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Love of Learning

When I was a kid on the Indiana farm, occasionally I would run into something that I had forgotten about and it was like discovering the thing anew!  It was as if something that had been lost was found.  Sometimes, I laughed because I realized I had not missed the thing until I found it again.  And then I could not imagine not having it.  One of my favorite places of discovery was a corner of our barn where most of the stuff was the stuff my grandpa put there.
I have fond memories of days spent on that farm in the tow of my grandfather.  That was especially true when I was young---too young for the heavy work of the farm.  It never occurred to me not to be outside with him and my dad.  But I also did not wonder why they were lifting the eighty pounds bales of hay.  I was watching and that seemed appropriate.
No doubt, it was because my grandpa was beyond his prime in physical strength and I had not arrived to my prime that we were bound together at the margins of the active farm life.  We drew the odd jobs that needed to be done.  Some of these I hated.  Things like fixing a fence or cleaning rust off of some piece of metal were tedious and boring---at least to me.  I was depressed that these kinds of jobs never seemed boring to my grandpa.  He had tenacity with things I was ready to ditch after five minutes.  He was fine with the job and I was stuck!
I continue on this tangent about that corner in my barn where I found things I did not know I had lost because I realize I am now my grandpa!  The only difference is there is no corner of a barn.  That “corner” is not the files on my computer---files that can go back decades.  My “junk area” is much neater than that old corner in the barn, but functionally it is still the same.  Occasionally I wander into those old files and inevitably find something that delights me and I relish exploring all over again things I had forgotten about.
Recently, that happened as I was rummaging around in an old file.  I found a little article by my friend, Parker Palmer.  The focus was community.  I know Palmer has books on community.  I know he learned much about community the way he describes it from his long stay at Pendle Hill, the Quaker study center outside Philadelphia.  I know it well.  In fact that is where I met Parker Palmer decades ago.
As I twirled through that old article about community, I was struck again by how important that idea of community is in my work as a teacher.  It is central to how I imagine developing the culture of the classroom.  And I realize how much Palmer and I have in common.  I have learned from him, to be sure, but we both know we have imbibed deeply that Quaker sense for how people are meant to be together---whether as learners, worshippers or whatever.
I would like to focus on one short summary paragraph that resonates deeply with me.  He talks about the love of learning.  He says,  “The first is love of learning itself. The simple ability to take sheer joy in having a new idea reaffirming or discarding an old one, connecting two or more notions that had hitherto seemed alien to each other, sheer joy in building images of reality with mere words that now suddenly seem more like mirrors of truth–this is love of learning.”  I have known that love of learning and realize it still fuels my desire to be with people of all ages in various learning projects.
I especially like the point Palmer makes when he talks about the “joy in building images of reality with words that now suddenly seem more like mirrors of truth.”  I think I do that with students all the time.  I find too many students today do not value language.  They don’t take the time to be careful with their language and to appreciate the power of words.  They aren’t aware of how much our image of reality is built with out words.
They don’t value the fact that we are much like Adam in the creation story.  We are naming the stuff of our experience, just as Adam named the creatures of nature.  In that sense we are creating our realities.  If we are not actively doing this, we are resigned to accept a version of reality put together by someone else.
My love of learning continually takes me into other people’s perception of reality.  Often they use words and images to describe reality in a way that is new for me.  I can become inventive or innovative by connecting dots from two disparate arenas.  I find someone describe something that confirms the way I see it.  I may be taken more deeply into a truth I know I hold.  I am grateful.
You don’t have to be in school to pursue this love of learning.  That love keeps us vibrant and engaged.  But I realize how too many of us have turned off this love of learning.  We opt for the garbage of our culture---the pablum of an infantile take on human meaning.  God wants more.  There is spiritual food to feed growing spirits.  Learn to love this learning.

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