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The concept of paradigm shift is a useful tool for understanding how people behave or should behave. Here I will explain how this concept can be applied to our way of understanding learning.

First of all, I should explain what is paradigm. In very simplified words, paradigm is a system, thought or theory that explains certain view of a world. You look at one fact in one paradigm, define it, explain it and draw conclusion based on it. Such definition, explanation and conclusion become very different if you are in a different paradigm.

For example, when we talk about "how and where men came from," there are two famous paradigms. The first one is "Creationist" paradigm. As explained in Bible, God made people and all creatures on earth. The second one is "Evolutionist" paradigm. According to this paradigm, presented first by Darwin, we are descendants from apes and other species. If we are in Creationist paradigm, this world is completely under control of the hands of God, and if He decides to end the world, we can't do anything but wait for His judgment. Therefore, we should live as Bible teaches us, honestly and with charity hoping to be accepted to heaven when the time comes. On the other hand, if we are in Evolutionist paradigm, things are quite different. We're just a part of the process of evolution, influencing and being influenced by other species. What we do affects the outcome of the future earth and species. If we want our planet to survive, we must act out, protect other species, create environment to ensure that as many species as possible continue to evolve so that the earth will live as longer.

As you see in this example, different paradigms have different definition of a fact or problem, thus different solution to the problems and different results. Here I must point out that in many cases, people deduct definitions of problems from the result they want. Paradigms are usually created when people want certain results and need to justify that this result. For example, Michel Foucault explains that definition of madness, sexuality, and so on, have changed throughout time, depending on how the power body ruled people. In the example above, people who wanted to believe that humans can exploit other species will draw an extreme Creationist paradigm, saying that we can do anything we want to animals and plants because that's "God's will."

If we apply this concept of paradigm to "learning", we can explain why some people are not good at learning in very different ways.

Today we widely believe the following statement: some people can't learn as much as others because they are stupid, or not trying enough. If we want these underachievers to do better in school, what should we do? The solution is easy: make them study harder. Give them more exams, keep them in school longer, force them to memorize books. If they don't want to do it, well, they're just failures. We tried, but they just aren't smart enough to succeed in this world.

Now let's define the problem this way: some people can't learn as much as others because the teachings they receive are bad or inappropriate. According to this definition, it's teachers and leaning systems that are responsible, not students. We must think about new teaching strategies. Instead of testing students in standardized paper exams, we must analyze each students-some have better visual learning skills, others with movement, etc-and use study skills that can draw the most of their talent.

What results will follow these solutions? If we force students to learn in a traditional way, eventually many students will give up and come to think of themselves as failures. If everyone takes the same exam, not everybody can be number one. It will create superior and inferior groups, and each group will find its place in today's job market. There are job for smart people and not-so-smart people, with corresponding rewards (salaries, privileges, etc.), so there will be no problem. Some people don't get paid as much as others, but hey, we tried to teach you, you just weren't smart enough to get the kind of money the others get. That is the paradigm we live in today.

How about the result of the other paradigm? Everyone learns in his unique way, and everyone can find a genius in him/her. Their talents are measured in individual way, not in comparison to others. The school will prepare teaching materials-visual aids, audio materials, drawing board or even toys!-to provide each student so that he/she can learn the most effective manner. As a result, everyone will show surprising ability to contribute to building the future society.

Which one sounds better? The answer is obvious.

Which result do we, or our society in general, want? That's a difficult question.

People want to stick to the first paradigm, even though they think the second one may be ideal, because the first paradigm gives the easy solution. We only need to tell student who is smart and who is not, without needing to change the system. Moreover, for today's society it is necessary to have "not-smart" people. In this way we can justify the unfair job opportunity, discriminative living options, and income disparity. We would just tell them, "sorry, but it's your fault that you're not smart enough."

Instead of forcing themselves to uniform learning method given by school, student should examine their true talent inside them and take most advantage of it. The school system must change, too. There should be other ways to test students' ability than standardized exams. The classes should be more diverse and student-oriented, not just teachers giving instruction to and grading students. Lastly, our society must adjust to accept this paradigm shift. If the society (especially job market) encourages linear competition and differentiation among people, the second paradigm will not come to reality.


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