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Communities of Learning…live curious

One of my mottos in life is “Live Curious.” In fact, I still have it on my list to track down one of those National Geographic “Live Curious” t-shirts.  Some of my most exciting moments as a child weren’t in a traditional classroom setting, but in alternative classroom experiences where I was learning to make a pin hole camera, or discovering that “King Peter Can Order Free Green Snakes” is a fabulous mnemonic device for remembering the taxonomic groupings of individual organisms in biology.

I’ll admit it – I love to learn and to exchange ideas with people who have really big brains. I have always been a person who wished she could have lived in the days of the salons of revolutionary France or the bars of Greenwich Village when the Abstract Expressionists held their impromptu salons fueled by booze and blowhardiness.  The reason?  In the midst of this blowhardiness was the desire to learn… to live curious… to continually challenge oneself and others with new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas.

In college I was in heaven.  College provided a forum for intellectual salons. Fueled by cheap beer and our own blowhardiness, a few hours spent deconstructing how quantum physics may support the idea of reincarnation felt exciting and like a great way to spend time.  As an adult, with a job and kids and responsibilities, those hours felt indulgent.  The closest I could get to these gatherings of intellectual exchange were my book club or a writing critique group.  But in the midst of life’s minutiae, book club is more frequently spent deconstructing how third grade girls have become obsessed with chasing the boys on the playground. (When did this happen?  As the mother of a third grade boy, I’m not ready for the chasing and the crushes and the kissing.  He’s still my little boy.)

So, as an adult my “living curiously” has become mostly an independent pursuit:  voracious reading, an admitted addiction to NPR’s “Radio Lab” and a love affair with the internet because at any hour of the day I can find out details about obscure happenings. (For instance, did you know that in 1918 the residents of Gunnison, CO barricaded all roads in and out of town during the Spanish influenza epidemic. Train conductors warned all passengers that if they stepped outside of the train in Gunnison, they would be arrested and quarantined for five days. As a result of the isolation, no one died of influenza in Gunnison during the epidemic. This served as partial inspiration for the novel The Last Town on Earth.)

As a parent, I am watching my children’s education unfold.  It physically hurts me to witness the monotony of public education’s mandates.  Let me say that both of my kids attend public schools and they have some of the best teachers I’ve ever seen in action.  However, no matter how great a teacher is, our country is evolving into a “teach to the test” society.  I still see those moments of pin hole cameras and taxonomic mnemonics made fun, but the moments are fewer and farther between all the time.  I wonder what sparks of learning excitement my own children will carry forth into adulthood.

For all of these reasons, I was inspired by John Green’s Tedx called “The Paper Town Academy.”  If you have 18 minutes, you should watch it.  He talks about learning communities – both traditional and non-traditional – which foster an excitement about knowledge.  Many of his ideas surrounding learning are steeped in the use of technology (YouTube specifically). I don’t know that I am quite as convinced as Green is about the interactive nature of YouTube.  However, I do admit that channels like Minute Physics and Vsauce and Crash Course are providing a lot of intelligent presentations and sometimes interaction for those who like to live curious.  They certainly aren’t as interactive as discussing art over a beer with Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock at the Cedar Tavern.  But they are probably a lot more fact-filled and a lot less haze-filled than the latter.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of learning and the establishment of these online learning communities?  How can our children live more curiously inside and outside of the classroom? How can we find or establish our own learning communities as adults?

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