Following the American Psychology Association’s Guidelines
I first began to notice that the concept of learning is not an arbitrary thing to most people as I observed the education system. We begin school, we are taught, we learn, we graduate, and then that is the end. We are expected to find jobs and begin contributing to society; the learning has ended. This was a troubling concept. Why should we stop learning just because we have left school? In addition, why should school be the only place that we are learning? Are not there other ways to learn? We can learn through observing, philosophizing, and thinking for ourselves as long as we continue to seek out information. Studying and learning does not have to be a chore, it can become an art form. Through my study, ironically about studying, it was my aim to improve my teaching skills; if I could learn how to be a lifelong student, I could teach others how to be that as well. I could release them from the boring constraints that shouted learning was only for school and show them that learning could happen anywhere at any time, but, most importantly, it could be fun.
Many things happened during my learning experience. I was forced out of my normal comfort zone in an effort to learn about how to be a student, from the cradle to the grave. I grew weary of seeing classmates, students, and former students tire of the learning process and immediately stop when they left school. Why do more people not enjoy learning and growing in that way? Why cannot learning be fun? I have never fully understood this, but I believe that if I could convey that learning is a lifelong process that we are in control of, I could create a more fun environment for students to thrive. My search for this answer began, expectedly, in books. An interesting article called, “The Perils of Confusing Lifelong Learning with Lifelong Education,” by Stephen Billet warned me that learninng and education were not the same thing. It further warned me that one was not as valuable as the other . I found this hard to believe because I spent many hours attempting to interact with older individuals who seemed as if they had a knack for learning outside the classroom. A woman I engaged with, Ms. Rosa, was not granted a formal education past the tenth grade. However, she was able to teach herself how to cook because she had already learned how to read. She read many books on cooking, recipes, tastes, and mixing ingredients. Though she was not in a school, or in any formal educational establishment, she was able to teach herself how to cook. She was engaging in what Peter Jarvis’ would have called “adult education” For several years she worked odd jobs as a maid, or a waitress, eventually saving enough money to start her own food truck, out of which she served authentic Mexican food. She had taught herself how to cook everything, and use all of the equipment. Her business expanded until it became a small restaurant and several food trucks. Now, at the age of 74, she had moved here to retire, but still reads about cooking and makes sure that her chefs know the latest tips and tricks. While Billet may be right, that there is a distinguishment between learning and education, one is not necessarily more valuable than the other.
When I was not spending my time reading about lifelong education, or speaking with Ms. Rosa about how she had used lifelong education to put her grandchildren through college, I tried to learn outside of the classroom. I attended a seminar about public speaking. I have no particular interest in public speaking, but this was an exploratory mission about learning. However, I soon realized that I was in an auditorium, which was relatively formal for what I was used to concerning my education. While this may be fitting for after my education ceases, I wanted something more unconventional. I took a cooking class two nights a week. I was inspired by Ms. Rosa. However, this was still not informal enough, because somebody else was still teaching me. Malini Ghose’s article, “Spectrum of Lifelong Education” ensures that there are many ways to continue learning after one’s formal education has ended, whether another person is teaching or not, but I wanted something as informal and far away from what I was used to as I could get. I attended a museum alone. I wandered through the exhibits, made notes on a pad about the artists and the pieces, and did research when I arrived back home. I taught myself the traditional style of each artist, as well as the typical style of each tyime period in accordance to which piece I had looked at. I became familiar with a few styles, such as impressionism and modernism, as well. I have taught myself things before, but never something so in depth as deconstructing a piece of art. As I learned about styles and the artist, I began to learn about interpreting art which was difficult. I understood then that Ghose was right in proclaiming that a spectrum existed. I had taught myself a few things about art, but if I wanted to learn about interpreting it, I would need help, which would mean stepping back into my comfort zone. I appreciated that there was room to grow and learn, even outside of an educational institution.
