“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”- Benjamin Franklin
How many of us have spent years in school “learning” from teachers who gave lectures or textbooks with facts, dates, mathematical equations and so forth, all in the name of educating us for our future? After all, this is why we went to school, right? At least in the United States, we enter first grade at about six years old and hope to graduate from high school at about age eighteen. In that time, we will have attended some 3,000 hours of classroom time, (minus time for holiday breaks, which can be made up for by the amount of time spent doing homework). If you attend college, tack on even more time. What does this all mean?
I remember my first day in 4th grade. It would be a monumental day for me. First of all, Neason Hill Elementary had an annex, with two classrooms in it. I was going to be in one of them. Secondly, it would be my first year with a man as a teacher. Mr. Falara. He had a reputation amongst students in the past as being strict but I remembered him as being the teacher who actually played football with the boys at recess after lunch so I already liked him. My older sister had been in his class the previous year and had not liked him, which surprised me since she loved school. She said he was mean. Now I wasn’t so sure.
The first day of class was a little unnerving. I was even more confused when Mr. Falara told us about his teaching style. He announced that although we were there to learn math, English, history science and other things, more than anything, he was there to see that we “learned how to learn”. “Learn how to learn?” Wait a minute! I thought you taught and I learned! Isn’t that how this whole teacher/student thing works? I mean, if you are expecting me to learn how to learn, just what are you going to be doing all year?
(He actually was an avid golfer and kept a driver in the closet. More than once I caught him practicing his swing when I would come in early in the morning).
His words concerned me at first as I had thought that my job was to learn what someone else was teaching or telling me. After all, at nine years old, there hadn’t been a lot of pressure on me to perform outside of being home in time for dinner, make my bed, take out the trash, feed the pets, and mow the lawn. Life as a kid was pretty sweet. Now, this guy was telling me that if I was going to learn in his world, I had to first learn how to learn? Interestingly, he gave us the tools to do that. Mind you, this was in 1971. I mention that because my black and white tv at home did not have cable. It had three channels and I was not the mater of them. I did not have the Discovery Channel or National Geographic Channel, the History Channel or any of those things. A computer was something NASA had and took up a city block. Looking up something for information meant our full set of 1969 World Book encyclopedias at home or the school or public libraries. That’s right, Google was a word said if you mispronounced something and had to repeat yourself. However, Mr. Falara proceded to do things like give us research assignments.
One thing he did was to have us pick one of the largest deserts in the world and write a report on it. It was to include things about the geography, plant, and animal life and anything about the people in the region. It was then that I fell in love with research, as he didn’t give us the books and resources but instead told us to use the library and any other tools at our disposal to get our information. This was also when I fell in love with Africa, as I chose the Sahara for my research.
With only the school library, the World Book and whatever I could get my hands on, I “learned how to learn”. This was but one of the experiences I would have this year.
Mr. Falara would, however, prepare me for a lifetime of learning. As I would soon find out, even in school where we are provided with textbooks and on jobs where we get training, much of what we learn must be done because we have developed the skills to take past experiences and build on them. In addition, amassing not only skills but a network of people who have skills, talents, connections, and experiences that you do not have is just as valuable.
This first became evident to me when I worked as an optician for fifteen years. While serving my apprenticeship and going to school, two of the instructors were in essence, the hub of all things optical in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. If there was something to be known or someone to be known, Ron and Nancy Benjamin of Braham Optician in Alexandria, Va. would know, (or be able to direct you to who would know). Again, in the classroom, they were avid fans of the “learn how to learn” method. Since so many things an optician comes across are not by-the-book, they are learned as you go along and built on with experience. I will never forget the first time I called Braham for some advice on a specialty lens I was trying to get for someone. Nancy answered the phone. Not having the answer, she directed me to a specialty lab where I might find the answer but followed up with, “when you find out, call me back, Ron is dealing with the same thing”. That’s right, I was now the one who would have the answer to share with one who had taught me!
Learning is something that never stops. At least it shouldn’t.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”- Maya Angelou