I credit my parents with putting an important frame of curiosity around things for me. They taught me that learning is fun. This was long before I met people who told me that it should be a serious undertaking. Right from the beginning, my mom & dad let me know that whole worlds resided in books – and that I could go there with as little effort as turning a page and reading. We went to museums and historic sites on vacations and weekends. We pulled along the side of the road to read historical markers. We took the time to imagine together the things we were learning on our own or with each other. Life itself, I was taught by them, is an adventure.
I was not immune to the pain of alternative portrayals of learning that I encountered later, however. Learning was to correct a deficit of not knowing. It was a deadly serious effort to avoid poverty, inadequacy, and ignorance. Learning was something that needed to be done to complete you as a productive member of society. Learning was process and knowing was product.
I had plenty of people in my life who saw learning as a drudgery. Some of those people were, unfortunately, teachers of mine.
After a while, I had at least two lives running parallel to one another. One was with my parents – who never ceased to show excitement when new exhibitions arrived at museums within driving distance. The other was a mixed assemblage of wonder (as with my seventh grade science teacher who had a child-like excitement when he taught us about the most recent Ice Age and how the evidence of it was all around where we lived) – and drudgery. Pure drudgery (as with the high school math teacher who said we memorize a formula because we need to do the painful act of memorization). Thus, I looked forward to weekend outings to see Ancient Egyptian canopic jars . . . while, ironically, detesting the trudge through history textbooks when I knew that the thing measured by my teacher would be my ability to put the right dates next to the such-and-such dynasty.
We learn best when we learn for the wonder and joy of it. We learn most when we are connecting with our curiosity and engaging the mysteries of life.
I might even have learned the dates of Egyptian dynasties if my teacher had inspired her students to look at things through the frame of curiosity. When we were trapped in a process of dry memorization so we could do well on a meaningless test it snuffed the joy of adventure and discovery. Such approaches to learning also reinforce the notion that school is a factory making less ignorant people and that when the course of years is over we are done. Our diploma says we know enough. It is time to grab the bag of potato chips and sit out our non-work hours in front of passive entertainment on the television that induces mental idling.
One of the best lessons any of us can learn is that we live in a wondrous universe (perhaps more than one?) in which we are wondrous beings. Each moment is an adventure. There are always discoveries to be made, deeper understandings to be cultivated, and new ways to engage with the miracle of life. We are mysteries living in a sea of mysteries. Inside, outside, and in relationships – there are always things to learn. And all of that learning is valuable. Much of it is even fun.
Now, whether working or playing, I am always reaching out and taking hold of life. My curiosity helps me to make contact with what I experience as reality. It leads me from one thing to another. It invites me to discover and embrace new people, new places, new languages, new ways of being, etc. My life is filled to overflowing with wonders gleaned by virtue of curiosity. This is how it should be for all of us, I think.