Lake driftwood sometimes floats vertically, all submerged but the tip. Such a protuberance can also be the head of a turtle who, upon hearing footfalls, leaps gracelessly off its basking log and into the safety of lake water. Fleeting from rest to action in a moment, belying their sloth-like reputation, these creatures then camouflage themselves by looking as lifeless as possible. Just so, life for humans can also seem devoid of action when we just assume that we know what we know and that an apparently objective reality is what it is. A good AU education teaches us to questions the validity of commonplace assertions and to distrust what things seem to be.
Common sense projects onto what our senses seem to perceive. Like seeing a person and at first glance being sure we know the essence of their identity, so much of reality appears camouflaged behind dominant ideologies. Whether external reality has a determinable truth to it or not, the essence of reality remains wholly susceptible to how we interpret it. For instance, driftwood can be wood waiting to sink or a place for a turtle to warm its blood or a risk for our fishing line to be tangled. Or the whole question of what it is can be capital B boring and summed up by the term it is what it is. The ancient Greeks had a term for the way reality reveals itself: aletheia. “as the 20th Century philosopher Martin Heidegger observed, Aletheia’s original meaning implies discovery or disclosure, a concept that is more aligned with the traditions of education and enlightenment” (Weber State, online). Rather than taking our senses and our interpretations at face value, we must learn to think twice so that new realities and potential can emerge in life and thought. The tiniest epiphany can lead to the greatest leaps forward in our development.
To the naked eye or mind the world is all too easily knowable, and not particularly enchanting. It’s when we’re aware that beliefs are inscribed on us all the way to our core that we start to think critically and creatively. Animal life, too, is determined heuristically: in the minds eye of the beholder, dogs to some are mere jumping-up machines while turtles can seem synonymous with dullsville. Yet even the most stolid of turtles has a social interest and can be a living matter of sociological intrigue. The naturalist Gerald Durell, in memoir of a childhood in Corfu, describes his pet turtle:
“Achilles would be convinced that you were lying on the ground simply to provide him with amusement. He would surge down the path and onto the rug with an expression of amused good humor on his face. He would pause, survey you thoughtfully, and then choose a portion of your anatomy on which to pursue mountaineering” (Durell, 54).
To consider a turtle the paragon of play had never occurred to me; likewise, I’d not have thought a floating bit of wood could appear like a turtle or vice versa. The unconcealment of reality, aletheia, is implied by living and experiencing and gaining an education that opens minds to flexibility rather than restricts thought to a series of facts. Creativity leaps to life whenever when we imagine than any fact, social or scientific, can also be otherwise. A noble hulk of a piece of driftwood could be the living mystery of a turtle recently awake from its long winter slumber in a torpor so deep it need not breath. Sometimes we have to train our brains to think in new ways and to set our stultified expectations akimbo.
AU learning is a great study in the compromise of stern rigour and open flow; all of life becomes an extension of our classroom so that hopefully our minds will be more labile, more easy bent to believe and create new realities long enough to test them against evidence. Like choosing a pet to domesticate, the goal isn’t to acquire a mere automaton but to develop a learned interaction with a living companion that mutually inspires. Whether wild animals prefer the comforts of a human home is another question but to be sure even the slowest of beast has a mind of its own. The easiest pet to train would appear to be a turtle when comes to performing tricks like sit, stay, and obey. Lumps of flesh in a shell, a turtle would seem a likely study companion, Yet the naturalist Gerald Durrell as a boy discovered of his pet turtle:
“He spent the morning wandering about the room and scratching at the skirting-boards and door. Then he kept getting wedged under bits of furniture and scrabbling frantically until we lifted the object to rescue him” (Durrell, 65).
I once turtle-sat for a friend who’d left our small town to attend a brick-and-mortar university; one morning I was mortified that one of the pancake-sized creatures had flown, so to speak, the coop and landed on the floor unscathed after departing its tank. Clearly, active motion differentiates life from driftwood, and even the slowest of creatures is characterized by its capacity for determined action. Critical thinking also divests us of our stagnant and moribund beliefs, not to mention cultural conformity, so that we may not only imbibe new ideas and concepts but that we might even add something to the mix. AU aptly situates us for success because our immediate surroundings enter our mental vision as we work from home. Familiar climes and circumstances take on a new hue as education simultaneously emancipates our minds and our senses. AU helps us avoid being shell-brained in our lives.
‘Aletheia: Pursue Truth, Share Wisdom’. (2022). Weber State University. Ogden, Utah: https://weber.edu/aletheia/default.html
Durrell, G. (1956). My Family and Other Animals. London: Penguin Books.