top of page

Learning to Be

Learning to Be: learning that contributes to a person's mind, body and soul.

The above words struck a chord with me when Fiona Campbell, a caring and knowledgeable advocate for Montessori education, referred to UNESCO's Four Pillars of Education in her talk: 'Integrating Educational Neuroscience Into the Classroom' presented at last year's MSCA Grassroots conference. Learning to Be was one of the pillars together with Learning to Know, Learning to Do and Learning to Live Together.

It seems further changes have taken place to define these pillars of education but I am still intrigued about learning that touches one's whole being.

My involvement in Montessori education and all the reading, thinking and writing I've been doing around dance and education centres around this premise: learning that contributes to and involves a person's mind, body and soul.

I was reminded of this deep learning while I was reading Tyson Yunkaporta's book Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World this week.

In the chapter titled 'Of Spirit and Spirits', Yunkaporta writes that genuine knowledge transmission can be a process that brings about joy and a spark of creation that comes from the connections and complexity building in the learner. He refers to these experiences as the ones educators love and universally describe as 'the light coming on in their eyes.' If you are an educator no doubt you are familiar with, are moved by and treasure these moments.

I've referred to in a past blog post about the cartesian split between the mind and body in an education system where the mind is filled while the body is restrained, silenced and forcibly removed from the learning process. Yunkaporta describes the impact of rote, externally driven knowledge transmission in this way:

A focus on linear, abstract, declarative knowledge alone not only fails to create complex connectivity but it damages the mind. We are biologically punished for this destructive behaviour with a neurochemical rush of lethargy and discomfort that most people call boredom. Extended periods of this affects a person's mental health, resulting in bouts of rage, depression and worse.

Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World pp.112-113

In the same chapter Yunkaporta writes about neural processes and embodied cognition. It confirmed yet again why our whole being must be acknowledged and respected in the process of learning.

Neural processes occur throughout the body and beyond it in the world around- this is known as haptic cognition or embodied cognition or distributive cognition in western science.
Haptic cognition also occurs throughout your entire body. There is intelligence in your hands, feet and even hair. Using your body consciously and meaningfully can unlock this intelligence. This is why training that incorporates kinaesthetic learning is so effective.

Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World pp.115-116

There is much to be learned from Indigenous knowledge not just in relation to education but as the subtitle of the book says, rethink the way we live and solve the world's problems.

I have only touched on one small aspect of Yunkaporta's book that relates to the learning process that involves the whole person. I can hardly transmit the complexity and depth of his work in this very short blog. I urge you to read his book and learn first hand from his words.

91 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page