American Indians have always had many ways of passing skills, knowledge and wisdom about life to their children. America’s First People knew that observation, experience and practice were essential in preparing young tribe members to participate in tribal life and excel in their skills.
One of the most interesting and effective ways was to take each child out into the plains, the mountains and the forests to observe. Anything could be observed – an animal, its tracks, the clouds over the mountains, birds, rodents, game, deer – anything could be watched until the child attained certain knowledge of the way that that thing or animal behaved. A child came to see for himself how things in nature worked, and he or she discovered how to apply that knowledge to their lives.
In my book, The Way of the Eagle, the young brave Tacu has been instructed to stay out on a grassy hill all day until he learns the lesson waiting there to be grasped. His teacher, Takoda, has challenged him further by withholding from Tacu what sort of lesson he is supposed to learn. So Tacu must use all his powers of observation as he lies there, to try to discern what Takoda wishes him to learn. Eventually, as he attunes himself to his surroundings, he learns something quite important and realizes what the lesson was about. Even better is the fact that he had to discover it all himself, requiring him to exercise his powers of observation and his mind, both of which allowed him to heighten his awareness.
When American Indians learned a physical skill such as hunting with a knife or bow, or preparing slain animals for eating and other uses, observation and practice were the keys. Parents, relatives or someone else skilled in that art showed the child how to do it, often by taking him along on hunting trips to observe and practice the skill. The child spent many hours and days practicing that skill until he was adept at it. As soon as he was good enough, the child was allowed to do more – become a full-fledged member of the hunting party, for example. He began participating in that activity for real, and was able to continue learning and improving through observation and direct experience.
These methods of teaching were natural, arising out of experience and common sense—they worked and they were so innate that they were simply a part of everyone’s early life. We can look back and realize how essential they were, because it is obvious how well these methods enabled them to survive and flourish in their environment.
Thus, education was not compartmented away from daily life or any other aspect of life in the same way that modern Americans and Europeans separate education from work, and work from recreation, and both from religion. In the current U.S. system of public education, the greatest amount of teaching time in most subjects is spent having children read textbooks to get information and/or having them listen to a teacher verbally pass along information. While these methods are effective for some subjects, only in a few areas of study is the students’ time devoted to actual observation, handling and operation of the physical objects concerned with the subject being taught, such as the American Indians did.
When children are kept away from the real objects of life, though they are being expected to learn about them, they can give up in frustration. They aren’t allowed to relate the subjects they are studying directly to the real world they will eventually have to use them in. This seems obvious when you look at it – it is our “modern” “hands-off” method that is less than optimum. So children in schools today may experience all kinds of uncomfortable physical or mental symptoms while trying to study, simply as a result of being denied the real objects and actions of the subject they are learning about, at the time that they need them. They often give up in frustration.
There are just a few similar difficulties like the above one that can arise during study and actually cause a student to not want to continue his or her study at all and even leave school. These difficulties, and there are not very many of the most crucial ones, are called the “Barriers to Study” and are explained in the work of educator and humanitarian L. Ron Hubbard in his groundbreaking educational tool, “Study Technology.” This is an easy, workable method for locating and resolving problems students encounter in study. Study Technology describes three primary barriers to study, and the one we’re talking about here is the “First Barrier to Study: Absence of Mass.” Mr. Hubbard explains this barrier in this way:
“In Study Technology, we refer to the mass and the significance of a subject. By mass we mean the actual physical objects, the things of life. The significance of a subject is the meaning or ideas or theory of it.
“Education attempted in the absence of the mass in which the technology will be involved is hard on a student.
“If you were studying about tractors, the mass would be a tractor. You could study a textbook all about tractors, how to operate the controls, the different types of attachments that can be used – in other words, all the significance – but can you imagine how little you would understand if you had never actually seen a tractor?
“Such an absence of mass can actually make a student feel squashed. It can make him feel bent, sort of dizzy, sort of dead, bored and exasperated.”*
I think you can see why it’s likely that the First Barrier to Study, “Absence of Mass,” was rarely if ever experienced by early American Indian youth—and also see that this learning concept explains how my novella’s character, Tacu, was finally able to work out and understand the lesson Takoda had given him. He was surrounded by and immersed in the objects, plants, animals and overall environment of his world, and had a strong desire to discover what it was that Takoda wished him to learn.
You can find out what the other two barriers to study are, and how to deal with them, here. They apply to anyone of any age attempting to learn any subject.
*Excerpted from “Barriers to Study,” by L. Ron Hubbard, from the website Scientology Handbook, located at http://www.scientologyhandbook.org/study/SH1_2.HTM