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Sometimes when you fall, you fly.

I’ve always profited from taking risks with my education. Not to say that my most insightful papers were written in a batting cage, or that I had a moment of enlightenment whilst reading poetry on a 10 story ledge, but my experience has been that when you ignore that little doubtful voice in the back of your mind and jump in before testing the water, you can circumvent comfort and open yourself to experiences that many people deprive themselves of due to irrational caution. Don’t do this. The water is fine. An example. I was a transplant my sophomore year of college at UNH. I found myself with two years of college level learning under my belt, but was denied a higher level seminar-style class in anthropology that was reserved for juniors and seniors. I had heard that it was a really good class… So I went anyway. This was an advanced class in anthropological theory and we spent a lot of time pouring over very old texts written in the most dense language that one can imagine this side of a legal notice of foreclosure. But the other students were “on” the moment they walked in to the class

Opportunities

To me, learning is an active experience. Something you do that teaches you a brand new life lesson. It’s extremely hard to learn without actually having a reason why or how. That reason came to me many years ago, and I got 50 bucks out of the blue! Who wouldn’t want that? There I am, sitting in class one day in seventh grade when the teacher announces, “We have a poster making contest with a reward of a hundred dollars; you kids should all make one.” So the day before it was due, I went home and make the crappiest poster, ever, in less than five minutes. So that’s how I turned it in. I submitted it knowing how terrible I did, and continued on with my day. I didn’t feel the best about the effort I put into it, but at least I tried. A week later to my complete surprise they announced that I had won 2nd place! 2nd place meant I won a fifty dollar gift card to Target. If everyone had had the same thoughts that I did, “I won’t win, there’s some perfectionist out there that is going to win just like they win everything”

Learning Through Chewing

I was running late, once again, to a group therapy session in a tall glass office building near Georgetown in the District of Columbia, and, once again, I hadn’t eaten beforehand. I hopped off my bike, locked it up and hurried through the tall glass doors and up the elevator. I punched in the door code and walked through the empty lobby, knocking on the closed door at the end of the hall. Everyone else was already in conversation as I slipped into my seat, listening closely for clues to what they had been talking about. As I did I pulled out a container of leftovers and started chowing down. There were seven of us in the room, including the therapist, ranging vastly in ages between mid-twenties to over sixty. All of us were there because we were struggling with intimacy issues, and every week we’d sit in a circle, on my therapist’s soft ash colored couches, and talk about our lives and relationships. I started group therapy two years ago because I never knew where I stood with the people closest to me in my life. Over the course of two years, in these weekly sessions, I’d gotten a

The Gig

`“Hey guys! Are you going to our awesome gig tonight? We are gonna rock your socks off!” exclaimed my good friend Cameron. Apparently he and Erek were in a “hard core” band that we just HAD to see. So, of course, whether it was out of curiosity or just to humor ourselves, my friends and I decided to go. Though we knew little about the place, we agreed to meet at the Great Mall of the Great Planes at around 7, when the gig supposedly began. Being 15 and surrounded by a bunch of 16 year old friends, I asked if anyone could give me a lift to the extravagant occasion. Luckily, Kevin agreed to take me. Arriving at my house around 6:30, I hopped into Kevin’s car, excited for the night ahead of me. I shut the door behind me, closing off the cool air outside. “Soooo…Where the hell is this place anyways?” Though I should have foreseen it, Kevin, the one who was supposed to be driving us there, had no idea where the Great Mall was and was too damn lazy to look it up. He also did not have a GPS. It was just me, him,

Learning to Speak

Learning is an everyday skill in which a person receives knowledge about a new object, word or maybe an activity. Most people learn through experience of what their stories tell. Some people learn from other people experiences or stories. I too, like to learn things through things I’ve experienced. I like to observe people’s actions, to get an idea on how to do certain things, and I am a hand on learner also. The most important thing I’ve learned is to stop being so timid, and I had to be able to speak publicly and socially. I was being taught this in school and in my home; it took at least nine years to open up. This is important to me because I never said a word coming up in school, all the way from pre-school to the 7th grade. I would speak at home and around family, but all the talking and eye contact tend to turn off at school or around my teachers and other students from school. I’m still not sure WHY I was so quiet at school. Maybe I was nervous or maybe I afraid; it could have been that I wasn’t use to talking to

