The Good Life is the Learning Life

July 17, 2015.dpenberg.0 Likes.0 Comments

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.

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