There has been a lot of press during the last three decades about America’s educational system. Generally, the press has been negative toward America’s educational accomplishments, especially when ranked with other countries. During President G. W. Bush’s administration, America’s effort to improve education was called No Child Left Behind. Previously, during President Clinton’s administration, the effort was called the Improving America’s Schools Act. Almost ten years before the Clinton administration, President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, issued a report called, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform.
On October 17, 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed into law, The Department of Education Organization Act (Public Law 96-88), creating the United States Department of Education. Its official mission was/is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. I gave this brief history of some of the major governmental acts toward improving education to illustrate how we, as a country, have been focusing on education and learning for our citizens. Of course, almost all of these improvements and/or efforts were designed for improving learning for the young people of our country.
But, what about the goal of lifelong learning? Is it reasonable to have lifelong learning as a goal? Is learning a natural goal for all humans? I think the answer is yes for all three of the previous questions. The key word in all three is goal.
Lifelong learning is interesting, especially when we consider that children seem to start out with an insatiable appetite for learning which appears to lessen with age. This is particularly true when we consider the appetite over a normal lifetime. I know many older adults who appear to have lost their appetite for learning. In fact, they generally are afraid of learning anything new and unfamiliar. I think they tend to view learning, especially complex learning, as something that should have been “done and completed” in the formal education period of their lives.
Recently, I attended a forum at Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood, MO. The forum is part of series of lectures called Science On Tap. While at the forum, I was talking with two people who were attending for the first time. They both remarked how afraid they were about being “called-on.” I told them not to worry since the format of the forum is that the presenter talks for about thirty minutes and then s/he answers questions from the audience for an hour. At no time during the forum is anyone called-on. They appeared to be relieved after hearing that, but during the forum they both expressed more than once how they felt “stupid.” I admitted to them that many of the concepts that were discussed at the forum were not understood by me. But, I also told them that I wasn’t bothered by not knowing. At least I know what I don’t know! :-)
The two people who were afraid of being called-on demonstrated, by their attendance at the forum, that they are trying to be lifelong learners. For some, lifelong learning appears to be a scary thing. But, if we think that significant learning stops when we leave school, then we are likely to miss out on education in a big way.
I think learning and education are closely tied to attitude and belief. We will often act in accordance with our attitudes and beliefs. If our attitudes (mental feelings) toward learning and education are negative, then we will think we can’t learn and our education is complete. If our beliefs are that learning and education are only in our past, then we will miss opportunities for lifelong learning that are all around us.
In my opinion, lifelong learning is essential in order to become the best and most complete person possible. It is important for our government to help its citizens continually learn. The success of a democracy depends upon an educated electorate. Unfortunately, our government generally emphasizes only the improvement of education for the young. Lifelong learning and its importance should be emphasized by all. Perhaps, a national goal of lifelong learning for all citizens would be helpful. Having stated that, It’s ultimately up to all of us to make lifelong learning a goal for life.
Is lifelong learning a reasonable goal? Yes!
Most likely, as far as keeping a person’s mind healthy and useful, lifelong learning is not only reasonable, but essential!
What do you think?