Tag Archives: Lifelong learning

A back-to-school tribute to teachers!

The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.~~Dan Rather

The start of the new school year (which should begin after Labor Day) inspires thoughts of the teachers who are returning to the classroom, lesson plans in hand, and welcoming smiles at the ready to welcome eager, and especially not-so-eager, learners to new curricula, new ideas, and new expectations.

A recent Writers Almanac (9/27/17) was well timed to reinforce the role of the thousands of classroom teachers who influence, often change, the lives of young – and not-so-young – learners.  Featured in the piece was the life and work of author Theodore Dreiser.  The article, and further research, give much of the credit of Dreiser’s literary success to one teacher, Mildred Fielding, who saw promise in a troubled kid.  It’s a great story of the influence of a good teacher on a “lost kid.”

It’s the birthday of novelist Theodore Dreiser …born in Terre Haute, Indiana (1871). He grew up poor, one of 10 children, in a family that was regularly involved in scandals — his siblings seemed to be in constant trouble with adultery, unwanted pregnancies, jail time, or alcoholism. Dreiser was quiet and studious. In high school, he had a teacher named Mildred Fielding. She was 35 years old and unmarried, tall and thin with big teeth. She had also grown up poor in a dysfunctional family, and she sympathized with Dreiser at the same time that she recognized his potential. She encouraged his studies and told him to ignore the gossip of his schoolmates; but when he was 16, he was so frustrated by his family’s poverty and scandals that he dropped out of school, determined to make it on his own. He set off for Chicago with a change of underwear and socks, and a few dollars.

Two years later, he was working a menial job at a warehouse when his old teacher, Mildred Fielding, found him once again. She was now the principal of a Chicago school, and she insisted on paying for his tuition at Indiana State College in Bloomington. He only stayed for one year, but he said: “If ever […] a year proved an oasis in a life, this one did.” He returned to Chicago, where he found work as a reporter and became a prolific writer.

To this I would add my experience working on the Voices of Northeast series of interviews with individuals – writers and other respecters of the written word.  ((https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/voices-of-northeast-minneapolis-captured-and-shared-on-video/)) Though I lacked the forethought to keep track, my observation is that more than 50% of the individuals we have interviewed indicate that they found their professional/avocational voice because a teacher, often mentioned by name, had spotted their talent or inclination to write.  Many other guests are themselves teachers, formal and informal, who often tell of their efforts to nourish the creative spirit in others.

Classroom learning is too often measured by standardized tests.  The habit of lifelong learning,  on the other hand, is measured in the learner’s persistent  quest to learn, a habit of critical thinking, and a desire to share information and ideas with others so that the end result is a learning community. Our challenge, as individuals, parents and grandparents, and taxpayers, is to be intentional about understanding how, where, why we learn – and to fully support the teachers who inspire a love of learning and share the tools that keep the learning flame alive.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.  Alexandra K. Trenfor

Armchair Learning – Click and Learn from Massive Media Archives

Life… It tends to respond to our outlook, to shape itself to meet our expectations — Richard M. DeVos

The agenda of go-to opportunities scheduled for Older Americans Month is robust and welcome – learning opportunities abound – to learn from the experts, to share ideas, join a spa, to take a class or participate in a conference. The focus and the effort are to be lauded!

Still, seniors who yearn to learn often encounter barriers – money for tuition, fees or registration, physical limitations, lack of transportation, time commitments.   As a long-time advocate for armchair learning I can’t let OAM pass without a pitch for just a few of my favorite online learning picks

Increasingly, digital learning could and should be the flagship of lifelong learning. Though there’s lots of buzz about distance learning for young learners or as a cost-effective way to build a trained workforce, we tend to overlook the fact that lifelong learning is a certain investment in a full, rich, mentally and physically healthy life for older Americans, a learning life of ideas, opinions, information and memories and curiosity about life, the university and everything.

My concern is that too many of us, including lifelong learning proponents who push keyboarding skills, undervalue the potential of 21st Century access to the expanse and power of resources waiting to be tapped by seekers of knowledge or entertainment. Judging by promotion of the virtues of digital skills one might conclude that, for older techies, the primary applications are email, shopping, sports, and sharing progeny photos.

In fact, armchair learning opens the mind to endless possibilities. My goal in the OAM posts is to raise expectations – learners’ expectations of the abundance of recorded knowledge and techie trainers’ expectations of the learning horizons of seniors.

