Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Where are the life-long learners?

“If the smart, fun, passionate, life-long learners weren't at university, then where on earth were they?” writes jo_jo in “How I Found My Purpose: Chapter 5.” (http://www.overexcitable.blogspot.com/).

We always hope to find those life-long learners in the academic environment, but sometimes encounter arrogance and pretense instead. There’s the woman who will tell anyone who listens that she has a Ph.D., which means she’s an Authority in Her Field to whom we must pay heed, yet she is closed to new ideas, or to others’ way of thinking. Then there’s the entrepreneurial shop owner who dropped out of undergrad school but is learning about marketing the old-fashioned way: by doing it. I don’t mean to denigrate school over work experience, or elevate one type of learning over another. Goodness knows I have both. But I think life-long learning is all about attitude.

Let’s think about people we know who represent the best practices in life-long learning.

  • An 82-year-old man practices his trumpet for an hour a day. He used to be a high school band teacher, but these days he fills his days with visits to the senior citizen center, where he learns new skills such as how to turn on a computer, compose an e-mail message, and surf the Internet. He and his wife have been judging youth essay contests for years, encouraging young people to examine their beliefs by writing about them cogently and creatively.
  • A mother whose family lives out in the country homeschools her children, despite the fact that she never earned a college degree. Her children play the piano with passion and persistence, encouraged by her support. When she’s not feeding her chickens or milking the cows, she’s planning a lesson. The children march along a path, collecting leaves for a science journal, act out an adventure from a story the family has read, or reenact a Victorian tea.
  • Decades ago, a tool and die maker immigrated to this country, returning to the high school classroom so he could learn to speak English. He took courses in electricity and small motor repair, eventually opening up his own equipment rental and repair business. He volunteered to teach faith classes to middle schoolers, reading classes to adults, and tutored his own children in math. Retired, he is now learning everything he can about computers and photography.
  • She is the mother of a gifted daughter, probably gifted herself, but she never calls attention to herself. She has a teaching degree, but has never taught in a standard classroom. Instead, she has mentored young people, developing a popular after-school technology program, and has coached a creative problem-solving team. She works for no one and everyone, providing computer consultation services, for which she is entirely self-educated.

Life-long learners are open to change, but beyond that can adapt to changing circumstances. They seek out answers aggressively, but most importantly, they generate their own questions, and locate their own sources. They manipulate the answers they receive into words they publish, businesses or products they produce, or into lessons they generate for others. They are passionate about learning, but require no degree, pedigree or certification to justify the acquisition of knowledge.

Where do we find life-long learners? In the supermarket aisle, the stitchery shop, the kitchen, the factory . . . and even the university! It’s all about attitude.

© 2006 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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