You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Learning’ tag.

Note: this is the first in the series of topics/concepts encountered in college that mattered most to me. See the introduction post here.

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2014 Sherman Lambert

When I went to select a college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study for a major or what profession I wanted to pursue, so I looked for schools that had good programs in the variety of subjects that interested me. I figured that with exposure to different areas, the major would choose me. However, I already knew I wanted to continue studying Spanish—my high school teacher said at that time the U.S. was the fourth largest Spanish-speaking nation—surely knowing Spanish would continue to be useful no matter what else I studied.

So when the course options and registration materials arrived at my home a few months before I left for school, I selected a Spanish class and then mulled other options. Since this was back in the pencil and paper days, I had no idea which of my other suggestions would end up on my schedule until the paper with course numbers and times arrived. My first trimester classes represented a classic humanities schedule: the Spanish course, history (Western Civilization Part I), and Philosophy (Greek and Roman).

My introduction to philosophy didn’t exactly set me on fire. Though my son Jackson can go on for hours about all sorts of in-depth topics in philosophy, usually what he says goes way over my head. But if I had not taken that class with the lectures and texts that so often put me to sleep, I might have missed out on learning about Plato’s Cave. True, maybe I only stayed awake in class the day the professor introduced the topic because he showed it through a cartoon video—I’m not ashamed to admit that without those simplistic pictures I might have missed the point. Learning comes through many avenues, right?

Though so many years have passed since I watched that film, I can still see those men who were chained together in the cave, facing a wall and unable to turn to look behind them where a large fire burned. Shadows flicker on the wall—the men have no idea the images are mere suggestions of themselves or any activity happening behind them. Those shadows are their reality. Then one man is released and able to turn to see that so much more is occurring—he realizes the truth he knew was only partial. That same man then discovers a way out of the cave and encounters even more realities—even those who move freely within the cave do not know the whole truth, it seems. Amazed, he returns to tell the others how much more exists in the world—and, yet, they do not believe. They know what they know.

What a perfect concept to encounter so early in my education. The Cave taught me to question all assumed realities and to try to figure out for myself whether or not what I think I know about something is simply the shadows of that truth or if my understanding is based on something more tangible. On the other hand the Cave also showed me why others might not agree with my version of reality—and that sometimes the person who has seen the sun cannot enlighten others who have only known darkness and shadows, no matter how hard he or she tries.

I’m lucky I learned anything academically during my first months at college. Oh sure, I was going to all my classes and doing all my work—even if I had a lot to learn about time management—but I wasn’t really thinking very critically yet. The Cave opened my own eyes to the importance of thinking about what I was being taught—which was a good thing to learn early because in my four years at that college I was going to encounter a whole lot of blue books I had to fill with my own answers to essay questions. I could hardly believe that I could get A’s on philosophy tests simply by stating what I thought of what we were studying—I mean, what did I know about philosophy? My success on those tests showed me that maybe professors weren’t just looking for me to parrot what I’d been told.

Could it be the reality of pursuing an education was about way more than just doing the work? That it wasn’t enough to be a vessel filled with ideas taught by others?

In so many ways, previously my own idea of learning was like being chained in that cave. Take what you see and memorize it. How much better to be called to discern for myself whether what appeared to be reality was true light or simply shadows on a wall—or somewhere in between.

Not only might a major choose the person, but also sometimes so does knowledge.

Advertisement
(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Water brings out thoughts for me—if I’d written about everything that came to me while I was in the shower or the bath tub, I’d be a lot more prolific. If nothing else, water helps me to keep thinking—and sometimes even turns those thoughts into a new study direction.

What was yesterday’s thought that came out from nowhere while under the influence of a nice flow of water? About which ideas and topics I studied in college that really became part of my mindset and who I turned out to be. Keep in mind I first attended a liberal arts school before getting an MBA. If only I’d been baptized by this writing topic a week earlier, I might have been willing to commit to doing the Blogging A to Z challenge again this April. Instead I skipped it after spending the last three Aprils writing like a crazed fool.

