The Messy and the Beautiful

Oh … so I left this for a while again. And I really shouldn’t be writing this now because I have all sorts of reading/writing/thinking I should be engaged in to advance the likelihood of graduating. But I needed a break. And this was rolling around in my cabeza so much that I cannot concentrate on anything else.

A number of people have asked me how I’m ‘enjoying’ grad school. Most of the people who ask me are friends I knew from college, or people I know who attended college and have advanced degrees. So, why do they use the word ‘enjoy’ to ask me about my work? Is it because they really don’t want to know what fresh hell I have subjected myself to? How I find myself up at 2:00 am at least once a week and a few days later wake up at 3:00 am and can’t get to sleep because I’ve just processes something so important I need to write it down immediately. Then, I start thinking about all the ways that one brilliant thought is linked to the eight different concepts I’ve been wrestling with for the past month (or two months … or more) and four hours later I realize that my vision has become blurry and I can barely walk from lack of breathing and sustenance (water .. toast).

It’s really not pretty at all. Yes, I do take an occasional break to visit with friends or family that come to visit. I took a whole Friday eve./Saturday off in October to enjoy all of my college friends who returned for our 30th reunion homecoming weekend. I’ve had a glass of wine on occasion. I’ve even watched TV some, but I have little ‘free time’ as most 50-somethings do on weekends, in evenings, and Sunday afternoons. And I still pay the bills (for both houses), grocery shop, wash dishes, clean the tub (occasionally). I talk with family on the phone regularly, and catch up with others on social media when I need a few minutes to unplug.

But learning is tedious work. And working with people you don’t know very well is stressful. And having to adhere to others’ schedules and expectations is exasperating, difficult, and even soul-crushing at times. I tend to not care about grades: I’m in this for the experience and the mind-expanding that happens with real learning.

I hope it all pays off.  But it is messy … and beautiful.

We are not the Center of the Universe

I know it is difficult to imagine, but indulge me for five minutes, can you?

Humans are not the center of the universe. We are not the pinnacle of life. In fact, from the perspective of many other species – and even from some other human populations – humans are the center of all their travails.

National Geographic’s EarthPulse website for more.

night view from the sky

About ten years ago I was flying home from the west coast and happened to go over two of the busiest highways in our country. As I watched the traffic flow I saw the lights on the cars in an abstract way and realized how much the flow of traffic looked like a visualization I had seen of bacteria moving from one location in an organism to another. And it occurred to me that we – humans – are nothing but a blight on the natural world we exist within. Let’s face it, the things we make, use and find valuable are generally not useful to any other life form on the planet.

Instead of thinking about how the world can bend to our needs, what if we assumed our role (individually and collectively) as PART of the natural world, as Native American cultures have done for centuries? How would our interactions with other species change (evolve) and how would we benefit in ways we have not stopped to imagine? Would we think ourselves significant enough to ‘control’ or ‘manage’ other species, or would we instead learn to live within the bounds of our role in the ecosystem

Our refuse/trash/waste infests oceans, shorelines, wetlands, swamps, rivers, creeks, tributaries. I, have never visited a body of water that does not have the mark of humans evident, regardless of how remote the location.

Can we find ways to minimize our woind on the earth both individually and collectively? Would it really require a significant sacrifice for most of us? I’m willing to say no it would not.

And, if we do take the time to reduce our impact (not just our footprint), what do we stand to gain? I think we would actually re-gain our humanity and our place within the world instead of sticking out like a sore thumb.

AFF Childrens garden wildflower patch 2015
Wildflowers in Accokeek, MD (2015) © K Culbertson

Back at It: Same Story, Different Setting

I am back in school full-time, finally.  I imagined this would happen 25 years ago, and I intended for graduate school to be a means toward a career where I could make my mark on humanity.

This is much different.

The goal is still the same, but the context is ‘refreshed’. I suppose my course, to date, exemplifies the phrase “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” I am a connector, a dreamer, a manager of both ideas and implementation: an engineer, of sorts. I am marrying both my skills and experiences with my thinking, and dreaming, about how humans could learn more, do more good and be happier (content, fulfilled) at an earlier age* if only we – the adults around them – could put aside our sense of the world as it exists and just imagine.

(*maybe not struggle with a mid-life crisis after years chasing a dream constructed from illusory ambitions/wants/needs.)

Just imagine if learning didn’t have so many constraints …

  • what would the world be like if a two year-old who could read wasn’t considered an anomaly, and a child who doesn’t read until age 7 or 8 wasn’t considered delayed.
  • how much more could a dyslexic child learn early in life if we considered their gift to be an extra-ability instead of a disability
  • what could children from impoverished backgrounds actually accomplish if they had caring knowledgeable adults focused on their personal success
  • what could students who are not ‘academically successful’ accomplish if there were real options for them to take the time they needed to learn deeply; to succeed based on goals set for them personally, not rely upon standard measures; to engage in their communities to apply their knowledge and passion in a genuinely connected way, and to learn from the experts in the field rather than from a text or other passive resource?
  • what is the upper limit of accomplishment for any child before they attain adulthood?

How would the world be different:

  • if a child wanted to stop and learn something deeply and had the time, space, environment and support to do so
  • if mathematics learning were not fraught with phobias, misconception (on the part of adults) and ‘other’-ness?
  • if teaching were valued as a commodity and not as a public good
  • if learning took the form of an individualized program of study that traversed many different environments, topics, questions, projects, required multiple mentors/teachers
  • if youth knew who they were and what their interests were before they applied to college, and if the measure of their potential didn’t rely upon a standardized test, a canned essay, a set of extracurricular activities that scored well.
  • if every child succeeded and no child was left behind for real.

These are the questions, ideas, curiosities that swirl around in my head as I return to the role of full-time learner, social/educational engineer and dreamer of a future unburdened of the past.

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