Writing, reading, and dialogue

As I was walking from South Dining Hall toward Morris Inn this morning, I spent some time admiring the some of the sculpture and art that adorns the buildings along the way. Here’s one particular scene that caught my attention: a student sitting down to write, or perhaps a young scribe setting out to copy some great work.

It started me thinking about the difference between learning as a personal and somewhat private or autonomous thing, versus learning as a communal and somewhat public or cooperative thing.

There’s a distinction there, and a difference in experience and outcome there, that I don’t think we sufficiently appreciate at the moment. I know I tend to discount the value of “traditional” models of classroom education in favor of personal, private, self-directed learning that technology makes so simple now. But this technological model that conveys information and essentially leaves it to every single student to function as a “receiver” necessarily leaves all sorts of context and nuance out, and in the process a lot that might otherwise be learned simply isn’t. That’s where the older and genuinely traditional sort of learning probably should come into play more; the sort of public, communal, cooperative learning through dialogue and encounter and engagement that more ancient civilizations might recognize as natural.

Somewhere in between that genuinely tradition form and the technological form lies the sort of learning that’s probably most valuable.