“Within the past century, there have obviously been countless advances in science, for example, the Brain….Even today, the mind has not been completely detected.”

Yesterday Charles Agvent commented on my blog, “As one of my students once wrote: ‘This work will live forever in the anals of my mind.'” I had been planning to feature observations about the mind today, so this was a nice contribution. Yes, the mind “has not been completely detected,” and many students seem to be aware of that fact.

“Without the conscious mind there would be no subconsciousness to delve into.” Hmmm.

The first year I was teaching, one of my students wrote, “I sometimes find myself taking my own mind for granite.” This endeared him to me and also gave me what turned out to be the first entry in my collection of amazing student utterances. Very recently another student wrote that many a person lives “within the confounds of his own mind.”

I know what they meant. In the maturation process, consciousness of the self as a separate entity, and then contemplation of the mind’s role in creating and communicating that entity, develop at different times for different people, and for some this contemplation is most urgently brought to the fore in college. The first response might be “a feeling that something was worng.” Okay, not fair, clearly just a typo. What a great one, though!

I know a lot has changed, and changed again and again, in K-12 pedagogy and philosophy since “my day,” when a lot of my school learning K-5 or so was by rote, pattern, and puzzle. I believe this was a good approach, because I got a lot of essential information and the confidence that goes with knowing I knew it. My sixth-grade teacher began asking us why? about what we had already learned correctly: Why would you use the past tense there instead of the present? Why do you suppose we learn to multiply, when we could just add and eventually get the same answer? Why do we draw far-away things smaller than things that are close up? The nightmares that wonderful teacher gave me eased up in junior high, as I became comfortable with looking at lessons in that way. Then in high school I found it natural to discover for myself not only new Whys but also interesting answers of my own, including Why do we need to learn what a gerund is?…Oh! so we have a way of making an action or process the subject of a sentence! Using gerunds became my go-to solution for sentences that otherwise just wouldn’t smooth out or generate energy.

Still, we were living in an academic world where most questions had Right Answers and most processes had Right Procedures, and the teachers were the authorities on identifying those. Thus, in a sense at least, the student of mine who referred to “strait-A students” was (probably not consciously) making an astute observation.

Then college instructors (like me, for instance) emphasize What do you actually think, and why, as opposed to What is the right answer here, and students are confronted with a new task that is at once frightening and exciting. As they concentrate on understanding their lessons and thinking through their responses, their “muscles become strained  because they are constantly clutched.” (I myself clutched my hair and clenched my muscles, but be that as it may.) They want to maintain that strait-A status, and we won’t let them.

They journey from believing that “Those who do not agree are thinking in the dark ages,” to realizing that “If there is anything that stands out as being different between human beings, it would probably be someone’s opinion on a subject.” After all, “No one person is alike,” and “If everyone had the same opinions, the world would be like a colt.” (That one takes a little deciphering!)

“One of man’s biggest losses is the uselessness of the mind, ” a student wrote. I believe his intended meaning was along the lines of “a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” although I’m not really sure. I’m also not sure what the line I quoted earlier means: “Without the conscious mind there would be no subconsciousness to delve into.” But I am confident that all these statements are evidence of a struggle to communicate awarenesses not yet fully apprehended or formulated, by means of a language not yet sufficiently sophisticated to deal with them.

Such an enthusiasm, unaided by a good mind’s-eye, expresses itself in a statement like this: “The future is in the hands of the bright young minds of today.”

And that’s why I haven’t categorized this sentence as circular or self-defining: “The more knowledge you gain, the more interesting things you learn.” I trust that the knowledge gained and the interest learned are separate, but causally related.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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