Beyond the Hollow

This is an interesting quote by E.L. Konigsburg, where it suggests learning should involve a “swelling” of the new knowledge gained, and engage the senses and human emotion, versus simply accumulating facts without taking time to seek meaning and understanding. Education should aim to make applicable connections with learners and with the world around those learners. However, from what I’ve observed in my work with schools, students navigating today’s K-12 education have little opportunity or permission to apply their senses and emotion; and I’m not sure how much time there is for the “swelling” of what is learned.

Students of today seem like they are picking apples instead of taking away “sticky” knowledge. In classroom after classroom I’ve observed and talked to students who have learned to put dense, heavy content circles into buckets—picking and collecting facts as they would apples one by one, without thought or intention (and to continue with the metaphor), without noticing color or bruises, putting those meaningless objects into the bucket without question, day after day, apple after apple. When I talk to students they often describe learning as routine and tedious versus surprising or interesting. I’ve talked to many teachers, who agree.

In my field of arts education, where through collaborative educational partnerships we engage the creative process all throughout learning, we approach teaching and learning differently. As an artist and educator, I work with other artists and educators who imagine and work to ensure what we are practicing in each respective classroom allows room for more depth and exploration—where if students need to pick apples, they will at least have opportunities to hold those apples in their hands and look at themreally look at them. Now imagine learning spaces where students might then examine that fruit from top to bottom, press on that apple’s skin, soft or firm, throw it into the air to see how fast it falls, or take a bite, sour or sweet.

honey crisp apples

“I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.” –E.L. Konigsburg

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Categories: Education, Inspiration, Writing

2 Comments on “Beyond the Hollow”

  1. December 6, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    I can ABSOLUTELY relate to this quote, and this post! When you learn something neat in one of your areas of interest, what do you feel? Personally, the first impulse that strikes me is one that says “Really? Let’s explore that!”. I get this a lot in my science classes– yes, I’m quite the science buff– when we learn trends and processes that explain some of the little things in life which we have come to accept as common and everyday occurrences.

    For example, why do I always feel really cold when I step out of the shower? The day I discovered the cause (temperature is, in fact, a measurement of the aver– I suppose I’ll spare the details…) was EXCITING! I was uncovering how the world works, and I felt pretty darn enlightened! Only last night, I saw a nifty little video explaining how to open a can with no can opener, or knife, or anything. WHAT? I know, right? How is that even a thing?! It was pretty simple, and of course, what was my first reaction? LET’S GO TRY IT! You know when you’ve learned something interesting. You can FEEL it!

    Then there are some of the more tedious things. Indeed, there are some times when it really feels like we’ve all got baskets, and are standing in front of a machine which hurls fruit. “Collect as many pieces of fruit as possible” are the instructions. We don’t need to know whether we have a basket of pomes, berries, or perhaps a foreign variation of plantains. We don’t need to see how deep the skin is, how many seeds it has, or compare patterns of color. We simply need to make sure we catch as much fruit as possible. Some of the more industrious students might slice a fruit into several bits; now they have SEVERAL “pieces of fruit”! But beyond that, there’s not much more to do. Eventually, those pieces of fruit are going to turn and rot away, and if our heads have been focused on nothing but gathering fruit, what are we left with? We can look at the dry, wrinkled, darkened remains and remember that there used to be a piece of fruit in its place, but not much further.

    I don’t quite remember what I wanted to say when I started writing… I started thinking about card tricks that I learned and immediately wanted to test and try, and then I had fun with the fruit metaphor… Ah well!

    • December 6, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

      Hi Collin. You are reading, writing outside of the baskets, looking, searching for those bits of interestingness and taking a long, deep look at the spectacle, the surprise. How wonderful to have moments to do such things as learn and make meaning of even the simple things like the chill in the air after a shower or card tricks. It all can be interesting if you want it to be. How wonderful to find you here at life and write. Please stop back soon and let’s keep talking…

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