October 7, 2012
The Joy of Learning
Posted by John Spencer
Micah mixes God and science and all of that together when he enters the house with a handful of snail shells. "Look, the spiral gets bigger and bigger the further out you go," he says,
I nod my head.
"And it's the same shape as the star swirl," he says, pointing to the astronomy book on the book shelf. "I think God likes that pattern."
He's silent for a moment and then said, "It's like anger. It starts out right here and ends right here," he says pointing to the spiral on the snail shell.
He's almost giddy about the spirals and the patterns and the inherent systems thinking that occurs when learning doesn't exist in silos. Micah isn't focussed on the future or finding a great career or the practicality of what he's saying. Sometimes it is practical. In this very same evening, Micah wants to learn to write in order to leave a note next to the flowers he has picked for his mother. But even when it's practical, it's not an investment. It's not a commodity.
Micah is right. The journey is enough. There is a joy in hearing classical music and finally "getting" the chord progressions, watching Shakespeare performed live, understanding the geekier side of football formations or appreciating art in a museum.
When asked why we learn, I am quick to talk about meaning and purpose and thinking well about life. Sometimes I find myself justifying a subject for economic reasons (they'll need this for a job). I'm starting to wonder, though, if there is a balance to the notion of purpose-driven learning. I get it. Wisdom is often part of a hard or painful process. Sometimes what is valuable to learn isn't fun.
And yet . . .
Often it is. There is a joy in learning that we miss when we define education in practical terminology. I recently read blog posts by students describing how they would "hack" school. Many wrote about the irrelevance of physics, biology, certain aspects of math and almost all of history. However, I wonder if the high school students were missing something in defining relevance only through a utilitarian lens. Learning isn't a product.
If Shakespeare is a irrelevant, it's because you haven't truly experienced Shakespeare. If the Mayans bore you, chances are you haven't had a chance to explore the archeology behind our knowledge or think about the deeper social structures of Mayan society. If science sucks, it's probably because it's been presented as a series of formulas and steps to walk through. There's beauty there if kids have a chance to observe it.
It has me thinking that as much as I advocate for critical thinking, I wonder if I should speak out a little more about the joy of learning.