Former President Bill Clinton answers the question “What is the most important thing you have learned?” His response is insightful and makes connections between the concepts presented in my previous post regarding “learning to learn.” If we have learned the skills necessary to inquire and attain knowledge, then we can continue to hone and adapt these skills throughout our lifetime.
Mr. Clinton related a story that he had recently had the desire to understand particle physics. Even though historically, individuals credited with some of the greatest scientific findings did so in their younger years, Clinton explained that we now know that a properly functioning human brain, regardless of its age, still has the ability to create new neuron connections and networks. The human brain has the ability to continually grow and develop and learn. Like our universe, it is seemingly ever-expanding, right up to our death. Mr. Clinton has committed his own learning to particle physics before his life ends.
I find myself pondering the idea that if culturally, we truly supported the concept of lifelong learning for all adults, and expanded our understanding of retirement, what would be possible. What if humans with lifetimes worth of experience were tasked with learning new concepts? What if their life experiences were seen for their true value and they were given opportunities to expand their knowledge into new and creative fields and endeavors. Maybe the cure for cancer doesn’t come from a 30 year-old research doctor, but a 58 year-old retired science teacher who has been given an opportunity to work in a research lab and learn another side of the business. There are many professions whose training and skill sets, developed over careers, are easily adapted and perfectly so, for other fields of interest. What kinds of problems might a true belief and support in lifelong learning solve?
We operate within a man-made system, which inherently means it is flawed. I believe that our saving grace is our ability to continually adapt and improve. And while many of our solutions beget new problems, creativity is most certainly the answer to the human condition. I like thinking about what a reinvigorated perception of lifelong learning could really mean. Could it lead to a completely new societal structure, one in which education doesn’t end for the masses at the age of 21? Could it lead to new educational systems, dedicated to reaching learners at all ages, with a structure that could put people in deliberate learning situations at various stages of their lives? What might a post graduate program for 50 year olds look like? Not a program that was a residence for a small handful of adult learners, but a program designed specifically for people of a specific ages, varying in subject matter determined by an individual’s life experience.
I think the common American perception of “Lifelong Learning” envisions retirees learning to use the internet or taking up a modeling or gardening hobby. Not to say these are not valuable activities, but what if our common perceptions and expectations were to change. Imagine the possibilities. Some individuals make these decisions of their own accord, but what if there were resources in place to encourage people to redirect their learning at various phases of their lives?
Bill Clinton makes an excellent point and demonstrates that an individual of his stature, privy to some of the greatest minds, concepts, resources, and technologies of his times, states that the most important lesson is that of lifelong learning. This is certainly a perspective of considerable experience and wisdom. By Kris Denton