For the first time in 10 months I have the opportunity to write as a normal native natural human! I can write as I wish with the primary focus of connecting to people, feelings, understanding and discovery without an academic straightjacket on telling me what is and isn’t acceptable (just like using isn’t instead of is not!).
Before complaining too much about my academic experience I want to say that I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to put my life on hold, dedicate my time and effort to academic studies and learning, and to be able to have this observation, especially when it is on scholarship.
Looking back on the past 10 months it resoundingly shows me is that I am just as uninspired by formal education as I have always been since grade 1, when I was 5 years old.
Why isn’t school from day one about walking in the bush, the forest, the beach, or anywhere, learning about the things we discover around us, as humans have done for millennia? By the time we get to secondary school we either love or hate abstract mathematics, literature or physical education – doing them mostly without choice. I would have loved to learn first-aid, how to fix bicycles, how to grow food, had meaningful interaction with my community and coming of age with my peers as our hormones changed at adolescence.
It wasn’t until my third year at university in my undergrad to become a teacher that I saw the inside of a school classroom and got to learn and develop my ‘trade’, as is done if you are a carpenter, hairdresser or farmer from day one. Now, 16 years after my undergraduate, I was back in the mainstream education system, or better put, institution, and the experience is still the same – overly theoretical, lacking context and relevance.
Initially I was very excited and eager for postgrad, to learn about peace and enthralled to be doing it with people from around the world learning from them and their experiences. This was not the case. I was institutionalised into classes, sitting at traditional tables and chairs within 4 walls, with endless readings that didn’t encourage group learning, deep discussions or motivation to learn and contribute to society. How can you not have a long discussion on Syria in a year of course work in a Master’s of Peace Studies?
There were some wonderful exceptions, such as a course on sustainable development and peace using a flipped classroom approach of discovery and topic-based learning, but if I was to learn about peace for 10 months on my own, I would have done a much better job myself, speaking with practitioners, finding interesting research and most of all putting it into context.
I used to always say my education started the day I finished university (my undergrad) because that is when I started travelling and learning from the world that was relevant, had context, was exciting and made me feel lucky to be alive.
Fortunately, I have that opportunity again now as I go out into the world to do field research to contribute to a thesis that is self-created, directed and curated, to learn more about something that I really want to know…
In the two-weeks since starting my field work my eyes and ears have been tuned into anything to do with peace and my topic of a culture of peace. This has included chats with academics to find out the information I want to know, not have to know; meeting with inspiring peace practitioners and programs; and being super observant of anything to do with peace from a cheap Chinese restaurant called the Peace Restaurant to the women I saw today on the streets of Chicago looking pretty unhappy with the world and drawing hard on her cigarette, yet wearing an amazing hat with PEACE embroidered on it and flowers surrounding it (sorry no pic due to her observed mood).
This is what a study of peace means to me, conversations, relevant reading, interviews, surveys, assumptions, reassumptions, being dedicated to questioning, learning more and to find new ways of thinking and doing – none of which has been a part of the classwork or course component of my studies.
I do believe there is a place and space for academic learning, research and rigor but to make it confined to strict protocols and mostly irrelevant parameters seems redundant.
I look forward to the next 5 months of field work and learning as I travel around the world to ask, question, listen, debate and discover a culture of peace and then it will be back to write a final thesis where semi-colons matter and the widths of my margins… but at least I will have had the chance to listen and learn from the world once again and that is daily skin pinching stuff 😊 (putting in a smiley face as I haven’t done that in my academic writing for 10-months!).