Knowledge to Become Better Students

Knowledge to Become Better Students

You, I and every other human being on this planet are almost infinitely more capable than we think is possible. The human brain has capabilities that we are only beginning to understand and use, and our untapped abilities would allow us to do things that we cannot even imagine at present. This is not an idle claim. It is not some shallow pump-up speech that I want to use to get you hyped. It is a belief that I hold based on the years of personal and literary research I have conducted.


I began with the assumption that there must be more to life than the prescriptive “How to Study” books that I found on library shelves, but I found nothing written for students that went beyond these. I thought that there must be some strategies that I could use to my advantage. What I needed were options, as many as I could find. I knew from experience that there is never only one way to do something well. I knew that some things work for certain people and not others. I wanted information and methods that would help me become better today, and that would grow with me into my future.


In other words, I wanted to know if and how I could be excellent. Was I really a composite of the labels that had been used to describe me? Was I really a poor learner? Average? Satisfactory? Good? Inattentive? Disruptive? Did that mean that I was supposed to be like these descriptions for the rest of my life, or was it just someone else’s impression of me? Could I experience a life that would be inconceivably rewarding even though my grades weren’t? Would it be possible for me to live a worthwhile life? These were the questions that I really wanted answered. Why were these questions not being addressed?


I have eventually found some of the answers to these questions and I offer them to you. I offer you a very simple starting point. The modern human being, with the assistance of technology, has access to more information now than at any time in human history. Yet, even in our present enlightened state, our ignorance of what truly goes on around us is mind-boggling. The incredible human mind at age 5 can ask questions that it still cannot answer at age 75, even after a lifetime of searching for an answer. There is still much that the human being is capable of learning and understanding. Why then do we know and understand so little about ourselves and the world we live in?


It is possible for you to become more intelligent, or even a genius. It is possible even if you were told by an expert that you do not have what it takes. I offer such an unqualified statement because I believe there is much more to us that the experts are telling us. In fact, it is quite shocking how little is known about human potential. When asked why the little girl or boy grows up to be a dancer, politician, businessperson, or criminal, experts in human behaviour have many after-the-fact answers. But, when asked to predict how a young person will grow up, experts either will not say or are mostly wrong. Why? Are these experts not doing their homework?


The reason is that there is an almost infinite number of subtle factors that affect the individual human being. Each of these factors can impact on who we become. Imagine you and I could identify just some of the things that are regularly holding us back in school and in life and remove them. With fewer limitations holding us back, we would be freed to achieve new heights. We must identify the things that are blocking our path to intelligence and creativity accurately and then work to remove them. This is a crucial step. If we don’t identify our obstacles correctly, we may spend a great deal of time correcting something that doesn’t make a real difference anyway. Most, if not all, forces that limit us will fall into at least one of three categories. I will outline these three categories of forces that constantly limit our abilities and we will begin to understand some of the specific limitations to learning that we face.


Some of our limitations are inescapable, defined by the limits of our senses. Many of our limitations are constructed from beliefs held by our society and culture and imposed on us from outside. Some of our limitations we actually create for ourselves from beliefs we have. The limits of our senses, externally imposed cultural and social beliefs, and things we hold to be true of ourselves all interact to produce uniquely individual limitations. These limitations that proceed from these beliefs are potentially very harmful.


This is an effort to better understand the nature of our beliefs and our limitations. The article is also about developing the ability to identify the sources of your limitations and beliefs so that you might challenge them and in this way overcome, bypass, ignore, even change your limitations permanently. This represents, quite simply, the ongoing process of personal change and your emerging ability to direct your own personal growth. Your limitations will cease being rigid; they will be thrown into a state of flux, such that you learn how to keep limitations out of your way.


We all are born to exist in a constant state of flux. We are children of growth and change. We are children of learning and adaptation. Mother Nature intended us to stay that way. The only stability and security we face in our modern world is adventurous and curious change. Let’s re-evaluate our understanding of the world together and become intrepid voyagers of the unknown.


Human beings are designed with particular capacities for sensing. As it turns out, there are certain types of stimuli that we cannot sense at all. If we do not sense the stimuli, we cannot extract information from them. Our senses serve as the class A filter, straining out much of the information from an immensity of potential information that exists.


In the world of ‘physical’ reality, there are limitations that are imposed on us. There exists light that we cannot see (like infra-red), sound that we cannot hear (like a dog whistle at 40,000 Hz), and scents that we cannot smell (like the territorial odors of animals). There may be countless other limitations of which we are not aware, simply because of the nature of our sensory organs.


It is true that some of the wonders of modern science allow us to compensate or overcome some of the limitations of our senses somewhat by extending their range and interpreting the information. Telescopes allow the normal human eye to see several thousands of times farther than is possible without them. There are also radio telescopes which not only allow us to see, but to ‘see the unseeable’, by collecting information other than that of the visible light spectrum. Consider how our abilities are extended by the development of the x-ray machine, which allows medics to “see” something that was unseeable before the technology came into being. Modern telescopes allow us to see deep into space, much farther than Galileo ever could, and electron microscopes allow our eyes to see extremely small parts of the cells of our own bodies. In essence, these technological advances have extended our five senses. Along with these types of technological advances have come changes in what we believe to be true. For example, in the days before Galileo, people thought that the sun, moon and all of the cosmos revolved around the Earth. The human mind aided by a telescope discovered otherwise, that in fact we are only one of many billions of planets in the cosmos. With the aid of technology, we gain access to much more stimuli than we ever could with our five senses alone.


