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Viewpoints: Imagining a lifelong learning land

By Carl Francis Penders

Stories change. People’s stories. Cities’ stories. “I’m from Buffalo … So I picked Buffalo,” said Dennis Galucki, a man set on imagining a new Buffalo story, intending to “infuse” Buffalo with the lifelong learning culture he has discovered at the Chautauqua Institution. Galucki calls it the Buffalo-Chautauqua Idea.

A Nov. 11, 1983, conference called “Imagining Buffalo: Reflections on Our City” was organized in part by Robert Shibley, dean of the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning, and Lynda Schneekloth, professor emeritus at UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. James Hillman, a noteworthy Jungian psychologist, was the gathering’s keynote presenter. Then living in Dallas, Texas, Hillman had studied the pathology of cities. In a story for New York Folklore (Summer-Fall 1984) “Buffalo, The Inside Story,” by Schneekloth and Margaret Wooster, Hillman called Dallas and Buffalo “marginal cities ruled by images” – Dallas’ being “manic,” and Buffalo’s “depressive.”

Author of “The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling,” Hillman addressed problems in a March 1998 Sun magazine interview saying, “They come from the environment, the cities, the economy, the racism. They come from architecture, school systems, capitalism, exploitation. They come from many places psychotherapy does not address. If a kid is having trouble, or is discouraged, the problem is not just inside the kid; it’s also in the system, the society.

“I don’t think anything changes until ideas change. We can’t change anything until we get some fresh ideas, until we begin to see things differently. My goal is to create a therapy of ideas. To try to bring in new ideas so that we can see the same old problems differently.”

Is the Buffalo-Chautauqua Idea that fresh, new idea? Is a communitywide commitment to lifelong learning the answer? Imagine roadside signs reading: “Entering Erie County: A Lifelong Learning Community.”

“You’re talking about changing the culture,” said Philip L. Haberstro, director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, noting similar societal change regarding tobacco.

“It has to be a comprehensive approach,” Haberstro said of ingraining lifelong learning into our collective craniums. “It has to be strategic,” noting that Dr. Zorba Paster, an NPR contributor, says, “Lifelong learning is the best predictor of lifelong health.”

“I think we ought to turn it into a community event, like Chautauqua,” said WNED President Donald K. Boswell. “We’ve got the resources, but there’s not enough out-of-the box thinking. There could be community town halls of learning. It has to be well organized, be meaningful, with corporate sponsors.”

Speaking at Galucki’s Central Library Imagine lecture series in April 2010, Boswell said, “An effective community is a living thing. Its people breathe life, purpose, energy. They willingly commit their efforts.” Elaborating, Hillman said, “Calling can refer not only to ways of doing – meaning work – but also to ways of being.”

His ideas can continue to enlighten Buffalo. “Take being a friend. Goethe said that his friend Eckermann was born for friendship. Aristotle made friendship one of the great virtues. In his book on ethics, three or four chapters are on friendship. In the past, friendship was a huge thing. But it’s hard for us to think of friendship as a calling, because it’s not a vocation.”

Could being a friend be part of the Buffalo-Chautauqua Idea? While Chautauqua seeks to expand beyond its mainly white, Protestant origins, it’s generally a friendly, civil, welcoming enclave. Would studying Aristotle begin tearing down local walls that separate us? For “Buffalo is the sixth most segregated community in the country,” said Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker at the 2016 Buffalo Day at Chautauqua, drawing on data from a 2010 census analysis by the Brooking’s Institution’s William H. Frey and the University of Michigan’s Social Science Data Analysis Network.

Would a new community idea lower the local misery index?

“We’re miserable partly because we have only one god, and that’s economics. Economics is a slave-driver,” Hillman said. “No one has free time; no one has any leisure. The whole culture is under terrible pressure and fraught with worry. It’s hard to get out of that box. That’s the dominant situation all over the world.”

Are Buffalo and Erie County determined to see things differently? Ready to rise out of the box of the world’s dominant, miserable thinking?

“It’s a discussion to be had in bars, workplaces, homes and churches,” said Shibley. Schneekloth asserts that in Buffalo, “There’s an enormous active self-learning community.” She cited PUSH Buffalo and Buffalo Reading Invasion, what Shibley calls “mini-Chautauquas.”

Putting pieces in perspective is Stanford Bratton, director of the Network of Religious Communities, who will be a presenter at this year’s Buffalo Day at Chautauqua on Tuesday. Referencing Augustine’s City of God, Bratton said that, like faith, lifelong learning is “Not a quick answer. Not always easy sailing.” But it will provide “some resources when things don’t go so well. What’s at stake is not religious communities themselves, but democracy itself, our whole sense of community.” He urges people to “take time to talk to one another.”

Perhaps that’s where lifelong learning begins. Learning to be friends.


Buffalo Day at Chautauqua is from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Buffalo area residents are admitted to the Chautauqua Institution’s grounds at no charge. Go to for info.

Carl Francis Penders is a writer, and a Chautauquan who is committed to lifelong learning.

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