Learning until life’s end

Dennis SparksWe had finished. The hospice patient had told her life story and the video camera was turned off. She moved to a nearby chair where she looked out a large window at the softly falling snow.

Jean accepted a glass of wine, and I asked if I could take a seat across from her.

She had mentioned that social justice was important to her, and we talked a bit about its origins and how she continued to address it in this the 10th decade of her life.

“It’s a wonderful world when people will enjoy and share and love and care for one another,” she said.

She had mentioned earlier that she wrote poetry, and I asked about it.

She recited a two-line poem to me. I was confused about its source, and I asked if she had written it.

She said yes, and that she had done so recently. I asked her to repeat it. She recited again:

“The long, dark corridor of life narrows at the end./

And those whose ego grew too tall will have to learn to bend.”

I tell this story because I am often asked if it is possible for people who are older to learn new things. Usually the question is about teachers who are reluctant to adopt new practices.

But sometimes the question is about whether human beings can continue to learn throughout their lives.

Jean, other hospice patients, and the countless educators I’ve had the privilege to work with over decades have taught me that learning and growth are possible until the very end, whether than end is their career or their very lives.

I am very grateful for the gift of possibility and hope that they have given me.

5 Responses to “Learning until life’s end”


  1. 1 @davidfifevp March 4, 2013 at 7:52 am

    A very touching story Dennis. Thanks for sharing.

  2. 2 Kay Psencik March 4, 2013 at 9:46 am

    This is absolutely beautiful! Actually the two lines of poetry are most meaningful! You are an inspiration to me, Dennis!

  3. 4 Narda Robbins March 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Dennis: you are correct! But the learning until the end requires an open mind, doesn’t it? That is the challenge with a lot of teachers today. Some are reluctant to bring the open mind with them to the classroom everyday. It is often much easier to do the “same old”….I love the fact that you propose that we must challenge ourselves continually in our personal lives and our professions. Thank goodness that we have people out there who believe in this and you can inspire us to want to keep growing and learning with you.

    • 5 Dennis Sparks March 19, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      I agree that an open mind is required. I also believe that the culture of the school determines to a large degree – although not completely – whether teachers are open to new ideas and practices or are resistant. I encourage you to browse through the “school culture” section of my blog to see if you find anything of value there.


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