Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Forever Young, Forever Learning
There was a time when nearly every independent school’s mission statement included something like “promotes lifelong learning.” The desire for this is certainly positive. But those of us who sat on accreditation teams during that period of time would roll our eyes when we saw these mission statements. We would dismissively ask “what evidence can you show that would demonstrate that?” Most of us couldn’t point to graduates in their eighties or nineties who were still obviously learning. And if we could find such graduates, we couldn’t easily attribute that thirst for learning to their elementary years of education.
This past Sunday, I came across the following article about Sandra Day O’Connor, and I was reminded of those discussions about what it takes to ignite lifelong learning. At age 76, former Justice O’Connor created the nonprofit iCivics, an organization with the mission of teaching middle school students about the constitution and about U.S. government. While working on this project, she realized that animated games were the way to effectively reach middle school students. Justice O’Connor, now 86 years old, continues to lecture, to work on the middle school civics education, and has become a proponent of digital games.
My own Dad turned 92 yesterday, and he too is a lifelong learner. He retired from a family business more than twenty years ago, became a Chairman of a small Massachusetts bank where five years ago, at age 87, orchestrated a merger with another bank, the renaming and rebranding of his bank as well as the opening of a new branch of this bank. Last fall, he told me that he found my grandmother’s old pickling recipe and that he was pickling tomatoes from his vegetable garden. He started using an iPad in his eighties and recently upgraded to an iPhone 6.
As more and more of our population live as many years past traditional retirement age as the years that they were employed, we will begin to learn more and more about this sort of “forever learning”. If you google “lifelong learning”, you find plenty of universities and organizations trying to capitalize on this phenomenon. But the research on why some older people are so vital, engaged and perpetual learners while others are not is yet to be fully understood.
When I try to understand this sort of thirst for learning which my sister and I share with our father, I think about the home in which my father grew up. I remember my grandfather in his nineties busy reading everything he could about philosophy. I vividly remember him engaging my husband and I (both philosophy majors in college) about Spinoza.
Is my father’s forever learning a product of modeled engagement in ongoing learning by his parent or was it the frequent discussions that ranged over many subjects? Or could it have been an inspiring teacher or class? I suspect it was all of these things. I want to believe that the sort of education that we offer at Wornick fosters this quest for learning.
On Tuesday, a Wornick parent commented to me “my daughter comes home and needs to do science experiments to show us what she learned in class – not because it was homework (it wasn’t) but because she’s so excited about her learning.” I’m pretty sure that we are planting the seeds for “forever learning.”
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