More Questions Than Answers This Time…

This is a more introspective post than I’d originally intended or even imagined. I guess even an orangutan gets stumped sometimes.

You see, the New York Times had an interesting article about the changing landscape of museums and libraries evolving into more interactive spaces. With this being the buzzwords of the day, it was strange (albeit refreshing) to take a different stance on the matter. In it, Judith Dobrzynski raises a voice of concern that with the preoccupation of “hands on,” “participation,” and “experiences” that these venues are losing not only their uniqueness, but a certain quality of reflection once though inherent with them.

Now this is very interesting thought to me, because I value going to an art museum to soak up the beauty (even the majesty) of works that have outlived ages. It is like reaching back into history itself and seeing a piece of, if not your soul, then someone else’s. It is a very reverent, almost sacred experience at times to me. Likewise I have loved the hushed atmosphere of wandering through a museum and quietly reading each of the plaques in turn, taking that information to become a part of myself. And libraries… there is a beauty in silence sometimes, especially in such a loud world, it can become one of the most precious of commodities that I yearn for earnestly.

Yet in the very same breath, there is no denying the appeal of learning and interacting in a nitty-gritty, get down in the dirt and your hands dirty kind of way. And with so many options available, one almost has to wonder – what choice do these places have? People want it, so it seems to be “adapt or die” mentality. The article even mentions the Las Vegas Art Museum, though, while not officially closed, is shut down with a very limited collection offered in a different venue out on a rotating basis. Why go to a museum when you have the strip in flashing neon lights everywhere? Can these places really bow to the desires (even needs) of a seemingly dwindling demographic that cherishes reflection over boisterous interaction? Is it possible to marry these two ideas together somehow?

I am hardcore in love with the idea of tactile, sensory learning and becoming enmeshed in the world through interactive exploration, so it is strange for me to feel reservations at the potential loss of something I myself treasure. It really does make me wonder if they can somehow exist harmoniously. Can there be the renowned lecturer alongside the grassroots conversation forums? Can there be quiet in tandem with screaming children in an interactive art exhibit? I have to believe there is a balance that can be struck so that the best of both worlds can be achieved. Because I don’t believe these places are losing their identity, but rather adapting to it. But those qualities are special and shouldn’t be thrown aside because there is something new and shiny in front of us right now. It is a perplexing problem, but one that deserves careful consideration and reflection. So, to the library, then? Oh, wait…

Gandalf is an Old Person – And He Can Kick Your Trash

I believe we are missing out in dismissing the “apprentice model” as outdated and old fashioned. We have moved on! We have made progress! Right? But let’s examine it a little more closely. Under an apprentice model, a single (or very small number) was taken under the wing of a master. They too would have been trained by a previous master and back and back and so on. In her/him is contained the collected knowledge of all those previous minds. A culmination, if you will. (Now, I do understand this is under the most romantic or idyllic ideologies here. The “master’s” knowledge in question is very much dependent on their own application and dedication to their tutelage and desire to improve upon it. But, for the sake of this argument, we are going to assume they are a good master, even if they are not the best, per say). Now, under this model, they are trying to pass on their legacy, or at the very least, their knowledge so that it is not lost. A personal investment in a dedicated subject should not be underestimated. Secondly, another vastly important point is the number. Often, a master would take an apprentice or sometimes a small group, but never more than they felt they could personally handle. This allowed for focused, personalized attention where they could adapt to a student’s specific learning style and accelerate their growth. Despite the naysayers against homeschooling, there can be little refuted proof to the accelerated education the best of those environments provide.

I am also becoming a strong believer in cross-generational teaching. We have segmented society into so many pigeon-holed factions, it is no wonder there is a disconnect with so many different groups. The old go in a specific place, the working class in another. Even elementary school is broken up into highly specific segments: five-year-olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds…

Perhaps this is just a pipedream, but I love the idea where we can learn from “experts” that exist around us, even today. And they in turn would feel more engaged with the world and feel useful, needed, and valued. I am the youngest person at my library, but I love learning and becoming friends with my co-workers who could easily be my mom or grandma age-wise. I’ve gone with my 60 something year old boss to a David Archuletta concert. There is just so much to learn, and so many connections to be had that are being lost and squandered because we aren’t looking for them.




Self-Driven Learning is Self Perpetuating

I have to say I am quite liking our newest selection, The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelly and Jonathan Littman. In it, I was especially drawn to what they refer to as the Cross-Pollinator which is someone who can make the “unexpected juxtaposition” of unrelated ideas, at least at first glance, and put them together in a new way. This was similarly called the synthesizer from another class I took a few semesters back.

I honestly had no idea the computer keyboard came into being because a piano. And it was one person translated this quirky idea from its genesis to something that is absolutely natural for us now. That is the cool thing about synthesizing/cross pollinating. It feels as though you can feel your mind enlarging, being stretched and reshaped. I love it because it is one of those rare times you become aware of your own process of thinking. I guess that is what the internet/world has come to say as having your “mind blown”—it is the active connection and rapid synthesis of new ideas in an unforeseen manner only a moment ago.

I am very drawn to this “persona,” perhaps because it resonates with me on a personal level. I love to learn, and I have very wide and varied interests. “Eclectic” is a word I use to describe myself frequently. There have been many a time that I have found myself in a unforeseen tab explosion on my computer from burying myself in links upon links upon links in Wikipedia (or tv tropes. Let’s be honest). It is like Inception on steroids. I once found myself studying something fascinating about polar bears (did you know their skin is in fact black and that their hairs are hollow—and that is how they stay warm and get their white color?) and suddenly found myself learning about coconuts and what makes a young or mature coconut. Only the thorough trail of link breadcrumbs showed me how on earth I came to this new place.

I believe the world is made of connections, and that everything is in fact, connected. I think too often we try and “pigeon hole” learning. It is just so easy. First we study Handwriting in the morning, then at 10:00 we have Social Studies, followed by Math, then Lunch, and Reading, then Art. Tuesdays and Thursdays are Science, Wednesday is Music, and Friday is Gym. (This is based of off a real schedule I had in Elementary school. While not exact in its placement, the idea is very nearly a duplicate of the model I learned through nearly all of my childhood and teenage education). It’s so linear, so… formulaic. So sterile.

But there is math in art


And in nature



And math in cooking. And science in cooking (chemistry in action, anyone?).


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Not to mention art

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And this is just one infinitesimally small example. It goes in all directions and across all subjects. The key is finding the connections that don’t seem obvious and making them part of the integrated whole. Where is the art in math? Where is social history or (I should really be saying “and” here) music in botany? I mentioned it in my last post that even in history I didn’t realize how integrated everything was until I was shown those connections in a very remarkable college class. Because it isn’t just a linear “cause and effect” formula that I had been taught all my life, but rather a hive or spider’s web where one thread resonates and affects nearly all the others in constant motion. The key thing is to find a way to teach (or learn) that so that a personal connection is made and your/their own learning is ignited and becomes self-driven. Because I know by far the best and deepest learning has come for me when I had a personal investment in its discovery. That is the stuff that lasts and is self-perpetuating.