So this crazed fool began by thinking she could write one simple post on what mattered most to her in her formal education—and then she realized just how much she gained from so many of those courses and how much there was to say. Instead I am going to write a short series of blog posts explaining why my education mattered and how it hasn’t been wasted, even if I have not spent a lifetime pursuing vocations that would meet some exacting formula for showing how the educational dollars spent on me have paid out. When I come to do the balance sheet of my life, my assets will always include the goodwill (intangible asset that it is) received from my education having taught me to open my mind to lifelong learning.

I am so, so sorry that pursuing a higher education has become so prohibitively expensive and so tied to what kind of money a person can make from what he/she has learned—if nothing else just to pay off the student loans so many have gained from the pursuit. Trust me, the piper is going to need to be paid in this household and that is going to hurt way worse than it hurt when I attended college since both my parents and I received so much more help for mitigating costs.

I can only hope that someday soon my daughter will not only be employed in a way that allows her to afford the education she received while utilizing much of what she has learned, but that she will also come to recognize the intangible benefits that came with that education. That even as she looks back on a particular course or topic that might have felt incredibly painful, she can still appreciate how that learning gave her access to whole new ways of thinking or doing—that will never leave her and that will allow her to continue to grow throughout her life.

You know your education really suited you well when you can be thankful not only for what you experienced in classes you loved attending but also for some parts of what came out of classes you either disliked or didn’t really care about one way or another.

It seems to me that in the midst of real learning, you more often feel baptized by fire than by water—the tricky part is not to be burned up by your experiences, but to become more like the flame on a wick—and able to pass on that fire to others.

I will never regret the fire kindled in me by those early learning experiences that helped make me who I am today—which is someone who cannot take a simple shower or bath without ideas and questions flowing from this brain trained so long ago to not only think for itself but also to always continue pursuing ideas and knowledge and all the intangibles that come with that pursuit.

P.S. The motto for my undergraduate college, Wittenberg University, is “Having light, we pass it on to others”, which is represented by the symbol of a torch. Coincidence? I think not.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Memory is usually one of my strong points—or at least it was until I was really deep in the sandwich of raising my kids and watching over my mother. And even if my memory is nothing like it was in my youth, it’s still pretty good if I am listening and/or participating in something. So why can’t I remember much about one particular activity from my freshman year in college? Usually the phrase isn’t “What happens in Bach Chorale stays in Bach Chorale.” As far as I know what happened is that I practiced with the group every Monday night until we performed a good part of Bach’s St. John’s Passion during Holy Week.

I now realize this experience should have been a big deal. The St. John’s Passion is very difficult. And while I come from a very musical background—having played piano, clarinet, oboe, and violin, as well as having sung in parts since I was 10—I am a generalist who has never taken musical theory—or practiced much individually—I’m rather a musical bum. Or as my music teacher mother finally said of me and my brother, “I don’t know why I wasted so much money and energy on your music lessons if you were just going to turn out to be jocks.”

That is, musical “jocks” who didn’t take musical preparations as seriously as we took our physical workouts. My brother has almost perfect pitch and we both picked up reading music easily with our first piano lessons back in kindergarten. In some ways music was so much of our early childhood that we don’t even know how we know what we know and too often we get by on that easily developed knowledge.

From time to time I discover I “know” many parts of the St. John’s Passion my choir is practicing even if I can’t tell for certain what all I have sung of this music. For certain, my choir did not sing the words in German, but I have had particular English phrases from the songs stuck in my head ever since that one “lost” year—and I sing them, too—just ask my dogs who have been called malefactors many a time.

So it seems very strange to me that I can’t access exactly what I did in those practices. Did I find the music hard or not? Shouldn’t it stand out if it seemed that way? Maybe my malleable 18-year-old brain was just in the middle of constant learning and it found the music neither harder nor easier than anything else I was learning in my first year of higher education. I do know that while the choir itself was geared toward generalists, music majors who did not have time to be in the traveling choir were required to participate in this choir instead. Perhaps we amateurs were paired with these people deliberately as I do remember one person who I would say was my mentor during rehearsals.

