Over the past year, as I have read and edited a few of my daughter’s university papers, I have come to realize that there is much I do not know, highlighting the idea that being educated is an ongoing process. And being truly educated means having the willingness to acknowledge that beliefs and perceptions need to be questioned and shifted once new information is acquired. You really can teach an old dog new tricks, but only if they’re willing.
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, studies learning in what she calls “the third chapter”, the 25 years after age 50. The actual learning process changes because people are no longer focussed on being the best and quickest at acquiring knowledge. Rather, learners over 50 tend to be more patient, with themselves and others, and are willing to look at the acquisition of knowledge as a long-term commitment. Lawrence-Lightfoot, while doing researching for her book on the subject of third chapter learners, discovered that they tend to be deeply curious.
Although essay reading sparked my interest in social issues and cultural anthropology, I cannot say that I have developed just one topic that I am deeply curious about. Instead, as I am moving into my own “third chapter”, I feel deeply curious about many topics. I am willing to accept that there is a phenomenal amount I do not know. It most definitely will take time. A lot of time.
The concept of learning from a variety of sources, which Lawrence-Lightfoot also notes in her work, is an important aspect of being flexible as a learner. The internet, newspapers, magazines, talking to peers – these are all sources I have tapped into. Without question, though, my children and their interests and studies are creating the greatest foundations for my curiosity.
Currently, I am slightly addicted to the work of Naomi Klein. The Shock Doctrine, Klein’s best known work, lays bear the impact of world powers and how they are taking advantage of societies in crisis. It is a book that is easily understood and can be absorbed by those with limited knowledge about world events. Klein’s collection of articles, Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate is an incredibly timely read as it lays the groundwork for an understanding of the Occupy movement.
Lawrence-Lightfoot’s work showed that third chapter learners allowed themselves to let go of their fear of failure and to be vulnerable. Reading works like Klein’s has gently pulled me to that line: letting go of looking “uneducated” has allowed me to let the knowledge come in. This is perhaps the biggest hurdle I have had to overcome and it’s looking pretty good on this side of the leap.
Will Durant, a writer, historian and philosopher, once said, Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.
And I’m okay with that.