Though my skills are limited, my searching style is random and my fuse is short, I have faith that the Net is as patient as it is bountiful. That bounty includes – and is clearly not limited to — massive libraries of programming that began life as broadcast or cable television or radio. Many of us still think of mass media as being “of the moment”, unaware of the vaults of learning possibilities waiting to be clicked. The myth persists that you need to view or record the program as it is aired. Patently no longer true.

Because my quest to learn leans to independent, unscheduled, free and open (read armchair) learning I am currently poking around the staggering mix of digital libraries devoted to archiving and extending the life of broadcast/cablecast media – documentaries, informed discussions, book talks, interviews – all searchable and viewable online.

For me, radio rules. That may be because I learn by listening – and I’m probably not armchair bound but more likely doing boring chores while I make room and time for the information and ideas to sink in.   Still, doodling and knitting do improve focus.

For example, listening to Krista Tippett early on Sunday morning is a ritual; the On Being website and blog keep rattling around my head during the week. And if I oversleep or need a refresher listen it’s archived here:

http://www.npr.org/podcasts/381444594/krista-tippett-on-being http://www.onbeing.org/about.

Similarly, most public radio programming is posted, cataloged, annotated almost as soon as it is aired. A ready point of access is NPR inclusive site (http://streema.com/radios/NPR_National_Public_Radio). It’s just a click to listen to archived treasures including All Things Considered, Fresh Air Radio, Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, Science Friday, The Diane Rehm Show, Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me Weekend — and a whole lot more – from wherever and whenever. For a lighter touch click on the digital replay of This American Life with Ira Glass – wouldn’t this be a good time to take a fun break at http://video.newyorker.com/watch/new-yorker-cover-mirror — or to reflect on the Bob Edwards’ wise words, as apt today as when the were recorded http://www.bobedwardsradio.com

Though radio’s great TV is not without its charms. In fact, yesterday’s television programming excels as an untapped learning resource. The wealth of video options on the web is staggering – random, but immense. Virtually every producer maintains an archive and search tools. It’s important to underscore that many of these programs are captioned. Readily accessible video vaults abound, including these, the tip of the digital iceberg:

Access to archived mass media is an obvious starting point for the armchair learner – the idea is to dive in, to eke the most out of the techie tools, to expect success.

Stay tuned for future armchair learning possibilities, starting with the inestimable resources produced, collected, organized, preserved and delivered to your armchair by government workers who share your vision of a learning democracy.

 

 

Lifelong Learning Thrives on Digital Digging

After a work life ruled by a cluttered desk calendar I’ve shed blind allegiance to a schedule. Evolving technology has only reinforced my disinclination to commit to the calendar or clock. This somehow justifies my reluctance to register for classes, concert series, monthly meetings, haircuts and most especially medical appointments.

The drive for independent, affordable learning is reinforced by the inability to pay for OLLI or college credits, health club membership or store-bought books. I find that learning thrives when sparked by the freedom to carpe diem and that an active life of the mind is best measured not by the learner’s ability to pay but by his or her thirst for knowledge

Thinking and writing about Older Americans Month which starts today (May 1) sparks thoughts about the freedom that seniors have to explore the borders of knowledge. I originally categorized this independent path as “random acts of learning” – till I compulsively googled the phrase and learned that there’s a blog thus named….A little learning can be a deflating thing….

Still, “Poking Around with Mary” fairly well describes my thrifty and rigor-free methodology. “Poking Around” is the term my friend would use to describe my learning style — how I would hop off the bus to check out a neighborhood or drop in at an outdoor concert or start up a conversation with a stranger while we stood in line for a common purpose, or pursue a person, place or idea on the web.   That, she said, was “poking around” and the blog could simply reflect the “pokes.”

Writing for the blog frequently inspires me to poke a little deeper. Now, when I hear of or see something of interest – a display, an event, a park, a coffee shop, a reading space, a specialty shop, a book – I want to learn more – and to share what I’ve learned. Blogs are great for ad hoc poking around, especially when fueled by a compulsion to share….

