A Deeper Education

By Shari Maser, Off-Campus Program Advisor

Learning is a continuous process, so why examine a subject once and be “done” with it? Instead, return to it again and again and explore it in different ways, from different angles, and on different levels. This spiral approach to learning lets young people know they can constantly deepen their understanding of the world. It gives them a foundation for developing a lifelong love of learning.

When my friend’s daughter was young, she read a lot of picture books and chapter books about the experience of people who lived through slavery and the Civil War. She attended Civil War re-enactments; sewed period costumes; made her own weapons and wagon wheels; and read biographies of Abe Lincoln. As a pre-teen, she toured the Underground Railroad; made detailed maps of its routes, the boundaries between union and secessionist states, and the locations of major battles; and read, analyzed, and recited the Emancipation Proclamation. As a teenager, she read first person accounts of slavery and the Civil War; read texts and wrote essays analyzing the reasons behind the war and the factors that led to its final outcome; made a detailed timeline of Civil War history; and played the role of a Civil War nurse in local re-enactments. Then in college, she took a course with a very narrow focus: Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric and political influence. She also took a survey course that compared a variety of civil wars around the world throughout history.

More recently, she read a biography of a civil war photographer, a novel about a Civil War widow, and a blog written by a present-day secessionist. She also experimented with the wet-plate method of photography used to document the Civil War and exhibited some of her photographs at a local living history museum.

Every time she returns to the subject of the Civil War, her understanding grows richer, more complex, and more layered. Sometimes she broadens her focus, sometimes she narrows it. Sometimes she starts with a conceptual understanding and applies it, other times she starts with applied knowledge and then generalizes to develop a conceptual understanding.

Had she decided she was “done” with the Civil War after studying it once, just think of what she would have missed!

What have you or your child gained from spiraling back to the same subject again and again? Please share your learning experiences below.

One Response

  1. Dear Shari,

    My children are more areas lovers and not subjects spiraling faithful specialists but some students of mine like focusing on a passion and do it very well. The important, I suppose, is that one does it well and is supported.


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