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Philosophical Meanderings

The Creation of the Lifelong Learner

“Mommy!!!  BUG!!!”  Thea screams at me as we walk around our deck.  “Lookit mommy, bug,” she runs to me grabs my hand and pulls me near. Behold; the lifelong learner.

Children are naturally curious; if you give them a box they are not allowed to open, they will beg and beg until they finally get to peek inside.  If you tape a box on the floor of your classroom, they will continue to guess at its purpose even past the big reveal.  Children do not need rules to be curious, or even strategies. They are born with this ability.  Now as educators we may fine-tune these skills but schools cannot take credit for their natural curiosity.

So why is it so many schools have a vision statement that includes “creating lifelong learners?”  Why this need to take credit for something they have not indeed created?   Do schools really think that children are not learners when they first enter the hallowed hallways and they therefore need to be fixed?   What an offensive statement to parents everywhere.  Yet schools and the rigidity of some classrooms can often be the reason that the lifelong learner is stymied.  Schools end up breaking the child’s curiosity only to try to take credit for it being re-built.

I would like to see a school with a vision that declares they want to “maintain lifelong learners.”  I would like to see a vision in which children are recognized as the insatiably curious learners they truly are.  We have to change our schools to allow time for curiosity and true exploration.  We are not in the business of creating robots, and yet, that is the direction our government wants to push us.  Bring back the curiosity, maintain the lifelong learner, and perhaps then our system wont seem so broken.

About Pernille Ripp

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


22 thoughts on “The Creation of the Lifelong Learner

  1. Pernille,

    I love your approach. I have continued to learn post-HS, undergrad, professional school and grad school.

    As matters stand, I truly fear that providing satisfactioin to one’s curiosity is but a commodity on the financial market. As soon as you say it, someone will take the phrase “maintaining lifelong learners” and try to make a buck off of it. (Easton, P. (2007). Adult education and social sustainability: Harnessing the “Red Queen Effect”. Convergence, 40(1-2), 171-185.)

    Keep spreading the word and perhaps, one day, quality will overcome the monotony of quantity.


    Posted by Brent Snavely | October 9, 2011, 9:44 am
  2. Well said! If the reality of schools was not to destroy the natural impulse to explore and enjoy learning, they wouldn’t have to give lip service to creating what was already there.

    Posted by Nance Confer | October 9, 2011, 11:02 am
  3. Pernille,

    I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I think you are right on target. We are all life-long learners, we don’t just learn at school in a classroom. We are constantly learning new things, whether its at a job or in our personal lives. I want to encourage my students creativity and desire to learn, not just in my classroom but far beyond it as well.


    Posted by Audrey | October 9, 2011, 11:26 am
  4. Quality is indeed an issue, Brent–and Pernille, I loved this perspective of maintaining versus creating–we do indeed kill their curiosity and caring! I have a group of kids this year that I haven’t had much up to this, their fifth grade year. Every time I ask to have even a semi-private conversation with any of them, their assumption is that they are in trouble and that I am going to fuss at them for something. What kind of experiences have they had with teacher/student talks that they think that way? But let’s go beyond that to looking at how they approach a task.

    Tomorrow our county is having our fall conference, called Making Connections. Part of it will be a continuation of a summer institute where we got together in content areas by grade levels and created prototype assessments. Those who created the tasks were asked to go back and try them out on kids and bring that work to tomorrow’s meeting so we could find issues, successes and revise the drafts to be better before pushing them out to all teachers in that grade level.

    I not only asked my kids to work the problem, but also to judge themselves using the rubric provided for the problem. I had one very, very smart kid come up to turn her stuff in who had marked herself novice (the lowest level) in all three areas (understanding the problem, strategies used to solve the problem and communication of thinking and solution). I was blown away by her non-caring, as I didn’t expect any of these high-performing kids to just blow this task off. When I explained to her (in case she hadn’t been listening when I introduced the task) that I was taking all of their work to a group of teachers tomorrow and we were going to revise the task based on how the kids in all of our classes did, and that other teachers would be seeing her work, I also asked if this is a piece of work she would be proud for me to take as representative of her work. She said not really, so I asked if she wanted to keep working on it. Her response? “I guess so.”

    I also have been working with this same group in Language Arts on critical thinking and evaluating web sources through looking at John Smith and his behaviors and storytelling. Our essential question is “Was John Smith a historian or a liar?” (See The kids were in groups looking at the web sites and discussing them, some reading them together, and this same girl signed into her wiki–with her two partners watching, knowing that her wiki work was keeping them from continuing to read/discuss/work. She then sent a wikimail to the group, saying, “I don’t really care whether John Smith was a historian or a liar because no one will ever really know whether he was a historian or a liar.” Do these two examples say disenfranchised?

