I just typed a big, ugly rant into my Facebook status box. It started with “I know this is a first world problem and all…” and tumbled down from there. The rant was well deserved, if spoiled; it targeted my University’s summer course selection (which sucks). I think it sounded something like “afnv;fdkvldnklv;dfnvdf!!,” but now I’m paraphrasing.
I didn’t press Post. I deleted the rant. I don’t know if that signals maturity or defeat.
My soul is pretty much owned by “learning” right now, something that clearly takes many forms–mostly interesting ones, but not always. Sometimes, it feels like “learning” feeds my stress levels more than my brain. My eyes glaze over, and all I can see are schedule frustrations, lost notes, dull readings, “shi-it, did I just fall asleep during that lecture?”. This kind of “learning” is often done in temperature-controlled windowless caves; As if not being able to see the world will somehow help us learn about it. Why is it that important places like study rooms, lecture halls, churches, government institutions and courts so often lack windows? Are we really expecting people who can’t even see the sky or the ground to be responsible authorities on the world’s direction?
Let me be clear: I don’t think that University is a bad thing, and I certainly don’t believe that I’m “too smart” for all this traditional school stuff. I appreciate my windowless cave education, I do. Absorbing important information hand-picked by a well-studied mentor (read: professor) seems like a worthy investment. Of course I learn things. It’s not a grossly unproductive system; we are tested, we write stuff, and some of it does stick.
Classrooms are good. I can dig that. But if classrooms are the only place that I’m learning? Then we have a problem.
Windowless cave education is best when it is supported by side projects that supplement the “learning”–extra-curriculars, excursions, experiences. Real-world stuff. But there are only so many hours in a day, only so many dollars in the bank account. During school terms, I am barely able to get those forgettable papers written, juggle my minimum wage gigs, and see my friends on the side. I never read for fun. I rarely visit museums. I can’t afford much time volunteering, or “getting involved”, even if that volunteering will bring me closer to my interests and career goals.
I miss a lot of “learning” while I’m in school. That seems strange, doesn’t it?
I can’t help but wonder if my windowless cave education is any better than the free education I am getting right now: taking an online class through coursera, attending Library of Congress lectures, visiting the Smithsonians, volunteering at the Holocaust Museum, interning in the music/heritage industry. Even blogging (to you! right now!) is quite the experience. So is playing guitar on the rooftop, watching someone’s experienced fingers pluck the strings to a new song. Or getting lost in the city. Or braving a conversation with someone I know disagrees with me (and loving that person all the same).
You can’t tell me this is a less profound “learning” experience than the one I had last semester, theory-memorizing and paper-writing. I don’t mean to make the latter sound useless. Theories and papers have served me well; they just haven’t served me wholly. Windowless cave knowledge is a starting point…but if we lack opportunities to apply that knowledge, aren’t we missing something?
Even though I haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in several months, I’m no less in education mode here than I was in the windowless cave. Being in a new place, working, writing, dialoguing, and attending stuff–hell, I might be learning more here than I do in school. It’s a tough comparison. But I do wish I could bring this flexibility and motivation to find/learn/discover with me when I go back to school in May.
I’m not going to I argue that everything I do is University-calibre learning. I hope it’s not. My brain would explode. Something doesn’t have to involve “learning” to be a good way to spend time (I love sports and music and sitcoms way too much to make that argument). I’m not saying that every activity needs to involve a life lesson. What I am saying is that life lessons need to involve more activity.
As per my last post, I am aiming to be a woman whose life involves lots of “learning”, inspired by lots of activity. I want to be a woman with “guitar-bred finger calluses, with laugh lines and dimples, with sun-kissed shoulders and tired, blistered feet.” I want to be a woman “who is continually educated and insatiably curious. Who speaks a couple languages, who knows her geography, and who travels lots and lots. Who knows enough to be aware of the fact that she knows nothing. Who has about 10 questions for every answer.”
I can totally achieve that. I can. School is going to be a part of it, obviously…so is stress, responsibility, boredom, bureaucratic systems. I’m not rejecting it ALL; ‘Course selection was difficult this semester, so Fuck The Man!’. That is obviously not fair.
But school can’t be all of it. It can’t be. When Mark Twain said “don’t let schooling get in the way of your education,” he had a point.
We’re just lucky that the best teachers know it.