This "dead" tree at the Botanical Gardens in San Antonio, TX glowed with life. Truly an educational experience!
This “dead” tree at the Botanical Gardens in San Antonio, TX glowed with life. Truly an educational experience!

I realized this morning that when I’ve thought of education in the past, I thought of it from the teacher-perspective. Like education = teaching. Learning, on the other hand, I thought of in a more passive sense. I’m not sure when I developed this view; maybe when I was in high school and fellow classmates began talking about going into the “education” career.

Why have I done this??? I don’t know. On an intuitive level, there’s no way I buy this idea.

Maybe this bizarre skewing of my idea of “education” is the cause for some of my more frustrating moments in the classroom. I go through all kinds of mental gymnastics trying to teach a new song or a new idea, and my students seem oblivious. They “didn’t do anything,” they say, if I try to talk to them about it.

That’s the problem. Learning requires active participation.

A comment that one of my teachers made to my mother in a parent-teacher conference comes back to haunt me: “She wants to be spoon-fed everything,” Mrs. Murphy said. At the time, I denied it, but looking back, there was some truth to it. I was getting good grades, but I wasn’t working at it, by any means. Just like some of my students, I “wasn’t doing anything.” I sat in my chair. I followed the rules, memorized the formulas, and showed up for my classes on time. But if A’s were doled out for effort, I’m afraid I might’ve come up short.

My new definition of education is nurturing the brain. Of course, we hope that parents and teachers are nurturing the brains of our youth, but we need to remember to nurture our own brains, as well.

A colorful palette nurtures the body.
A colorful palette nurtures the body.

I’m talking about more than food here. There are plenty of books out there about how the brain needs fat. And most of us know we need to eat our fresh fruits and vegetables. A colorful palette makes a healthier diet. Apply this to the thoughts and experiences you feed your brain, and you have a recipe for a healthier education.

Draw from a variety of sources. Read books and blogs, talk to others, study new material. Meditate. Visit new places. Revisit old places. Practice looking at things with different perspectives. If you were older/younger how would you view a particular set of circumstances? What if you lived on the opposite side of the globe? If you were shorter/taller? A different species? Practice concentrating on things. How long can you devote all of your attention to a candle? Can you sit and listen to an entire symphony? What do you hear? When you look at a piece of art, what do you see? Do you hold your food in your mouth and search out the components of the recipe? What does your nose have to say? What does your body do when it is comfortable? Uncomfortable?

My list of questions goes on indefinitely. And finally, just this morning, after all these years, I think I might be finally getting it. Education is an active pursuit, not a hoop that we jump through to earn a diploma, degree, or some other credential. So serve yourself up a gourmet mental feast and enjoy!



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