Welcome to the New Year, and a whole lot of brrrrr!
Now that everyone’s back from the holidays, I hope many of our students are just about ready to finish turning in their applications to scholarship programs like the APIASF and the Gates Millenium Scholarships I wrote about late last year. These and many other scholarships are helpful for our community to push back against the statistics that left almost 90% of our community without a college degree. We can turn that around, but we have to be committed.
I had several great conversations with the Lao writers and artists recently, talking with them about how do we successfully strategize together to create intersections between higher education, non-profits, local businesses and the arts.
We covered a lot of topics, such as navigating issues of racism, gender and cultural equity, while still observing our family obligations and helping our community.
How do we go beyond just talking about these issues and moving towards actual action.
The monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said “Because you are alive, everything is possible.” Those are wise words, but I also have seen many of us get frustrated because our community has often had one extreme or the other. We can’t decide which road to take because we don’t know where it leads, or else we can see so many positive possibilities we again don’t know which one to choose. But I think it’s always better to have knowledge and to seek it out that to do nothing at all.
One thing I hope we can all resolve to do this year is improve our cultural and organizational attitudes towards learning. We have many different formal and grassroots networks and organizations in our community, but we can all do a lot more to be effective voices and advocates for each other. I prefer we be more constructive and move closer towards creating great learning cohorts. That can be hard for some, putting aside egos and self-interest, but if we’re going to move ahead, that’s what it takes.
There are a lot of things we can do to make ourselves “learner friendly” in our households, in our classrooms and on the job. Three of the most essential things are investing your time, including education in your expression of our culture and values, and creating space for learning, both physically and internally.
One thing I learned along the way is the importance of a good learning style.
I’m a strong proponent for transformational learning which creates culture shift. This is the scariest for some students because it means being open to the possibility that your point of view on the world can be changed, possibly even altering the values you grew up with or that many of your family still holds on to.
But Lao culture has always embraced new paradigms, new models of thinking when presented with good information and possibilities. We can embrace the unusual ideas and incorporate these while still being true to the spirit of our heritage. Plus, there’s a lot we can draw on from our heritage that is effective in the modern world.
Many learning organizations like their employees to spend at least 10% of their time learning and studying new things that they can bring back to their group, because they think that in that process, the entire organization will grow stronger for it. It’s important that everyone shares what they know, however, to be the most effective.
In a standard 8-hour day, what does that translate into? 48 minutes? In your house, when you talk with your kids, can you say you’ve spent an hour talking with them to learn from them and to share with them? In our non-profits and businesses, have we made time for our staff to share and grow?
Including education in the way we express our culture and values has to go beyond just holding scholarship dinners and repeating proverbs, although there is absolutely value in these actions, too. We have to put our money where our mouths are and make it a part of our routine. Families should take joy in learning new things and sharing. To ask questions and seek answers.This was one of my favorite things growing up in Northeast Minneapolis with my family and I hate to see anyone stop seeking knowledge.
In the past, there was a mindset in Laos that asking questions was showing disrespect to the teacher. But that’s not healthy. Both the teacher and the students can, and need to, learn from each other. A teacher can’t be effective if they don’t know what the student’s really absorbing, and students can’t be effective if they don’t challenge their own knowledge and seek clarifications from their teachers.
Feng Shui was a big fad in the 1990s. It was about arranging space properly for the energy flow. In more practical terms, we have to ask: have we set aside space where our students can share with each other and study. Does our house have a space that’s free from distractions? Is it set up so the children (and adults) can stumble upon knowledge or find answers more deliberately? Or is our space designed so it creates chaos and interruptions? If so, you can’t be surprised at the results.
More importantly, are you cultivating the inner space in your thoughts and emotions to learn and challenge what you know, to figure out what you don’t know and what you do want to know? Are you taking time to meditate and reflect, are you making it possible for yourself to appreciate the value of new knowledge, and how to remember the most important of the lessons you want to hold on to?
What are some of your favorite techniques for getting ready to learn? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t?