Educational Magic

Educational Magic

Each year the College honors distinguished educators for their work. This winter saw the recognition of award-winning travel writer and editor Catherine Watson, who has taught over a dozen writing workshops for the College. Her Distinguished Educator acceptance speech, excerpts below, vividly illustrates the connection between the expert and the novice, and how education is a two-way street. 

I really believe that continuing education is a second chance.

Whether it's to finish a degree that wasn't possible in the four years right after high school, or to make a course-correction in midlife, or re-invent oneself after retirement--whatever the reason, continuing education expands our view of the world and deepens our connections with it--and with ourselves as well.

And for a teacher, it's a two-way street. After every writing workshop I teach, I always come away a better writer. The questions students ask make me put into words what I believe about writing.

That makes teaching and learning a kind of mutual dance--or a symbiosis--between teacher and student. I didn't realize, until this fall, how long that symbiosis could continue to work in my life.

I'd always given my students what I hoped was wise and useful advice. But over time, I began to feel as if I were saying "don't do as I do--do as I say." I finally admitted that I hadn't been as courageous as I was urging them to be.

Many of them were tackling book-length memoirs. I write short personal essays, each with its own story arc. I've been comfortable with that. I figured these essays would become chapters, and when I had enough--presto!--I'd stitch them together and have a book-length memoir of my own.

But books need a story arc, too.

This fall, I was applying for a grant, which meant submitting a good portion of my manuscript. I was getting more and more frantic, because the pieces weren't connecting, and I was running out of time.

I kept trying to put my chapters in order, like links in a chain. Only they wouldn't link with each other. It was like trying to forge an iron chain when the individual links were already soldered shut.

This submission deadline forced me to ask myself the same question many of my students had asked: "How do you untangle the threads of your life and re-braid them so they make sense to someone else?"

Then, when I was feeling most hopeless, I remembered one of my College of Continuing Education (CCE) students. I'd urged her to figure out what her main theme was, and then use it as a clothesline. "Hang all your chapters off of that," I had told her. "They don't have to hook to each other--but they DO have to hook to that clothesline."

I suddenly saw what the problem was. All this time, I'd had the theme wrong. All these years, and I hadn't seen--hadn't known--what the book was really about. I'd been hanging the Monday wash on somebody else's clothesline.

I made my deadline, but by then it almost didn't matter. Fresh ideas and new, open links were springing up like fountains, and I felt I'd gotten my voice back.

This is the kind of symbiosis--the kind of enlightenment--that continuing education makes possible for students and teachers alike.

CCE has always made that kind of insight and enlightenment possible--and now, after 100 years, the mission of the College is even more relevant--and more needed than ever.

CCE programs offer us new ways of thinking, new understanding of ourselves and our role in the world, new goals, new outcomes, and new potential for making a difference.