Medical fraternity coins some really interesting words that often remain exclusive to clinical domain. Anhedonia is one such word that appears rarely in general vocabulary but it may have its prevalence increasing by the day, especially in connection with our education system. This extremely oxymoronic phenomenon needs serious attention, not just by educationists, but by humanity in general as we all seem to be heading towards undermining the core of being human i.e. animals with brains designed to be happy by learning.
If human brain is a warehouse of information, human mind is the user of that warehouse. Mind absorbs information out of survival necessity (or out of choice and inclination) and stores it in the brain for later use. As the mind needs to drive the brain in this effort, nature has evolved a beautiful mechanism. Our brains have an innate chemical reward system that evokes motivating pleasure for the brain to enjoy this process that we call learning. We learn by feeling good about doing so.
The benefits of happy-learning must have been enormous because we, humans, have prospered as globe-occupying animals by developing extremely elaborate reward circuits in our brain-pathways that allow us to learn an amazing variety of things ranging from how to fly a Boeing to shoe-sizes of Kardashian sisters. Of all the animals that roam the earth, we are the most aggressive learners that strive hard to learn the necessary or the trivial, just because we have brains that are pleasured by learning. Unfortunately, this most unique human trait is undergoing a strange transition in recent times.
As we needed to systemize the process of learning across society, we have now invented what we call education. By inventing education, we have aspired to learn for the sake of learning, whereby decoupling it from its reward circuits. We are expecting minds to push the brain to learn even when there are no pleasure-chemicals oozing by the process. We want humans to learn, but we expect it to happen in a manner that our mind and brain have not evolved for.
Unfortunately for us, this decoupled-to-joy education has not failed badly enough to be eradicated naturally because, just as we have reward circuits to augment our learning desire, we also have another pathway for instilling learning into brain; and that is through pain.
On the other end of learning spectrum is pain-inducing punishment that is also a great educator of brain. Modern education is all about inducing pain of failure as punishment to make a child learn. The new-age kid is not learning because it is fun to do so for the brain, he is getting educated as failure is a pain that his social brain would like to avoid.
Nature has posed a MCQ to humanity -Learn out of pleasure or learn out of pain. Unfortunately for us, the “system” has transcended us and made a choice to use pain pathway as a medium of educating us. This helps the system gets cogs for its grand machine, but we, as individuals, are losing our happiness in the bargain.
Anhedonia is clinical inability to feel pleasure. The current direction of our education system is slowly but surely taking us closer to educational anhedonia where children will have no sense of pleasure linked with learning.
Modern education is eroding the core of humanity by not focusing on the joy of learning. If it is not prevented in time, it will reduce humans to zombies incapable of enjoying this most wonderful and yet to be fully explored reality that we live in.
Joy of learning is the joie de vivre that must be reinstated and soon, for the sake of humanity. It is the true driving force, the real raison d’être that makes us humans and must never be lost!