Can we teach a love of learning again?

Bird Droppings March 12, 2023
Can we teach a love of learning again?

This has been a perplexing time of my life out of the classroom, giving advice here and there to fellow teachers, parents, and students. I recall a car wreck in which a young man died, and his passenger, my youngest son’s and my good friend, was severely injured. My thoughts rambled back to when I drove to my son’s accident site and watched as medics pulled him out of his car and life-flighted him to Grady Memorial Hospital. On another occasion, we were called to a staff meeting and told of one of our teachers who had been in an accident, and there were fatalities. She was ok, but in the other car, two died. Lives were changed radically in a brief few minutes as I read posts on Social Media. I co-taught with this teacher and was unsure what to say and do. I shared my heart the day after, and most students walked away as they do so often with blank stares, earphones plugged in, and giggles about a friend’s texting. I saw the apathy we, as adults, have taught so well.

A few years back, a young lady working in a western wear store had on a Dixie Outfitter shirt. One of the issues with the Dixie Outfitters clothing line is the confederate flags that adorn the T-shirts. Today, most schools have dress code rules against defamatory and or controversial logos and or slogans. Malcolm X shirts and Dixie Outfitters are listed in most dress code rulings. This shirt looked like a Dixie Outfitter shirt, with the same colors and a sequence of colors but no Confederate flags. The interesting statement on the back was that you could ban the symbol but not the meaning of colors. I watch the politics play out, and the colors are there.

“The greatest glory in living lies not, in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Nelson Mandela

I recalled a year or so ago and a stubborn student. We had been trying to look at why we have a dress code that was again based on a student wearing a Dixie Outfitters sweatshirt, and my students’ reason was that wearing a shirt, you know, is against the dress code, was generally whatever or because. He responded that he knew he could get suspended since he had been warned numerous times. However, the more significant issue is how children quit learning and quit questioning life at such a young age. Why are they suppressed and defeated to the point of using whatever as an answer? Whatever is a quitter’s statement? Had that student answered with arguable words from the right-wing Dixie Outfitters website, I would have known there was thought behind the action, not ignorance.

“From an early age, we all question. As children grow, their questions are often answered, explained, and rationalized until their natural curiosity begins to be submerged. Yet sensitive persons, at one -time or another, find themselves again asking those same questions: “Where did I come from? What is the meaning of life? What happens when I die? Why is there so much hatred and violence? Who am I?” Zenson Gifford Sensei, Abbot of the Northern Zen Sangha

I had another student stop in and thank me for lending them Kent Nerburn’s book Small Graces, and as we talked for a few minutes, she asked, “Mr. Bird, you love learning, don’t you” I am not easily sat back, but I had to think for a moment and somewhere between the two quotes is an answer. I have never been satisfied with an answer, always seeking, looking, and enjoying the search to discover more about whatever I was pondering. I responded to her question with several answers; I basically said yes, but that is the hardest thing to share a passion for learning. Robert Fried’s book “The Passionate Teacher” is a good example as he discusses sharing a passion for learning.

How do we again instill the questioning? In 1962 Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life for questioning the then-current government of South Africa and was released in 1990 to become the first black elected in a general election and to the office of President of South Africa. Mandela could have quit, succumbed to his captors’ desires, and been released, and he chose to stay in prison for nearly twenty-seven years.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. “Nelson Mandela

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Nelson Mandela, ‘A Long Walk to Freedom

Mr. Nelson Mandela was awarded the Noble Peace prize and helped South Africa start towards real democracy. He did this through persistence and never quitting, and constant questioning.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. “Albert Einstein

I am not quite sure why children stop questioning and desiring to learn. Perhaps it is their home life. Perhaps for some, it is boredom. Perhaps they have all they need to feed and clothe themselves, and that is enough.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Maybe it is too easy to follow the path daily and walk where others have tread. Years ago, when I regularly got into the woods looking for wildlife, we found rabbit trails and deer trails worn by constant use. Children do the same, simply following in the footsteps of the one in front, one after another.

“People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have difficulty with people sometimes seeing them as ignorant when they use “because” as an answer, as it is used so often. Perhaps second in usage is “whatever” from teenagers and so many people when they choose not to answer a question.

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sitting around waiting for “luck” or the sky to fall, whichever comes first. As a child, I remember the story of Chicken Little, and the sky is falling soon. The whole barnyard was afraid of the sky falling because an ignorant little chicken got hit with a pebble and assumed the sky was falling, and enough others listened.

“But education is more than schooling. It is a cast of mind, a willingness to see the world with an endless sense of curiosity and wonder. If you would be truly educated, you must adopt this cast of mind. You must open yourself to the richness of your everyday experience — to your own emotions, to the movements of the heavens and languages of birds, to the privations and successes of people in other lands and other times, to the artistry in the hands of the mechanic and the typist and the child. There is no limit to the learning that appears before us. It is enough to fill us each day a thousand times over. “Kent Nerburn, On Education and Learning

I have used this passage before, but I have also used the FIDO principle before, and we can never emphasize enough when offering an idea, especially a good one. It has been nearly sixty years since it was conceived, the concept of Frequency, Intensity, Duration, and Over again hence the anachronism, FIDO. Continue questioning, and never stop becoming a child again in learning these are things we need to do. Do I love learning? What should have been asked is what got me questioning again. That is the secret that gets us back to that place where we crave learning, and we love learning as we did when we were small children and every aspect of life was a question and answer. Please keep all in harm’s way in your hearts and on your mind namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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