On Learning

Growing up, I was blessed by two parents that encouraged my curiosity and always tried to foster my independence in learning. I have to say that the result was a sense of the pure pleasure of learning. Resources and opportunities were always provided so I could follow my interests. And, my parents wanted to know about what I was learning – the sharing was part of the process.

I received an email today from the parent of one of my students. She described all that her son is doing during the school closure. I was impressed. Her son is building a cabin up in the woods and using pictures as well as a journal to share his progress with his building/construction teacher at the tech center. He is practicing some of the OSHA safety standards in this project and sharing these in a photo journal as well. He is also puttering around with some biology in a natural setting and also putting in a little time with the other academic tasks sent home to him.

My reply to our educator team and to the mom was, “You have made my day sharing this. Your son is doing education and doing it well!”

I write this because something came up in some discussion the other day about what is happening during this period of school closure due to the coronavirus. Many lament that it is not what would be happening back at the school if the virus had never happened.

You know, I have to say, that maybe something better is happening during this time. I went into education because I was inspired by a time when the pleasure of learning was driving educational thought. This was in the 1980s and 90s. This pleasure of learning as the foundation of education was short lived. It was replaced by the new reign of the data collectors.

Today, everything needs to be reduced to data, something that can be printed in charts and graphs. Where does all of this data come from – think testing and assessments.

I retained very little from my days in high school, or even from my time in college. But, what I did retain was that pleasure of learning that my father and mother fostered in me as a small child. It keeps me curious and more than anything, it keeps me a life-long learner.

In high school, I made an appointment with my guidance counselor to ask her if I could take some classes in woodworking and building down in the vocational center. She denied my request because I was considered a college prep student. What a poor decision on her part, not only for me, but for others with interests that may have been beyond the college prep curriculum.

At that time, my parents had been having some remodeling done at our home. I went to the contractor that summer and asked him for a job. I was 17 and really wanted to learn building skills. Paul, the contractor, hired me. I worked all that summer digging, carrying cement blocks, mixing mortar, unloading construction materials off of trucks, and just trying to do anything I was asked as fast as I could. I learned some building skills by observing and watching what was going on around me.

The next spring, I went back to Paul and asked him if I could come back and work for him that summer. He said, “Gee, none of you kids ever come back after the first year. Are you sure you want to?” I said, “Yes, I do.” “Well,” Paul said, “Then I will put you with my son, Dougie, and he will teach you how to be a carpenter. If you want to learn, he will teach you.”

I worked for Paul for 6 years, a month every year during my Christmas break while in college, and every summer right through college. I learned enough to build two of our homes mostly myself. I learned because of the pleasure of learning. I loved every minute of it.

This brings me back to my thinking about learning and what has been happening during this school closure. I am in hopes that maybe some of our students are getting some time to be self-directed learners. I am in hopes that some of our students are rediscovering the pure pleasure of learning because it is something they want. I am in hopes we educators and parents learn something from this ourselves. I am in hopes some parents stepped away from the packets and worksheets sent home and took some cues from their kids, and let some learning happen that was for the pure pleasure it brings. There is more to life than some data that can be captured and charted. When life is reduced to this, it smothers the living.

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