Dear Adults

Dear Adults,

I've been hearing a lot the past few (hundred) years about how great children are- especially at learning stuff. I've also been hearing some agist banter making its way through the grist mill- "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," or its implied inversion, "a child's mind is like a sponge." Which I guess justifies the time I told that nine-year-old to go soak his head. I often walk into the office and hear things like, "My five-year-old is better with computers than I am." First off, if your five-year-old really is better with a computer than you are, then you are an idiot. Secondly, with a defeatist mindset like that, it won't be long before this power-hungry minority of thumb-suckers topples the traditional social hierarchy and relegates us over-eighteeners to second class citizen status and the dust bin of history.

Children may have a few physiological factors in their favor when it comes to learning. But I'll only grant a sliver of their abilities to genetic superiority. And children also have a lot of innate learning disadvantages. They have the attention span of your average goldfish. They have no discipline or self-control. Half of the "books" they supposedly read don't even have words. I'll tell you the real reason children learn faster than adults- it's because kids don't give a fuck.

The paradox of learning is that learning something implies that you haven't already learned it. This is why when an adult is in a conversation with another adult, and adult A hears adult B use a high school vocab word that adult A doesn't know, adult A just nods his head and pretends like he understood her. Of course the reason that adult A is ashamed to admit that he doesn't understand something to begin with, is because adult A has previously learned through painful experience that many adults like to be pompous pricks. Let's admit it- sometimes we throw out vocab words or concepts in conversation, knowing full well that the other person probably won't understand. We do it to prove our superiority, and then if the other person admits they don't understand, we act all shocked and surprised like it was the most commonly known thing in the world, and then we make a big point of condescendingly explaining it to them just to drive the superiority home.

Getting slammed for superiority points in front of your peers isn't the only hazard of trying to learn in the adult world. You can also look like a fool. Children construct intricate thought experiments and practice through imaginary social interactions, which we call "make-believe" or playing "pretend." As an adult, the only time you're allowed to practice through imaginary social interactions out loud is in the psychiatrist's office. Children on the other hand, do almost everything out loud. They read out loud, think out loud, reason out loud, count out loud, etc., etc. The brain learns better when it's simultaneously broadcasting and re-uptaking through the ears, but adults don't do it because it looks dumb.

Children don't just ask questions and sing stupid songs out loud. They ask the same questions and sing the same stupid songs over and over and over again. It's called repetitive reinforcement. My high school assumed that if they made me read a different Shakespeare play every year, by the end of high school I'd know four Shakespeare plays. Seems like simple math. But they were wrong. By the end of high school I knew zero Shakespeare plays, because I thought Shakespeare plays were gay, and I systematically forgot everything I learned about them within a week after the test. If people walked around my office singing little ditties out loud over and over again about last quarter's sales numbers, I would probably have to kill them. All of them. With whatever I utensils could find in the kitchenette. But before that happened, they would undoubtedly learn a lot.

While we're on the topic of guts and blood, I think it's important to point out our inherent adult aversion to making messes. Both in the literal and figurative sense. Making a mistake is embarrassing when you're an adult, and messy activities seem inefficient because you know you're going to have to clean up afterwards. That's why we put big beautiful kitchens into our homes and then go out to eat ten times a week. It's also one of the nudist colonies' biggest draws. No more laundry. Some people might be quick to point out that children are only so eager to make messes because they know other people are going to clean up after them. But that's not the case. Children don't care about making messes because children will gladly live in filth, disorder and chaos. Adults also invariably live in filth, disorder and chaos, but most of us like to dress it up a little on the outside so we can pretend that we don't.

These grinning ass clowns just destroyed over $2000 worth of electronics/furniture/flooring/clothing. Be that as it may, they've learned more about physics, liquids, color, friction, adhesion, texture and parental wrath in the last ten minutes than you've learned in the last ten years.

So there you have it, folks. We're not learning as fast as the kiddies because we have inhibitions, embarrassment, pride, affectation and peer pressure holding us back. How are we supposed to compete when we're not allowed to constantly annoy people with questions, play make-believe, chatter to ourselves inanely, and sing repetitive, made-up songs out loud for hours on end? But don't think for a moment that this was all some sort of "accident." Children have deliberately monopolized all the best learning techniques, branded them as "childish," and consequently harnessed our pride as a learning-stifling tool to be used against us. It's a full-blown conspiracy, and it's high time all you uptight M.A.s penguining around with puckered up sphincters opened your damn eyes and read the writing on the wall before we're all swapping stories about the good old days inside a bedroom built for twenty at a concentration camp for the "eighteenplusers."

This is what dialing your learning knob down to "0" looks like. Now this man is the knob. A knob job.

Supposedly, the point of getting a liberal education at a university is to learn how to learn. This would seem to imply that people are born not knowing how to learn, go through high school kind of learning, and then finally get to university and unlock the potential to really learn for the first time. But most of the learning data suggests the curve is exactly the opposite. By the time most people get to university, it's already too late. Their best learning years are behind them. They've long since given up their learning powers in exchange for peer affirmation and superiority points. If we want to learn how to learn, let's go back to preschool.

Sebastian Braff


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