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  • Writer's pictureJanika Byington

Intellectual Abuse: You are Smarter Than You Were Taught

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

If it makes you feel stupid, confused, or fearful, your not only are your intellectual needs not being met, your mind is possibly being abused, or has been damaged from past neglect and abuse.

During coronavirus lockdowns, schools are making huge adjustments to the way they deliver curriculum. This article is not about the violation of emotional needs for human touch and socialization, nor is it about physical needs for food and safety; neither is it about our spiritual need to hope, believe and idealize. My book, The Four Needs, covers all those topics. But for now I want to address the longstanding error of education and child rearing philosophy that makes learning negative, painful, difficult, regulated, and absent of the natural human joy (and need) for learning

No Child Gets Ahead

While some kids struggled in school and felt stupid, I had a slightly different problem. I loved learning. I remembered everything I heard and read, and I had all the answers. When I raised my hand, I was dismissed because "it was someone else's turn" to answer the questions. I was subtly conditioned to be ashamed of being "too smart." At the same time, I felt social empathy for the kids who were embarrassed for not knowing the answer when they were called on, even if they didn't raise their hand. But I was not allowed to help them. So I started to act stupid.

It doesn't matter your intelligence or academic skill, traditional schooling damages our ability to develop independent learning skills by enforcing "uniformity." The "smart kids" can't excel, or accelerate their learning and the other kids can't keep up. Those who fall behind feel increasingly stupid. This form of intellectual abuse comes from a flawed philosophy that people can and should be "equalized;" humans are nothing more than cogs in the social machine who need to learn their function and comply.

That outdated Industrial Age thinking persists. But in the Information Age we can learn anything with a quick search engine query. So why does information feel confusing, overwhelming, incorrect, or manipulated?

We Have the Wrong Theory

Having basic, correct ideas about how people and the world work increases your capacity to observe and process information.

Intellectual abusers sell confusion and undermine independent thinking. The Four Needs, on the other hand, is about seeing the big picture. Having a solid operating theory makes it easier to remember information, process it, and integrate it with other things you know. When you can do that, you feel smarter.

The Old Century practice of dividing and specializing subjects of study trained us in narrow and limited thinking. Integration of knowledge, on the other hand, is the key to retaining information in an unlimited variety of disciplines. Neural retention and recall of information requires connecting it to real world experiences that have relevance for the student. People young and old stop wanting to learn because they are overwhelmed by disconnected information.

Genius Feels Yummy

However, learning is a fundamental human need. We are biologically embedded with hormones that induce the sensation of satisfaction to reinforce fulfillment of that need. Those intrinsic reward circuits, however, can be (and are) hijacked by learning environments that counter satisfaction by eliminating discovery, and introducing punishment, shame, fear, and comparison, in addition dulling interest with confusing and irrelevant information as mentioned above.

These reward circuits can also be damaged by introducing alternative rewards to "motivate learning." Treats, toys, and financial rewards undermine the intrinsic reward of learning itself. The "light bulb moment" of understanding a new concept is the same dopamine reaction as any other pleasure, it just occurs in the prefrontal cortex instead of the hypothalamus. Adding another type of reward can minimize intrinsic motivation for learning.

Smiling at someone else's light bulb moment and sharing their excitement is a social reinforcement of the intellectual satisfaction, which can motivate even more intellectual satisfaction.

Those who love teaching get their own dopamine hit from seeing their students' excitement at comprehending a new concept. Neither student nor teacher rewards are as readily experienced without in-person contact. Although it is possible to communicate satisfaction through voice, video, and text, it requires extra, conscious effort to genuinely express and reinforce the natural joy of learning.

In contrast, scolding, frowns, and frustration from the teacher, undermine the student's desire to learn and understand. But teacher reaction cannot fix the ultimate problem with education. It is compulsory.

Making Decisions

One fundamental Intellectual Need is to make decisions. When a person chooses their preferred subjects of study and learning methodology, they take responsibility for their own learning, and will experience increased intellectual satisfaction.

Genuine intellectual satisfaction from successful learning is very limited in compulsory education.

When students do not have choices about when, what, and how they learn, a fog descends on the learning motivation. Students who are able to learn in this environment are not focused on intellectual motivations. Rather, they are socially motivated to meet the expectations of teachers, parents, and peers. This focus satisfies emotional needs, but undermines intellectual satisfaction.

In my case, because I am a socially motivated person, I found that demonstrating my intellectual prowess had a negative impact on my social approval. This created a sense of dichotomy for me that I could not be satisfied intellectually without sacrificing my social/emotional satisfaction.

Leaving Abuse Behind

Twentieth Century education structure and philosophy unwittingly undermines genuine intellectual satisfaction by expecting students to "meet standards" of uniformity without any regard to individual interest, or capacity.

Many who were raised in this system have lingering self doubt about intellectual capacity. In the worst cases, in spite of intelligence and capacity, the desire for learning has been stifled so that neural pathways become blocked and atrophy. Such people embrace the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" in spite of growing research that indicates a nearly infinite neural capacity for human learning.

It was never the children in school who were stupid. It was a system that doled out intellectual growth retardant and blamed the students. That's how abuse works. The victims are taught to take the blame.

The good news is, not only can we continue to learn new things, but we can also unlearn false and ineffective things. Rewrite you brain and start believing that you can experience great excitement and satisfaction from learning--Not because anyone is making you, but because you are hungry for good brain food.

Follow Four Needs on Facebook for more intellectual nuggets, treats, and feasts.

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