What is learning? The intersection of work and play

I have reached a point in my blog writing in which I don’t know where it’s going anymore. This is a great frustration at this point, and I do mean it is both great and a frustration. I have only been doing this for a few weeks, but my initial, spontaneous work has felt a bit directionless. At first the spontaneous ideas came somewhat quickly, but now that energy is waning. I guess that means I’m exactly where I need to be.

I named my blog The Lost Teacher, because I think true learning is about getting lost and finding your way, whether that is with the support of someone else or a completely independent journey. In this blogging work, I have felt both accompanied and alone at times – independently focused on a chosen idea, while knowing that a community of educators are trying to accomplish the same task.

Over the next few blogs, I plan to get more lost. I am going to explore the idea of learning (and teaching) as a journey, a game, or maybe even something entirely different. I also want to highlight a few authors who have helped me get lost and then find my way again.

One of my professors said that it is critical to consider the analogies people use when they speak of education. If they speak of a factory, they adhere to the traditional approach of the teacher dumping information into the empty vessel child on a type of assembly line of learning. The comparison to a garden evokes the image of teacher as cultivating the growth of children, providing the basic needs, looking over them. All analogies have flaws, of course, but the analogies we choose say a lot about us as educators and what we believe about children.

Just recently, I saw a video using Alan Watts’s writing, Life is not a journey?

The existence, the physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. That is to say, it doesn’t have some destination that it ought to arrive at.

But that it is best understood by the analogy with music. Because music, as an art form is essentially playful. We say, “You play the piano” You don’t work the piano.

He then describes the assembly line, work-like nature of our current education system, driving students along to the next step without taking time to appreciate the present. He closes with:

We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage which had a serious purpose at the end and the thing was to get to that end. Success or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.

But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and we were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.

I don’t love Watts’s use of the term journey here, because I don’t think all journeys have a predetermined destination, but his point is meaningful none the less. Our choices as teachers determine whether our students work or play. Our choices determine whether students feel like school is work or play.

We all love the excitement that kindergarteners enter school with. Before they arrive at school, they view it as play; learning is playful. I know that the idea that we drive the sense of play from children as they go through school is nothing new. As I have progressed as a teacher, however, the most valuable teaching and learning accomplished in my classroom have always felt like play, even when it is work. I think that true learning is the intersection of work and play. If the goal of teaching is to enhance learning, than our goal should be to create that intersection of work and play every day.

My goal is to explore the idea of lost learning. Not lost in the sense that you are dropped in the middle of a jungle and have no clue where to go. But lost in the sense that you’ve seen something similar before, you’ve been near this place before, and with a little work and exploration, you will not only find your way out, but also discover amazing things along the way.

I invite you to join in on the journey. Add comments, share thoughts, let me know if my ideas are way off track, if I’m too lost. I don’t mind being lost on my own, but I’d love to have some company along the way.



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