My learning experience was fun, but arduous. It is difficult attempting to understand the process of lifelong learning growing up in societal constructs suggesting learning only takes place inside the confines of a school. Fortunately, for me, other cultures do not subscribe to this format, so I spent many hours learning independently about how they utilize lifelong learning, as well as the benefits it holds. For example, an article entitled, “The Values Transmitted by Lifelong Education in Denmark: The Conditions of Social Inclusion,” and written by Nanami Suzuki. The article documented the benefits of lifelong learning and education. She cited that this form of education allowed individuals a sense of purpose, as well as the chance to enhance their cognitive abilities into old age . This was subject to difference, depending on the individual, and not everybody could escape the ravages of age, but the 166 individuals in Denmark that were studied seemed satisfied with the education they had provided themselves. It also gave them a sense of inclusion in the community which, Suzuki relayed, was important in her home country of Japan. Japan is known for having the most surviving individuals over 100, many of whom consider themselves lifelong students. They are wise, revered figures in society that are often sought after for knowledge about formal educational topics, but also life . This does not happen in America. I was able to deduce this is most likely because when we are done with school, we are done learning. As we age, our intelligence is almost considered to diminish. We become outdated, like old computers. If we took on a more contemporary view of learning, like the Dutch and the Japanese, perhaps our elderly individuals would be more revered and would feel more included in society.
Though my trials and tribulations through trying to teach myself were frustrating, I feel as though I made progress in learning how to bring this lesson to others. With that in mind, I can confidently say that I did address the need for knowledge. I did not necessarily solve the problem that exists within the public school system, but I can at least now be a part of the solution instead of the issue at hand. Whether or not I experienced what I hoped for, I cannot say. I did not hope to experience anything specifically. I only hoped to glean knowledge from this process that was not brought to me from inside the four walls of a classroom and I have done that. In that way, yes, I experienced what I wanted. Beyond that, I experienced many things I did not expect to, though they were so fulfilling.
Ms. Rosa showed that learning and education, though different, could be just as valuable. I realize her story is different and not everybody can make it without a high school diploma. Despite that, her story is still one that should be admired. She overcame adversity and is now a successful owner of a small business. Though it may not be well known, it puts a roof over her head, food in her stomach, and sent her two grandchildren to college. When I asked her how she felt about her grandchildren completing college, rather than following in her footsteps, she said it was good that they made it farther than she did because education makes things easier. This is perhaps true. Education can make things easier for an individual and maybe that is why we are so inclined to stop learning once we receive a degree; there is nothing left to work for once we have something to show for the years we have put in. However, Suzuki reminded us that lifelong learning means societal inclusion and a revered place among your community . There is also the self-satisfaction in knowing that one is still doing something with their mind.
In sum, I learned many things during this process. For the time being, I am satisfied with my results. I believe that I have gained enough perspective to begin showing others that learning can be a process that does not have to bore them to death; it can be fun, exciting, and insightful. It can even earn them a place in society that makes them a respected figure. This is because of the limited time restraints I was given. I plan to continue pursuing the idea of lifelong learning, as well as my own lifelong education. I will continue on the path that I have begun; it has shown my progress. I will also chase other ideas if they present themselves; the wonderful thing about being a lifelong student is that I am my own teacher, principal, and superintendent. I set my own classroom hours, curriculum, and I even pick my subjects. I can teach them however I want to and I plan to continue doing just that until I am no longer able, until I reach my grave.
Billet, S. (2010). The Perils of Confusing Lifelong Learning with Lifelong Education. Spectrum of lifelong education, 401-413.
Ghose, M. (2013). Spectrum of lifelong education. International Review of Education, 401-403.
Jarvis, P. (2014). From Adult Education to Lifelong Learning and Beyond. Comparative Education, 45-57.
Suzuki, N. (2014). The Values Transmitted by Lifelong Education in Denmark: The Conditions of Social Inclusion. The Anthropology of Care and Education for Life : Searching for Resilient Communities in Multicultural Aging Societies, 175-199.