When Rosa so graciously opened her Talking Story forum this month on life-long learning, I was immediately intrigued. Humbled by the invitation, I hemmed and hawed about what best to contribute here about the topic. As my life’s work has revolved around teaching, learning and questioning, what came to mind was how we define knowledge and learning.
A good friend of mine grew up in a family where the kids were encouraged to be the “smartest one” in their class ”“ meaning that the expectation in her family was to excel, to do her best, in whatever she did. And my friend certainly has used the family credo to her advantage ”“ she is one smart cookie, with many educational credits to her name, many work accomplishments, and is well respected in her field.
I think about my friend’s experience in contrast to my family, where kids were just expected to be “smart”. While “smart” wasn’t really defined explicitly, people in my family were academics, teachers and doctors. “Being smart” was an assumption: they were “smart” people, and so therefore you would be too. “Smart” meant doing well in school. Going to college was a given, and graduate school encouraged.
For many of us, my friend and me included, being “smart” has been defined as what we know and is judged by what we achieve. We go to school, where we learn how to learn in order to achieve; when we leave school, we learn how to be in the work world in order to achieve. Learning winds up being driven by a desire to get to certain ends.
While life often dictates a focus on achievement and accomplishment, as time passes I’m finding that I’m less interested in how “smart” someone is judged by their book learning or what they’ve achieved. Instead I’m more interested in how someone knows what they know, how they’ve formed their interpretations of the world, and what they say they want to learn more about. It’s less about the knowledge and where we’ve been, and more about the learning and where we’re going.
Focusing on what learning means for each of us as individuals ”“ and there have been some great examples here this month ”“ we each have opportunities to more fully explore our humanness, our foibles and our gifts. Finding and following our own path of learning, we have much gain and offer by increasing our own awareness and curiosity about the world around us.
Postcript by Rosa: Our Guest Author today is work/life coach Hanna Cooper, author of Making A Difference, where she shares her ideas, resources and support for people working to make a difference. You will always find your link to Hanna in the right column Ho‘ohana Online Community Listing.