If lifelong learning is learning across a life span, then Ronald Barnett notes, life-wide learning is learning in different places simultaneously. “It is learning across an individual’s lifeworld at any moment in time.” University life, therefore has been characterized “as ‘the gift of an interval.’ It was a time out, a spacious space into which the student stepped…”
I enjoyed University life, but since that gift of an interval ended, it appears I have joined the throng whom Barnett calls “nomadic learners” – who “decide their own map…always wandering in and across learning spaces; and always preparing for new learning voyages.”
I was intrigued recently by how Professor Norman Jackson’s picks up the theme of life-wide learning in higher education. His thesis was “higher education could and should play a more significant part in facilitating and supporting the fundamental process of becoming a person.”
Jackson quotes Carl Roger’s “On becoming a person,” in which he identified three conditions associated with an individual’s creative process of becoming a person:
- An openness to experience – a tolerance for ambiguity.
- An internal locus of evaluation – in which the individual is the one to whom one listens to primarily.
- The ability to play with elements and concepts – the ability to play with ideas, relationships, to juggle elements into improbable juxtapositions.
Of course, all this is inviting to the modern learner. But Professor James Houston has had a lot to say about the confusion between what it means to “become a person” versus “being an individual.” He notes that Carl Rogers could only describe the process of becoming a self-creating “individual,” but that he had no grounds to differentiate the ‘person’ from the ‘individual.’ In fact the ‘therapeutic self,’ argues Christopher Lasch, ends up as ‘the minimal self’ in a culture of survivalism.” (The Mentored Life, p. 113)
Houston notes that “professionalism and specialization are forms of abstraction that tend toward the reduction of the ‘personal.’ So much of learning is actually about becoming an ‘individual.’ Houston refers to Jean-Francios Lyotard’s essay The Inhuman in which he “explores the inhumanity of the institutions of modernity, as well as the ways in which the soul is held hostage within oneself by self-possessiveness….What Lyotard is calling ‘in-human’ is being ‘the individual,’ the inwardness of self enclosure” (ibid). Thus Houston states:
- “When philosophers define ‘the person’ as an ethical issue, they are distinguishing what is a human being from either a fetus or some other material concept. The human person remains unresolved as a questionable issue, scientifically inaccessible, and indefinable. The human can only be a question mark. It is only in the theological analogy drawn between persons – human and divine – that theological anthropology begins to make sense as defining us a persons-in-relation-with-God.” (idid, pp. 114, 115).
Professor Jackson’s desire that life-wide learning contribute to becoming a person is a noble idea; we can hear the faint desire for a wisdom that enriches all of life. However, as Derek Kidner notes in his commentary on the Proverbs, “while all go to God’s school, few learn wisdom there, for the knowledge which He aims to instil is the knowledge of Himself” (Proverbs, p. 35).
I leave you with the invitation to lifelong and life-wide learning found in the New Testament. This is what I call the invitation to a “wider wonder world” – in order to be found as persons-in-relation-with-God:
- “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)