Written as a college paper when I was twenty about learning through experiences.
|Looking back on my first learning experiences, I remember myself as a small child, sitting in a large garden, which sat caddie corner to the large A-frame house I had helped my grandparent's build. In my garden there were vegetables that grew on tall poles. The poles were connected at the top in the shape of a tee-pee. My grandfather, Homer, told me he built that green bean tee pee just for me. Homer said it was my garden and in it he grew all sorts of things especially for me: watermelons, strawberries, cucumbers, corn, carrots and potatoes. He also grew spinach and eggplants and a few other things I knew couldn't possibly be for me. Carrots were my favorite, I loved to look at the frilly green tops and try to guess which tops to pull to get the biggest carrots. In my garden I learned about good dirt and bad dirt, good bugs and bad bugs, good hard work, and the great taste of a strawberry, just off the vine, red and ripe, sweet and dusty tasting.
For a very little girl I knew a lot. My five year old life experience included having learned a little about a lot of things. At the "House Up High" I learned first hand about, bear tracks, craw fish, squirrels, birds, and snakes. And how to tell the difference between sticks and snakes when you walk through the leaves. I learned not to scream when I saw one slither by. I learned how to shuck corn and string beans. I learned to catch fire flies in Mason jars. I learned that crickets sung loud at night and let the birds have their turn in the morning. But the most important thing I learned was that I was part of all that was around me. That the world around me reacted to me. I could affect my environment. I could make my garden grow. I could capture a firefly and let it go, or I could hold it captive and extinguish its glorious light.
On the first day of my formal education I entered the classroom bewildered. Was this little white room with metal chairs and a big plastic wall that pulled back like a drape really kindergarten. What could Mrs. Puffy Hair teach me in a place like this, surely nothing fun or interesting. But here I was and here I would stay for what seemed the rest of my life. I was right, all I remember that I learned from kindergarten was that some kids drink glue and eat crayons, boys can be very mean at the age of six, and whatever you do don't color on the back of your chair!
Lucky for me my education took a turn for the better. My mother pulled me out of that little box with loud rude children, and took me on a train trip through the east to see the snow. This was what learning was all about. The first thing I had to learn was that I would be back, and once I was certain my mother and I would see my father again I was on my way. The world was very friendly to six-year-old little girls who rode trains with their mommies. However, I did learn how important it was not to lose one's mommy. For that was quite a terrible experience. I looked outside the window and saw snow for the very first time. I wanted to stop the train and play in it but when I asked the conductor, he explained why we couldn't. He didn't really make much sense, but he had an important, smart look and I realized begging wouldn't stop the train. It was in the dining car I discovered that black people also have freckles, and I soon learned that staring was considered impolite.
We got off the train in Kentucky. During our stay there I learned I had lots of great aunts and uncles and cousins. I saw gigantic mountains with little houses at the very top. I walked across a swinging bridge, a very high, very swingy bridge. I might have thought twice about it, except one of my new cousins told me she would show me some real Mexican jumping beans that were at her house which you could only get to by walking across that bridge. So I did it, and boy was I proud of myself. However it took some coaxing to get me back across it so we could get back to the car. I was promised some Jumping beans of my own.
While in Kentucky, I went to the coal mines and saw real coal. I collected some and took it home in a baggie. We stayed at an old big white house that belonged to my great aunt. At this big old house I learned how to play horse shoes, and I sat on the stairs of the front porch that my mother sat on when she was just my size. I have a picture of her and all her cousins, when they were children, sitting there on that same porch. One night all the family gathered outside for an old fashioned Hoe Down which consisted of a lot of whooping and hollering and dancing and laughter. I fell asleep on someone's lap listening to old stories about when my mother was a little girl and listening to old stories about all the trouble she and her cousins had gotten into. In Kentucky, I learned a lot of things about my mother I never knew, and I learned something about me too. I was part of a very big, very wonderful, family.
I entered first grade the following year a little behind those crazy kids that I had left in that little white room the year before. Although my letters were a little crooked and some were backward, I was more than ready for the challenges my formal education would set before me. In first grade, when we discussed the seasons, I told the class the story of how I went to Kentucky in February to see snow and experienced the first heat wave the state had seen in decades. In second grade, when we learned about the Colonists and how they grew their food, I talked about my garden and shared my knowledge about the good and bad bugs, and the importance of watering and weeding. In third grade we talked about rivers and oceans and mountains, and the class sat on the edge of their seats as I described my walk across the swinging bridge made of wood and rope, suspended over a canyon I could not see the bottom of.
My life experience was and still is the greatest asset to my formal education. What I learned about the world around me made the pictures in my textbooks come alive. I enjoyed having something to share with my classmates, and I was a very confident student. I must give full credit to the wonderful people in my life who made the whole world my playground, who encouraged my curiosity and assured me I could do anything I put my mind to.
This is not to say that I was an A student. Actually I had great difficulties in mathematics and was an average student. However, I never gave up no matter how hard it got. Today I still struggle with those crazy numbers, but they won't get the best of me. Words have always been like flowers in my mind, with a little love they just bloom. Numbers are like weeds; they are never pretty, and no matter how much I tug and pull at them they never totally make sense or go away. But I have confidence that somewhere in life numbers and I will become friends.
Today college is my life. I pursue truth and knowledge. I am still exploring my world. I am still in the same mode of self discovery that I was when I was five, sitting under my green bean tee-pee, wondering what I would be when I grew up. I still ask myself the same question, what will I be when I grow up? I answer myself now; when I grow up I will be educated.