By Darrel L. Hammon
Lifelong learning is truly an art form.
“Yes, I’m done with school,” said a young bridegroom to me when I asked him about his educational status and future.
My response was spontaneous and swift: “Well, now education really begins because learning is a lifelong process.”
I’m sure he wasn’t ready for me to say that. He was marrying a beautiful young woman who was finishing her baccalaureate degree, had a pretty good job as a chef, and figured his life couldn’t get any better. But I had to plant the seed because metaphorically I am an educational farmer and entrepreneur, one who sees the wide-open stretches of fertile minds of people, young and old, employed and unemployed, and figures everyone should be doing something to enhance his or her capacity to learn and enhance their capabilities and skill sets.
Many years ago, as I was driving home after the wedding, I couldn’t help but think about the 81-year-old GED graduate who haltingly crawled out of her wheelchair, grabbed her walker, and shuffled cautiously across the stage at a Lewis-Clark State College General Educational Development (GED) graduation to receive her GED certificate. Tears swelled up in my eyes as I watched her walk back to her wheelchair and sit down. The crowd gave her a standing ovation.
I also thought about the 78-year-old GED graduate at Eastern Idaho Technical College (EITC) some years ago who said, “I am getting my GED because I know I will be a good example to my grandchildren.” Donned in a traditional cap and gown, she, too, received a standing ovation as she walked across the stage and waved to her family.
Often, I also think about the many “more mature adults” who participate in so many educational and cultural activities around the world but especially in their own communities. They attend plays, participate in arts classes, learn how to play pickleball, and attend lectures about history and a plethora of other topics. Their education may have ended several decades ago, but their learning has never stopped. Instead, they seek opportunities to learn because, as one of them commented, “I love to learn. It stimulates my mind.”
I simply marvel at people who love to learn, no matter what age they are. Simultaneously, I often wondered how we could instill this progressive, albeit simple, philosophy in young people in grade school or junior or senior high school—and others who continuously wonder what they are going to do with their lives. These young people’s repetitive phrases are diametrically opposed to the senior citizens’: “I can’t wait to get out of school. I’m so burned out.”
When I hear this phrase, I want to literally scream: “Don’t say that! Don’t quit the process now! Your foundation has already been laid. Courage, and on to the victory.” After I calm down, I find solace in the fact that they will go on. I have watched them do this. Many of them just need to experience the jolt of menial labor or no job at all to open their eyes to learning and the prospects of an enhanced life and maybe earning some real money along the way.
Over the years, I often used Jaime Escalante’s phrase, “Free, free, free, knowledge; bring your own containers.” Life is all about that phrase. Knowledge oozes out of every corner and crack of our lives and in places we do not expect. Often it just seeps by us or hangs from luscious baskets within our reach, but, unfortunately, we do not take advantage of the proliferation of knowledge. Or we fail to pack around our own containers, our buckets. Or worse, just the bottoms of our buckets are covered, and we say, “I’ve got all the knowledge I want or need.”
Sometimes our buckets are like the old wire baskets I used to pick potatoes (a.k.a. “spuds”) in Eastern Idaho. They did not fill up by themselves. In order to pick a sack full of hardy Russets, my partner—most of the time my brother—and I had to bend over our baskets and reach for the potatoes. After dumping our full baskets in the gunny sack, we set the sack in the furrow between us and began again. Then, the truck would come by and take the sack to the spud cellar where they stored them until they were ready to sell.
Our gathering of knowledge parallels spud picking. It takes a bit of effort to fill our buckets. We may have to bend our backs, stretch our minds, work midst wind and snowstorms, the taunting of others, and maybe even make a few sacrifices. But in the end, it’s all worth it. Like spuds in the cellar, knowledge is stored easily in our minds until we need to use it. But we also need to couple it with everyday experiences so we can make the appropriate connections.
Learning is an investment, one that yields high benefits and interest. Because of the many ongoing and dynamic changes in the world and the workplace, you may need to withdraw these resources at any given time.
Invest now and often and keep your mind and bank account growing.
Darrel L. Hammon has been dabbling in writing in a variety of genres since his college days, having published poetry, academic and personal articles/essays, a book titled Completing Graduate School Long Distance (Sage Publications), and a picture book, The Adventures of Bob the Bullfrog: Christmas Beneath a Frozen Lake (Outskirts Press). He also was the editor of the Journal of Adult Education (Mountain Plains Adult Education Association). Most of his essay/article writing has focused on topics about growing up, leadership, self-awareness, motivation, marriage/dating, and educational topics. Some of these articles/essays are in Spanish because Darrel is bilingual in Spanish/English, having lived in Chile, Dominican Republic, and southern California, and having worked with Latino youth and families all of his professional life in higher education. He has two blogs, one for personal writing at http://www.darrelhammon.blogspot.com/ and one for his consulting/life coaching business (http://www.hammonconsults.blogspot.com/). You can listen to a poem titled “Sprucing Up” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihTmuOUIAEI.