Depictions of Learning in Arts and Literature

A Learners’ View (ALV) Is Of Choices On The Shortest And Fastest Path To Learning, The Oxygen Of Social Life.

Main Article: NARRATIVES

Last Edited: January 22, 2018

DJT_1442FOR EONS, writers, artists, clowns, song writers, story tellers, troubadors, and other informers and entertainers have depicted how people learn. Sometimes they describe learning from the view of the learner. Other times they use a different view.

At the core of their descriptions, they say to what people attend and subsequently use or ignore, such as to what learners see, hear, feel, etc., calculate risks, engage in trials-and-errors, and complete sequences of social patterns to solve problems. These constitute generic (or elemental) social patterns that behavioral or social scientists describe as observable ways people learn. Here’s a sample of these depictions.



Artists Depict Learning

Movie and theatrical script and score directors vary focus and timing of light as well as sound frequencies. Changes in these sensory patterns direct attention to the mood and intensity of actors’ behavior patterns. This direction can occur by varying sensory input of observers without dialogue as behavior patterns of learners occur in tandum with lesson content.

Behind Enemy Lines, a 2001 HBO film. A Navy navigator uses behavior patterns practiced repeatedly in training to survive.

Masterclass, (April 18, 2010), Featuring Placido Domingo directing selected high school students to enunciate vowels and consonants more clearly, as does Barbara Striesand.

Goodby, Mr. Chips and Dead Poets Society illustrate dedication of classic education teachers as viewed by learners.

Scent of a Woman, and Finding Forrester depict malpractices against learners by educators in the name of classic education.

Writers, Humorists, and other Story Tellers Depict Learning

Writers, humorists (entertainers, comedians, if you prefer), and other story tellers depict in their narratives how people learn. They describe social patterns that include how people view learning, Learning to survive, to what people attend to learn, motivation to learn, trial-and-error learning, one-step learning, and ways to assemble clues into sequences that solve problems, real or imagined.

Learning as Viewed by Learners

Do everything as in the eye of another. (Seneca, ND)

‘You think these raindrops are random?’ he had asked. … Leaphorn had said something like ‘Even so, you couldn’t expect to find anything except randomness in the way the rain fell.’ And Haskie Jim had watched the rain awhile, silently. And then he had said, and Joe Leaphorn still remembered not just the words but the old man’s face when he said them: ‘I think from where we stand the rain seems random. If we could stand somewhere else, we would see the order in it.’ (Hillerman, 1990, pp. 256-257)

As I say, my early-morning lesson was in the little drum we call tsutsumi, which is played in a kneeling position like all the other musical instruments we studied. Tsutsumi is different from the other drums because it’s held on the shoulder and played with the hand, unlike the larger okawa, which rests on the thigh, or the largest drum of all, called taiko, which sits edgewise on a stand and is struck with fat drumsticks. I studied them all at one time or other. A drum may seem like an instrument even a child can play, but actually there are various ways of striking each of them, such as – for the big taiko – bringing the arm across the body and then swinging the drumstick backhand, you might say, which we call uchikomi, or striking with one arm while bringing the other up at the same moment, which we call sarashi. There are other methods as well, and each produces a different sound, but only after a great deal of practice. … Half the work is in making the right sound; the other half is in doing it the proper way. (Golden, 2005, p. 142).

He used the map in his endless hunt for patterns, sequences, order – something that would bring a semblance of Navajo ‘hohzho’ to the chaos of crime and violence. … He selected three large (pins with) yellow heads – yellow being Leaphorn’s code for problems with no priority beyond their inherent oddity. (Hillerman, 1990, pp. 150-151)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, … (Thoreau, 1854).

A man should trust his senses and they’ll grow sharper from use. I never took it for granted that the country was safe. Not only listening and watching as I moved, but testing the air for smells. Out on the prairie where the air is fresh a man can smell more than around people, and after awhile he learns to smell an Indian, a white man, a horse, or even a bear. (L’Amour, 1960, pp. 32-33.)

“Yonder’s Black Butte,’ Stacy pointed southeast, ‘and north of it lies Spanish Point, and there’s a trail crosses the Big Horns yonder to the head of Soldier Crick. It’s a fair way … there’s game an’ water.’

How many times had I heard that? So it was that men learned of the western lands, even as the Indians such as Uruwishi learned of a country where he had never ridden. Such things were filed away, remembered in times of need, passed on to others. There were few maps, no guidebooks, but there was information passed in saloons, over campfires, or by men exchanging comments on the trail somewhere (L’Amour, 1979, p. 312).

I am too old to learn (Shakespeare. King Lear, II.ii.).

