The Visual Learner

Monday, August 16, 2010 | 0 Comment(s)

There is a joke in my family that goes WAY WAY back, which involves me being (and i believe i coined the phrase) a "visual learner."  As a kid, what i was saying, essentially, was that reading wasn't bringing me much enjoyment . . . but TV was.  While I had/have a deep love for cartoons (if you feel similarly, stop reading and go see the Scott Pilgrim movie), I also did spend a ton of time watching educational shows: Nature shows (i have crazy animal knowledge thusly), Square One Math television, PBS, etc. etc.

Turns out, that it wasn't the books that i didn't like, but the environment that pressured me to read them.  In other words, while i occasionally stole my brother's old English tests instead of reading every book i was assigned,  i was merely revolting against was the "read 4 chapters of this by Tuesday" mentality that was forced upon me.  The reason I know this is because when I was 17 or18, I took a leave of absence from college (aka. came down with a serious bout of mono during orientation) and lived the year out on a kibbutz in Israel.  And while this became the setting for a number of hilarious misadventures, this story is about books.  While in Israel (this is before email was ubiquitous fyi), i wrote my parents a letter.  It went something like this:

Dear Mom & Dad,

I am having a great time in Israel. Please send books.  I would like everything by Douglas Adams and any other book you think is excellent.  Love, Matt.     
ps. please send candy.  recently i've had a craving for Paydays (perhaps its because of the lack of compensation)

Now, when I left for Israel, I was still my parents' little "visual learner," so you can imagine their surprise receiving this letter.  A little over a week later, I receive a large box in the mail.  It contains pretty much EVERY book EVER by Douglas Adams, The Red Badge of Courage, The Power of One, Lord of the Flies, and almost every other book i was supposed to read in high school. (i also received more Payday candy bars than i ever could have imagined.  How many you ask?  To this day, I have never eaten a Payday candy bar since that care package.  Call it immersion therapy.)  I read all the books.  Voraciously.  Quickly.  When I finally had some time to myself, reading became relaxing.  I sat on a cliff, overlooking the Israel/Syria border, and lost myself in words for the first time.

Later in college (in the late 90's), this visual learner joke lent itself to my parents telling me that I should read the newspaper more to know what's going on in the world.  I tried to explain to them that I DID follow what was going on in the world . . . online.   Since, once again, the internet was not yet something that we carried with us in our phones (people were just getting cell phones at this point)--my parental units felt that somehow getting news "online" was akin to watching tv on my computer.  In fact, I was going to news sites and actually reading the news.

Now newspapers are going out of business.  It seems that people are getting their news almost exclusively online.  Crazy right?  The parents have since apologized.  They realized the error of their ways.  It was glorious.  It turns out, there are millions of visual learners out there just like me.

I'm not sure there is a moral to this story, but i will end with a story from last night which is at least part of my point.  I made an offhanded un-serious comment to my friend (while playing video games) that he probably has ADHD (i don't think he does).  He replied, more seriously, that he thinks that too many kids these days are just told they have some sort of learning disability as an excuse for the kid's poor performance in school (sometimes true, certainly).

My take was a bit different.  I said: "Well you have to figure that the educational system is much more likely to say that a kid is somehow deficient, as opposed to recognizing that the system itself is deficient in not being able to convey the material."
 What's the difference between this . . .
. . . and this?

We are told we "lack" so much and so many times in life; from so many places (advertising in a sense is just telling people what they don't know that they need).  In my experience, people are almost always better than they think they are, and if they can be convinced that they are as good as they actually are, they become almost unstoppable. 

Become unstoppable.

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