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Journeying to New Concepts through Travel

Book of knowledge travelling man

The whole idea of education is that of a journey. The word educate comes from the Latin ex-ducere: “ex” (out of) and “ducere” (to lead) – to lead someone out of their former self into a new self. The word “pedagogue” comes from the Greek “paidos”, meaning boy and “agogos”, meaning guide:  to guide the child. The word “curriculum” comes from the Latin “currere”, meaning to run.

Why is this? Perhaps it goes back to our ancestral roots as hunter-gatherers: from at least 40,000 years ago in our collective experience, things would be discovered by movement through new landscapes as nomadic groups followed the coastline or a river, never quite settling down, always on the move, always seeking. Over 2000 years ago, Aristotle’s school was known in Ancient Greece as the “Peripatos”, from “peripatein”, a word that for the Greeks did not just mean to walk but more precisely to walk up and down as one does when thinking or discussing issues. Students and teachers would roam through the school discussing matters and learning in an itinerant fashion.

There seems to be something archetypal about digesting ideas while on the move, engaging in a discussion while strolling through different places.

The Rich Legacy of Learning

There is a rich legacy of learning through travel in the literatures of the world. The Chinese Song dynasty literature, such as the poetry of Su Shi, describes the mountains and lakes of the Chinese hinterland; the Islamic tales of travels to Mecca in the 11th Century include the famous travelogues of Ibn Battuta, probably the most widely travelled explorer of the Middle Ages. In Europe, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron used travelling as a narrative frame for the telling of different stories while Marco Polo’s Milione piqued the imaginations of Western readers about the East. The Beninois author and philosopher Olaudah Equiano’s memoirs, published in the late 1700s, described not only his movements through the world as an enslaved person, but opened the minds of many Europeans to the horrors of slavery and had an important influence on abolitionism.

Travel literature allows those that read it to journey not only to new places but to new concepts.  Travel broadens the mind they say: this is where a deep education is formed since one is confronted with the unfamiliar, and knowledge has to be reshaped and transferred into new situations.

In an age when so many of us are glued to social media, reinforcing our biases and friend circles with familiar, comforting narratives; the notion of breaking out into the new ground and trying something different needs to be engineered intentionally. It is important to read books or articles that you disagree with, to find out about causes that do not initially resonate with you. This allows us, metaphorically, to travel to new pastures as the mind-seeking continues and consciousness expands. Because of the lure of popular media that focuses only on confirmation bias-anchoring, it takes a considerable effort of the will to do this. Still, it is important to do, in order to keep learning.

Reading as Travelling

There is such an important difference between reading an extended piece of writing and flipping through video posts. When you read a book or a long article, you have to make your way through several different landscapes, including ones that might not be pleasant, a little the way that physical travel involves some discomfort, some tediousness, and some time sacrificed to the actual experience of travelling while waiting for the destination. And when one reaches the end of an extended piece of reading, it is not as if one has arrived at any particular place, for the learning was in the travelling itself, it was in the journey.

And thanks to technology, this symbolic travelling can take place without having to contend with the traditional physical barriers and challenges that make travel difficult, especially in today’s world where geopolitics make access to travel easier for some and more difficult for others. An online course or degree is a way of allowing the mind to travel to new places, a good example being the University of the People’s Master of Education, removing barriers to learning for thousands of people across the world.

Happy travelling, happy learning!