Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Learn to live or live to learn?

There used to be a question that people asked about food: Do you live to eat, or eat to live?

I know people who eat to live. Food is fuel that keeps the body functioning. I'm not one of those, and I don't understand the mindset. I love food just for its own sake. The tastes, the smells, the textures. The companionship over a meal. Good food, good wine, good fellowship - only heaven can be better!

Sometimes, when I feel I would like to shed a few pounds, I wish I could be more like those with a utilitarian approach. Oh, and by the way: I am not a blob - never have been - and know many other "foodies" who are perfectly average in size.

So how does this relate to learning? Well, it's not a huge leap: do you live to learn or learn to live? Do you view learning as something that is a means to an employment end? A stepping stone? A neceesary evil that you escape the moment you turn 16? Or is it a pleasure, a delight, an ongoing process of enrichment, a door to new delights? Don't answer that - no-one from the former category is reading this post!

The issues raised in George Siemens's post We are not neutral gave shape to some of the more formless thoughts that have been milling around in my head for a while. Thoughts fed by discussions that keep cropping up in unrelated places, such as the recent FOE2007, which generated a discussion thread called "What's education FOR?".

While I do hope to see education becoming more relevant to the modern world, and better preparing people for life after school, I also believe that there is space for learning that serves no purpose other than to bring pleasure (see my comment on George's post), and I am saddened to see all those unaccredited programmes disappearing from adult ed centres.


Anonymous said...

"Or is it a pleasure, a delight, an ongoing process of enrichment, a door to new delights? "

Karyn -- I hadn't thought about this in depth until I read your post. The little thought that creeps into my head now is that we are born "curious". We are born into this world as learners -- and I think (although I can't really remember) that as children we enjoy learning as a process. As children we enjoy learning everything and anything -- it's fun, adventurous, and builds our self-esteem. Children proudly "show off" the new things they learn on a daily basis.

Somewhere along the way we are taught that learning is for something else -- for more education, for job preparation, etc.

Here in Houston we have a monthly publication from Leisure Learning Unlimited which lists a few hundred ongoing classes covering a wide range of topics -- not for credit, not for job preparation -- but simply for the love of learning.

What if our education system was designed more like Leisure Learning Unlimited -- what if, from birth, we encourage learning as an ongoing process rather than as a means to a specific end? Hmmm...

Okay -- I'm just rambling now... just some early morning thoughts on your post :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your early morning thoughts, Stephanie. You touch on a point I raise over and over. We are indeed born curious. Babies are like little learning gluttons - no-one tells them they need to learn to sit, to chew, to walk, to talk, but they do, even though they fail many times in the trying. They learn the things their parents teach them, and the things their parents wish they hadn't heard or noticed (such as the time my elder son muttered "*sshole!" from the back seat of the car when I had to brake suddenly - obviously it was what I usually said without thinking when someone cut me up and I had to slam on anchors!).

Early years kids can't wait to go to school, but compare that with the image of a class full of bored teenagers that is too often the norm. Somewhere between 6 and 16, they fall out of love with the whole business. I don't believe for a moment that it's learning they fall out of love with - just watch them go as they figure out a new Playstation game or a new song on their guitars. What they fall out of love with is education or perhaps, more narrowly, school.

So sad.

But I think it may have something to do with the deluge of just-in-case learning we inflict upon them without ever demonstrating the value or relevance of the material. My colleague, Mark Berthelemy posted on the WIIFM mentality that you might find interesting, includig the comments that followed:

Anonymous said...

Karyn -- thanks for sharing that link. It (along with the comments) was a very interesting read!

I agree with you whole-heartedly. It's really sad to see what happens to that "joy in learning" that we are born with. And you are also correct in stating that it doesn't really go away -- they do retain a sense of wonder and love of learning for the things they are interested in (games, the internet, etc.)

There has to be a better way to do this thing that we call "school." I'm not sure what that "better way" is just yet -- but that's why I'm blogging... to discuss ideas, flesh out my thoughts, learn from others, and contirbute to the conversation about where we can go. :)