When you have a deep understanding of something (calculus, programming, yoga, etc) you likely notice two things:
- The knowledge or skill has a lot of value (you really appreciate understanding it)
- It’s not that hard to learn (it’s quite easy for you to explore and use it in your head)
These two facts lead to a singular conclusion:
“Why wouldn’t you want to learn this? It’s so easy and so valuable.”
I think this statement has led us down the road of compulsory education, of forced learning and, eventually, high-stakes tests. You start off by saying “look here, this is fun, interesting, and valuable”, but when someone doesn’t express the necessary interest to get over the hump of understanding, you feel that you need to force it.
“If they just took the time to understand it they would really appreciate it.”
I’ve heard statements like this uttered about math, science, programming, yoga, healthy eating, etc.
The thing is, it’s true. We probably would appreciate knowing something if it were truly easy to learn something.
It’s not that easy, though. This is where the true rift is. Once you understand something it seems so easy, but if you don’t understand it, if you can’t even grasp what you don’t understand or how much further you have to go until you do understand, it’s very difficult to evaluate how difficult it will be to learn something. It may actually be very easy, but you have to spend a certain amount of time and energy just to figure that out, and, more than likely, it will actually be quite difficult to gain a deep enough understanding of something to make it truly useful to you.
As an experienced programmer I am constantly running in to this issue. Programming seems so easy to me. It is really not that hard to understand and utilize because I know it so well. When I work with beginners I’m constantly surprised by the crazy leaps they take in the wrong direction when the right answer seems so painfully obvious, but it’s only obvious to me because I know it already.
The fact is that learning is difficult and time consuming right up to the point where you understand something. Then it all seems so easy.
I think this is why we as a society want to force our knowledge on to our children. As a programmer it seems so horrible to let my children go through life without this skill, which is so easy and offers so much value.
But it is hard to learn programming. Even if it seems so easy to me, it is still hard to learn. If we don’t appreciate this fact then we’ll continue to force people to learn unnecessary material, potentially causing them to avoid learning all together.