The University of Massachusetts Amherst
HFA - College of Humanities & Fine Arts view HFA submenu
Section Menu


Lily Brooks Dalton photo

Lily Brooks-Dalton '2012

What does the word education mean? Most commonly it connotes diplomas and degrees, long hallways lined with lockers and grassy soccer fields, library carousels, chalk dust; it makes us think of the loans we have yet to pay off, the teachers we loved, the other students we learned with, and the places we learned in. These associations, symbols of knowledge, experiences we’ve had, are essential, but they barely skim the surface of what education can be – of what education should be. We learn constantly, all our lives adding new information to our perception of the world around us, so what is it that makes us limit our idea of education to the buildings where it is administered or to the textbooks we have read? Why is our idea of education so small, when its definition is so broad?

The idea of multiple intelligences is certainly not new; Howard Gardener’s research broke that ground almost thirty years ago, and we have come a long way since then in terms of accommodating different learning styles within the educational system. Yet as a society we continue to compartmentalize education, to separate it from our communities, separate it from our life experiences. Learning a trade, whether that means waiting tables or fixing cars, traveling around the world, doing community service, these are experiences we clearly learn from, yet they are not part of what we commonly conceptualize education to be. They are extracurricular if they are anything – in addition to an education, but not inherently part of it. Why the separation? An education facilitates the path to a well lived life, it doesn’t predate it. Being a student shouldn’t just be preparatory, it should also be participatory.

In the fall of 2010 I was lucky enough to serve as Linda Aronson’s intern, working with her on a project which strives to change the way we look at education. I spent a lot of time looking into alternative educational teaching techniques and curriculums, editing Linda Aronson’s manuscript, which is about the self-guided learning initiative she directed at a public high school in Maine, and thinking about my own education. What started as a nagging distrust of standardized education grew into an exploration of the many ways in which our educational system and our students have grown and continue to grow, of the ways in which the compartmentalization of learning is already beginning to dissolve.

During this internship I have come to appreciate that an education is simply a collection of experiences that we have learned something from. Some of those experiences happen at school, in the classroom, some happen in the workplace, some in the home. Some of those experiences happen halfway across the world. It shouldn’t matter if someone is handing out degrees, or if you’re getting credit – it’s about broadening our minds, experiencing new things, accepting new information and adjusting the way in which we interact with the world based on the interpretation of that information. Our culture assigns more value to some experiences, some forms of education, than others, but in the end an education is only useful to the person who wields it.

Lily Brooks-Dalton (2011)