After I finished working with some images of my Nigerian paintings, of which the above is an example, I picked an armful of my Silver Queen corn tonight and we ate it with chicken marinated in crushed onions and hot peppers and ginger with a splash of coconut milk and some salt and soy-sauce. Add in fresh tomatoes from the garden. Yes, you New Englanders, it’s mid October and we’re still plucking fat tomatoes from the Brandywine, Japanese Trilete and Celebrity vines! Then let me point out that I next help myself to a slice of fresh apple pie composed of succulent apples from the garden. Granny Smith, Fuji and Pettingill.
Am I gloating? I fear so. What’s on my mind? Education, believe it or not. I am in the midst of these delectations occupied with thinking about my past and present education, Senior Staff School in Nigeria, Calvert Correspondence School, Stratham Memorial and Exeter Public High, Phillips Exeter Academy, Wellesley College. You want motley? I haven’t stopped yet– going on to learn more and more of the world and history and language and all education’s strange and wonderful tendrils. I think of my breathless catch-up while tutoring kids, (a couple English as a Second Language students in the mix,) how I fought above all to learn the algebra I never mastered back in High School so I could make sense of it for the kids eating cookies during my Tuesday Homework Club.
I think of how science became a rote exercise in the hands of the public school. They lost the principle that real science doesn’t have answers in the back of the book. That’s the point of an experiment — it isn’t supposed to have a safe answer. That’s why we repeat the same experiment, tally the results, give the effort every chance to fail. It’s that testing of what we didn’t know before we started that makes it science, a way of group knowledge unlike so much else we teach.
How frustrated an ‘education’ can make you when it ties you down to the prerequisites. Binds you to safety. Let me enter a plea here and now for education with risk. We all need the freedom to fail. We need to stretch, not do a safe course, step by step guided and cushioned against misstep. There should be no answer in the back of the book. You who have kids, let them try what you think they cannot do. Sometimes the benefit reaches beyond what you would have projected they could accomplish, and the impact of a noble failure resonates far further than a simple and predictable success. With each failure the next try means more not less. We forget when we try to package knowledge, that science moves forward by disproving not by proving.