Since most of my learning is random it’s a challenge to list, much less categorize, the options. Some random thoughts:

  • My favorite poke is probably bookstores, especially used bookstores, where it’s all wonderfully random – authors, subjects, eras, format, language. I tell myself I can identify with all those writers, then internalize their ideas and literary style through osmosis. In fact, it’s the bibliophiles who tend these bookstores that truly inspire me to hang out and learn. Several blog posts reflect this love of bookstores – more to follow.
  • Similarly, many libraries are good, some are great. Librarians are often genetically disposed to share the quest for knowledge. Libraries of all types – public, college, even corporate, church, ethnic and other special libraries, are interconnected in functional networks that facilitate access through any portal – physical or digital. For most learners, the public library is the best port of entry and the most convenient way to explore the learning opportunities, ranging from public programs to home delivery. MNLink https://www.mnlinkgateway.org/zportal/zengine?VDXaction=ZSearchSimple offers a handy gateway to the endless possibilities. Still, especially with libraries, it’s often best to shop locally.
  • Those who work in great libraries are fortunate and indispensable fellow travelers on the path to learning, James K. Hosmer Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library (http://www.hclib.org/specialcollections\ is unchallenged as my favorite because of the incredible collection, stellar service, and the ambient environment that inspires serious research. Check the website – hours are severely limited.
  • The archives at the University of Minnesota are beyond wonderful. Exploring the Archives blog http://www.continuum.umn.edu/primary-sourcery/#.VyShhUtEB4M is both random and revealing of unimagined – yet essential – resources.   And if you’ve been wondering about what’s planned for the Bell Museum Library check https://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu
  • Libraries and librarians are inclined to listen to the needs of learners who have physical challenges to reading or to poking around the collections; seniors sometimes fail to realize how many learning options are accessible at or through their local library. In fact there are statewide and national networks set up to expand options beyond the local collection. One of several good starting points can be found here: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/Lib/MBTBL/AudioBks/index.html
  • For a thorough and timely guide to resources there is no more comprehensive resource than that prepared by staff of the Legislative Reference Library. http://www.leg.state.mn.us/LRL/LINKS/links?links=disabled
  • You’ve probably visited the Minnesota History Center, but have you checked out the library? (http://sites.mnhs.org/library/) Though it’s accessible virtually the setting inspires the will to know more. I am always in awe of the serious learning in progress as scholars, genealogists, History Day students, journalists and PhD hopefuls plumb the State’s historic record. [I find it’s best to refresh with coffee and a muffin at Café Minnesota and/or a stop at one of the irresistible museum shops.
  • Though I have made pit stops at most state agency libraries that collaborate through the Capitol Area Library Consortium I know for certain that all constantly evolve and grow, add resources and programs, and create a unique corporate culture. The great news is that searcher can take a virtual tour with just one click of the CALCO directory. http://mn.gov/library/directory.pdf) A quick tour underscores Governor Perpich’s vision of the “brainpower state”, built on a firm foundation of accessible information services and top-notch professionals who build and mine the power of the resources accessible through this network of libraries and librarians.
  • Over time Pokings have taken me and readers to unique library settings. One of my former Northeast neighborhood haunts, the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota (PACIM http://pacim.org) has found new digs and new life on the banks of the Mississippi.  The original blog post is woefully dated so check out the new profile and site to learn the latest – and check the online catalog to learn more about the library collection.
  • Though I haven’t visited yet I’m impressed with the collection, the programming and the mission of the East Side Freedom Library. The very special library fosters ideas and action in the former Arlington Hills branch of the St. Paul Public Library. Again, the library features a unique collection and a robust public programming agenda. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/east-side-freedom-library-gives-new-life-to-carnegie-library-st-paul-neighborhood/

One goal of taking this approach on the first day of Older Americans Month is to ease the way into a longer range goal – to demonstrate in tangible and useful ways far exceed most newbies expectation – it just depends on the keeper of the keys to envisions worlds far beyond shopping, paying bills, FB and email.   Armchair learning is within ready reach of any keeper of the keys for whom the goal is to learn.

Life experience tells me that everyone wants to know more about something – it might be presidential politics or polo, violin making or veterans, Iron Range history or hieroglyphics, football or food safety, car repair or climate change, Russian literature or road construction, immigration or isotopes, antiquities or animal protection…

The pitch today is “there’s an app for that” – in my mind, “there’s an opp for that” – an opportunity to enrich the life of the mind. Though the app may unlock the digital door it remains to the seeker to carpe diem. Bear in mind that “on the Internet, nobody knows [much less cares] you’re an “’Older American.”(1)

(1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you’re_a_dog