12 Aug 2015

I have always loved learning new things. While my children were still at home, I learned how to run sound (for my church), how to buy stocks (for a stock club) and Latin (just for fun). These were topics that I initially knew absolutely nothing about—I was definitely a “Greek to me” novice.

Now, after spending the last fourteen years homeschooling my children and sending them off to college, I am turning my attention to learning math. My last algebra course was in my early college years about forty years ago, and my current plan is to begin at algebra and get through pre-calculus over the summer. This should prepare me for re-learning science, specifically chemistry and physics—my goal for the future.

Okay, I know what you are thinking. It is the same reaction I have received from others when I tell them my summer plans. With scrunched up faces and an obvious wrinkled brow, they respond with “Really?” or “Why?”

Why would a woman of sixty-plus years seek to embark upon such a rigorous mental journey? Isn’t it time for her to retire, relax and take a well-deserved break from school (especially after having homeschooled all those long years)? I have asked myself that same question, and I have come up with three reasons why I continue to seek new things to learn:

1. To shore up my humanity

2. To know God

3. To learn because I love learning

The first reason I am learning a new discipline is to shore up my humanity. I have been one of those folks who spent their academic learning life in the humanities. Although I was very good at algebra as a young student, working math problems still took so very long, and then if you made a mistake, you had to start all over again! I wanted instant results, mainly so that I could spend my time on the good stuff, like literature and history. I used to think, why do I need to recreate the experiments myself? Can’t I just read about your findings?

However, now that I am older, I see that I am only half-made. I know very little about the sciences and math. Maybe my curiosity is stronger, but now I am interested in how and why things work.

The second reason I am learning a new discipline is that I want to know God better. It occurred to me that I would not hesitate to join yet another Bible study (I have been in many) or head off to the next conference (been to a fair share of those, too!) to take the opportunity to learn more about God. However, I was ignoring the God of creation. I have never even given myself the chance to hear Him speak through nature, to see His beauty reflected in what He has made and to try to understand how He made it.

I am just starting out on this math and science journey, so I do not have much to say—yet. But I will take the word of those who have gone before me that God can be gloriously found in rationals and radicals, ionic bonds and stoichiometry.

The third reason that I am learning a new discipline is that I love to learn! I love to learn about things that I know absolutely nothing about. The joy that comes from learning something new and foreign has led me to spend many hours in the process, just for the fun of it.

While I was learning different topics, I was also being exposed to an explanation of the three stages of learning: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. In the first stage, the grammar stage, the student learns the facts, rules, definitions and concrete aspects of a given subject. In the second stage, the dialectic, the student learns how the grammar pieces fit together, the “how and why” of the grammar they learned in the first stage. In the third stage, the rhetoric stage, the student is ready to take what she has learned in the grammar and dialectic stages and produce an artifact, perform an activity or even teach others.

For example, to learn to play a board game, the novice player must first learn the details of the game. What are the names of the pieces? What are the rules? Are there new definitions to be learned? Second, the player must play the game as a dry run to see how it works. At this stage, the player will ask many questions to acquire the best understanding of the game in order to play well. The game may need to be played many times before the player can begin to understand how to play the game well. The final stage occurs when the player has reached a thorough understanding and can finally play at a level where she now begins to employ her own strategies and countermoves to become a worthy opponent.

Looking back, I clearly recognize these three stages in my learning of sound engineering, stocks and Latin, although the learning I did in each of these areas was achieved through different methods. When I learned how to run sound, it was through on-the-job training. Being taught a skill by a mentor was a wonderful experience, although my learning curve was very noticeable, especially when things went wrong. Even if I could do a particular task quite well, if something did go wrong, it was difficult for me to find the cause because I had jumped over the grammar stage and dialectic stages into the rhetoric stage. I had skill, but no real understanding of the technical aspects of audio reproduction.

I learned about the stock market simply by reading everything I could get my hands on. I learned quickly how important the grammar stage was as I continuously returned to definitions to understand the mysterious workings of the stock market. Although learning on your own can be very difficult, the rewards are great. The light-bulb moments are indeed precious when you have struggled yourself to acquire them.

Learning Latin was not difficult, but it required lots of time. I decided to attend an online class because I knew I needed the accountability and because having someone to answer my questions would be beneficial. Another advantage of learning from someone who has experience is that they have knowledge of the difficulties that might be encountered, and they can give good guidance for being successful. In fact, one thing I admired about my Latin instructor was that he never gave the answer when a student did not know it. He simply kept asking questions until the student arrived at the place where she knew something. It would quickly become evident to the student that she lacked the knowledge of the vocabulary or Latin endings, or that she was lacking in understanding of a certain concept. Whether it was back to the basics of grammar or revisiting the logic of Latin syntax, the student knew where she needed to place her efforts to do well the next time.

All in all, I love learning new things, but the best part is learning about learning itself. Either you learn that you can do it yourself or you enjoy learning from others and gleaning from their knowledge (and maybe you even learn how they teach others). My experience has given me the confidence to say that there is nothing that I cannot learn. Consequently, by learning new things, I reap the additional benefit of shoring up my humanity, increasing my knowledge of God and experiencing joy in the process.

In closing, after I accomplish these two goals of learning math and science, then I can wait around for my girls to start producing grandbabies. At which time, I can begin once again to fulfill my three reasons for learning, but in an area I hope I know at least a little bit about.