Does this mean that the more technological tools that humans develop, the more information we can receive, the more we can potentially understand, the more we can reduce our limitations? Maybe. Maybe not. There are still limits to the human sensory apparatus. And, just because we are capable of sensing the information does not mean that we are aware of it, or even understand it. Without the action of the nervous system, we might be incapacitated by the sheer volume of information coming through and we would not know what to pay attention to.


The class B filter is the social/cultural filter that helps us understand what our experiences really mean. It is the device that carefully screens the information that has come to us through our senses. We can now ‘accurately’ understand what is going on in our world. Right? Not so fast! Let’s assume for the moment that we have no prior experience with the stimulus.  People have an incredible tendency to search for answers to their questions. If they do not get answers from their schools, parents, or siblings then they will resort to whomever happens to be available. Most often we go to our peers. Unfortunately, some of our questions cannot be answered accurately by peers either.


We tend to go to other human beings with the assumption that they understand what this stimulus is all about. For example, let’s say that you were walking through the Chinatown area of a big city. As you stroll past the markets with their various types of exotic produce laid out to attract the passers-by, you notice a rather strange looking thing in one of the tables. By thing I mean that it could be a vegetable…or, maybe it’s a fruit. If you didn’t know what a durian was, and you wanted to know, what would you do? Chances are you would use human knowledge as your reference. You might ask someone (like the store owner!), or you might look it up in a human-researched reference volume. In other words, you would interpret the stimuli by using the experience of others.


Many of the limitations on our understanding of the world can be found here. The class B filter is based on relational limitations, limitations caused by the things that we do in order to relate to other people like share language and experiences. Because these limitations are built up and reinforced by our interactions with others, it becomes very difficult to see past them, to think outside of them. The result is often that we don’t think that we can get beyond these beliefs. It is, however, quite possible to look beyond these beliefs to different perspectives that may be less limiting. By changing our perspective, we sometimes can see a way around the limitations of our current perspective.


The reason that interpretations can be so different even though it seems everyone witnessed the same event is a personal filter. The class C filter. We all actively construct our own filters of understanding based on the information that makes it through to us. We then combine it to information that we have collected in the past. Since each of us has a different range of experiences it is only natural that we will have very different interpretations of the things that happen in our lives. One of the most startling discoveries I ever made as a person is that we actively create a class C filter every time we try to make sense of the world.


In the classroom, the teacher does not have total control over the student’s thinking and understanding, that is, the student’s class C filter. The individual is the only person who has access to enough information to have control over their understanding of their world. Each student will use any information that they have available to construct a reasonable understanding of what has just happened. In fact there may be as many understandings of that situation as there are students in the class. Now comes the challenge. Is any one person’s interpretation of the situation absolutely right? More right than the others? Is there more than one way to think of this issue?

Imagine what would happen in a class where class B filters allowed students to say “I’m sorry I’m late, something very important came up and I was detained.” That’s it, no excuses, no visits to the office, no derogatory comments about one’s lack of self-discipline or punctuality. The class simply resumes. Is this not an acceptable behaviour from a teacher or professor? Have we not at some point or another had the people with authority abuse this? Because of the present expectations of our culture and society, we all sit in the classroom waiting for the teacher, wondering where he/she is or if he/she will even show up. The teacher keeps upwards of twenty students waiting, and it is not considered disrespectful. How can our society form a filter in which the student must not engage in the same ‘disrespectful’ behaviour?


In many of the schools and school systems that exist today, the aforementioned scenario of the student arriving late with a simple apology would be impossible. Why? The reason that it would be impossible is the class B assumption that younger people don’t have the experience necessary to make sound decisions. As a result, elders (parents, teachers, professors and others) must interpret reality for them. Remember, these are class B filters that are formed by the fact that our culture and society are a certain way but not necessarily the correct way.


There are other places in the world where the rules for students are very different. For instance, teachers in the Orient have a different configuration of their class B filter than do those in North America. They believe that student ability is due so much less to talent, and more to effort, discipline and teaching. As a result their society allows for different treatment of students. As a matter of fact the time given to instruction is more than twice if you are a student in the Orient. The assumption that student performance is based on learning and instruction causes their class B filter to change. When their class B filter changes, their thoughts and understanding of the issue (class C filter) correspondingly change.


The change makes it more sensible for the Oriental teachers to give more information to the students. Interestingly, the differing interpretations of reality between teachers profoundly affect their students as well. Students in China do much more homework (which they call home education) than do their North American counterparts. Not only that, but they don’t find it boring or monotonous. Back home we have a class B filter that often attributes a student’s performance as being largely due to talent. As a result, people treat students differently based on their performance.