Fall trimester Monday rehearsals seemed hard because by Monday night I would realize just how little I and my poor time management skills had accomplished over the too-short weekend. But by the second and third trimesters, I also had added track practices—that jock thing—and sorority meetings. It’s possible I was just in a daze at choir practices due to panic over what all I had to accomplish after my longest day of the week ended and before I could go to sleep.

Whatever the reasons, I don’t really know what I did or did not do in that choir. I did decide I didn’t enjoy being in the choir enough to do it and track together for several months. Ever the generalist, I didn’t really care about all the music theory and jokes bandied about between the director and the music students. However, what I most learned from the experience was that I liked Bach.

Bach still appeals to me, even as my brain feels so much less malleable than it did when Bach and I first met, well, first met in choral singing anyway. The genius of what to me is a call and response between the various vocal sections of the choir is just a marvel and adds so much to the meaning of the pieces. I love all the counting—even when I get lost. Learning German is a bigger stretch and though I loved learning foreign languages in my early days, I am glad that I learned these songs first in English—the emotions of the words I don’t yet understand are stuck to the notes in my mind already.

Each time I practice this particular music I re-discover a little bit more of what I learned so long ago. So glad to get back to these specific works of Bach that somehow are a part of me—despite my not giving them the attention they deserved the first time around.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert Furgus and Sam take their first ride in the new(er) 4Runner.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert
Furgus and Sam take their first ride in the new(er) 4Runner.

The things you do for love . . . sometimes extend into agreeing to try things you swore you’d never try.

For the record, I have rarely liked the cars my husband Sherman likes. But then again, I’m not really a big fan of driving anyway. I was the kid who got her license because she wanted to go places, not because she wanted to drive. Driving was a means to an end.

Plus, since I come from a flat, small town, driving in the city or the mountains is way different than where I began. However, I have lived here longer than I lived where I lived while growing up—where I didn’t really drive for too long before I left. Perhaps it’s time for me to grow up and into the driving reality of where I have been driving most of my life.

But is my brain ready to learn how to drive a stick shift at this age??!!

Well, for my husband I pledged I would do so—which really shocked him after my initial (mostly failing) test drive in a public transit parking lot.

The thing is, I’m not intuitively natural with manual activities. At least I tend to do better with foot activities—although that wasn’t exactly the case with the clutch the first time. Perhaps if I think of it as dancing?

Sadly, listening and doing are probably not going to be my best way to start learning anything. But, dork that I am, I can learn better having read and watched and memorized instructions. Guess who will have to do some research?

Still, I really, really don’t want to be going through all this with an audience. I am longing for those remote country roads and almost deserted residential streets where I first practiced driving. However, with the gas mileage on this vehicle, I’m not going to want to take long road trips with it! No, this is my husband’s car for plowing the parking lot or for taking his bicycle to go on foothills’ climbs or for transporting the dogs—safely behind the gate—for runs, walks, and hikes.

Sherman has been searching for replacement Toyota 4Runners for weeks now while waiting for his previous 4Runner to be sold. Although he’s looked at a few manual cars, I’ve been telling him that learning to drive a stick shift car now wasn’t really how I planned to try to prevent Alzheimer’s by expanding my brain’s activities.

And yet, it really is learning those things that are hard for us that can have impact on our brain health as we age.

So when Sherman found a beautiful 4Runner in the right price range that was not an automatic, I still agreed to look at it.

Am I resistant to this change? Very. But has my husband done a lot of things for me over the years that wouldn’t have been his first choice? Oh yeah. I’m pretty sure the balance is fairly uneven and it’s about time his wants trumped mine, especially since this isn’t my vehicle. I just need to be able to drive it, not drive it all the time.

Baby, you can drive my car, but it’s probably going to be awhile before I can drive yours!

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Sometimes you’re forced into a whole new way of doing things—yet somewhere amidst the panic of relearning, you start to see that maybe, just maybe, there are sound reasons behind the changes and that the results could be infinitely better than you had imagined.

Truth is much of life is like this—we have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into change. We aren’t going to go, they can’t make us, that’s just wrong, blah, blah, blah—those are the kinds of thoughts that run through our minds. When the terra firma upon which we stand is no longer so firma, we just have to leap. And often where we land is terra even more firma than we had known possible.

