I just left IBM. I am feeling anxious and excited, familiar emotions when big changes happen in my life. It happened when I arrived alone in the US to go to university; it happened when I arrived at IBM Research to start my first real job. Now once again I am concerned and inspired by the unknown, the uncertainty, and the possibility to try out ideas that interest and matter to me.
One idea I will work on is Education for Grown Ups. There is a lot of research and experiments going on to help children and professionals learn but not much on adults who have had careers and want to learn about something that interests and matters to them. Adults at this time in their lives are curious and think about the world around them. They often learn more like children who are constantly asking questions like: “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why do Chinese people eat with chopsticks?”. As grown ups we might ask: “Why are vegetables so much cheaper in Chinatown, often 1/2 the price of vegetables in a grocery store a few blocks away?”
This has led me to the question: How can adults like myself who want to learn about a micro field*, something narrow and specific, in some depth, and who don’t want to sit in a classroom do this?
This idea of learning by starting with a question (a micro field) popped into my head after watching the documentary “Abacus, Small Enough to Jail“. What happened was very sad and absurd.
I had a strong desire to learn about NYC’s Chinatown from someone who has studied this immigrant population, maybe as part of their Masters or PhD thesis. Who also may have connections to the Chinatown community groups and could take me to meetings etc.
In other words for me it would be about understanding Chinatown immigrant lives in the context of how a young person would ask questions and how social sciences could put this population in a framework.
I hope to try out my Education for Grown Ups — Learning Micro Fields with an Intellectual Guide idea in some form at a school. Possibly at one that has been working on new education models. Two such schools I am currently on the board of: the New School in NYC (in case you don’t know this school, it is known for its radical thinking faculty and its Parsons School of Design. And the other is a start-up school, one of the Claremont Colleges called the KECK Graduate Institute (KGI) for Applied Life Sciences which continues to invent new graduate programs and also has a very interesting undergraduate program called the Minerva Schools at KGI https://www.minerva.kgi.edu/.
Let me know what you think of Grown Ups Learning Micro Fields. I want to hear your ideas. Are you learning or teaching a micro field? More generally, how are you learning as a grownup today — what is working, not working, and what is missing? My hope is to find ways for grownups to keep learning what really interests and matters to them.
* In an email to me Alfio Gliozzo, an IBM colleague, used the term Micro Field which beautifully captures my idea of a specific and narrow subject.