For Erin

Image by Kevin H. via Flickr

Every book is an adventure, every museum a doorway into other times and places, every zoo an opportunity to see other creatures, with their own unique qualities, in action. I remember being so happy in first grade when the two books from the Scholastic Book Club came: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel and Harry the Dirty Dog. That was 1969 and both those books sit on a bookcase I built in ninth grade shop. I remember being lost in the stories, and over the years being lost in many more stories: King Solomon’s Mines, From the Earth to the Moon, a collection of Edgar Allen Poe stories, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and many more fiction books that, like doors to other dimensions, were paths to different worlds. And then there were the nonfiction books: science books, mainly, about astronomy, volcanoes and earthquakes, dinosaurs, lands of the Bible, and so much more since then. There is a joy in every new book, every new experience, a raging curiosity to know that is only temporarily satisfied but never quenched.

There are some young people today who have that same kind of joy, an ecstasy of filling one’s mind with knowledge. However, many other students were never encouraged by their parents or by their schools to think of learning as a joy. Lost in a world of video games, their imaginations are stimulated but without gaining much knowledge. Excellent hand-eye coordination does not make up for ignorance. Where I teach, at Methodist University, we have a university-wide program, “Get Between the Covers,” that encourages students to read. Some students have discovered the joy of reading through that program. I have taken students on field trips to the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, the premier research center for parapsychology, and they have enjoyed the chance to learn about a field with which they were not previously acquainted. If only those of us who are teachers could communicate the happiness in learning for learning’s sake–learning not only for some utilitarian purpose (although that is useful) but learning only to find adventure and fulfillment in other worlds. Movies are great, but they lack the detail of books, and museums, zoos, and parks can allow students to experience history, biology, and nature in a way that no movie could express.

If only everyone had this joy–something children have with their natural curiosity but is lost too often with adulthood. Students would learn exponentially more material, and they would try to get as much knowledge as they could, even from boring teachers. I had some boring teachers in college myself–I read the textbooks and tried to learn as much as I could–and still enjoyed the learning experience. People of all ages could go out and explore nature, perhaps with a field guide to trees or to wildflowers. People could go to a fossil bed to hunt fossils–some places have free fossil hunts. Parents are overworked these days, but they should still find time to model the love of learning for their children. This does not mean that everyone should be an intellectual–a mechanic may find joy in learning about race car engines and design even if he never plans to work on one. One could be a hobbyist–build models, collect coins or stamps. Everyone has the opportunity to expand his world if only he will make the effort, for at the end of the road lies a city of gold, a treasure in the mind that no one can take away.