Big change is going down in our church choir after the retirement of our former director who was the most excellent director I’ve had in the tradition of various directors I have experienced throughout my life. However, I’d only been in this particular choir for two years, so I wasn’t really so set in my ways that I couldn’t move on. Or so I thought.

The truth is all my directors—choir, band, orchestra—had a similar style throughout my life, one I can only assume developed from the educational theories and the society of the times in which they lived and grew, whether that was during times of direct military conflict or while being raised by people who had served during the conflicts. My mother began her directing career while men were away serving in Korea. Still, women took over in the same traditions. Even the directing my own kids experienced in community and school groups was little different. The director is In Charge, right?

So when candidates for choir director auditioned with our choir, I thought the candidate who thought we ought to look at him less and “feel the music” more was crazy. Heck, I thought that was crazy for the general public, let alone for a group of Frozen Chosen Lutherans leaning closer to Medicare age than to the era of early career days and parenthood. Look, I dance around here all the time and I know I “feel the music” more than many—in fact, I have been known to move in time to music in church—gasp. But, still, what could he mean by that sort of crap? I mean I’m still this obsessive-counting German-American type, raised by a woman for whom not having rhythm wasn’t an option for her children.

Then we get to the first practices and the “feel the music” director doesn’t even warm us up. He just starts us with hard, hard pieces. And tells us to sing boldly—even if we don’t hit all the notes right. No, in fact he’d rather we get the rhythm right first (score one for being raised by my mother!) Anyway, little by little we’re learning to sing—or sin, as I say—boldly reading Bach—in German, no less. And for all these people with Germanic backgrounds, can I just say that we as a group (and that includes me) are probably sinning so boldly in that language that our ancestors are rolling (in rhythmic precision, of course) in their graves.

Every practice I go to, I think I can’t do this, this is beyond me, etc.—and I know I am one of many. But then we get a section right, a song right, and the sound is something new to us. I can’t help but think that we are “feeling the music’’—perhaps for the very first time in a choral setting for many of us. This choir has always been technically advanced, but no doubt a little emotionally restricted. Might our ministry reach people better if they felt our music too? Can we cerebral Lutherans yet stretch into something more?

The first Sunday we sang together in this new era, people came to us afterwards gushing just a little. I think we all felt we had been a little different, but how so? I came home and watched the archived service. You know what? Our director had most of us moving with the music, not just the most expressive members. We were—dare I say it—feeling that music.

Last night we practiced again. I thought I was floundering, that we would never get it right, whatever, all over again. And, yet, I also didn’t feel as if it were wrong to sing a wrong note on the way to getting it right. I didn’t feel that I would receive dirty looks from fellow members or that there wasn’t room for a little levity surrounding the boldness of our singing sins. No, what I felt was that making those mistakes was actually part of the learning process and that it would get us where we needed to be. Even though that doesn’t seem technically possible, I have hope based upon what improvements I’ve heard so far.

Isn’t this what I’ve been searching for much of my life? A release from the tyranny of needing always to be right from the beginning versus giving into the inevitable mistakes encountered on the way to true learning—which could bring me and others to much higher levels than would be possible if we’d never sinned—boldly or otherwise. Feel the music of that . . . .

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert, Lion High Five

It’s about the learning, stupid.

Sorry about using the terminology—for many years in our house, “stupid” was considered almost a swear word. Because, really, who is to define what stupid means? Does it mean someone who can’t understand something or does it mean someone who puts the focus on our definition of the wrong things? The first person may not have the capabilities or outside help to understand so we shouldn’t dump our contempt on him/her. And the other person, well, I imagine one person’s stupid is another person’s smart and vice versa.

Thirty years ago Mt. St. Helens dumped ash on the cars, even in my home state of Nebraska, right before I graduated from high school as number two—we try harder, you know. Or so the saying goes.

I won’t deny that I worked hard for that accolade and that in many ways I deserved it. In many other ways, it just doesn’t matter.

What going for the grade-point and the ranking didn’t teach me was how to learn for learning’s sake. That educational path made me less of a risk-taker and more of a bean-counter. How many points did I miss? Was everything turned in? Did I study things because I could understand them? Was I good enough if I didn’t get the exact answer even if I understood the concept and why it mattered?

