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Through the Learning Glass

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take a two-hour glass blowing class at Hoogs & Crawford on the New York/Massachusetts border. The class was wonderful on multiple levels: it was incredible to walk away with two pieces of glass that I’d created, but it was also great to be a novice and actively thinking about learning from the perspective of a beginning student.

Since that class, I’ve been thinking about a few things. One of those I’ll tackle in our next blog post (about adult hands-on learning), but today I’m going to focus on the learning about learning that I was able to do in paying attention to my process and talking with our teacher, Nathan.

In the class, we made two pieces. The first was a paperweight, which we did both because they’re very forgiving and to get some practice at most of the elements of making a glass piece (without the element of blowing it). After we completed our paperweights, Nathan talked us through some of the other things we could try to make by blowing a glass piece. That range included an ornament (my friend’s choice), a small vase, a stemless wine glass, or a cup (my choice). In talking through the options, Nathan discussed how, in glass blowing, you could blow something and work to make it as flat as possible until it became a plate, or you could blow a thin, hollow tube. Every other shape, he said, falls somewhere on a line between those two extremes. He went on to say that you end up with something between those two by using different tools, applying different pressure at different moments, manipulating the amount of glass you take, using an assistant, and reheating various amounts of time.

Even in the moment, it sounded to me like he was talking about how we form people. Teaching and learning are messy processes that requires different interventions at different moments for different people, much as my glass and my friend’s ornament required different approaches. Both were made of the same material, but the end products were incredibly dissimilar. They served separate functions and would be handy at different times, but at the end of it, both were useful and beautiful.

People are shaped by all kinds of things, events and people and time. We become sturdy in different ways, and we find ways to shine and become ourselves in different moments. I want more students, and really people, to understand there isn’t one proper way to be. At any moment, we may be just what’s needed for a particular task, but even if we aren’t, that doesn’t mean we’re any less of whatever we are. In a society that demands so often that we fit into a strict mold, I wish that more people could take a glass blowing class and remember that we’re all points on a line, and all of us, infinitely wonderful.


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