Sustainable Housing Project

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What went right?

As children, we started learning even before attending school. When we came into contact with the "hot iron" or similar learning experiences, we recognized very quickly that it is not a pleasant experience, where we wanted to go back and relive the pain. To a great extent we "live and learn".

When we attended school, we were expected to learn analytically. As we went through our first years of college, the scientific method became our mantra. We were expected to build knowledge on that which could be "proven". Anything else was suspect as knowledge, and of lesser value academically.

As adults, a greater portion of our learning takes place through our everyday life experiences.  In order to learn, we don't need to repeatedly touch the iron to see if we get burned.  Life-long learning is also much more involved than sitting down and memorizing the periodic table or analyzing scientific theories. We obtain much of our new knowledge at times when we are not even thinking about learning. Sometimes we still have to touch things in order to learn, but as adults, we learn holistically by engaging all of our senses with our environment and learning through our social contact of others. We become our own best teachers by socially participating in the learning process.

In our learning experiences as adults, we still take everyday tests of our accumulated knowledge and our application of that knowledge. The tests come in very different forms than we are used to taking in the formal classroom. The tests that we take in everyday life are actually much more effective in helping us learn. We learn to combine our classroom learning with experiential learning. Our life tests actually help us form, reform and transform our worldview which includes our belief systems, our values, and our perspectives on life. Transformative learning takes place when we go through the "process of examining, questioning, and revising" (Taylor & Cranton, 2012) our perceptions of our own experiences.

Some of our greatest learning opportunities take place when we go back and reflect on the mistakes others have made, as well as our own mistakes. We can also learn from what we ourselves and others do well. We learn from failures and successes. Hopefully, in the end, our experience will create purposeful learning, as well as, good teaching opportunities.

The negative experiences in life tend to draw most of the attention. We only need to take a look at today's news articles to confirm that emphasis is placed on the negative news events. Relatively little television prime time or newspaper front page space are dedicated to reporting the good news or in suggesting how we can improve on a bad situation.

As lifelong learners, we need to be open to new ways to broaden our experiences. The Ohio State University, Cedarville University, and other universities offer study abroad programs to southern Honduras. Study abroad for university students is often underappreciated, but it can be a valuable opportunity for students to learn outside the formal classroom.  Learning does not come without risks, especially when traveling to certain countries outside the US.

Though learning can be costly, the experiences with Study Abroad students in Honduras has been overwhelmingly positive. Through the experience, university students, faculty members, project hosts, and local community members have all gained new valuable knowledge. The study abroad experience can not be evaluated simply by analytical methods. There are just too many experiences that can not be measured quantitatively. Most importantly, part of the learning that takes place comes through long-term relationships which are being built.

It's impossible to know who learns the most when a group of US university students joins a group of ladies in southern Honduras to cook spaghetti over an earthen-stove fueled by firewood. The learning experience has little to do with the activity of cooking. Everyone knows how to cook spaghetti. The method of cooking is not the most important part of the contribution to learning. Learning takes place between university students and Honduran ladies because of the experience of building new relationships. The spaghetti will soon be forgotten but the memories of people from two very different cultures coming together for a few hours will be remembered. Even though language difficulty is a partial barrier to communication, the sounds of laughing together and stirring the spaghetti in an unbearably hot kitchen will remain fresh in everyone's minds for years to come.

The value of the flouride being painted on children's teeth will be unapparent to the casual observer. Maybe someone ten years from now will notice that the teenagers from a few villages in southern Honduras have healthier teeth than others, but more importantly, those teenagers will remember that someone cared enough to invest in their lives. Those who came as students will always know that they have impacted lives in a way that is not measurable by any regular classroom assessment. Both will remember the important lessons that were learned together.

Though few people who have never experienced being on a medical brigade will truly understand the importance of that visit to local villagers, the knowledge gained by a few minutes of
interaction with an OSU Nursing student may greatly improve their health. Once they are detected with a high blood glucose level they can begin to use that knowledge to make lifestyle changes or obtain the medicine that they need. Women who are detected with early stages of uterine cancer can often be cured.

The house that is built by university students alongside local community members is much more than a technological improvement over the cardboard and plastic houses that many people live in. The construction of the new house that includes an efficient wood-cooking stove and a new
latrine provides valuable learning experiences to villagers and university students alike. The knowledge gained involves more than designing and building a house. The improved lifestyle and better health are not the only positive outcomes from the experience. While many local villagers have not gotten the answer to "Why ?" someone from another country would come to help them, they continue to reflect on the experience. Every day the answer becomes a bit more understandable.

Together, we continue to learn.

Taylor, Edward W.; Cranton, Patricia (2012-04-06). The Handbook of Transformative Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice (p. 5). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Larry! You and Angie are both such gems. We love you!