Learning from experience

Schoneker, Jake

We are all here at Villanova to learn, or so I’m told. But what is learning without discovery? Since we were young we have been taught that with hard work and discipline we can find success. Our success depends upon getting grades – and this is what we’re trained to do. We program our internal calculators to spit out a given fact or formula on the final exam; to write powerful, effective papers on things we know nothing about; and to regurgitate the knowledge we are shown in class in a variety of ways – all in order to prove that we’ve learned something.

This kind of fleeting, forced wisdom does little to challenge us creatively or to foster individual growth. Rather, our conventional education merely teaches us to accept a role – our comfortable, practical identity – and trains us to be the best specialists that we can be. But is the practice of a profession the sign of a fulfilled life? Can we call an education system effective if it teaches us only to be content within the walls of what we know? How can we learn if we are led by the hand?

Our world hurtles toward a drastic and fearful future. We wage war to power our consumption, and we pollute the earth with our waste and our blind ambition. Now, more than ever, we need young minds to think critically and objectively about the issues facing our people. We need independent men and women who will not be contented with a material and meaningless life, but who will stand up in the face of those who would take our freedom and our future from us.

We are afraid of change; we are afraid of living because we have been taught all our lives to be safe. A conventional education may create marketable professionals – ones who can perform tasks without complaint or question – but it does little to inspire innovation. Only by experiencing the world firsthand can we grow into global citizens of the information age. Our society and our science are transforming before our eyes, and as students we must also evolve.

In a dynamic and increasingly connected world, it will be the innovative thinkers Рthose who learn, to develop not a resum̬, but the mind Рwho will be able to effectively respond to the compounding problems that we face in the future. This is why we need to refocus the way we think about education and learning, why we must take it upon ourselves to pursue self-knowledge and knowledge of the world outside the confines of our classrooms.

There are a thousand ways you might pursue an experiential education. You may join a service trip on fall break or create lasting friendships with inner-city kids through the Bigs and Littles program. You could get involved with Special Olympics or the Multicultural Students League – anything, so long as you care about it, so long as it moves you to act. Find an internship in an interesting field. Or take the train to the city, not with anywhere to go, but with the express purpose of meeting someone new and different. Challenge yourself and above all else, travel. Set sail for uncharted waters, and you will find that freedom is only a matter of motion.

Studying abroad is a unique experience that you will never, ever forget. Unlike all those algorithms and historical figures that will become blurry to you in time, the people you meet and the encounters you create overseas will never fade. No amount of reading or discussion can prepare you for the feeling of being there, being real, being independent in a wonderful and foreign land.

And you may find that after experiencing the world, after learning with your own eyes and your own mind, that you might just learn a thing or two about yourself in the process. The long path to self-discovery lies beyond our campus walls.

Jake Schoneker is a senior political science and humanities double major from Lansdale, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].