Life as Learning and Multicultural Wheels
By Annabelle Nelson
Learning is what I am an expert in. To say that is to also say, that I know very little about it. My dissertation was about learning theory in 1976, and my life quest has been to understand how humans from a multi cultural, planetary perspective come to know about their world. Learning is natural for humans. Immediately from emerging from the womb, the infant’s head turns to find the nipple and the infant immediately adjusts, changes and improves that head movement to gain nurturance. This is the same learning force, similar to Roger’s creative force or Maslow’s actualizing tendency, that propels human learning across the continuum of learning to walk, to read, to communicate, to think abstractly, to reason, to intuit insights and to gain spiritual awareness. My quest to find out how human’s know across cultures and the planet, and how to set up learning environments to match these natural tendencies. This quest has taken me many places: inside my mind, to altered states from yoga practice, to stimulus control studies of young children to help them generalize information, to creating compensatory education programs for young children in the ghettos of Indianapolis, the Bronx, Kansas City, Northern Cheyenne, and Hopi, to starting external B.A. programs for American Indian teacher aide’s on Indian Nations, to presentations on imagery in Japan, to teaching graduate students in India, to using yoga, imagery and storytelling to strengthen humans emotional center and learning potential, and to start up a non profit to foster an intuitive method of wisdom. It is hard for me to write about all this. I would recommend one of Malcolm Knowles book as a basic text in Learning and Motivation to have a sense of historical perspectives. I am very willing to have a phone or e mail dialogue with students on ways to focus their KA’s. So what follows is an excerpt from my book, The Learning Wheel, on the model of learning I have developed, a historical trend chart and a bibliography.
The Origins of the Learning Wheel
I have been interested in cross-cultural work for twenty years. This is largely because I was raised in a family and a religion that stressed service to others in order to achieve social justice for people who were disfranchised. It appeared to me that many people of diverse cultural backgrounds were hindered in achieving academically. I was taught that it was the job of educators to open up opportunities for these groups.
My sense that there are many different ways of knowing also influenced my decision to enter cross-cultural work. I always had ‘the feeling that the way society represented reality was only one view. There were places in my mind that I could feel but that I didn’t know about yet, that held the promises of greater dimensions of knowing. I often had experiences that were different from what schools seemed to convey as learning and thinking. For example, I had strong visual imagery experiences and feelings of knowing, when things would come together in my mind all at once.
When I started graduate school to become a psychologist, I was interested in how the mind comes to know. This interest led me to Piaget’s work. Although Piaget was not a psychologist and was not concerned primarily about education, he was interested in epistemology, or the study of the origins of human knowledge. He wanted to know how people come to know. His work gave me a framework for understanding how the mind works in various cultures.
Natural Ways of Learning
During graduate school, I was a teacher-trainer in inner-city schools and on American Indian reservations. I was struck by what a struggle learning was for most people. I spent a lot of time setting up remedial learning programs, which seemed like a patchwork way of improving the educational process. I always had the feeling that learning didn’t need to be painful and that, there had to be a better way of going about it. I thought the answer was to find out more about the natural way that people learn and then to match instruction to those inclinations. My aim was to create an environment that prompted people’s natural impulses to learn.
Later, as a curriculum designer, I set up a number of educational programs, including one for underserved populations in Arizona. I began a program for American Indian teacher aides to help them become certified teachers. As a part of this work, I established an advisory committee of American Indians. To learn more about culturally compatible instruction, I engaged in an activity with this group in which we tried to design the perfect classroom for American Indian students. The committee’s recommendations differed markedly from what I usually thought of as college education. I realized that I was stuck in the definition of learning that came from European traditions. Piaget knew a lot about how humans come to know, but his knowledge was culturally laden. There are products of cognitive development besides Piaget’s conceptual intelligence. My quest to understand how humans know had taken a multicultural perspective. Other cultures could teach me about other ways of knowing.
Multicultural Cognition, Teaching, and Learning
The process of learning and the definition of intelligence vary from culture to culture. The Wheel Intelligence Model and the Learning Wheel presented in this book form a multicultural cognition model in which many ways of learning are represented and integrated into a whole. Since cognition refers to any process within the mind, a multicultural cognition model naturally includes the different mental processes taught by a variety of cultures.
