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“Lifelong learning is a necessity.”

September 21, 2011

“In a bygone era, the skills you learned in school could carry you through your career. But today, lifelong learning is a necessity. Americans have to understand that education doesn’t end when they graduate from college. That is when it begins.”

So writes Vivek Wadhwa in the Washington Post in an article titled “On jobs, Obama needs to be a radical.”

Those of us who have never stopped learning know that. But what about the rest of America? The people who hang up their thinking caps with their high school caps and gowns. They hated school. It was no fun. It wasn’t mentally stimulating. The teachers were mean. It wasn’t worth the time. You’ve heard all of the excuses before.

Trouble is, those excuses have become the mantra of mainstream America. And we have politicians out there praising that attitude as the exemplification of the American spirit.

I don’t remember Thomas Jefferson behaving like that. But I live in Texas, where Jefferson was removed from the history books because some folks here have taken issue with the man who coined the phrase “separation of church and state.” Seriously.

Yet what we need nowadays are more Jeffersons on the scene who are curious enough to live a life of eternal learning — and we need to make role models of them. Instead, we prefer the image of the couch potatoes who plant themselves the moment they get home from work and only move when a pizza is delivered.

That’s cool, to them. Learning isn’t.

If this weren’t the case, then the movie theaters this summer would have been packed millions thronging to see Werner Herzog’s fascinating, haunting “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” instead of brain dead-on-arrival nonsense like “Transformers 3” or “Pirates of the Caribbean 4.”

Every time I think of the all-too-true stereotype of the non-thinking average American, I think of a scathing couplet that Stephen Sondheim wrote back in 1964 and that rings true today. It’s from a song called “We’re Gonna Be All Right” and it describes more than a few couples in this country :

They both go right to bed
When they feel intellectual.

If American educators can overcome that willful ignorance, then American schools can begin to improve. But it takes more than the teachers to accomplish the job. Parents, no matter their economic background, have to set the example. If all they do is park it in front of a TV, then we’ll have another lost generation on our hands. But not lost in the ways of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac or Burroughs. Those writers were searching for meaning in a world that was meaningless to them. Today’s lost aren’t searching for anything, except perhaps the remote control.

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From → #CMC11

4 Comments
  1. Joe Boudreau permalink

    It’s a sad state of affairs when our president is derided as a thinker and an intellectual while prospective political challengers are praised for their low academic achievement and are viewed favorably as people we’d most like to share a beer with. Personally, I’d rather have a thinker in the White House.

    • Our recent Medal of Honor recipient had the right idea when he asked to sit down with the president over a beer. Too bad, the story got twisted around to make it seem as if the president had done the asking and shouldn’t be drinking beer.

      It just a strange world.

  2. Amen. I agree that the problem is at the societal level and that parents need to model healthy behaviors and good citizenship; asking schools to be the only agents of change is pathetic and wrong-headed. But how to re-educate the lot of us adults? Sigh. I can only imagine that we start with our own communities, one family at a time. A daunting but necessary project!

  3. You cannot re-educate someone who does not wish to learn. Online learning is all about the person taking charge of his or her own education and proceeding with it. People have to want to learn something in order to learn. If an outside force tries to force anyone to change any aspect of behavior, it is seen as an intrusion and it is avoided like the plague.

    We have to make learning attractive. Think of the great good J.K. Rowling did in making reading exciting for kids (and many adults). And she got knocked by plenty of educators for doing so. (Some people just can’t win.)

    That’s why enticing kids into learning with things like video games, which already interest them, can help.

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