On Learning


“Learned Institutions ought to be favorite  objects with every free people.”

These words were contained in a letter James Madison wrote to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822.

I love to spend time in and around Learned Institutions.  Don’t you?

Recently I was strolling the campus of UCLA in Westwood, California.

My son Patrick is there, soon to complete a Masters in statistics.

Years ago I too was accepted into a graduate  program at UCLA,  music for me,  but my parents felt it was just too far away from home.  Never mind that all four of their parents were born and raised in Poland, leaving their families behind, never to see them again!

But for me, all’s well that ends well.  I attended Boston University instead of UCLA and not only liked that school very much, but in Boston  I also met Bill who would become my husband. Bill attended and  graduated from  Boston University too.

But enough about my past.

Now, just to sit in the environment of a learned institution can inspire me  to learn and grow intellectually.


Maybe it’s watching others reading and learning.


Maybe it’s the architecture.


Maybe nature has something to do with it.


Most college campuses could double as beautiful parks.


A walk through campus, at least a campus like UCLA in Southern California, is like walking through a botanical garden.


Intelligence seems to be in the air.


 It mingles with the scent of trees, flowers and other assorted plants.  Do students here appreciate what they have?  I do hope so.

And of course the  classroom  radiates much intelligence and offers learning and inspiration.


I sit quietly in the back of the room watching my son lecture a statistics class.  (He’s a teaching assistant here at UCLA.)


I watch him help undergraduates with their learning.

 Being a fine arts major this class is Greek to me, but nevertheless it inspires me to learn as I watch others learn.  I’m inspired to delve deeply into my own subjects of interest.

Music * Art *  Literature * Nature * Culinary Arts * History* Philosophy * Science * etcaetera, ectaeterorun.

  What subjects interest you?

Shall I practice some Beethoven sonatas?


Read some learned books?


Experiment growing plants in my garden?


Read about art  and artists and then express myself with paint brush and paint?


Learned institutions do a lot for us, but we can continue to learn and grow in all sorts of ways.

Learning is fun!

Look at the fun my son has with his very smart friends who are all  doctoral candidates in statistics  at UCLA.


 After all,  work and no play make people very stuffy, but all play and no work  make people “Not too smart“!


What Fun these people have when they’re not filling their heads with knowledge!

Of course we can’t all drop everything and enroll in one university after another, but have you ever heard of a company called Great Courses ( previously known as The Teaching Company)?  This company encourages the joy of  learning by offering  lectures from a variety of professors who teach at some of our  greatest universities.  If we can’t get ourselves to The Culinary Institute of America and take a course with Chef-Instructor Bill Briwa why not buy his 24 lectures entitled “The Everyday Gourmet”?  Maybe we’re more in the mood for neuroscience.  Then we should buy the 36 lectures of Sam Wang who is Professor of Molecular Biology and Neuroscience at Princeton.

I may not be able to enroll in, and earn a degree from, dozens of the great universities around the world,  and maybe you can’t either, but with the help of the Great Courses company I can learn from their top teachers and grow in knowledge.  So many fields of study are offered:  science and mathematics, history,  literature and language, religion and theology, business and economics, philosophy, fine arts.  You really ought to get their catalog (1.800.832. 2412 or find them on line at http://www.thegreatcourses.com) and see what they have to offer, and no, I’m not on commission, but I should be!


Maybe the  next course I’ll  investigate will be “How music and Mathematics relate”,  taught by David Kung of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.  The 12 lectures promise to help me gain perspective on these two great achievements of human culture – music and math – and  understand the fascinating connections and intricacies of both.  (This course might help me have an intelligent conversation with my son in statistics.)

“The world is so full of a number of things, I think we should all be as happy as kings”

so said Robert Louis Stevenson.

I agree, don’t you?

So let’s get busy learning about as many of those things as we can.

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