Saturday 20 September 2014

Lighting Fires

Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.
Attributed to WB Yeats & originating with Heraclitus around 500 BCE

I can't always choose what happens to me but I can choose how I experience it. Whether I see it in terms of motivation, inspiration, warning or confirmation, its all learning.

I set out to live my life this week lighting fires rather than filling pails. I went to a networking meeting in City Hall, worked with the Museum in Docklands on a local history project, got some news of the 'life threatening' variety relating to my daughter's health one day and went to her graduation the next. I learned that fire could be a metaphor for warmth, security and light. It could be the cosy feeling of safety or the flicker of inspiration or the kindling of a passion. It could also burn. All could motivate.


The meeting in City Hall was surprisingly enlightening and inspirational. It sparked ideas. It prompted me to think about writing and learning from it and learning and writing about it. A see-saw Kolb's Cycle. We do something, think about it, make conclusions and surmise, try something and start all over somewhere in the cycle – back and forth and round and round.


On the history project, during a tour of St Annes (one of the five Hawksmoors in London), I noticed all the publicity materials and commented that our centre didn't have any. Milly, a 15 year old working on the project said 'You don't need it. We know what you do and we know how good you are.' This made me feel a warm glow. Maybe I was doing something right.

The Burn

Our campfire where we toasted marshmallows
The life threatening news relating to my daughter's health burned. It was a terrifying shock and although she lives with a somewhat debilitating condition already, most long term degeneration is trumped by the slightest invocation of the 'C' word. We hoped it was a warning shot across the bow. A fire that wouldn't take. That it was the hot stove or fireplace where we learned not to play with fire. An early diagnosis would mean early intervention, like a small fire could be more easily put out. But forest fires all start the same – small. I had to tell myself to see it as good news, its not as if the fire was out of control. It could still be a good thing. A warning can be good. That's what I told her.

Security & Passion

Then came graduation day. I had encouraged my daughter to go from the start. I had no idea if it would be a good experience or not but I knew that as much as she could regret going she could also regret not going and at least if she went she could have a basis for her opinion. We went and it was wonderful. Jenny was anxious and nervous, from the putting on of the gown to the walk on stage to receive her scroll but she felt like she had been acknowledged for her achievements by her peers and an institute which shared her passion for learning and it felt good. She had worked and paid her own way through her education with the Open University and had shared with us everything from the excitement of the opening of the box of course materials to the slowly incremental word counts to the too close for comfort deadlines. We got to also share the celebration.

Tony Benn's son was there to receive an honorary doctorate posthumously on behalf of his father. He talked about his fathers activism and love of learning. He talked about when discussions abounded regarding raising the age of compulsory education to 18 and how his father had disagreed. Tony Benn said that the age of compulsory education should not be raised to 18 but to 95! He advocated lifelong learning. He had not been challenged on this assertion, apart from one man who told him that 95 didn't work because he was 96!

'Its not every day you get your dream job', a mum of a young man I have worked with, commented this week. 'Thank you', she said, he couldn't have done it without youse.'

None of us can do it without each other. That's what I learned this week. We motivate and inspire each other. We are each others fires.

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