Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where the Real Learning Occurs

In the middle of Iowa City--this fabulous little college town with coffee shops that stay open until (gasp) 11:00 at night, pubs and sports bars with suggestive names like Third Base, and wonderful little eateries of all ethnic varieties--there is a playground full of kids.

The playground sits right on the main pedestrian mall of town next to the campus's signature cafe, so that all the patrons inside see the wonders of childhood when they lift their heads from their work. The children climb its ladders, hang upside down from its bars, run down its bridge of stairs, play hide and seek in its shade.

I wonder who uses it. Families who happened to settle here after completing their education? Families of grad students raising their kids around the university while mom and/or dad completes their academic endeavors? College students who made it past third base and found themselves with an unexpected companion?

It comforts me: the presence of children in the heart of higher education, the juxtaposition of little ones running with unselfconscious abandon in this place of ever-increasing self and global awareness.  Their play is grounding, brings perspective and context to the intense studying and striving and building of resumes.  It proclaims what I've come to know in these last few years: that children and learning are not mutually exclusive; that children, in fact, inform the other with unparalleled depth and truth.

This playground in the middle of the University of Iowa has drawn me all week--I think because it symbolizes my life: a campus of hopes and dreams and goals and learning and awareness--sometimes painful awareness--of myself and the world around me.  But in the middle, where no one can miss it, springs the playground of my own little loves, where I find them stretching their limbs and laughing in the sunlight.

There, for them and for me, the real learning occurs.

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