As I said in yesterdays post one of the things I wonder about is time. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out what learning is and how it happens. It has been at foundation of my most recent profession. I am at a place where I feel close to really getting a grip on what motivates kids to learn, what the best techniques are to learn a field, and can you really teach anyone anything. I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t teach anyone. The single thing you can do is make them want to approach the warmth of your life and how you use your intellect. But I said I wanted to write a few words about time. It’s 2:00 a.m. in the morning. I won’t sleep until I get a couple of thoughts in electrons.
Time is the bane of any scholars life. Remember when I use the term scholar I refer to anyone who has a serious interest. I am now 58 years old. Sometimes I do lose sleep questioning my accomplishments, my ability to accomplish what remains, or to start anything new. Reasonable thought all. Thank God I am not a reasonable person.
Neither was Anna Mary Robertson who was born in Greenwich, New York, on September 7, 1860. I have loved Anna Mary since I was about 16 years old. I just didn’t realize her practical significance to my life until the last few days. She was one of the reasons I found school to be a prison. Because I would rather have spent time with her than almost anything back then except music. You see her colors fascinated me. She spoke to me about the life of my grandparents who I loved so deeply. When I looked at her work in a book I checked out of the little library in Galena Park I saw my grandparents home for some reason. I saw my childhood that was fast fading into the background of my existence. I saw a way of life that I secretly wanted to live. But it was my secret. My school in particular was not one that took a kindly view of 16 year olds who liked primitive art. I protected that part of myself. Until I escaped my prison into symphonic music, art, learning what I wanted to learn, and being around people who were giants to me in symphony orchestras, the worlds of music and art and at university. The woman whose work I was in love with is better known as Grandma Moses. She died just before I entered high school in 1961.
And she had no real formal education. Thank God she had no real formal education. She would have probably been ruined. Yet she is one of the most influential of America’s painters. To me she is the equivalent of Norman Rockwell whose work I also love. Her first painting was on a wall in her house. She was wall papering but she ran out of wallpaper. What a fortuitous problem. Because she hung a sheet of white paper on the wall. She painted a scene on that paper to finish out the decoration in the room. What a finish it was.
The scene is called fireboard. If you want to see it you must go to the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. I will go there one day. When I go I will whisper a thank you to Grandma Moses for helping me realize that it is never too late. You see it took me nearly 20 years of my 30 year career to begin to think there were other ways to learn except in a classroom. I came late to home schooling and independent learning. But I am here now. And even though I work in a classroom now I also work with many kids who have never seen the inside of a classroom. And I know something I didn’t know when I was young. There are other ways to learn save in a classroom.
But back to my Grandma Moses. The point is this wonderful American artist painted her first work in her 70’s. After 70 years of life she started the work that would change the art world. She found herself at the beautiful sunset of a quiet, worshipful, country life. Grandma Moses started painting, in fact, because of the common illness of old age – arthritis. Her husband who she loved dearly had passed away. She became to old to farm. Grandma took up embroidery to fill her time. But, soon, age cast its shadow over her again. Her arthritis would not allow her to work her needles. So she began to paint at the age of 76. She once said:
What a strange thing is memory and hope; one looks backward, the other forward; one is of today, the other tomorrow.
I want each of you to come down on the side of hope. She also said:
If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens
Thank God she didn’t raise chickens.
And thank God you, my older readers, aren’t going to raise chickens. Well, unless that is what your life long project is going to be.
I am 58 but I am going to reach forward to the outer edges of what can be found out about how kids learn. I am going to open a lot more doors. And in that process of opening doors I am going to write as much as I can, speak as often as I can, teach as much as I can, take as many pictures as I can, learn how to use curves in Photoshop to make some of my more lousy pictures look presentable, see as many birds as i can, cut as much wood as I can and annoy as many adults who believe there is only one way to learn as I can.
I can see the sun has past its zenith. But I also see there is a while before sunset; Barring some dump truck with my name on it. If you are 20 or 40 or 50 or 80 there is still time. Presidents have been elected in their last decades. Many, many artists do their best work in their last decades. So do scientists. And so many of you, my friends, still have a work to do. A short time back one of the people I most admired died in his late 90’s not a long time after he had performed his last heart surgery. Dr. Michael DeBakey passed away near 100 have worked his entire life doing his best work late in life. I saw him once in the Houston Medical Center bounding up a flight of stairs with a group of breathless, slobbering, gibbering medical students trying to keep up. All kids. All kids who couldn’t follow their aged professor and mentor up a flight of stairs; whose hands could not perform the miracles done daily by their demanding mentors’ hands. One of the young doctors said under his breath “what is wrong with that old man there are elevators.” Being me I yelled out as he disappeared up the stairs “There’s nothing wrong with him. He’s a force of nature. He’s alive and living it all!”
For Heaven’s sake don’t give up. I mean that literally because even if you are 58 or 59, you still have intellectual gifts to give the world. You still have a path to mark out; a territory to claim. Claim it!
Live it all. Find your project then live it. ………………………Home work will be checked :).