Education is a lifelong, iterative, process of reinvention, rebirth, and discovery. Education is wild, fun, passionate, and really, really hard. You might end up with dirt on your palms and blood on your knees. As climate change, technology, and globalization race ahead, we're called upon to stay nimble and forward-looking, finding a skillful, ethical path through the continuously shifting dynamics of the world. The rules change every day, but perennial values don't.
As Climate Change and the destruction of the animate Earth continues, we're called upon to take personal responsibility for these issues, to help move larger policy decisions, and to think creatively about solutions. We lobby and call and write poems and take to our neighbors and volunteer for the local watershed nonprofit. It becomes more important than ever to integrate our lives into our home-places and to be in emotional relationship with the natural world: if we don't care about it, we won't take care of it. One of the best ways to do this is to use the arts, in collaboration with the sciences, to inspire deeply felt shifts in personal experiences of nature.
As Technology rapidly expands, we're called upon to not only stay current, but to find what we human animals can do that AIs can't: what creative, unmistakable, uniquely human contributions each of us can make. Personal digital discipline and social etiquette around technology is vital. Reflection and mindfulness help us to connect to our deepest personal meaning motivation, and vision. You use your devices to collaborate with allies on three continents to create a remix of a Bolivian hip-hop artist that supports a women's rights NGO. But then you put away the electronics and swim in the wild, cold ocean. And walk onto shore to bow in gratitude for the Wild Earth.
As Globalization accelerates, we're called upon to be globally aware and responsible, to educate ourselves about the world. As our neighbors grow ever closer via technology, economics and immigration, we need to get to know them, to find common alliances and joys, to celebrate our shared needs and dreams. You share playlists and snap peas with recent immigrants while you're all volunteering at the community garden. You share ancestral recipes and favorite places to walk, and you learn so much in the process. It is ever more important to live a life that is both local AND global.
Three Gates of Education
I've spent my adult life in a circle of mentorship, seeking out others to guide me, and providing that same kind of mentorship to others. I believe strongly in this kind of one-on-one long-term relationship, that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears." As we move into a world where more and more nuts-and-bolts work of education is done through technological means, this kind of personal mentorship and curation of meaning will become increasingly important. How do we help people to find meaning? To do deep work? How do we empower, motivate and galvanize people to make change in the world?To connect to a lineage that grounds them in a larger sense of time and community?
I've had the great good fortune to work closely and for long periods of time with people who are best in the world at what they do, in diverse fields. Whether it's sea-kayaking, music, writing, spirituality, or permaculture, I've always sought out to find people who are not only the best at what they do, but who have codified that field of experience in ways that are expressible. These people are true teachers, who are invested in a particular path, and who use that path as a vehicle to help others. While the topics that my teachers have taught range widely, they share many qualities: connection to a lineage that comes before them and that follows them, daily practice to the point where their instincts are hardwired and trained to see the world in a particular way and to participate in precise ways, a practice of reflection over a sustained period of time that allows them to fully embody concepts and to develop their own private methods, and an investment in others.
In the same way, I've served as a mentor for many students-and some adults- over the past twenty years. Working intensively (for many hours a day for years on end) with individuals during their formative adolescent years. I've often served as the crazy uncle who gives them a different, structured perspective after they start to question and test their given childhood values. I continue to be in close relationship with many of those students for years, still serving as a mentor in some cases. Many of my best friends are former students, who include a whitewater rafting guide, an opera singer in Paris, a filmmaker, the CEO of a Texas microbrewery, a PhD neuroscience candidate, a music teacher in Beijing, a professional banjo player, the COO of one of America's biggest music companies, a naval officer, a hip-hop filmmaker and producer, a published author, several engineers, architects, doctors, and lawyers, and many musicians and teachers,
Teaching and learning is a creative practice, a spiritual practice, an opportunity to dance with new information and feelings to arrive at unexpected places and ideas.
Learning at the highest level does not follow a prescribed course, but follows self-willed (or wild) pathways and makes conceptual leaps. As we move out of the information age into the experience age, learning becomes less about internalizing and articulating information, and more about creating and embodying ideas. Less about creating cogs and more about galvanizing creators. Learning becomes more about seeking to inhabit complexity. Learning becomes Art.
In a world where information is easily accessible and free, and computers/robots/AI's are omnipresent, what is really valued is Human (and non-Human) creativity, empathy, connection, true experience. It's the emotional connection between two people, the call of a Raven, the ability to create something that a computer can't come up with. It asks us to become truly human, which also means being in relationship with other species. It means exploring the full dimensions of our bodies, minds, emotions, and senses, including the non-rational.
Just as I seek to make unique connections between disparate disciplines and ideas, I hope to inspire others to do the same. What can climate scientists learn from dubstep DJs? What can GIS technology teach us about choreography? What is the intersection between wildlife biology and modern dance?
All of this takes daily practice, the willingness to stick with a discipline long enough to achieve enough mastery to be able to do something new. Like a jazz musician, you practice the scales and patterns until they're so integrated into you that you can express them effortlessly: then you're ready to make something completely new, to codify your own rules. In ancient China, you weren't considered educated until you knew the contents of "five cartloads of scrolls." What comes out of your pen, your horn, your nonprofit, your classroom is a lifelong endeavor, the work of a lifetime.
Let's get learning out of the classroom and into the world, into the heart, into the emotions, into the wild. Let's learn in crashing surf and in nightclubs and urban alleys and on organic farms. Let's call on the full range of the human experience in our learning: what it feels like when you're lost and hungry and it's getting dark. What happens to your brain when you are struggling to talk to someone in a language that you're just learning, and your stomach is upset from eating strange food. What your interior feels like when you've been struggling to comprehend a complex creative problem for months, and you finally figure it out at 2AM, all alone on a quiet winter night.
While I love the classroom as much as anyone, and it has an important purpose, I want to use the whole world as a classroom, and make learning a whole-being experience that incorporates emotions, spirit, and psyche, that pushes ethics and physical stamina to the edge in real time so that we learn as human beings, not just as academic students.