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Trained Incapacity and the Challenge of Education Published: Sunday, May 29, 2005 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

There is a culture of fragmentation that undermines education and learning and it is driven by a kind of ideology that push people into thinking in polarities, a thought form that elevates disconnection into an intellectual virtue. This way of thinking (using dichotomies) is so embedded in our educational system that we rarely escape it, even if we try. But the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Niels Bohr offers a keystone to overcome this condition when he stated that the opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth. With a few well-chosen words, Bohr defines a concept that is essential to thinking the world together and that is the concept of paradox. In certain circumstances, truth is found not by splitting the world into either-ors but by embracing it as both-and.

In certain circumstances, truth is the paradoxical joining of apparent opposites, and if we want to know that truth, we must learn to embrace those opposite as one. In the real world there are choices to be made between truth and false, and choice that must be informed by fact and reason. If the question before us is whether a particular kind of dog is a dog or a kind of cat we can examine its pedigree in full confidence that cannot be both and that certain attributes will reveal what really is.

The point made by philosophers suggests another realm of knowing where expressing reality in a form of dichotomy can be misleading and very far away from a profound truth. From this perspective if we want to know what is essential, we must stop thinking the world into pieces and start thinking it together again.

Profound truth, rather than a traditional empirical fact, is the stuff of which paradoxes are made. And this is by no means an exotic, exoteric or abstract expression. We encounter profound paradoxes every day simply because we are human, for we are paradoxes that breathe. How many times I have shared with some friends that are after my daily consistency that breathing is a form of form of paradox, requiring inhaling and exhaling to be whole.

There a few profound truths about education and learning that can only be expressed only as paradoxes. (1) The knowledge that is gained through the many years of experience goes hand in hand with the sense of being an amateur at the start of any new project. (2) The in ward and invisible sense of identity becomes known to the subject, only as it manifests itself in the exchanges with external and visible others. (3) Good education comes from meaning and not technique, but if we allow identify to guide the path toward an integral technique, that can help the subject express meaning more fully. (4) Education always takes place at the crossroads of the personal and social, private and public, and if we want to educate well we must learn to couple and intersect these opposite domains. (5) Intellect works in concert with feeling and emotions, so if we hope to open somebody’s minds, we must open their emotions as well.

None of these truths about education can be approached as simple either-or, though in the daily life we constantly try to do so. I remember a distinguished academic person once telling me that we had to make a decision between being a professor or becoming a therapist, or another telling that he was a sociologist and new nothing about anthropology. Apart from recurring to the great Thorstein Veblen and his concept of trained incapacity to explain why people can’t integrate different domains to explain reality, we can said when a person is in good health if his head and heart are both in good conditions.

We have to give education the opportunity of working and integrating paradoxes that can help us thinking reality together.


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