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Driveway Learning
Posting Date: 12/05/2011

Betty Haines

I am, and have long been, an advocate of life long learning. While I enjoy an occasional lecture, seminar, or classroom experience, I don’t believe that life long learning must take place in a classroom or any other formal arena.

I’m completely frustrated by folks who undertake learning only to impress others. The practice of learning exclusively for the purpose of impressing others with ones self identified social and/or intellectual superiority or for bragging rights is absurd. I refer to this type of learning as Snob Appeal learning and I avoid it.

If you see me at the opera, you can bet I’m not there to impress anyone. I may be there because I love all kinds of music or, just maybe, because I have a crush on the fat guy singing tenor.

A former boss and mentor of mine coined the phrase Driveway Learning. This gentleman, who happened to teach Automotive Repair, often spoke with me about how the extensive use of computers in the internal combustion engine revolutionized the way auto mechanics was taught; thus, the need for a different skill set in mechanics pretty much resulted in the loss of driveway mechanics.

Occasionally, he would speak fondly of simpler times when a lot of learning went on in America’s driveways. One day he brightened and said to me, “You know, driveway learning is by no means limited to automotive skills nor is it dead. I’m still learning many valuable life lessons in my driveway.”

Some folks call this talking over the back fence or back fence learning, but I prefer his phrase - driveway learning. My reasons for this are twofold: 1) each time I hear the phrase, it brings fond memories of my friend and former boss; 2) it best describes where I do a whole lot of learning these days.

I live on a hill and have a long driveway that overlooks the lane in front of my house. Friends and neighbors who drive or walk up this driveway to sit and visit with me are the source of some of the greatest wisdom known to man.

For example, on a recent Monday morning, the landscapers had completed their job of mowing the little patch of lawn in my front yard.

As usual, they had managed to generously litter my driveway with the grass trimmings and kick bits of gravel all along the edge of the front walk.

So there I was, sweeping up the litter, grumbling under my breath about it and completely ignoring the fact that it was a beautiful autumn day. Then, from the lane below I heard a shout; “Hey, Betty! It’s sooo good to see you.” I looked up and there was Pattie, one of my favorite neighbors, who I had not seen in quite awhile, and her two beautiful dogs rushing up the driveway to greet me.

After a quick romp with her lovely dogs (yes, I slipped their leashes off so we could play) my neighbor and I began to catch up. In short order I was participating in an unexpected and extremely enjoyable driveway learning experience.

I’m not sure how we arrived at the topic, but that is one reason why I’m such a fan of driveway learning. There is no agenda or syllabus for driveway learning. These conversations tend to ramble and one never knows where they may lead or how they get from one topic to another. Somehow, Pattie and I got from updating each other on how we spent our summer to discussing the fact that each of us had recently been surprised to discover that learning seems to accelerate rather than diminish as we age.

As we stood there enjoying the warm autumn sunshine, watching her lovely dogs play, she said “I’m surprised that, at my age, I’m still learning so many new things. Surely, at some point, I will have learned most of what I need to know.”

Considering that my friend is much younger than me, I was quick to tell her that the opposite was true. I told her that she had many wonderful and unique learning experiences ahead of her.

Yes, mixed in with the aches, pains, trials and frustrations of getting old, I am enjoying an unexpected blessing. All I need to do is listen, with an open mind, and I discover many new things and learn so much. I firmly believe that when one stops learning they pretty much stop living and begin simply existing. So to my friend Pattie, I say, “Happy learning and don’t forget to stop by the driveway and share what you learn with me.”


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