learning from experiences.

Here few quotes I have underlined so far:

‘Sometimes change is directly visible, but sometimes it is apparent only to peripheral vision, altering the meaning of the foreground. While our society puts a premium on specialization and devotion to one pursuit at a time, narrowly focused attention tends to limit our learning and hamper our ability to make meaningful connections between different life experiences’.

‘Insight, I believe, refers to the depth of understanding that comes by setting experiences yours and mine, familiar and exotic, new and old, side to side learning by letting them speak to one another.’

Arriving in a new place, you start from an acknowledgment of strangeness, a disciplined use of discomfort and surprise. Later, as observations accumulate, the awareness of contrast dwindles and must be replaced with a growing understanding of how observations fit together within a system unique to the other culture. Having made as much use not as possible of the sense that everything is alien, you begin to experience, through increasing familiarity, the way in which everything makes sense within a new logic. Eventually an ethnographer will hope to develop a description of a whole way of life that will convey this internal consistency, in which the height and placement of a chair, the adult response to a crying baby and to voices raised in dispute, and the rules about when to relax and the rhythms of the day can be integrated, although never perfectly. The final description should deal with the other culture in its own terms. Yet it is contrast that makes learning possible.’

‘To become open to multiple layers of vision is both practical and empathic, to practice the presence of God or gods and to practice wilderness. Learning the traits of human culture, we are attentive to the undomesticated outdoors and the essential wildness spinning on in subatomic spaces, forever generating new patterns.’

‘This is a book of stories and reflections strung together to suggest a style of learning from experience. Wherever a story comes from, whether it is a familiar myth or a private memory, the retelling exemplifies the making of a connection from one pattern to another: a potential translation in which narrative becomes parable and the once upon a time comes to stand for some renascent truth. This approach applies to all the incident of everyday life: the phrase in the newspaper, the endearing or infuriating game of a toddler, the misunderstanding at the office. Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories. Many tales have more than one meaning. It is important not to reduce understanding to some narrow focus, sacrificing multiplicity to what might be called the rhetoric of merely’

‘Because learning is the most basic of human adaptive processes, we hope that it will lead toward a relationship with the rest of the biosphere that is both satisfying and sustainable.’

‘Ambiguity is the warp of life, not something to be eliminated. Learning to savour the vertigo of doing without answers or making shift or making do with fragmentary ones opens up the pleasures of recognising and playing with pattern, finding coherence within complexity, sharing within multiplicity.’

‘… and most learning is not linear. Planning for the classroom, we sometimes present learning in linear sequences, which may be part fo what makes calssroom learning onerous: this concept must precede that, must be fully grasped before the next is presented. Learning outside the classroom in not like that. Lessons too complex to grasp in a single occurrence spiral past again and again, small examples gradually revealing greater ad greater implications.’

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