Education as Embodied Cognition
Posted on May 13th, 2017

R Chandrasoma

It is traditionally supposed that learning – education in its broadest sense – is an activity of the Mind and that the body is a mere appurtenance that works in the service of the mind. Indeed, the  traditional view is that the corporeal must be subdued for the ‘unleashing’ of the mental.  In what may be called the ‘paradigmatic teaching set-up’, a ‘Know-All’ or ‘Teacher’ acts as an authoritative source of information that is ‘transferred’ to a pupil or set of pupils. A class-room serves a coercive function – a ‘trap’ that prevents a cross-classroom dialogue and other hindrances to efficient transfer of information. The ‘learning body’ is thus forced into passive subservience. No surprise, then, that ‘discipline’ is a much-admired virtue in schools. This strange arrangement has a history – schooling was first devised by monks and is rooted in the religious tradition of ‘imparting knowledge’ wherein a ‘Guru’ acts as a conduit for the transfer of the wisdom of the Sages to untutored and compliant pupils, In contrast to this ancient folly, we have today  – or hope to have in the future – what is called ‘embodied cognition’ where education is through an interaction of whole beings – of bodies and minds that jointly adapt to the intellectual challenge of existence. We learn through interaction of whole beings and ‘instruction’ must be collegial and democratic.

How does this new philosophy of education express itself in practice?  Above all, pupils must not be in competition – the group learns collectively by adopting the famous maxim – ‘Each for All and All for Each’. The class advances as a whole by the strong helping the weak- indeed, the class is no longer a test-bed for the advancement of an elite but an organic whole trying to make sense of the world. In Mathematics the gifted will feel it a duty to help the weak by working with them – not by outsmarting them and winning the plaudits of the teachers. In languages –where, again, there are natural differences in ability – the fluent must help those struggling to cope and the class must advance as a whole living system. This does not mean that natural differences must be erased – it means that such differences must be exploited for the good of the Whole – not for the aggrandizement of the favoured few. What is the part of the traditional teacher in this new dispensation? He moves into the class – abandoning his High Seat as the Teacher – and actively seeks to enhance the quality and sophistication of the general dialogue in the classroom by ‘injecting’ his expertise where necessary. Contrast this new image of the Teacher with that of the Cane-Welding Tyrant punishing the Fools. It was held in those bad days that ‘ignorance’ and ‘intellectual laziness’ were punishable offenses. It was also held that personal advancement was achieved by ‘defeating’ others. These ancient follies must be eradicated

In a broad sense, education that seeks to ‘fill the individual’ with a prepared ‘formulation’ served by those with a vocational commitment to do so, is not genuine. .Authentic education ought to be part of societal dynamic in which the individual uses both body and mind to enhance his viability and performance as a thinking citizen through collegiality and the intercourse of minds. That in Sri Lanka we are dismally short of this target becomes evident when we reflect on the ‘abyss’ of University Education and the pathetic  lack of  open and unfettered intellectual discourse in the public life of this country,

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