Episode 74 - A Love Letter to Learning - 16:1 Episode 74 - A Love Letter to Learning - 16:1
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Episode 74 - A Love Letter to Learning

December 22, 2022

Following Katie’s Love Letter to Teaching (episode 72– check it out!), 16:1 wanted to offer another special holiday episode, this one being a meditation on the power that learning can have in our lives.

A Love Letter to Learning

Happy holidays, 16:1 listeners, and welcome to another special episode of the podcast. Several weeks ago in episode 72, you heard my co-host and co-creator Katie’s audio essay called “A Love Letter to Teaching.” If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, check it out— it’s a timely and heartfelt reflection on what it means to be an educator.

As many of you know, I’m not a classroom teacher. I thought I wanted to be for quite a long time, and part of me occasionally still wonders whether I missed my calling. The fact that I get to do this podcast about education, teaching, and learning fills some of that hole in my heart left by my decision to pursue a career outside of academia, and the thought that you listeners have been willing to tag along with me on this journey is hugely inspiring.

Katie and I started this podcast in part because we found ourselves asking a lot of big questions about education in our down time. Many of these questions have been rattling around in my head for years, and I came to many of them because I have benefitted from exceptional educational opportunities in my life. As a kid, my parents supported a voracious reading habit and stood by patiently to help with homework, college applications, and managing an absurd extracurricular schedule. My public school teachers were patient, hardworking, and dedicated to nurturing each and every one of their students’ pilgrimages toward growth and success. In college and grad school, the habits of curiosity that I’d been developing and deepening for years helped me navigate some of the most lasting questions of philosophy, mathematics, language, music, physics, and more.

Asking difficult questions is a skill. Finding out which questions matter most to you is also a skill. I’ve been so lucky to be in educational contexts where these skills are recognized as such— techniques to be practiced, expanded, refined, and forged in the fires of an increasingly interconnected and polarized world.

Both professionally and personally, I’ve adopted what I suppose you could call a learning-focused worldview. Learning drives me. It gets me out of bed in the morning. We can always learn! About everything! We can learn about our jobs and academic interests. We can learn how to be better partners and family members. We can learn to be better citizens and stewards of the environment. We can learn to affect sociopolitical change. We can learn about our own bodies and how to take better care of them. We can even learn how to be better learners.

We have so many opportunities to learn. Public libraries provide vast resources for the edification of a global citizenry. Nonprofits and educational organizations around the world are investing in initiatives that reach underserved communities and introduce more equity in educational opportunity.

While most people look at the internet and see the havoc wrought by various social platforms and media engines (and, trust me, I also see all of that mess), the internet has also democratized access to humankind’s accumulated knowledge. There are so many people out there creating so many deeply compelling and informative videos, courses, books, articles, and podcasts. (I listen to SO. MANY. PODCASTS.) There is an app for every kind of learning— you can learn languages, you can learn to build a business, you can learn about space travel and playing tennis and how to train your dog. There are millions of volunteers dedicating their time to moderating and curating online communities built entirely around learning. All of this contributes to the increasingly important idea that internet access should be treated as a fundamental human right. Though we’ve got a long way to go on this front, there’s plenty of inertia in the right direction.

Amidst all of this overabundance of educational opportunity, however, there’s a growing undercurrent of skepticism about learning, the kinds of learning that we do, and the politics and purpose of learning. Inspiring curiosity is the primary and most difficult job of an educator, and this job becomes more arduous with every passing day. Our attention spans are waning; cultural and political forces reward being loud and controversial as opposed to being thorough, disciplined, and logical. Earnestness and an eagerness to learn are seen as cringeworthy; propaganda and conspiracy theories inundate us.

Learning is highly politicized, and that’s probably because learning is (among other things) a political act. Alongside our families, friends, and coworkers, it is what shapes our values and helps us decide what is important and what is just. Knowledge is transformational; it is what turns passive people into engaged citizens. Learning makes leaders— good ones and bad ones. Learning shapes our electorate. Some of our leaders recognize the power of learning, and some of them are afraid of that power. We are banning books, we are cutting humanities programming, and we are reducing the rich and complex undertaking of education to the task of “job preparation.” We need a cultural reset, and education is the best antidote for our collective sickness.

So what do we do about this? I think the first and simplest step each of us can take is to make a concerted effort to bring our friends and peers with us on our journeys of learning. On our podcast episodes each month, Katie and I always share at least one thing that we’ve learned since the last episode. This can make for some random tangents, but sharing about learning is how learning takes hold of our hearts and catches fire. Did you read an interesting article or book? Listen to an interesting podcast? Go to an interesting event? Tell your friends about it. Start book clubs. Write blog posts. Dive deep into difficult conversations. Become more than a passive consumer of information— pay attention to your own habits of learning and the sources from which that learning originates. Be willing to be wrong, and be willing to adapt to the feedback you will receive along your learning journey.

Turn down the volume of your conversations online, and turn up the value. Share generously. Replace political and cultural labels and generalizations with collections of thoughts, beliefs, and convictions. Realize that, despite appearances, most people are not out to get you. Most people are doing the best they can with the information that they have. Think of how much better we could do if we all expanded our horizons, listened to more voices from communities outside of our own, and approached learning as a process undertaken for the purpose of liberation.

Learn for learning’s sake, and learn broadly. This probably sounds like a chore to some people; I’m going to ask you simply to trust me that the effort is worth it. Read about topics in which you’ve never before been interested. Go deeper into the topics you already think you understand. Carve some time out of each day (even if it’s just a few moments) to learn something new. And support the teachers in your life! These are the people who have decided that liberation through learning is fundamental to humanity’s collective undertakings. Embrace the responsibility that we all have to guarantee a better future through education.

As we head into 2023, 16:1 would like to thank each one of you for walking with us on our own path of learning. We created this podcast primarily because we wanted to learn about the topics and ideas that we cover every other week on the show. We’re eternally grateful to those of you who have joined us in this adventure, and we’re looking forward to the next year of learning with you.

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