Heart-Centred Learning

I was taken aback the other day, when a new acquaintance with an academic background said dismissively, “It might be interesting to hear from an undergrad perspective.” Careful there.

There it was all over again, the all-too familiar “us against them” educational perspective, the externally imposed rigidity of a hierarchical system. From my artist parents I inherited a fierce belief in self-directed learning. It was vital, they argued, that I discover how to learn. Once I had these skills, they knew, everything else would fall into place. Nothing in the following years of wide-ranging study and mastery has ever made me think that they were wrong. While it is true that occasional encounters with outstanding, memorable teachers have helped me cut to the essential more swiftly, I am still focused on teaching myself.

It may be obvious that compulsory schooling, based on limiting philosophies was disastrous for me. It seemed to me that my innate impulses to learn were being forced into narrow moulds, based on a philosophy that saw children as machines. How I treasured the scant hours of home life when I lived intently with my forest surroundings, learning symbiosis from the inside out. “Only connect”, my father’s mantra, received from E.M. Forster, was alive for me as I browsed through catholic bookshelves, devouring exactly what was right for me at the right time. I played at shaping and patterning coils of clay, glorying in diversity, until I could show you 30 different kinds of vessel. And, oh, yes, essential life is indeed all about play, a passionate, committed style of play which I find tragically missing from the structured lives of children now.

When I wanted to learn to play the piano, I listened intently to the fine performers on the radio, and crept through the pieces that interested me, being drawn back over and over, until I could play them creditably. When, later, I decided to learn to use a loom, I gathered and repatterned the scant available information and revised until I found a method that secured the tension and flow necessary to create interlacements with this marvelous mechanical aid.

What I would have liked to say to the academic was that I see teaching/learning as a joyous, inspired collaboration between teacher and largely self-directed pupil, and perhaps a broader association of fellow students. Sparingly, the teacher prompts, sows seeds, heartens, yes, “draws out” in the traditional Latin sense of the definition of education.

About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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