Saturday, February 9, 2008

Why Do We Learn?

Did you ever stop to wonder why you learn things. As an adult, what things trigger your interest. What motivates continuing education.

As a child and young person I think I learned by some fluke of our educational system. In spite of myself, I learned.

I went to a Christian day school, Faith Lutheran in Tacoma, WA, for grades 1-8. I would describe it as a well-rounded, back-to-basics education. A good, solid foundation. Perhaps similar to what is currently being marketed as classical education.

I was likewise privileged to attend two quality Lutheran high schools, Evergreen Lutheran, formerly in Dupont, WA, [currently in Kent, WA, I think] for one year; and the now defunct, Martin Luther Prep School in Prairie du Chien, WI, for the three remaining years. Both of these schools offered those who chose to learn a good solid college prep curriculum.

Did I make good use of these opportunities? Probably not. I liked school when it was easy. I pretty much pulled As and Bs without trying, so why try harder, right? I liked to be smart and look smart, but again, only when it did not involve much work.

But in spite of my bad attitude, I still learned much of the stuff I was supposed to learn.

When I got to college, I really wanted to learn. Well, I guess to be honest, I should say, " After my first year, I really wanted to learn." My first year I was heavily into social life.

Then I took a year off and worked for a living. Mostly I wanted to get WI residency so I could qualify for instate tuition. But by the time that year passed, I really wanted to learn. In fact, I wanted to learn perfectly. So I started on a cycle of study hard and intensely and even read all the source material given in footnotes, etc. and then burn out half way through any given semester. Only to restart and do the same thing in the next semester's courses.

I quit college after three years. I got married at that time. But that was not primarily why I quit. I could see my poor learning habits. I saw that I was wasting money by my "race and then crash" mentality.

I also figured that since I had the strong foundation of knowing how to learn, I didn't need college classes. I could check out books from the library, often the same books assigned for any given class, and read them on my own. I could do it on my own time, according to my own energy level, and not have to pay money.

Often I found myself at odds with the professors or TAs of the various classes. If quit school, and got the books from the library, I could read and analyze the information presented in the readings on my own time, in my own way, at my leisure.

I have a friend, Lisa, who has been tossing around the idea of returning to school to get her PhD. I commented on how, although I love to learn, I also think I would still not be a good student.

We got to talking about why that is. Lisa mentioned that since she had a particular career goal in mind, that was her motivation to do well in a school setting. In this case, "jumping through the hoops" can help a person learn.

So that got us analyzing why I learn. I can give one reason that I like to learn. It is not very noble. I want to be smart. I just plain and simple like to know things. I guess it is vanity. So I can't call that a good reason to pursue knowledge.

But I think I can "fabricate" a valid reason that I seek knowledge. I don't mean fabricate as in make up from nothing. I guess I mean that although it may not be a primary, gut level, human vanity kind of goal, I can still, from my own value system, come up with this reason for learning. I can rationalize a value in learning that is more noble than my own vanity. I am a homemaker, a wife, mother, home school mom...Under the mother and home school mom vocations, I can make a claim. Here goes. This is my best shot at legitimacy.
God has blessed America with a stable constitutional government. The particular form of government our constitution grants us is that of a representative democracy. We have the privilege to vote for those who will represent us in government.

In order to best maintain our form of government, a voter must have a certain amount of knowledge. This would include a foundation in Western thought; a cultural awareness of Western thought within world history; historical knowledge of how human decisions have effected world events; and a reasonable awareness of current events.

If any one of these is absent or weak in the education of our voters, the system will become less stable. We will start to see some of the freedoms that we hold dear disappearing. Conceivably, if the education of the electorate is weak enough the system could fail entirely.

Now, I can't solve the world's problems, America's problems, or even Oklee, MN's problems. But I have been given, by God, the job of raising my kids. He has also led us to home school those children. The more I learn and keep myself sharp, the more I can share with my kids the tools necessary for good citizenship in the temporal world.
My meaning here is not to idolize the temporal world or American traditions. Certainly, our eternal souls and therefore religious eduction is on a different plane. And equally important is the knowledge that God has in His hand world events. As the Psalmist says in Ps. 46,
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.
All our learning will be meaningless if God decides it is time for the America we know to fade away.

I would be interested in hearing the reasons you continue to pursue knowledge.

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