Reprinted from the Seekers and Guides column at the Agora blog on the Patheos Pagan channel, originally published February 18, 2013:
It’s a fact: everybody learns differently. You might think of yourself as not being smart enough to learn some things, but the truth is, it probably wasn’t instructed in a way that was compatible with your personal learning style. In her book Lies We Live By, Dr. Stephanie Burns details four basic styles of learning. Most of us lean strongly towards one or another. If you understand how you learn best, you can select instruction that will be more effective for you. A good Craft curriculum will try to address all four styles. See if you recognize yourself!
The “What” People
You learn best by observing, gathering information, and calculating. You always ask the question “What?” “What is expected of me?” “What do the experts say?” “What is the calculated value of X?” “What is the aerial velocity of an unladen swallow?”
You do not learn well by being thrust into situations. You write excellent reports and essays and never lost marks in math because you didn’t show all of your work. You sometimes miss out on things in life because you have little need of direct experience. Generally, school was designed for you, but there are some areas where you may have learned to fail because you don’t do well with “sink or swim.” You might have done did fabulously in academic subjects but struggled for C pluses in metal shop or P.E.
“What” people need everything laid out in theory and diagrams before they are willing to try. For you to learn best, get your teacher to break things down in vivid detail and go over it with you first.
The “Why” People
You want to know how things fit into your life. You are constantly asking “why?” “Why do I have to make my bed?” “Why do people behave the way they do, and do I believe the same things that they do?” “Why should I care about calculus? Am I ever going to use it after I graduate?”
You like to go out and do things, then go inside and think them over. “Because I said so,” cut zero ice for you and you likely ignored anything your parents told you that was followed by that phrase. You annoyed the adults in your life with your constant questions. You probably did all right in school, but there were probably dramatic differences in some of your marks, simply because if you can’t relate it to a matter of personal relevance, you simply can’t force yourself to care enough about it to learn it.
Most Craft teachers are not afraid of the question “why” and they usually have a good answer for you. Try to find a way to connect to the subject matter, even if it looks dull on the surface. It might be a “wax on, wax off” kind of thing. Get your teacher to let you try things on your own and observe you doing it.
The “How” People
You like to learn about what makes things useful and what makes them work. You are constantly asking the question “how?” “How do babies get made?” “How does a car work?” “Now that I have been taught this new strategy for dealing with a musical scale, how can I apply it in my own music?” You put peanut butter sandwiches in the DVD player, took apart the toaster and mixed potions on the kitchen floor with baking goods. You probably did really well in metal shop, home economics, biology, band or chemistry, but the academics may have been a struggle for you.
You learn best when you can come up with ideas based on information you’ve absorbed and then experiment. You must have a “hands on” component and you want to see the theory in action. If you can’t experiment with it, it won’t stick with you, so encourage your teachers to help you with experimenting, or do it on your own if they don’t provide the opportunity.
The “What If” People
You want to test and play with what you have learned to determine the limits of possibility. You want to know the answer to the question “What if?” “What happens if I push this button?” “What if I don’t eat my vegetables?” “What if I eat only vegetables?” “What if I get the tattoo my mother doesn’t want me to get?” “What happens if I put pots in the microwave?”
You are the one that school cared for the least. You may have been labeled a “problem child” or a “troublemaker” at an early age. You rode your bike faster and climbed trees higher than anyone else. You will do almost anything but what is asked of you. But if you properly channel all that energy, you can accomplish truly great things because more than anyone else, you look outside the box and blaze new trails.
Wicca, being a countercultural movement, attracts more than its share of “what if” people. I don’t have to encourage you to go out and experiment; you’ll do that on your own and no force on earth will stop you! But I caution you: eventually you will reach a stage when your teacher will seem limited or foolish and you, like a teenager, will want to “leave home while you still know everything.” That’s fine, just try to do it gently and try not to be cruel. I don’t think it’s possible to teach the Craft without some emotional involvement, no matter how tough your teachers seem, so be nice and don’t burn your bridges.