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The #1 Enemy of Learning

Last week, someone blasted me for posting a specific review on Amazon, calling it “self-serving.”  This person (whose review name, S. Richardson, leaves the person generally anonymous) spent most of his/her words attacking my integrity.

However, buried in the message was one point of constructive criticism that warranted clarification on my part. As I fleshed out the details of my thinking, I realized that I was actually striking a very important and profound concept that is worth sharing with you!

And, since everyone likes a good story, here’s what happened over on Amazon…

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Study Is Hard

“Study Is Hard Work” (©1956) may have been a great book for its time, but when I posted an honest review on Amazon, I got some negative feedback. The conversation, however, forced me to identify the #1 Enemy we all fight in regards to learning.

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There is an old study skills book, originally published in 1956, called “Study Is Hard Work.” (To the author’s credit, the book may have been a great resource when first published.  But, my review was based on user-friendliness for today’s reader.) I read the book and gave it a two-star rating on Amazon with the following explanation:

Proper study skills should NOT be hard work–if you know *how* to learn. Most of the strategies in this book will work, but they are very time-consuming and confusing… which only makes sense since this book is written under the premise that study is HARD work. Blah! What a way to turn students off to school and learning! There are much better perspectives, attitudes, and strategies with which to empower students.

While I still stand by every word in this review, S. Richardson was disappointed.  SR has read many study skills books and thinks “Study Is Hard Work is one of the best.  Of course, SR is entitled to his/her own opinion. But, SR drew the conclusion that I must not have read the book and must have posted this review as a self-serving advertisement.

I responded with the following (which you can find live on Amazon, here):

Dear S. Richardson,

No, I did NOT drop by to “do a little advertising,” as you suggested. I maintain complete transparency by including my association and my FULL name in my Amazon review name. If you look through all of my reviews, you will see that I read and review books on a wide variety of topics, not just “competitors,” as you call them. If I was actually advertising myself, I would have included a link to my own book.  Instead, I simply post reviews on books I’ve read, regardless of topic.

Of course, it’s only logical that a significant part of my reading and personal research includes books on my area of expertise.  All of my other reviews will reveal that I am always fair.

However, I will accept your point that this particular review focused on the title, versus expanding on the content of the book.  For that reason, I do see why you assumed that I did not read the book.  So, I will further explain myself and the reason for my two-star review.

You say that Mr. Armstrong’s point was to “PERSIST when he or she doesn’t grasp a subject at first nod.”  I say that persistence is good, but to any student who actually needs study skills, Mr. Armstrong’s title implies “struggle.”

And, struggle *repels* success! 

For example, just this week, my husband had a tight muscle in his back; instead of backing out on a golf date with his dad, he decided to golf with “80% effort.”  To his surprise, he had his best golf game of the year!  Several other golfers shared similar stories; when they stopped struggling, they not only did better, they did much better!

When I was struggling my way through school, my greatest enemy was the perception that studying was “difficult,” “hard work” (as Mr. Armstrong says), and generally “impossible.”  Had I known that there were simple keys to unlock those mysteries of learning, I could have saved myself a tremendous amount of grief and a miserable sense of confidence throughout K-12.

I’ve now spend 20+ years as an educator and advocate for other “struggling students.” This same perception of drudgery associated with studying continues to be the absolute greatest challenge in breaking down the thick walls that students build around themselves in regards to learning.  Fortunately, I have learned how to earn students’ trust quickly (in most cases), but I can’t work face-to-face with every student who needs to know that learning should NOT be difficult, arduous, or impossible.

The other problem is that most “study skills” actually generate confusion for struggling students. The information in this book is no different.  Not only are the strategies complex, the text is written in a heavy fashion, requiring many layers of interpretation that will be difficult for most learners to access.

I will admit, the title of the book was a major turn-off to me, right from the beginning.  But, I make it a personal commitment to read a wide variety of resources and I read this book hoping to find information or tips that would counteract the negative connotations of the title.  Unfortunately, I did not find the strategies to be user-friendly.

Nor did I find the text to be written with an attitude of empowerment, which is an essential component for a study skills book.  For this reason, my review did not go past the title; because the title is so DISempowering, it does a great disservice to students!

There is another two-star review posted for this book that supports my point of view.  The reviewer stated that this book may provide a few helpful points for strong students, but is not accessible for most students.  I regret that I did not articulate that as clearly in my original review, but I stand by the two-star rating of “Study Is Hard Work.”  My review, like all others, is just one review.  This is my point of view, but you are certainly entitled to your opinion and I’m glad that you like this book.

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Conclusion: Struggle IS the Enemy!

I have always been completely frustrated by the automatic assumption that that learning should be a miserable and arduous task.  But, I had never before been forced to articulate my feelings as specifically and clearly as S. Richardson’s critique encouraged me to do.

It suddenly become crystal clear to me that this automatic and negative perception *IS* my #1 opponent as a study skills specialist.  It is your #1 opponent as a teacher and parent.  STRUGGLE is the enemy!

But, struggling is NOT necessary! This message – above everything else – must be held with tight conviction!  When our students believe that they can learn without struggle, they are more than happy to step up to the plate and execute persistence.

-Susan Kruger

(Google+)

2 Responses to “The #1 Enemy of Learning”

  1. V Clay says:

    This is just my opinion, but I feel that a manageable amount of struggle is necessary for learning and growth, otherwise it’s review. Your background knowledge or understanding attempts to integrate what is new with what was known. If it just amplifies or restates what ‘is’ in the perception of the learner, very little was gained. But in the attempts to make sense of the new entry material I would believe the mind is working to see what conflicts or negates and what has totally reworked the powerful understandings which were the foundation of how the learner sees that sector of the world. To have the expectation that everything will blend nicely when mixed into a ‘solution’ is not realistic. Some ideas will float to the top while others will sink. How many of life’s non-negotiables have been redefined as we evolved as a civilization or as a result of further examination or discovery? Should our social and physical scientists dismantle their observations if what they perceive is outside of the standard realm of societies norms, ie. no struggle? That’s not what innovation, ingenuity, or America thrives on. We are not passive. Only change is a constant. In preparation for new ideas, our students must be resilient, possess a spirit of inquiry & prepare for their international competitors if they’re to be successful. Life is not easy. It’s full of struggle, battles, and wars. However the soft skills will allow them to execute a plan no matter the domain: personal, professional, or political. They only have to believe ‘I can’ and be willing to collaborate to solve problems and live in the truth that there’s the potential for differences.

    • SOAR says:

      My use of the word “struggle” is in a context that is *not* manageable. Challenge is certainly necessary for learning and growth. Struggle, however, is counterproductive. That doesn’t mean that we can avoid all struggle during our lives. It just means that when we do encounter struggles, nothing productive happens until we learn how to channel it, often in the form of a challenge.

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