Those in charge of the G/T council I sat on for the last four years will say I was lucky—I got my first B when I lived at home. I didn’t have to go off to college for my perfect record to be shot down.

That helped me to have a wee bit better attitude toward not seeking perfection in college. I figured I’d do OK if I got one B a quarter—which isn’t a bad philosophy if you factor in a lot of other factors. But if you’re thinking you have to get all A’s in the other classes regardless of what you’re studying or who is teaching it or anything, you’re still missing the point.

I had a creative writing professor who tried to get us out living the liberal arts. He said it wasn’t enough to study them—we needed to make them part of our outside lives—and we needed to make experiencing those non-academic things as important as we did our academic learning.

Was he crazy? I had homework to do!

So it was I found myself with unexplained stomach pains and a lack of energy that did not lift until I spent a semester studying in Spain—where I was in a program designed to be less work based so students could learn outside the classroom. Besides, in those classes I could see the benefit of studying a topic in depth versus moving through the breadth of the material at a whirlwind pace that allowed little time for deep thoughts.

Oh, I didn’t quite heal myself, but I understood why I might want to do so. I got that learning is all around us and it isn’t the person with the highest grade-point who wins or even the person who does the most activities—it’s the person who learns with a passion and who applies it to all aspects of life—more power if you can do that with a high grade-point and living as a human doing, but don’t rule out those for whom passionate learning doesn’t convert to achieving conventional accolades. They matter, too.

That’s why I didn’t set out to raise my children as mini-me’s. Not that that would have been possible as they live in a different time, have different genetics, and came with their own abilities and difficulties. Nonetheless, I didn’t think they needed to be pressured to have the top grades. I wanted them to love to learn.

I believe they have achieved that success—through their own life approaches, through how we’ve lived in this house, and through guidance from a few wise teachers.

There’s often no “loving to learn” medal given at many end-of-school awards’ ceremonies, unless you can do it with a high grade-point or other outstanding contribution, but there should be.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Just as there is no medal for helping kids through an educational system that challenges them to work too often in their areas of weaknesses when they have powerful strengths.

Suffice it to say, Jackson isn’t the only one who felt the sting of last night’s awards ceremony. Even his sister, Christiana, who received the top visual arts award and was rewarded for her grade-point, knows that at a school with so many “above average” students, it’s hard to feel your contribution is ever enough.

I’ve got a secret for you—I bet many of those people at the very top don’t know if it will ever be enough. I promise you that a lot of them don’t even know what compels them to push themselves so hard. Parents, peers, teachers, society, habit—so many factors beyond the student’s own urge to learn.

But without knowledge of why learning for learning’s sake matters, it really isn’t enough.

Until a student learns to explore to fulfill a burning curiosity—regardless of the grade or the tangible societal reward—learning is like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. It is so much less than it could be—in fact, in many ways it isn’t even true learning.

I’d prefer not to pack off another generation to college carrying stomach aches in their backpacks—and I’ve tried to start with my own family.

So don’t forget to congratulate the other kids, too: those who fell in love with a topic and pursued it, who figured out how to work around their difficulties, who didn’t give up when the traditional awards were few, who learned outside the classroom, who applied what they studied in the classroom to their outside world, who were kind, who got scholarships despite not having high grade-points, who have passionate work awaiting them, who are still learning who they are.

As a former conventionally high-achieving student, I can tell you that I finally know what matters. To you I may be an at-home parent whose house is messy more amount of time than it is clean—but I take care of what matters first. I never stop learning, only now I do more than try to find the answers someone else determined were the right ones.

I pray my kids do not let a few slights—major or minor—detract them from being the learners they are meant to be—with or without the rewards. Life is the real education—and despite what many want to tell them, there really are few set answers. Thank goodness there are many versions of the real world.

My kids are far braver than I ever was at their age—they already know what matters and they live that way, regardless of the consequences. I couldn’t be prouder.

To Jackson and Christiana, go forth and continue to learn. That’s how you really prosper.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Recent Comments

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 304 other followers

Blogging AtoZ Challenge 2012