Maggie Owens' Learning Story


I had recently entered the double-digits when I was lucky enough to first experience 'college learning.' It was spring, and I was a fifth grader. Having spent the after-school hours making up a dance to the Spice Girls and tormenting the younger brother of my friend, I made my way home from their house at 6:00 pm, just in time for family dinner.But dinner was not the only thing waiting for me on the counter that evening. Next to the dishes of pasta, sauce, and broccoli was a plane ticket to Greece. It had my name on it. Right there. Passenger: Margaret Owens. My parents, always the enablers of my educational experiences, had decided I should experience the world outside of our small, college town. I would be accompanying my dad, the Professor, and his Classics class on their semester abroad to Greece.The baby of my family, I was thrilled to be swept into the sophisticated world of college. I watched awe-struck as twenty-year-olds interacted on personal and intellectual levels with their teacher; I listened intently to discussions ranging from Aristotle and Phidias to how drunk everyone was the night before; I even talked passionately to my dad's students about where I could maybe see myself (Cornell), and what I would like to study when I attended college.The journey from Appalachia's Athens to ancient Athens certainly opened my eyes. I walked streets that were older than I could comprehend. I ate traditional Greek meals, and my father's impatience with picky eaters forced me to try even octopus. I closed drachma coins (this was before the Euro) into the hands of a gypsy boy whose bare feet and wide eyes are still vivid in my memory, along with the sick feeling in my gut that came from realizing for the first time that not everyone sleeps under a roof at night. But more than leaving me with an appreciation for a different culture, the trip gave me an understanding of exactly what education can, and should, look like.While my fellow fifth-grade classmates sat back at home in school-desks struggling to obtain the correct remainder in their long division problems, I hiked up to the Acropolis with my dad and his students. My dad instructed us to take the first hour to just observe and imagine being an Athenian during the height of Athenian glory. To help us do this, we were to choose a few things that grabbed our attention the most to sketch, and to really put ourselves in the place of an artist called upon to honor the first democratic society. This period of personal connection to the site was followed by a formal tour led by my dad, and later at dinner we all debriefed together. I added only humor to the discussion: I asked whether the female statues whose breasts had withered away over the centuries were Amazons, the mythological female bow-hunters who cut off their breast to better accommodate their bows.But I took so much away from this discussion. For the first time, I was fully inducted into the world of great teaching and learning, and it intoxicated me. That trip taught me that real learning is one of life's most liberating and rewarding experiences.