Essays

Portrait of a Learner Becoming an Artist

For me, learning is often a selfish act.  I guess it’s kind of like teaching in a way.  When I first sat on the faculty panel of an admissions open house, the Assistant Head of School introduced us by saying, “We hire teachers who love teaching.  For all of us, it is a selfish act with tremendous benefits for our students and our school.”  Those benefits, and the satisfaction that I derive from them, are part of what I love about teaching.  Learning is an integral part of both the process and product of teaching.  My love of and commitment to learning is so much of what it’s all about for me.

ry=400Learning is an art.  And a learner must be an artist.  While I don’t expect to be Michelangelo, his words offer some guidance about becoming an artist:  “Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums—they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level.”  My future as a learner, I believe, means immersing myself in the world, taking in as much as I can, and mixing it all together in order to create and share with the world something new, beautiful, and meaningful.

It’s the sharing that I believe will be of most value in the future.  Most of my learning to this point has been about taking in, practicing, considering, managing, and demonstrating knowledge and understandings for very limited audiences.  Even as highly collaborative as many of my classes have been, much of my learning had to be done on my own and under others’ direction.  Given the freedom to choose my own adventure means that I’ll have to take risks.  As Francis Ford Coppola says, “An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.”  I think that this will entail, as Michelangelo suggests, immersing myself in new experiences and participating more in my own life while getting around and engaging more with others.

Some of what my courses at Michigan State have taught me is that perspectives on education run from the highly local (and even individual) to global and universal.  If I am going to practice (as I suggest in my individual research assignment from EAD 801) thinking globally and caring locally, then I need to see more perspectives on teaching, learning, and life.  I need (want? crave?) broader and deeper exposure and involvement in the world of learning.  I need to explore broadly, to create, and to share.

So, what does that mean for how I will go about learning?  I think about several possibilities.

I know that I will continue to read broadly, but I also want to stay relatively current with my thinking about education.  Through my course assignments at Michigan State, I have been exposed to a wide assortment of media for learning—books,  journals, web sites, videos, and more.  I have considered the idea of subscribing to an educational journal or two and/or to a professional organization (including its publications) or two in order to help myself stay current.  Recognizing that I would not likely be able to stay on top of my studies, my life, and guide my own studies, I set those ideas aside for a while.  By this summer, however, I would like to take one or both of those steps as a commitment to my future learning.

DSCN2464Recognizing the challenges that formal study has presented to my personal and professional responsibilities, I would be reluctant to enroll in another degree program unless I could do it full time and simultaneously take care of my family.  As much as I want desperately to enroll in a doctoral program to broaden and deepen my learning and to open up new professional opportunities, I am a firm believer that family comes first—an idea that I have preached more than practiced of late.

Most importantly, I suppose, is that I want my learning to become, as John Dewey says, “a process of living.”  My wife and I have discussed our desire to become part of our school’s Global Educators program, to travel abroad and to expand our horizons so that we can incorporate new perspectives into what we are doing in our respective classrooms.  I want to engage more in the world and to make those things that I can contribute to better because of my experiences.  In short, to become an artist.  “Art,” as Elbert Hubbard reminds us, “is not a thing—it is a way.”

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