I’m a trained hypnotist. Years ago I took a class to learn how to hypnotize people. As a byproduct of this training I learned that people are mindless, irrational, easily manipulated dolts. (I think I paid $500 to learn that.) … The class fundamentally changed the way I look at the world. … I see the world as a massively absurd endeavor, populated by people who struggle every minute to rationalize the silly things they do. … We’re a planet of nearly six billion ninnies living in a civilization that was designed by a few thousand amazingly smart deviants (Adams, 1996, p. 4-9).

“On the frontier there is not time for ‘boyhood.’ One is a child, and then one is a man. … But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had some good teachers. The wilderness first, my neighbors, and then of course, I’ve had Plutarch, Blackstone, Hume, Lock, and a few others to consider” (L’Amour, 1979, p. 262).

Learn to Survive or Die

He had failed to learn what those who live must learn – that the instant of deliberation before the trigger is pulled is often the only difference between life and death. (L’Amour, L. 1992, p. 244)

Once more we had met with fear and come out a little stronger, a little more tightly knit (L’Amour, 1979, p. 38).

His senses functioned independently of his brain, still watching and waiting for a trace of the enemy somewhere below. (Abbey, 1956, p. 245)

One morning, as we huddled inside our igloo drinking warm tea to warm up, I noticed that our senior Inuit guide drank several more cups of tea than the rest of us. “He must be thirsty,” I thought. … (later) “This is where the fox will come to seek a high lookout point. This is a good place to set a trap.” The older man took out his steel trap, set it, laid out the chain, and to my surprise, urinated upon the end of the chain!

The younger instructor explained: “That’s why he drank all that tea this morning – to anchor it.” Indeed, the chain had frozen securely to the ground.

The lesson: Resources and improvisation equals survival (Piven and Borgenicht, 1999, p. 10).

All are architects of Fate, / Working in the walls of Time; / Some with massive deeds and great, / Some with ornaments of rhyme. (Longfellow, 1849)

Principles of Learning

Consider first the light and simple aspects, then the more difficult and complicated ones. Po Shan (c. 507-479+ B.C.)

Attend to Learn

Listen my children and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. (Longfellow, H., 1860).

“Shut up, boy, an’ listen.” After a moment he said, “Trouble with city folks. Always talkin’. You never learn anything when you’re talkin’, boy, only when you’re listenin’ ” …

“There! Where the grass has been pressed down. They passed by here, heading west.”

Tom could see nothing but as they rode nearer he could distinguish a difference in the shade of the grass, and then he could see that some of the grass had been pressed down. The two lines left by the travois were clearly indicated. Another travois had dragged along, almost in the same tracks as the first. … Fifteen, anyway … How can you tell? Boy, anybody can see that. They passed after dewfall. You got to keep your eyes open. You can’t just ride along looking’ at pretty colors like your pa does.” (L’Amour, 1973, pp. 24, 43).

When I was a little bitty boy / Sittin’ on my papa’s knee / I still remember every word my papa said to me / Now boy if you ever meet / A pretty woman walking down the street / You’d better / Stop real still, look both ways / Listen or you’ll get in trouble (Byers, J., 19??).

“Her eyes searched the terrain, shifting from one rock or clump to another, slowly across the area before her. She was aware that movement is first detected, and best detected, from the corners of the eyes” (L’Amour, 1962, p. 109).

“A school is wherever a man can learn, Mr. Shafter, do not forget that. A man can learn from these mountains and the trees, he can learn by listening, by seeing, and by hearing the talk of other men and thinking about what they say.” (L’Amour, 1979, p. 26).

Bud had ridden up, leading our horses. He may run a long way. Do you have to go after him?’ ‘We need meat, Bud,’ I said, ‘but I want clean kills. I’ll not have an animal suffering out there in the snow.’ He knew, but he wanted to hear me say it. That’s one way of learning, to have things repeated, but it settled the idea in his mind. He had asked me questions like that before, and in my time, I had asked them of Cain … and of Ethan, for that matter (L’Amour, 1979, p. 217).

It was bitter cold. I’d figured it twenty below zero or more, and I was a fair judge. After a man has lived in cold country he learns to tell by the crunch of snow, the cracking of branches, the very feel of the air (L’Amour, 1979, p. 243).

(The train conductor) hurried away, his face taut with worry. … I tried to remember what kind of country we were passing over … plains, yes, but had there been any stream beds? Any stands of cottonwood? Then I remembered that I had been asleep when we passed over much of this (L’Amour, 1979, p. 280).

It was a novelty in the way of excursions … and it compelled that interest which attractive novelties always command. (Twain, 1975, p. 14).

Prioritize What to Learn

And learn, O voyager to walk / The roll of the earth, the pitch and fall … (MacLeish, 1970, p. 1035).

