On Holistic Learning

by Heidie Raine

POV: It’s mid-October, mid-Paradise Lost in Brit Lit, and you have not read books 8-10. You didn’t even bother to read a summary. You show up, ill-prepared, comatose, a warm body with an empty brain that is ready to sit lifelessly for the next 50 minutes.

Substitute your discipline’s assignments into the quandary. You have not written the lesson plan, have not derived the equation, have not designed the graphic. Bottom line: you have not. 

I’m unconcerned, here, with the grade blow that comes from missing an assignment—we can usually spare the four participation points our daily tasks count for. But when these failures compound and more of the syllabi go untouched, uncrossed-out, they fester. 

I lamented about this academic stumbling to my housemate as mid-October turned to early November and I was still floundering. Maybe assignments were complete, but my discussion posts had morphed in statements like Great thought, Megan! I’m really impressed with your insights here. You made me think about this topic in a new way! Substance: devoid. Content: lacking. 

As I turned to my housemate, I babbled on about how little I felt I was retaining. We pay obscene amounts of money to sit in lectures that we ignore, strive to turn in assignments that cannot be distilled to a fine thought or product because hasty work breeds garbage. I was producing garbage. 

I don’t remember all of what she said, but I do recall the word “holistic” falling out of her mouth. The concept sounded ethereal—something all of my friends who went to Christian schools knew to recite as their justification for Bible classes. 

Time allowed me to chew on the word more, to see how widely it reached, to recognize that classes, though essential to college, are a mere component of what it means to grow. As much as our parents had to teach us our names, they also had to teach us to tie shoes, to properly shower, to take turns on the monkey bars and to chew with our mouths closed.

The week I didn’t read Paradise Lost (or write for creative nonfiction, or watch King Lear), I cornered Dr. Gilhooly after Theo I and inquired, ever so endearingly, if I could ask nosey questions about his undergraduate degree in literature. How did he plan to use it? How did getting converted change that? Did it help him understand theology better? Was he happy?

The next week, in Dr. McCartney’s office: What was it like to be young, married, and in graduate school while her spouse was as well? How did they both sacrifice parts of their plans and emerge, Jesus-loving, happy, professor and lawyer? What was it like to be a young woman in academia? 

To my mother, over FaceTime: Why do I have to mix cold water into the cornstarch cup when I make gravy? 

To my pastor, in Sunday school: How do we take the 5th commandment when the person we ought to honor acts dishonorably?

I do not know what happens in books 8-10 of Paradise Lost, and I barely watched 10 minutes of Lear. But I have a better grip on writing literature as a believer, navigating relationships and Master’s programs, how any lumps left in the cornstarch cup will transfer to the gravy, and on, and on, and on.  I have gleaned lessons this year that, entirely independent of my syllabi, are reforming my soul. 

This is holistic learning—configuring an adult life that begs for instruction on relationships, paying rent, washing colanders, investing. 

I picked back up with book 12 of Paradise Lost, and the rage I felt towards Milton’s sexist handling of Eve led me to mix ink with tears. It also led me to Dr. Michelle Wood’s office where I expressed how dearly I wanted to ask Dr. Deardorff about it—just weeks after his sudden death—and how I couldn’t. I learned more about grief through Milton than I did the plotline of his extra-biblical epic. And that is okay.

Learning is holistic, comprehensive, deeper than just a reading list, richer than just a lecture. Take a breath. Consider all you’ve absorbed. Rejoice in the lessons that you’ve learned on the road, in the dust, with scraped knees, with closed books, that will follow you and better you even when the lesson plans, the reading responses, the graphed hyperbolas fade and flake and fall away. You are still being formed. 

Heidie Raine is a junior English major at Cedarville with concentrations in creative and journalistic writing. In addition to working for Cedarville public relations and the writing center, Heidie loves perusing her local Goodwill, drinking iced cortados, watching videos of sea otters, and caring for her small forest of plants.

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