Motivation to Learn when in Despair. LO28556

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 05/20/02

Replying to LO28539 --

Dear Organlearners,

Benjamin Compton <> writes:

>I'm not sure the subject "Motivation to Learn when
>in Despair" is descriptive of the problem; perhaps
>we could say "Motivation to Learn when in the
>Chains of Poverty"?

Greetings dear Ben,

Yes, you are right. Poverty has this family in its chains. But I still
think that Despair is more descriptive. Allow me to explain.

The only road to the caravan park goes past a restaurant and a gymnasium,
both catering for the rich. When we go to visit the family in the
evenings, we have to pass hundreds of expensive cars parked around. Her
son who help out as a waiter during weekends cannot keep his mouth shut.
He counts how many people spend in one evening more than what takes her a
month to earn. The contrasts between these rich people and their own
poverty is driving them into despair.

>I'll start my thoughts by stating the obvious: Poverty is
>a vicious beast that doesn't die easily. It is a blinding,
>binding, intimidating, consuming, and controlling beast.

You are right. The position of this family is even worse. Because of the
injustices caused by apartheid, the government now has a policy called
Affirmative Action. Employers must employ workers on a racial basis
reflecting the country's composition. We and she did find a few jobs, but
she could not get it because her skin was white. This family is now
experiencing what black people had to experience during apartheid.

>It is blinding because those caught in its grip can only
>think about the near future, and even then in very limited
>terms: Where is my next morsel of food coming from?
>Where will I sleep tonight? How will I protect myself
>from the elements? Add to these set of thoughts children,
>and the natural parental instinct to care for them, and
>you've got a situation where thoughts of the future are
>limited to a few minutes or hours.

You are right. But in the case of this family we provide them with food,
household goods and some of their clothes. Thus they need not have to
worry over it. However, the fact that we are helping them add to their
despair. What will become of them when we stop for some or other reason to
help them. Furthermore, they still have some pride in them. They want to
be self -supporting. I am afraid that our material help is not only doing
good, but is also doing bad.

>Poverty is binding because one is focused on a very
>small set of concerns such as eating and shelter. One
>does not have a lot of time (or resources) to go to
>school or develop new skills.

Again you are right. But in this case what worries me is the young little
girl. We have promised her that she need not to worry about her material
needs. However, sweet little girl which she is, she worries about her
mother and brothers, so much so that she gets lame for learning self.

>How do you break free from poverty? I'm not sure
>I have an answer, because I've never had to do it.

I have made a study in history how societies managed to break
the chains of poverty. It involved two things:
* caring for each other's needs
* encouraging others to learn by example.
The learning involved two things -- to become educated in the
whole personality and to learn a self-supporting, self-employing job.

But I fear that in this case that education at school in South Africa has
been fragmented into a number of subjects. Developing the whole
personality in an integrated manner gets little attention in the
curriculum. Were it not for some teachers who see themselves as
substituting parents, the situation would have been much worse.

Furthermore, education here in South Africa is geared to train people do
get specialised jobs in organisations. Very little is done to learn them
how to create and improve upon a self-supporting, self-employing job.

What we need is people setting examples. There are such people. They are,
interestingly enough, WAMs (White, Afrikaans speaking Men). When a WAM
find himself out of a job in an organisation (for many reasons) in the New
South Africa, the chances are pretty slim that he will ever again get a
permanent job in an organisation. When a young WAM leaves school, the same
applies. This is exactly the fate of the oldest brother in the family,
himself a WAM.

>I was born to a middle-class family, and I've always
>had a job and made enough money to feed, clothe,
>and shelter myself and my children. So the best I can
>do is come up with a theory based on what I think I
>would do if I were in that situation. . .

Thank you very much for this.

>As I sit here thinking about it, I think the first thing
>I'd do is become a very good thief. I'd steal whatever
>I could so I could buy food as often as possible until I
>was no longer hungry. This may be morally wrong, but
>I can't see any other way. It occurs to me (after having
>just eaten a very nice lunch) that as long as I'm hungry
>(in a very real, desperate sense) I'm not going to think
>very clearly. So I'd try to take care of that need first.

About three weeks ago, after church, we went to the family. On road to
them we saw the back of the younger brother ducking behind a poster. He
was begging. He said to the mother that he would be visiting friends. We
said nothing. I still do not know how to handle this.

Yes, theft has shot sky high in the New South Africa. Perhaps people began
stealing for food only. But once they steal, the vast majority of them
begin to steal for other things too. They have been conditioned by
advertisements that they need luxuries like a TV and a cell phone to make
a decent living.

The worst thing to happen is crime syndicates from other countries
"investing" in South Africa. They have more than enough people here
willing to do the stealing part for them. The countries from which they
operate, keep a blind eye to their activities.

>Perhaps you could tell us if the members of the family
>are literate? That would influence what I'd do next,
>because if I could read/write and do arithmetic then
>I'd have more possibilities to think about. And I'd have
>the ability to recognize those possibilities.

Yes, the whole family is literate. But the woman as well as her two sons
did not make it all the way through school. I think it is partly because
of a lack of a learning culture and partly the lack of intelligence.

One of the things which they do, is to read magazines -- those that you
can buy at every cafe. These magazines sell like sweet cake because they
go into the gory details of people sufferering. They will seldom tell of
people who create and improve upon a self- supporting, self-employing job
simply because it does not sell as good as suffering.
There are more expensive magazines (because of having less
readers) which have a more constructive, creative policy. But this
family, after having been given some of them to read, just do not
read them. You speak of
>Poverty is a vicious beast that doesn't die easily.
>It is a blinding, binding, intimidating, consuming,
>and controlling beast.
Likewise is a media culture (magazines, TV programs) obsessed
with suffering as a result of poverty and crime. This family is in its
clutches. For every ten words we say upon a constructive thought,
they get blasted by the media with thousands of words on
destructive thoughts.

One idea blasted by the media is that learned people do not know the
suffering of poor people since they can care for themselves. Poor people
with a lack of learning are destined to suffer. The best selling theme is
rich, learned people saying: "If poor people do not want to learn, let
them feel it by suffering." Hence for the poor self learning is a "pie in
the sky".

Thank you Ben for trying to think of possibilities. As my decription of
the situation develops in answering to your thoughts, fellow learners may
get a better picture how precarious the situation is. I have hope for the
family, but that hope involves motivated learning. The family is just not
motivated anymore to learn further. Despite our help, they have the mental
model that their environment has made them permanent losers. I am afraid
that our own help even strengthens this mental model rather than breaking

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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