Why is there such a marked difference between the two school systems? It may be in part due to different governmental philosophies, or perhaps it is because of different educational philosophies. Perhaps it is both. Whatever the reason, the result is a radically different experience for the student in each case. As you grow and your class C filter develops you will learn to think of yourself in the ways that the society tends to think of you. In other words, if the information passes through the class C filter, it must have first passed through the class B filter.


Your real individual power is unleashed when you realize that you are who you are, not because of some in-born talent or genetic disposition acquired from their parents. Your power is released when you realize that you are living within tight, constricting, possibly irrelevant and probably inapplicable cultural assumptions by default. I use the words by default because you were probably presented with the information about your culture without many options or ways of seeing the world. This tragedy is probably because whoever was delivering this information themselves did not question the cultural assumptions that they rigidly held to be true. Without many options, how can one choose the best one?


Once we begin to question the cultural assumptions that restrict us we will do at least two things. The first, and most feared of many educators is: we will question many of the methods used in the very system that has been set up to educate us. This can be very unsettling to those in the system that have a stake in ensuring its stability (i.e. teachers who do not wish to undergo constant formal re-training). In this case these people are serving their own interests and not the interests of the students they are supposed to serve. The second thing that will happen is that students who finally break free of assumptions that are no longer useful will begin to enjoy learning. Perhaps enjoy is too impotent a word. Students will become consumed with learning, usually to the point that it will change their whole direction in life.


I once heard it said that after the age of fourteen, we have the cognitive ability to make useful and rational decisions for ourselves. Many readers whose cultural assumptions cause them to say that this is simply not true will look at their experience in this culture and will say it is not possible. They will say that a fourteen-year-old does not have the faculties necessary to make responsible decisions. I will agree with these readers, only to say that fourteen-year-olds who were raised in such a way as to inhibit their decision making will not develop the decision-making capabilities. As a result they will become fourteen year olds who will not have the cognitive ability to make useful and rational decisions.

Age is not the factor that distinguishes maturity and capability; experience is the factor. There are fourteen-year-olds out there who are far more advanced in their thinking and understanding than many adults on various topics. This is most likely because the class B filter that this student grew up with (because of family and schooling) allowed it.


You may not always be capable of making the best decisions in all cases; you may lack exposure or experience. But, our lack of information or experience doesn’t in itself give another person the right to make better decisions for us. Anyone has the right to make mistakes and to be wrong. In most situations, that is what learning is all about, the ability to make, recognize and plan to avoid mistakes in the future. A student who has learned to ride a bike is one that knows how not to lose their balance. This student could not have learned to do this highly complex skill if someone constantly said ‘hey you, no bicycle riding, you might lose your balance!’ Or, “hey you, you better let me do that ’cause you might fall down and hurt yourself!” The student learns to ride a bicycle by error correcting repetition. The student learned to ride a bicycle because the class B filter allowed for the mistake. Since most people grow up in our society able to ride bicycles, we assume that anyone can learn to do it, and sure enough just about everyone that tries does. Our assumptions change the way we think about what is possible for us and what we are really capable of learning.


Even today in our enlightened society I see young adults who are still being told what to do (i.e. do this, do that) and what to think (i.e. you don’t want that, you have to be…) by their parents. Many parents don’t realize, or don’t want to realize, that their children can have decision making faculties of their own. Instead of these two, I would like to propose a third option that can significantly change the course of your life, our society, and our culture if we were to adopt it. The third possibility is evolutionary personal growth. The idea that evolution is a change in something over time so as to allow better adaptation to the environment can be applied to individuals. In our lifetime we can grow physically, develop mentally and enhance ourselves spiritually. These changes are expected by the majority of people, but they are often expected to occur for the wrong reasons.


The social and cultural worlds while providing a source of enlightenment can impose their limitations. Throughout history people of a certain race, gender or age were not able to do certain things without being disowned, shunned or rejected in one way or another. As a matter of fact, these situations still hold true in many parts of the world. Throughout much, if not all of time, the young (and by young I don’t only mean children) were often in a position of restriction. The tragedy of this imposition of limitations is that it doesn’t just disappear when we grow older. Very often these externally imposed limitations to thinking and behaviour become self-imposed psychological limitations. In other words, we take these limitations that came to us as Class B filters and internalize them (making them Class C filters). We make them part of our personalities to such an extent that we may not even be able to recognize possibilities and opportunities when they present themselves. They become relatively permanent parts of us that continue to limit us even when the external world changes and the class B filter no longer applies. They then easily become self-imposed class C limitations.


This even occurs in some of the finest minds that exist in any one time. This mental rigidity can so affect us that even the majority of scientists in a particular field can refuse to accept a new way of understanding the world. This can be better understood when one reads the words of Max Plank. I am quite convinced that this pattern not only happens in science, but in art, literature, sports and anything else. This is the type of rigidity of thinking that comes from self-imposed limitations learned during our upbringing. The first challenge is to avoid making this learning a permanent part of us. By allowing ourselves to questions and see outside our existing beliefs, by engaging evolutionary personal growth, we can become. We can move beyond belief.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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