I just spent the weekend at a writing retreat organized by the Morehead Writing Project. I filled pages in my writing journal, writing for the sheer pleasure and joy of it, and enjoyed meals with friends and stayed up far too late talking about our lives, our careers, and our profession. I learned and I created. I celebrated with others doing the same. It was amazing and just what I needed to refresh, renew, and recharge. And I am not alone, I’ve heard similar feedback from many of the other educators who participated in our retreat whether they stayed for just Saturday or returned on Sunday or pulled the late-night session.
This is what learning should be like every day for every one – students and teachers and administrators – it should not be a brief respite from stand-and-deliver, focus-on-numbers-not-people instruction, professional development, and education systems. Learning should be fun, it should contain moments of joy as well as frustration and it should leave us refreshed rather than drained.
Learning should be a process, an on-going process that runs in fits and starts as our brains and souls stretch to accommodate new ideas and adapt old ones to new knowledge. When did we begin believing that learning is an event that could be wedged into one morning or one day and then stored away like our wedding dress and graduation gown only to be removed from the plastic wrap for momentous occasions? And at the end of the process, or better yet at various points along the way, we should have something more to show for our learning, some creation more significant and meaningful than a multiple-choice test and a study guide we throw in the trash as soon as the test is over.
We have become a nation that believes learning can be weighed and measured like raw meat at the butcher counter. We have become a nation that believes learning can be measured out in mean little increments – by the day, by the hour – rather than by the lifetime. But these beliefs are not our worst crime. We pay lip service to lifelong learning and yet we do not give our students the tools, the will, or the space to become masters of their own learning. We pay lip service to the importance of education and yet teachers are poorly paid as a profession and those with no training or experience dictate every facet of our education systems – often to the detriment of those with the real expertise and experience.
Learning is not an event. It is a process that needs fuel, support, and space to grow and flourish. But learning is more than a process. It is a state of mind. The learner has to be willing and open, but instead we have created a system that is the opposite. Teachers and students alike are not given the gifts of time, space, and choice, but are instead told what, when, and where they will learn – and when they should stop learning and move on to the next task.
I celebrate the National Writing Project and the gifts of fuel, support, and space to grow that is has continually given to me, but I mourn the fact that so many of my colleagues and so many of our students will never be given this gift – except as stolen minutes and hours behind the closed doors of classrooms and underground writing workshops led by subversive teachers and renegade students. When will we free education from these ridiculous strictures?