Dividual Learner

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Rob Shenk

A few days ago while sitting in my anthropology class, taking notes, I was struck by my professor’s description of how the Melanesians understand the person. In Melanesian culture people do not view themselves as individual but, dividual. For example, if an uncle brought food to your mother while you were in the womb then he is a part of you for the nourishment he brought to sustain your development. This idea goes beyond the genetics and even blood relations. To Melanesians a person is formed through the work and effort of people to nourish and develop a person. Like that favorite American saying, “It takes a village”.

What if we viewed learning as such an adventure? What if we went beyond learning to be better than the other students in our class?
Shifting our view of learning could very well change the way we approach many other aspects of our life. The educational system encourages a competitive solo journey and places emphasis on the individual more than anything. I’m not trying to say competition is bad but the danger is the isolating effects that can produce a “Us vs Them” mentality that pervades our thinking (do I have to really point out examples?).

We no longer live in small societies where the work of one person can make a difference. In these small societies it would be in your best interest to make sure your friend knew how to do a craft just as well as you if you wanted to be able to sleep in a safe shelter or eat dinner. Putting in time and effort to teaching someone meant that your quality of life would probably be increased too.

Today we live in an industrialized nation, we no longer inhabit small isolated villages. This change obscures how the actions of one person may not only benefit another but ultimately how your investment in one person will be repaid to you in one way or another. I’m not calling for a Thoreau-esque return to the woods but, I do think industrialized nations have fallen into the trap that allows the way we do our business and commerce to effect other aspects of our life, especially schooling.

This is another one of those posts that touches on such grand problems that they could not possibly be solved in a blog post. I’m more frustrated then anything with the way we teach students and at times the problem seems so large and monolithic I don’t see how we could ever get around it. Maybe acknowledging the problem is the first step towards change and the more people we get thinking about these issues the more likely things will change.

Or maybe I am just a dreamer.


1 Response to “Dividual Learner”

  1. 1 Andy Rush January 22, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I’ll have to tell you the story of how I stumbled upon this post, but it’s a good one, and a good start to changing things. It is an anthropological concept that should be revisited in the context of learning and also in the context of copyright vs. openly sharing.

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