Saturday, November 23, 2013

On Education and Making a Living

Tell me about being truly educated.
What does that mean to you? Is it those childhood years of classrooms and recesses? Is it tax funded, or home-style? Is education a science lab, and a spelling bee, with standardised tests? Is it knowing facts about art and history, and being able to solve mathematical equations? Is it being able to read and write? Is it a 4-year-long dissertation, and graduating with a degree showing paper credentials?
Is it formal or informal, contained or lifelong?
Did education teach how you to live?

Education to me is not a event anymore. It was at one point, being contained by rooms and teachers, tests and papers. It was once a subject like science, art, language or mathematics. Then later it was measured by how rooted those same subjects were in my head, and how well I could recite them. Later, it was a bit more complicated, such as how well I could synthesize facts into logical arguments, or carry out calculated experiments. In some small ways it was about the discovery, and the "world" outside of myself. But on the whole it was mostly about facts, books, and words. I can sum a lot of my learning through expressions of language - discussions, presentations, reports, essays, research projects, and a thesis. Words.

My generation, in my part of the world (Canada) has been told, "get a good education, and get a good job for a good living", and this has been buffeted by the sexy logic that education = skill = fame or fortune.

But I can say, that even after 23 years of formal education... that of classrooms, recesses, degrees, theses and field reports... that I now know specifics about topics and concepts, and about thinking and synthesizing, but very little about how to truly live.

I do sense that besides those skills of writing, reading and comprehension.... And that besides those aspects of my liberal degrees in humanized skills like ethnoecology, conflict resolution and leadership for sustainability... that I have is a broad, vaguely specialized tool kit for finding a job and for making a living to earn money.
I do know that this is also a good thing to know for the kind of society I was brought up in.

But, the point of all those years was never about how to live.

I can not say I know all right from wrong, nor can I say I know how to really face life-problems. From all my education, I know little more about how to survive and thrive, and be happy.

And truly, if left alone in the rainforest, I would most likely wither and die. First from uselessness, then from hunger.

Because Education that teaches *how* to live is place-based, contextual and more often than not, informal. It is rarely from processes and earned degrees from institutions that sat removed of what subject was being studied.

I want to introduce you to Marquez.
He is 45, from Camarones, has 6 children and works at the reserve. Marquez is nearly illiterate: he can barely read or write. And while written words do not mean so much to him, I do believe that he truly knows a lot. More than many could know from books. Marquez is educated.

This man knows how to read the landscape, and therefore knows so much about the jungle that it has taught him how to live. Yesterday, I went on a walk with him to search for wood. He could scan the understory of the forest, look to the sky and know exactly where to find what he was looking for. One prized log he found was hidden and buried under leaves. He simply could tell by the lay of the land that it was there. He knows the plants and how to use them. He can find food or medicine, and provision tools or building materials with just the map in his head, and a machete. And it´s precision machete work, too -- he moves like a ninja! Deftly swinging and hitting at the right places, he jumps gracefully at the right moment. He hears sounds, knows footprints, and can tell you who it is, and where it was going. He saw my barefoot prints and asked me the day after I went, how was the swimming?

His patience and style to teach, how to use the body and mind to live here, coupled with his jokes and humility wrap it all up for me... he knows how to live. He has years of an education I can only dream of. I just wish he was not so embarrassed that he can not read. Reading can be learned fast enough. But to know the landscape, and how to survive and thrive and be happy there... this takes years.

Marquez often sings a song walking on the path. He sings humbly and quietly, not really for the benefit of anyone else: "enseñame, yo no sé, enseñame. Maestro estoy escuchado. enseñame". (Teach me, I do not know. Teach me. Master I am listening. Teach Me).
It's a song similar to one I started singing a couple years ago, after I realized the scope of my formal education had provisioned me with a skill set ill-equipped for knowing what I need to know to live well. I feel humbler now, but my sense of incompetence is justifiably higher. There is just so much I do not know.

In someways I feel I am trying to unlearn aspects of what I have learned in school, because so much hinders me from learning more. For example, I feel burdened by needing books and facts to know. And from this I feel incompetent to learn by watching or listening alone. I may be great with my mind in that I can think and write, but I lack grace and precision in my body. Furthermore, I can find almost anything on the internet, but can hardly find food in the forest, let alone find myself.

I do not know if learning can be described as an evolutionary force that bends us to adapt to new situations, so that we might be apt to continue ourselves as a species. But I do sense there is an eager and genuine capacity inside me to learn. It is like a spark of energy.

Do not get me wrong here: I do not want to say that my education thus far has been bad. In fact I really value what I have learned. But I do want to say that I know it is, on a whole, wholly incomplete. It lacks basically, and I mean beyond sets of information like ABCs and 123s. It lacks something, a primal something, like a stronger capacity internally to navigate life knowledgeably, but also deftly, flexibly, intuitively and gracefully.

May my education continue on, and may we live.

No comments:

Post a Comment