Archive for September, 2009

Dividual Learner

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Rob Shenk

A few days ago while sitting in my anthropology class, taking notes, I was struck by my professor’s description of how the Melanesians understand the person. In Melanesian culture people do not view themselves as individual but, dividual. For example, if an uncle brought food to your mother while you were in the womb then he is a part of you for the nourishment he brought to sustain your development. This idea goes beyond the genetics and even blood relations. To Melanesians a person is formed through the work and effort of people to nourish and develop a person. Like that favorite American saying, “It takes a village”.

What if we viewed learning as such an adventure? What if we went beyond learning to be better than the other students in our class?
Shifting our view of learning could very well change the way we approach many other aspects of our life. The educational system encourages a competitive solo journey and places emphasis on the individual more than anything. I’m not trying to say competition is bad but the danger is the isolating effects that can produce a “Us vs Them” mentality that pervades our thinking (do I have to really point out examples?).

We no longer live in small societies where the work of one person can make a difference. In these small societies it would be in your best interest to make sure your friend knew how to do a craft just as well as you if you wanted to be able to sleep in a safe shelter or eat dinner. Putting in time and effort to teaching someone meant that your quality of life would probably be increased too.

Today we live in an industrialized nation, we no longer inhabit small isolated villages. This change obscures how the actions of one person may not only benefit another but ultimately how your investment in one person will be repaid to you in one way or another. I’m not calling for a Thoreau-esque return to the woods but, I do think industrialized nations have fallen into the trap that allows the way we do our business and commerce to effect other aspects of our life, especially schooling.

This is another one of those posts that touches on such grand problems that they could not possibly be solved in a blog post. I’m more frustrated then anything with the way we teach students and at times the problem seems so large and monolithic I don’t see how we could ever get around it. Maybe acknowledging the problem is the first step towards change and the more people we get thinking about these issues the more likely things will change.

Or maybe I am just a dreamer.

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Has That Always Been There?

Maybe my thinking has evolved since my freshman year (I hope it has) but, lately I tend to notice a lot more connections between classes. Something I am learning in one class will come to mind as I sit in another and I begin to see intersections between two different classes in two different disciplines. Maybe upper level classes are more conducive of such connections because they cover more specific areas? Or is my brain finally able to identify what was there all along?

It is the latter question that has me thinking lately. I can remember blogging in my freshman year how my classes seemed to exist in their own little bubbles and spheres, rarely intersecting. Now I find my brain going back and forth between my different classes and even forgetting what things I learned in what class.

Maybe some of you have gone through the same thing? It’s a genuine question that I have with no real answer, just ideas at this point. And different answers to this questions have different meanings or outcomes. I tend to lean towards the conclusion it has age that has allowed me to see these connections. If this is the answer though what has changed in my thinking, or, rather what was the process that led me here? Maybe I need to go through my old blog posts and follow the stream back towards the source.

I’m curious though what your experience with this? Has age brought you an ability to see these connections and how did you get to that point?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by daoro

The Blog Post I’ve Wanted To Write For A Year

I’ve struggled for a long time to understand why every semester without fail that after the first week or so of classes I’d lose the fervor and excitement for school. Where did my love of learning go? Where was my motivation? Questioning

There have been many days (and long nights) where I wrestled with these thoughts and wrestled with whether I should be wasting my time wrestling with these thoughts. Was my mind wasting time thinking up excuses to avoid work by thinking about my lack of motivation? These nagging questions will not leave me alone though and there are many things that came together for me recently that I need to share. The threads are hard to follow but, I hope you will be patient.

This is a very blanket and vague statement but I believe that the current system of schooling encourages selfishness and an individualistic nature. Learning as demonstrated by our schools seems to be a one man journey with an importance placed on achieving the number one spot. In school you learn because it is important for you to make the the best of yourself. I do believe it is important that there be some internal motivation but the lack of emphasis on community has always left me feeling empty.

Plants Grow on Rocks in the City I will admit I am a competitive in certain aspects of my life (such as sports) but schooling has never been one of those places. And as a human I can not help but be selfish in certain aspects of my life but in terms of schooling I’ve never desired to learn for me and my own advancement. The times I’ve genuinely enjoyed learning were those moments that brought me a feeling of closer connection to and contact with my community of learners.

For example, I spent a good part of the ’07 fall semester reading the poetry of Yeats and others because I felt that brought me closer to certain people in my learning community that I respected. I ended up forsaking some of my “real” work for absorbing the reading material my learning community suggested. Lets just say that that semester ended very poorly for me grade wise. But a whole world of poetry I had never experienced had been opened up to me. It wasn’t just the fact that I was reading new works but, I was experiencing them in a brand new way.

I have a strong desire to draw closer to those in the caravan who travel with me during this stage of my journey. All of this leads me to say that this strong desire to learn alongside and from these caravanistas does not limit itself to a school context but reaches far beyond. There are many people in my community that I want to talk about but for this post talking about DTLT will have to suffice because it represents so much in one group. Wingshot Descent into Clouds

I easily have the best student employment on campus as a student aide for DTLT. Those who have come before me and currently work with me probably will vouch. I’ve worked at DTLT since the fall of ’07 and I have always looked forward to going to work. Everyone there pushes me to think and challenges me when I need it (which is constantly apparently heh). I have freedom at my job and an expectation that I am responsible with that freedom. I have learned so much more than I thought the job would ever teach me. I get to be surrounded by people pushing the boundaries and doing work that is not found at most universities. Many of the things I have learned on my own while working at DTLT were influenced by my desire to be a part of the community and to contribute the way the staff of DTLT do to their mission. In my mind spending time learning the things they are learning about is my way of honoring their work and the people of DTLT. They probably don’t even know the extent of my insanity on certain things.

Sun Slipping ThroughI’ve never worked so hard to get myself into the lives of people because of a strong desire to know them. As time has gone on the people of DTLT have become my family, a home away from home, and I love them as such. For whatever bizarre reason these people mean a lot to me and so my desire to learn from them carries from work to their lives at home. I know these people and I know their families. Sometimes I feel like I am performing a grand experiment as I observe how each family works and all the millions of intricacies that can occur within one family. I love their kids like they were my siblings. And I want to show their children that people outside their family can come into their lives and love them for seemingly no reason. In fact I can think of no greater joy in my life right now then to be able to love these families well and even though it makes little sense to me why I feel so compelled to do this, I don’t question it, I just do it.

After saying all that I turn back to the question I started off with, where does my motivation for school go every semester? Well, when the solo journey of classes is put up against the community of DTLT is it really that hard to understand why my focus wanders elsewhere? When I have this tangible and meaningful community of people to learn from why would I spend anymore time then I had to on my solo class journey? Again, this is not to say that classes are a complete waste of time, they certainly are not and I have some more thoughts on learning and classes but that is for another post. In short, schooling does not provide the community and meaning-making I desire and in addition, I can easily find that community and meaning-making in abundance in other places of my life.

Maybe I am no closer to a solution to my problem but at least I feel like I understand it better now, perhaps I finally see some sun shining through in what forever seems like a dark cloud hanging over me.


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