Imagine a safe space for life-long learning

Two stories. Once upon a time.

Story One.

I'm reading Portuguese scientist João Magueijo's Faster Than The Speed Of Light. And even though I'm still scribbling angry and confused comments in the margins, I've made it to page 37 without giving up. Plus, he has kind of maybe a little bit made me see that it is possible - unlikely, but possible - that E=mc².

(I read a terrible book on the weekend called The Fallen Sky which I thought was about meteors, but by page 15 the guy had told me three times - three times!!! - about falling out of love with his wife and into love with another woman, and I finally thought, like, who is this guy, and looked on the back and saw that he was a poet and I thought aw gawd dammit because a poet's even worse than a blogger when it comes to always wanting to tell you how bad he feels.)

So, I tossed Magueijo's book into my bag this morning thinking I'd read a bit more on my lunch break.

Only, at noon, surrounded by other educators, I didn't dare get it out.

I mean, look, the book is a speculative physics about the early cosmos and the varying speed of light. What would I look like pulling out a book like that? How could I explain that I wasn't trying to be pretentious? And does that even count - does it matter what you intend if you're doing something pretentious-looking? How could I explain that I'm reading - and occasionally throwing out - books about a science I don't understand in hopes of getting smarter? And what if everybody else in the room was already smart? What if someone engaged me in a conversation about theoretical physics or even factually ordinary physics?

Now, of course, all this drama is in my head, right? These are my insecurities, and I really outta get some help or get out more or something.

(Though it didn't help that I was the only one in the room without either an education degree or an adult educator certificate, referred to in the booklet we read as "the basic minimum" for someone doing my job - and that written in bold and then underlined in case someone missed the point.)

Still, looking around, I noticed that no one else was reading anything either. They were talking about family or returning learners or... And that's when I started wondering, "Is anyone else learning anything these days?"

The answer is "yes." Yes, because I know about some courses some people are taking. Yes, probably, because I don't know about other people's personal lives. (They're not poets, thank goodness.)

But why don't we talk about it? Why, in the welcome back meeting of educators and facilitators, does every single person ask me, "How was your summer?" But not one asked me, "Have you learned anything lately?"

Why don't we celebrate learning? How, exactly, do we plan to nurture life-long learners without celebrating our own learning?

You know, I'd have pulled the book out at the Storytent. Just saying.

Anyway, the book stayed in my bag.

Story Two.

Do you ever say "Let's take a little break" to your learners? Do you ever say "TGIF" or "That's enough of that" or, in a hopeful tone, "Maybe it will snow all night, and they'll have to cancel classes" and such?

I don't.

Somebody said, "Sometimes I play hangman with my students just to give us all a break." And I thought, "A break from what?"

Isn't that petty of me!!! Maybe I'm grumpy as well as insecure today.

But I think, if I found myself wanting to "take a break" and play hangman, I'd stop and take a hard look at what I was doing.

I remember a facilitator who was always hoping aloud that a big snow storm would come along and shut down school. And I remember always thinking how insulted I would feel if I was a learner in that class. "I hope I get a break from you people tomorrow!" "I hope I can get paid without having to come into this freaking room!" "I hope tomorrow isn't another big waste of my time!"

When my learners complain and say they hate fractions or whatever they're learning, I usually tell them to learn something else. When they say they're tired of being stuck in class, I always offer to exit them from the program. (Everyone then laughs, as though I were joking. That's odd too.) Of course, I understand that some of them feel compelled to be there - they get extra money or less grief from their mother or whatever.

But when the facilitator doesn't even want to be there. Geeze....

Learning is... wonderful.

I suppose schooling isn't always wonderful, what with all that judging and assigning and Telling What To Do and such. And feeling unsafe. Maybe that's half of what we're talking about here.

But learning is wonderful! Honest it is!

Why do we celebrate learning so little?

I think... I think I'd like to find a not-too-goofy way to stop greeting people with "How are you today?" I'd like to replace it with something like, "What are you learning these days?"

Or maybe I'm just being petty, insecure and pretentious.

Yeah, well. Fuck it.

I came home, cranked my Marianne Faithful, and stumbled through another chapter of speculative Portuguese physics.


KarenB said...

Where I work, we don't have a staff lunch room. My class is in the basement of a church, so I sit at my desk and read your blog (and others) while I eat. Either that or I crank my iPod (can't get enough of Eminem these days). I prefer it to those stale 'how did you spend your summer holidays' conversations, even if there are times, like today, when I laugh out loud and people think I'm crazy. Don't worry, I tell them, Wendell just said something hilarious!
Fuck it, indeed!

Wendell said...

Thank goodness for the internet!


Sandra Turner said...

Wendell, you've given me something to add to my classes and seminars: "Have you learned anything lately?" What a simple question, what a beautiful question. As a literacy distance ed program, we are constantly looking for new icebreakers, and always have to keep things neutral but interesting; putting this question to our learners is a wonderful way of showcasing talent, celebrating individuals and sharing knowledge. Awesome. Thank you.

Wendell said...

Hi Sandra, and thank you.

I often think of Dr. Bill Glasser who, when he worked in a mental health institution, learned to stop asking "How do you feel today?" and start asking "What are you going to do today?"