This book presents a conceptual framework for multicultural cognition, or how various cultures lead their members to know about the world. It describes the symbol of the wheel as an ancient organizational model from Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America. An analysis of wheels from these cultures leads to a system that includes the diverse ways of knowing and learning that these cultures teach. Wheels can organize the relationships of the differences into a unified whole. This book proposes a multiple intelligence model, where intelligences are ways of knowing that are supported by different cultures. The wheel gives these different modes equal emphasis so that we can understand human cognition and match instructional strategies to natural ways of learning. I call this the Wheel Intelligence Model.
Wheel Intelligence Model
I use the Wheel Intelligence Model as a basis for creating the Learning Wheel, which is a concrete tool to construct lesson plans, curriculum, and educational environments. The Learning Wheel helps teachers include each intelligence and the methods that are best suited to those intelligences in every lesson. What results is a comprehensive multicultural system for teaching and learning based on the innovative yet ancient organizational system of the wheel.
Multicultural education is not a unique field in and of itself that only teachers in multicultural settings need to understand. Multicultural education is good education for everyone because it takes into account individual differences. The Learning Wheel methods prescribed in this book are effective not only for groups made up of many cultures, but also for groups of students from the same culture, since there will be great differences among students regardless of culture. The wheel is a useful way to conceptualize curriculum. Teachers can use it to plan a lesson on a particular topic, and curriculum designers, who work in longer time frames and larger units of content, can also use it.
Historical Trends in Learning and Current Models
I think that there is a lot of confusion about what learning theory is. Often students will want to get some current popular oriented books to use for learning theory. From my perspective, learning theory began at the turn of the century and in general the field deals with how humans come to know (epistemology) and how to set up learning environments or help people set up their own environments to maximize learning. Early in the twentieth century, Thorndike was the first learning theorists when he found that cats could figure out ways to open straw baskets. This was called instrumental learning. It seemed to amaze the people at that time that cats could learn how to solve a problem, this spawned a strong trend in looking at learning from a behavioral stand point, or what is sometimes called a stimulus-response (s-r) perspective. This approach examines what comes before or after certain behaviors to increase or decrease these behaviors, defined in this paradigm as learning. Simultaneously a movement emerged at the turn of the century social Darwinism which spawned the progressive educators typified by Dewey, who said learning all came from internal motivation, and learning could happen naturally in a creative and flowing manner with the right guidance. Both of these movements have continued across the twentieth century and evolved. For example, the s-r tradition continued wtih Pavlov’s classical conditioning which focused on the stimulus that comes before a behavior. At the same time Piaget began his work in the 30’s and was first involved in intelligence testing, but then came to be called an interactionist since he posited that an organism has an innate structure for learning and this needs to be tapped by certain environmental experiences to unfold, fine tuning the progressive model. Concurrently the s-r theory developed through Skinner as he focused on what comes after a behavior continuing the s-r approach. This s-r approach was counterbalanced by the humanists in the 40’s and 50’s who said there was an internal drive that when tapped by the right conditions, i.e. Roger’s unconditional regard, could lead a human to positive healing and growth. Adult and life learning of the 60’s and on was an extension of this. While the s-r model transformed into many cognitive approaches to learning. Other approaches building on the progressive and humanistic movements have exploded into multicultural, multiple intelligence, holistic, transformational, spiritual, confluent and feminist streams. Oddly enough the dynamic emergence of brain compatible instruction in the 70’s and 80’s based on new technology such as pet and ct scans has created a solid scientific base for the expanded capacity of the brain to learn in ways purported by these “softer” humanist streams, even though it would seem to be in the s-r stream. Many approaches are still quite cognitive in assuming that the linguistic process in the conscious mind is the focus and basis for learning. Other current approaches are more holistic in nature including non rational knowing from the unconscious mind. Not all theorists noted below in the mind map are covered in my brief historic overview, but I will be glad to have a chat about any of them.
Historic Mind Map
Wheel Intelligence Model
Current Human Learning Bibliography
by Annabelle Nelson, Leonard Baca, and Kate Armstrong
Armstrong, T. (1987). In their own way: Discovering and encouraging your child’s style . New York: Tarcher-Putnam.
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Bandler, R., & Grinder, J. (1982). Reframing: Neurolinguistic programming and the transformation of meaning. Utah: Real People Press.
Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1996). Woman’s ways of knowing. Dunmore, PA: Basic Books.
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Bruner, J. (1977, 1960). The process of education. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
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