    She clearly didn’t get into the historical analysis we have been doing for days, and she certainly didn’t have the same reaction others did, who as they were reading and discussing said things like, “This is completely changing everything I ever knew about John Smith and Pocahontas.” or “I can’t believe that our history books have said the things they have with this information having been known by historians.” or, “This is really making me think about history and how we learn it.”

    I wonder what this child looked like in Kindergarten. I wonder how she acted when she traveled overseas and spent a year in a school in another country in 2nd grade. I wonder what experiences she has had to so entrench her in check off mode versus sense-making mode. Where has the push been in her schooling about quality versus completion? What has happened to her curiosity and wondering and thinking beyond wanting to be popular (a self proclaimed goal) and wanting school to be easy (another self-proclaimed goal).

    But mostly, I want to reawaken that curiosity within her. I want to somehow help the teachers she’s had realize that they have to change some behaviors so as to not turn kids like her off to deep thinking and understanding–and wondering and caring and giving new experiences a chance. I asked her to join an after-school club about designing something with LED lights and after thinking about it several days, she finally said she might. When given an opportunity to create a video around a topic of her choice, she chose to do a music video that mimics (poorly) her favorite song. I want her to explore and care about learning something other than lip-syncing Taylor Swift.

    How do we undo years of schooling that has convinced kids schools are places of work that doesn’t count, even when given a chance to create their own projects? How can I rekindle her curiosity so that she doesn’t go through the next 7 years of school marking time, complying and just checking off the time (and work) and not bothering to make sense of her learning?

    How do we help her learn how to use her curiosity to help change what she does in school? How do we unbreak what we have broken?

    You are so right, Pernille, about how “the rigidity of some classrooms can often be the reason that the lifelong learner is stymied.” We do break the child’s curiosity. How incredibly sad.

    Posted by Paula White | October 9, 2011, 11:59 am
  5. Being “high-performing” doesn’t mean a girl is interested in history. How can she change what she is being given the chance to learn in school?

    While you are putting together “prototype assessments” and getting ready to push “tasks” out onto all teachers, and their students, in a given grade, are you thinking of this girl? Is there a part of the prototype that gives her permission to acknowledge that John Smith is just a line in a standard put together by others and may not be of interest to her, ever?

    While she is obligated to be in school is there some way for her to spend her time rather than appreciating what the Making Connections conference committee decided was worthwhile? What are her choices, really?


    Posted by Nance Confer | October 9, 2011, 2:04 pm
    • Nance,
      I cited two specific school tasks that are NOT a line in the state standards. I am a gifted resource teacher who has tons of latitude in how I work on extension activities. The John Smith question was one she chose, as were her team members. I think you also missed the part about the video which was totally open and a total choice as to whether she even did it, as well as how, on what topic , who with, etc. This is a kid who has some very open opportunities, and who has been so put off by past experiences, she is, as do many GT kids, turning off to any kind of quality work-her choice or not. I cited one kid- I could have given 10 more examples of 10 other kids, agreeing with Pernille’s statement about how schools kill creativity and desire to learn. This one kid happens to be kid who chooses to simply get by, no matter how much choice she has. It’s not about choice always, but what she has already learned. I was asking about how we help these “broken” kids unlearn the lessons they have already learned in school-the ones Pernille speaks to, in thinking school is not a place to learn.

      We educators are so quick to badmouth each other and blame everyone but ourselves. Thanks for questioning choice here- I had skipped details that probably were germaine to the reader’s understanding in my quest for brevity. I’m really thinking about the choices in my class now, so thanks for that. I struggle with kid’s attention to quality, and am thinking this may have been their first experience with rubrics. Your assumptions about her experience have pushed my thinking.

      Posted by Paula White | October 9, 2011, 3:08 pm
      • I’m trying not to badmouth anyone. It’s the process that is broken.

        You got an answer from this student — She then sent a wikimail to the group, saying, “I don’t really care whether John Smith was a historian or a liar because no one will ever really know whether he was a historian or a liar.”

        That was not taken as a “quality” answer, though.

        Until her answer is acceptable, until her judgement about what is acceptable has some value, until she gets to really choose not to value this task, how can she trust that you really mean what you say?

