Makeba’s Corner: What My Mom Taught Me About Learning

When I was 6 years old, my mom embarked on a spiritual quest. This period confused me because she grew up Catholic and I didn’t understand what she was searching for. Thinking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. My mom defied her generation by leaving her traditional Italian Catholic home to be with my dad, a black man who had an infectious free spirit. Now, I see that my mom was searching for her identity beyond the influence of her upbringing.

I remember being dragged reluctantly to different churches. One was Afrocentric (an African-centered philosophy) where the members wore beautiful and brightly colored dashikis. Another church was more Christian with neat rows of dark wooden pews lined with Bibles. It was very serene. I also remember a “New Age” church decorated with soft, white flowing linens that served as curtain dividers between small rooms filled with the most delicious smells of incense and candles.

I don’t think my mom found what she was looking for because we didn’t go to church after that period. Yet, this was a profound childhood experience for me. The most important lesson that I learned from my mom during this time was: Sometimes in life the end result is not as significant as the journey one experiences along the way. My mom’s journey taught me two lessons about learning. One, learning is a choice. I can decide to change myself by growing in any way that I choose. My mom decided that she needed to grow spiritually in a way that was different from her upbringing. Second, learning is a lifelong process. My mom was in her mid-thirties when she embarked on her spiritual quest. She taught me that I can decide to change my life at any time.

As an education professor, I encounter many UCSD students who, in my mind, are held hostage by a hyperfocus on grades and figuring out what the professor wants for an A grade. I see a lot of students who are in such a hurry! Their goal is to get to the end of something — the end of a class, a quarter, or college altogether. Some of this has to do with the system itself; university admissions policies typically privilege grades and SAT scores above anything else. I also understand that college students have not created the system in which they are forced to participate in. However, as my mom taught me, we can control what matters to us and the direction our own journey takes.

I genuinely worry that UCSD students are in such a hurry to “get it over with” that they miss out on opportunities to grow in ways that they can’t imagine are possible for themselves. I worry that college students are letting a flawed system obsessed with grades and test scores rob them of using their time in college to create their own journey. What I worry about the most is that in 10 years, UCSD graduates will look back and regret that they didn’t use this time to search for all that matters to them and, instead, they’ll realize that what they found didn’t really matter as much as they thought. If this does happen, I hope students will keep in mind what my mom taught me — it’s never too late to embark on your own quest.

2 thoughts on “Makeba’s Corner: What My Mom Taught Me About Learning

  1. I definitely agree with Sam Thoburn’s comment. Although the focus of a university is the students they aren’t the only ones present. There are much larger variety of perspectives (staff and workers, faculty and lecturers, admin, etc) that I would live to hear from. Engaging them in an active dialogue could help raise awareness of and action for student issues as well.

  2. Just thought I’d say that I thought this an excellent piece–it would be great to see more contributions from professors in the Guardian’s future!

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