Polymathic scholar shares the key to learning for college students

Jim Marshall, a polymathic scholar who has devoted over 50,000 hours to the study and practice of multiple dimensions of human potential and development, shares the key to excellent results when learning. Marshall is the author of the breakthrough book Septemics.

Below is a scale from Chapter Eleven, The Scale of Scholarship.

I)   AVID STUDENT (Loves to learn)

II)  VERY GOOD STUDENT (Likes to learn) |

III) GOOD STUDENT (Learns well) |

IV) AVERAGE STUDENT (Willing to learn) |

V)  POOR STUDENT (Does not like to learn) |

VI) FACILE STUDENT (Pretended learning) |

VII) NON-STUDENT (Will not learn) 

For interested readers, Septemics can be found at the author’s website Septemics.com or Amazon.

At the top, we have the ‘Avid Student’ who has maximal interest. At the bottom we have the ‘Non-student’ who has so little interest in learning that they are labelled as ‘Will Not Learn’. This scale might also be called The Scale of Study, and is vital to anyone involved in learning as either student or teacher; and who is not? One’s success is inextricably linked to one’s ability to learn, even if one never goes to school. To understand the process of learning, one would need to have an understanding of this scale, as it tells you how to teach and how to learn. In light of this fact, it is easy to see why education is problematic for most students and teachers. Some have a natural “talent” to learn, much in the same way that Ella Fitzgerald had a talent to sing, and Jim Thorpe had a talent to run. We call this talent to learn “intelligence.” It is obvious that some are innately more intelligent than others, but almost anyone can learn to be a good student, just as one can learn to sing or run. This scale shows you how that could be done.

Beginning at Level VII: trying to teach a non-student seems oxymoronic, but this goes on in schools daily. Many of the worst students simply will not learn, no matter the quality of the teacher, nor the level of expenditure. Typically, non-students in private schools are either kicked out or just leave, but in public schools, they persist. The best that can be hoped for non-students is that they become facile students (Level VI): ones who can regurgitate data without much comprehension or inculcation. Since this achievement is of no real value, there is not much point in having a non-student in school. (S)he is actually better off digging a ditch or sweeping a floor until (s)he becomes willing to learn. Many persons handled this way will decide eventually that it is wiser to learn, as was the case with Dr. Thomas Sowell, a high school dropout who went back to school, and eventually became a world-famous economist and author. If the non-student never does decide to learn, we are still better off dismissing him or her, because by doing so, we are preventing him or her from disrupting the learning environment, and from learning something on the job. Even a moron could be willing to learn, in which case he is at least at Level VI. In contrast, there are many persons who could learn if they were willing, but their unwillingness to do so debars them from the process. One could say they have a very poor attitude towards learning. Such individuals comprise much of the population of Earth.

Up from the non-student is the facile student (Level VI), who only gives the appearance of learning. In many cases this is done unconsciously, as the person may have no conception of, nor experience with, real learning. Such a student may be said to be shallow, as they achieve only the facade of learning. There are more of these than you might suspect. Schools are loaded with persons who are there for reasons other than to learn: they seek status; they are avoiding something else; they are trying to please someone else – the reasons are many. Pretend students can parrot the answers, but cannot apply, or think with, the subject matter, as they only give the appearance of learning. Most educational institutions rarely detect such persons because most schools have very little emphasis on application. Such persons often get high grades, but whatever their grades, they will retain very little and apply even less. Such persons often speak openly of, and even boast about, the fact that they remember little or nothing of their courses. They often display pride at having successfully deceived the educators. Such students are often dishonest persons, or may just be shallow.

A poor student (Level V) appears to be worse off than a facile student, but is actually better off. (S)he at least realizes (s)he has a study problem. And (s)he is easily detectable, and consequently, remediable. Anyone who is incompetent at something will not like to do the thing at which one is incompetent. So, of course, the poor student does not like to study. If you could find out what things (s)he had failed to learn, and patiently clear them all up one by one, (s)he would eventually become an average student. Often there are misconceptions prior to schooling, or totally disrelated to recent subject matter. However, do not think misconceptions are not there merely because you fail you find them. A poor student never knows what it is that (s)he failed to learn. Often (s)he will think (s)he does know, in which case it is always something more fundamental, which usually means earlier in time. Ignorance of this phenomenon is, by far, the main failing of the education establishment.

Universal education is a huge waste of taxpayers’ money because some tremendous proportion of public school students are at Levels V, VI or VII. If the education system were privatized, much money would be saved because: a) the lower level students would not be a detriment to the better students, as now is the case; b) private institutions would inevitably emerge that would teach the serious students; and c) the poor students would not waste eighteen years learning drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, violence, vulgarity, arrogance and crime, which are the de facto main subjects learned in many American public schools at this writing.

