The good life, according to Lucy Sprague Mitchell the heiress of progressive education, founder of Bank Street College, is the learning life. I am often drawn to the visual manifestation of this idea, Rodin’s statue, which I developed a specific relationship with one winter at a leadership fellowship at Columbia.
What is striking about the sculpture is the anatomy of reflectiveness, a muscular body bent over in thought with every sinew and muscle engaged. It is the image of a human in dialogue with themselves and the world: pondering, questioning, doubting, wondering, and deciding. It is a person thinking and being in the most vital ways; mindful and reflective. Each time I passed it, despite the wintry wind of the Hudson, the same inner voice of Lucy Sprague Mitchell invoked“The good life is the learning life.”
And why not? To construct a life from ideals. To live life driven by intellectual and emotional appetite: Life long learning and life long yearning, for growth and experience. The good life and the learning life are one and the same: the educated person as a perpetually evolving person. Isn’t this what most parents want for their children? Isn’t that what we really mean when we utter continuous learning? A life of continuous seeking and doing and understanding, which comes not from ease or entitlement, but emotional and intellectual effort and discipline?
The learning life isn’t a quiet life. It is cosmopolitan and global. Multicultural and not monolingual. The learning life is the ethical life, a daring and committed one. It contains hope and care and curiosity. It composes life with dignity and humility, like a Woody Guthrie ballad, seeking what is noble in all living things. It is what I hope every child in the world can experience—- the sustainable energy of seeking knowledge as a way to make life worth living.