We can say that there are three stages of personal growth or human development. Roughly about every 10 years for the first and second stage.
The first stage goes from the birth to age 12. This is the stage for getting in touch with nature, learning the language and culture.
The second stage goes from 12 to about 22. It is the stage of socialization. At this stage, you almost have learned of the language and basic things of your culture. Then you are set out to know more and deeper about your society and culture. You get to know different kinds of people and how to interact with them. How to make a judgment in society, how to make decisions, where the nutrition of your culture is, reflection on your culture. You have the confidence in navigating society by yourself and interacting with all kinds of people. You know what you want to do with your life. You develop your own moral principles that you adhere to. You can take the responsibility for your actions.
For the third stage, since you already know what you want to do with your life, this stage is more about accomplishing that dream and be really good at the art of your life that you have chosen (yes, I think everyone is an artist and need to find his/her art of life). Surely you are still learning, and the learning goes to a much deeper and broader range. But for this article, we are more concerned with the first and second stages, since they (especially the second stage) are where learning/education have become a problem.
For the first stage, any person can accomplish it with no problem. It is a natural process. Since nature is at your fingertips and it is so easy to touch the nature and see the dragonflies, snow and so on everyone learns these naturally. So is the learning of language and basic things of the culture. This usually is a happy process and full of adventures.
But for the second stage of development, it becomes more difficult. Unlike the first stage when all things are at your fingertips and it is easy to get in touch with them, you have to spend a lot of time exploring and experiencing in society in the second stage. In a sense, a lot of things in the second stage are invisible. You have to do a lot of reading to see those things in society, for example. You have to read of the history to find the real nutrition of your culture. All that takes a lot of personal efforts. And anywhere around the world, not just in China, but in America as well, imposes a system to deliberately make it difficult for people to learn in the second stage. For example, the compulsory schooling keeps young people occupied with tests after tests so they have no time for the second stage of learning.
So we know kids are learning tremendously in the first stage of their growth. They learn a language from scratch, they learn all the customs of their culture, they learn of all the physical things, they learn of their bodies, they learn about all the various things that are going to happen in the adult world. And they prepare themselves for that adult world by playing make-believe games. Children like cartoons instead of the real people videos because real people videos are probably too complex for them to comprehend. Their main task is learning of the language and the culture at that time. But as they grow older and about to accomplish the first stage of learning, of course, they start to pay more and more attention to what is going on in real society. They start to ask more questions. They become more curious with the larger society. If they are allowed to grow naturally, they will naturally look for various ways to answer those questions, such as reading many many books or doing a lot of social practices.
But since they have to stay in the school (about middle school then) and the school work becomes more intensive in the middle school, they have very few time to explore those things. It is at this time they start to be turned passive. If this state lasts for a very long time, they will get used to it. Since they have been living like that not knowing many things for a long time, it is probably ok. They even forget all the questions and curiosity they used to have. So we see students graduating from college very puzzled about their lives and very afraid of society because they know nothing about it.
I learn to teach myself when in college to make up for the time lost in the middle school. I learned very crazily in college. So I am finally able to make up for the second stage of learning. But for many other people, they never accomplish the second stage of learning.
So I hope by now you understand what I mean by the three stages of human development. Although people still can differ in how they learned in the first stage of learning (for example, how fully they have played. That can make a big difference as well.), they basically can accomplish that stage of learning. It is the second stage of learning that set people apart. For me personally, I am lucky to have played fully in my first stage of learning. And my schooling isn’t as suffocating as many other conventional schools. So in college, I could realize I finally have free time to learn and decided to make up for my learning. Still, it is scary when I graduated from high school and found that I knew nothing of society.
But many people never had much chance to make up for their second stage of learning. It is dangerous for our increasingly sophisticated society to have a large majority of people who didn’t accomplish the second stage of their learning, which means they cannot think independently and they are afraid to venture out of their comfort zone to explore something different. They are molded into boxes of thinking without realizing it.
When I went to US, as it is a culture in a totally different language, I have to re-grow my first stage and even the second stage in that culture. It is not easy to do so because I am not a kid anymore and I have to carry out many adult responsibilities. I cannot just focus on my first stage of learning and not to care for the adult world. 🙂 Indeed, I have to re-grow my consciousness on this new substrate. It is a profound experience.
I think the knowledge of the first and second stage of learning is helpful for teaching. As I teach many groups of people including college students, young professionals, migrating manual labors who mostly didn’t finish middle schools, I can tell quickly what they lack in their first stage and second stage of learning. So I know what I can recommend for them if they ask me for help with their learning.
Also if we know what people need to learn in the first and second stage of learning, we can see school doesn’t teach any of that. So it is very obvious that school is not for learning.