        If an adult said what your student said, I would work from the assumption that they had thought out their answer and I just wasn’t understanding and I might ask what they mean. Do they not see any importance in knowing if an important historical figure was telling the truth? Does she have another way to look at this figure — how would she describe him if not historian or liar? Does she not trust the way history is written? Does she see any relevance to current events? Is she cynical about understanding anything historical or that having any real effect on our lives? What is behind the statement?

        Maybe she would still blow you off. But she would at least know that you had taken her objections to the assignment seriously. Rinse and repeat over many years. Maybe you get a person who trusts her own judgement and expects to have her opinions valued.


        Posted by Nance Confer | October 9, 2011, 3:26 pm
        • Nance–
          Your assumption is that I didn’t see that comment as a quality comment or that I ignored it. Neither is true.

          Actually, the day after she sent that wikimail, I began class by sharing her comment with everyone–because she got NO response from her peers to that wikimail and I thought it did deserve to be addressed. I shared it and then said to the class, “I don’t care whether John Smith was an historian or a liar either, really. What I care about about is if you can read some material, think about it critically and discuss it. I care whether you can think about what you read and talk about it intelligently–because you’re at the age and reading stage where we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time with me teaching you to learn to read–we’re going to spend our time reading to learn and finding books we can enjoy together and share them with each other.”

          Then we began a discussion about the readings, talking about historians and how they work, and how history is reported and saved–or not. We spoke to the accuracy of it–or not–and the kids were citing the similarities and differences between the readings and sharing their frustration with the “facts” they had been taught as little ones learning about Indians and their relationship with the English. As the discussion got involved and kids were shooting comments back and forth, this one couldn’t stay out of it–she was right in there, mostly asking questions, and it was clear she (and her partners) were less prepared than most others in the room. However, that didn’t stop them from listening intently and joining in when they could.

          The controversy could have been set up around a number of issues in history. The point was indeed to get them to think about how history is recorded and be critical of what they read–or are taught. My goal was to help them improve those critical thinking skills through the questions and discussions we had before, during and after the readings. With most I feel like I succeeded in that goal. With her, since she didn’t read them (by her own admission), I don’t know about her ability to think critically about what she reads, and she certainly gave herself no chance for improvement. That’s the disenfranchisement that worries me.

          Posted by Paula White | October 10, 2011, 6:45 am
  6. Or maybe, just maybe, the young lady answered the question perfectly. Without going through all the steps, mind you.

    But, if the point was to discover how research can be done well and still not come up with a definitive answer, or that internet sources can be misleading and/or contradictory ( — a lesson based on state standards similar to the one you tackled), she may just have cut to the chase.

    At least you got me reading about the “controversy.” 🙂


    Posted by Nance Confer | October 9, 2011, 4:04 pm
  7. Bravo, Pernille! I cringe each time I hear children talked about this way. Children are whole, not partial, beings. And childhood is life, not preparation for life.

    Posted by Mindy | October 9, 2011, 11:12 pm
  8. Pernille, It is increasingly my view that conventional school must DISABLE the student so that it can justify it’s “intervention” into the life of the learner. Crushing human curiosity is just one of the ways it disables.

    Thanks for this wonderful take on “maintaining” lifelong learning.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | October 11, 2011, 10:43 am
  9. I love the line:

    So why is it so many schools have a vision statement that includes “creating lifelong learners?” Why this need to take credit for something they have not indeed created?

    I’m watching the natural curiosity of my children closely and I will fight like a mad man to help them retain it.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | October 12, 2011, 2:11 pm
    • John,
      I love the posts when you discuss your own kids as well and their curiosity. Your posts make me reflect over my own adventures with my daughter. I already worry that school will take some of her insatiable quest for learning away. I will be there fighting with you.


      Posted by Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp | October 12, 2011, 10:01 pm
  10. I like either maintaining or encouraging life-long learners. I think the problem is that so often school does the opposite, with the rigidity of testing and stress of rules or only doing things the “right” way the joy of learning gets sucked out of the children. All that remains are grumpy students. The best teachers that my daughter has had so far (she’s in third grade) take her enthusiasm and curiosity and offer her ways to explore. The only teacher I disliked stuck to the rules and the standards without seeing that the important thing is that they continue to enjoy how to learn, not that they memorize and can take tests with alacrity.

    Posted by Lisa Wields Words | December 11, 2011, 5:20 pm
  11. I prefer “nurturing” life-long learners as a mission statement because it both acknowledges human development and focuses the role of school….to nurture exploration and growth.

    Posted by Sandra | December 11, 2011, 6:16 pm


  1. Pingback: Do schools need to create Lifelong Learners? › The Head's Office - March 9, 2013

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