Karate and the Big Chicken

At the age of eight, my son Josh took a karate class at the neighborhood community center with kids and adults of all levels. I would watch the tail end of the class when I picked him up, thinking, “I could do that.” One day, the instructor sat down beside me and asked me when I was going to join the class, so I took the leap. After a year of weekly practice I finally moved up to the next level, where we were expected to learn to spar. Josh, like all the other boys, adored sparring. I, on the other hand, was dreading it. But learning to fight back was the whole point of self-defense, wasn’t it? As the instructor explained how to “X” the straps of the protective chest pad in the back, I joked nervously “I’d like to ‘exit’ over there,” pointing toward the door. He assigned a young man about my height and weight to spar with me. With speed and precision, my sparring partner advanced toward me, ready to punch. Did I draw on my many months of drills to expertly block his strike, pivot away from the punch or counter with a kick? No,

Swimming by YouTube

It started innocently enough. An email from a friend suggesting that we do a super-short-distance all-women triathlon near where I live. Well, that’s easy! No, I didn’t know how to swim (not-drowning was about as far as I could go), I didn’t own a bike (other than the broken-down oversize man’s bike under the house that I’d rescued from a millionaire boss in New York City who VERY briefly wanted to be Lance Armstrong), and I only ran when chased…or maybe on fire. Maybe. But then it nagged at me. I was approaching my mid-40′s, and this would be a perfect opportunity to do something big. My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I wanted to–actually, it still never occurs to me that I can’t. And really, I should probably learn how to swim. Actually, I should already know. I grew up in Florida, after all. But I was the kid who always got dunked or thrown in the pool. Water was not fun for me. And putting my face in the water? Forget it. So the days and weeks went by while I debated with myself, and the triathlon filled up except for a few ridiculously

It’s about intellectual AND vocational skills

I have always been a person who views learning as essentially a practical thing. You take action, you practice in activities and immerse yourself in projects, taking risks and as such making a great many mistakes that you end up learning and growing from. Where does all this learning take a person? Well for one, hopefully we become better people as a result. More confident, more self-aware, more mature, wiser, more capable of living and contributing and continuing to learn and grow. In another sense, by practicing things our hope is that we become better and better at them with time. Ideally, this continues until one day we are adept enough at using our hands or bodies or minds, creating or building or assisting or leading or discovering, that the talents and skills we have developed over the years are strong enough to devote to a career and to making our own little corner of the world a better place. Ideally also, through authentic living both in and out of the classroom, we learn those practical skills that it takes to survive independently in the modern world, while also knowing when and how to turn to others for assistance and

The students had a real audience, a real purpose and a real voice.

Journalism was the most authentic writing experience my students every enjoyed and the best teaching I have ever done. My journalism students at Title One, urban schools in Southern California were almost all the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. We always had at least three different primary languages on staff; one year we had seven, yet they regularly won prizes for quality of their paper. The students had a real audience, a real purpose and a real voice. They came into my classroom before 7 a.m. for a zero period class. They worked on the paper after school and on Saturdays. Sometimes I forced them out at 9 p.m. I taught them about research and writing, and about the First Amendment and the responsibilities of the press, but they lived those principles while they made editorial decisions, almost always mature and responsible decisions. My demure young business manager, the child of an elderly refugee, told me one morning that her father had pointed to a Vietnamese woman digging for recyclables at curb as he drove her through the winter darkness. “See her. She is why I want you to study journalism. You must tell her story.” My first principals,

“I am not going to teach you any differently!”

Perhaps the most significant, life-determining learning experience happened in the eleventh grade in Mrs. Eli’s class in my West Texas hometown high school named San Angelo Central High School. I remember the first day of the school year in her class. At first–in the brief moments before class was to start–it seemed like any other eleventh-grade class. That is, pretty normal. Then Mrs. Eli came stomping into the classroom angrily, did a quick visual survey, and commented that we were not the class of students that she had expected. “I always teach honors!” she exclaimed. She then stomped back out of the classroom while mumbling something loudly about having to leave in order to go and talk to the principal about straightening this matter out. Perhaps we were not supposed to take her attitude toward us personally since the “problem” was that there was a bureaucratic mix up. Regardless, the chill in the air that she left behind was palpable. Humiliated, we all gazed at each other through the corners of our eyes and we shrunk in our chairs. I attended a large, comprehensive high school and so I knew only a handful of the students in the class. It

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