At Level IV is the average student. He is, at least, willing to learn. The way to destroy that willingness is: 1) fail to ensure that (s)he understand all the words or symbols used in the subject at hand; 2) permit him or her to gloss over sections or actions that (s)he has not yet mastered; and 3) deny him or her sufficient activity and/or objects related to the subject. Modern educational institutions do these three things consistently, so much so that it is often despite those institutions that students learn whatever little they do. Most students will confirm this fact for you if you ask them about it, whether or not they can identify any of these three causes as the reasons for their difficulties. From this level up, we are discussing pedagogy, as opposed to social work, psychopathology or delinquency.

The way to make an average student a good student is: 1) ensure that (s)he understands all the words or symbols used in the subject matter; 2) prevent him or her from going past a section or action that (s)he has not yet mastered; and 3) provide him or her with objects and activities relevant to the subject. These points are keys to successful schooling.

The good student (Level III) is succeeding in these three areas. If (s)he has any pedagogical difficulties, it will be because one or several of these three factors has been violated. If you continually remedy these three points, he will eventually become a very good student.

A very good student (Level II) likes to learn. If (s)he has good texts, reference materials, and other relevant learning devices, (s)he does not really need a teacher, so much as a manager to just keep him going, and handle any difficulties that come up. Just let him or her go at his or her own pace, and if (s)he has a study problem, correct it by: 1) helping him or her to isolate which of the three factors have been violated, and 2) helping him or her to correct them. If you continue to follow this procedure, (s)he will eventually become an avid student.

Once a student reaches Level I, it is very difficult to prevent him or her from learning, even with malice aforethought. This person deserves scholarships, and should be left alone to learn. While any decent citizen can contribute to society, the advancement of society will be up to Level I students. Anyone who inhibits his or her scholastic activities should be summarily suppressed. If you want your team, culture or company to excel, support this person unreservedly. (S)he is a rare bird.

By far, the most important thing to teach to any student is how to study, which is outlined in the three key factors mentioned above. Once one knows these, one can move up the scale. Education by classes is intrinsically flawed and unavoidably difficult, because in order to implement the three steps recommended, individual attention is continuously necessary. Education is not a group activity. Rather, it is highly personal, as is any human development or personal enhancement activity. While classes might be convenient for lectures or demonstrations, the process of learning is cognitive, hence intrinsically individualistic. Avid students make unique individuals, and all great persons are conspicuously unique.

Conversely, gang and mob members are notoriously ignorant and stupid, as conformity is mandatory, and they usually hate unique persons. A student should go at one’s own rate; to do otherwise violates study factors one and two of the three mentioned above, and, consequently, sabotages education. This scale marks the pathway to erudition and understanding. An educator would consistently get excellent results if (s)he consistently applied these data.

Conformity is antithetical to cognitive development. On the other hand, indoctrination, brainwashing and programming are better achieved in a group context. What does this tell you about mainstream schooling? The socialist impulse which dominates societies worldwide at this writing is intrinsically and necessarily suppressive to individualism and uniqueness. The abject failure of public education demonstrates this conclusively.

Student: where are you on this scale? Parent: where are your children on this scale? Teacher: where are your students on this scale? This is a general scale. So if you can move up one level, you have done well, and far more than the education establishment can usually achieve. Very few students ever progress up this scale in traditional schools, and even fewer in public schools, although many are driven down this scale by conventional schooling practices. The homeschooling movement would be a cause for optimism if the data in this chapter were known to the parents. This chapter explains why so many of the products of public education are so ignorant.

In trying to assist a student, never ask if (s)he knows what a word or symbol means. Rather, ask something like: “What is the definition of this word?” and if the student cannot unhesitatingly provide a correct answer, assume the student does not know.

If a student is not doing well in a particular subject, section or chapter, ask: “When were you last doing well in this subject (or section or chapter)?” and look for wrongly understood or not understood material in that section or chapter. Then come forward, cleaning up poorly understood materials as you go. 

Make sure your student has plenty of physical materials and activities related to the subject. Laboratory science and shop classes are good about this. Only so much can be learned from a book or computer. No one can become a good cook merely by reading a cookbook. The aspiring chef must actually work with the materials, and try actually cooking some dishes. Similarly, in mathematics, the student learns better if (s)he writes down each step in solving a math problem, rather than doing it “in one’s head.” Writing it down makes math less abstract.

If a student cannot actually and clearly demonstrate a proper knowledge of something, (s)he does not know it well enough to go on to the next subject, section or chapter, no matter what (s)he says. In such a case, find out what was not understood, or what was misunderstood, in the recent subject matter, and remedy that.

A student or teacher who knew and applied this scale, and the specified key difficulties of learning, would get excellent results