There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children – one is roots. The other, wings (McKenna, 1978, p. vi).

For no other reason except habit born of childhood in a crowded hogan, Joe Leaphorn awoke with the first light of dawn. (Hillerman, 2000, p. 43)

Trial-and-Error Preceeds Learning

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials. (Seneca, ND)

Hopalong stepped back and kicked the door at the lock. It did not budge. He kicked it again, and swore as he barked his shin on the bar. Cooly he walked back to the yard and picked up an ax. Two well-directed blows and the door flew open. (L’Amour, 1992, p. 113)

After learning as much as possible and setting aside all that is doubtful, speak circumspectly about the rest; then you will be free from error. (Chuan-sun Shih, 1955, p. 26)

Learning Occurs in One-Step

“You should have filed the shine off that buckle, kid,” he said gently (to the man he shot). “It makes much too good a mark (target)” (L’Amour, L., 1992, p. 244). (Parentheses added.)

Calculate Risks to Survive

Only a fool takes chances. That isn’t bravery, not one bit. The good fightin’ man never takes a chance he can avoid. You have to take plenty you can’t help, an’ only a fool would go to gamblin’ with his life (L’Amour, 1992, p. 131).

Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk (Setanti, ????).

Complete Sequences to Demonstrate Learning Occurred

“… before the development of writing, poetry was one of the tricks ancient people used to remember stories. The rhyme and meter of each line would help you to rememer the next. … hobos and sailors of his day … (were) like those prehistoric people who carried their literature in their heads. (L’Amour, K. , 1960 reissue May, 2000, p. 208)

Heaven is not gained at a single bound; / But we build the ladder by which we rise / From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies, / And we mount to its summit round by round. (Holland, 1879-1881, reprinted in Waterman, et al., 1901, p. 143).

Prescient Categories for Descriptions of Learning

Nessuna humana investigazione si pio dimandara vera scienzia s’essa non passa per le matematiche dimonstrazione.
No human investigation can be called real science if it cannot be demonstrated mathematically.
(de Vinci (1452-1519), Treatise on Painting).

The supreme misfortune is when theory outstrips performance. da Vinci (1452-1519), ND.

There is no higher or lower knowledge, but one only, flowing out of experimentation. da Vinci (1452-1519), ND.


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  2. Adams, S. (1996). The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions. New York: Harper Business.
  3. Behind Enemy Lines, a 2001 HBO film. (Retrieved July 3, 2010, 2:03 PM.)
  4. Byers, J. (19??). Stop, Look and Listen. (Lyrics and song performed by Elvis Presley.)
  5. Chuan-sun Shih (c. 551-479 B.C.), (1955). In James R. Ware, The Sayings of Confucius: A New Translation, NY: Mentor Book, p. 26
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  7. da Vinci, L. (c. 1452-1519). Quotations by Leonardo da Vinci.Deweese, M. (1999). Foreword. In J. Pivea and D. Borgenicht, The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, pp. 9-13.
  8. Golden, A. (2005). Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Vintage Books, p. 142.
  9. Hillerman, T. (1990). Coyote Waits. NY: HarperCollins.
  10. Hillerman, T. (2000). Hunting Badger.’ NY: HarperCollins.
  11. Holland, J.G. (1879-1881). Gradatim. The Complete Poetical Writings of J.G. Holland. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. (Quoted from reprint in Waterman, S.D., McClymonds, J.W., and Hughes, C.C., Editors, (1901). Graded Memory Selections. MA: Boston, pp. 143-144)
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  14. L’Amour, L. (1962). High Lonesome. New York: Bantam.
  15. L’Amour, L. (1973). The Quick and the Dead. New York: Bantam.
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  17. L’Amour, L. (1992). The Rustlers of West Fork. Bantam: New York. (Previously published in 1951 as Hopalong Cassidy and the Rustlers of West Fork by Louis L’Amour writing as Tex Burns.)
  18. Longfellow, H. (Written, 1849, published 1860). The Builders. In The Seaside and the Fireside.Longfellow, H. (Written April 19, 1860; first published in 1863 as part of Tales of a Wayside Inn )
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  20. McKenna, M. (1978). A Family. St. Paul, MN: Carillon Books, p. vi.
  21. Masterclass, (April 18, 2010), With Placido Domingo. (Retrieved July 3, 2010, 1:53 PM)
  22. Seneca, L. (ND). A Gem. (Retrieval confirmed 01-04-15)
  23. Shakespeare, W. King Lear, II.ii.
  24. Thoreau, H.D. (1854). Walden. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
  25. Twain, M. (1899). The Innocents Abroad: Volume. I. In Lawrence Teacher (ed.), The Unabridged Mark Twain. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, pp. 12-168.

Last Update: July 05, 2016