Larsen-Freeman: The Art of Unlearning

2009 Graduates of SIT.  Reformer photo by Kimberly Hatch.

2009 Graduates of SIT. Reformer photo by Kimberly Hatch.

Saturday, May 30, marked graduation ceremonies for SIT Graduate Institute.  Besides the recognition of the 265 graduates, a feature of the day was rousing remarks by Diane Larsen-Freeman, long-time faculty member and beloved friend of SIT.  In her speech, Larsen-Freeman described the relationships that language and language learning have with all of the other of SIT’s degrees and its mission. 

Read Howard Weiss-Tisman’s story in the Brattleboro Reformer.

The art of unlearning


Monday, June 1

BRATTLEBORO — Former School For International Training professor Diane Larsen-Freeman told the 2009 graduates that they needed to master the art of unlearning as they went out into the world with their degrees.

Larsen-Freeman, who spent about 25 years at SIT before moving on to the University of Michigan in 2003, in her commencement speech said there were inherent assumptions in all cultures and languages, and she encouraged the graduates to let theirs go as they worked in host countries around the world.

“Learning a language is not just about building a vocabulary of new words or figuring out which grammatical ending goes where. It is about freeing oneself from unconscious constraints on perception and thought,” she said. “An SIT education is all about unlearning.”

After a week of cold, wet weather, the clouds parted Saturday over the World Learning campus as 265 SIT graduates were recognized for completing their master’s degrees.

The students came from 85 different countries, and from all over the United States, and along with the traditional black robes, some students wore handwoven robes from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Larsen-Freeman also told the graduates not to be discouraged as they left school to enter a world in economic and political turmoil.

She mentioned the school’s two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Jody Williams and Wangaari Matthai.

Williams helped ban land mines by unearthing one at a time while Matthai helped address deforestation by planting one tree at a time.

“Learning and change in language and in the world do not take place by simply adding something to what you already know, but by changing the system, often a step at a time,” Larsen-Freeman said. “It is the smallest acts that are important because they collectively lead to change in the system.”

World Learning Board Chairman Ken Bartels also recognized that the graduates were leaving school during challenging times.

He talked about how nonprofit organizations all over the world were feeling the stresses of a struggling economy, while at the same time some developing countries need as much assistance as ever before.

The students were not choosing the easiest paths, he said, and he asked the families in the audience to continue to support their graduates as they set out to make change.

“You will be tested, but you will succeed,” said Bartels. “And the world will be a better place because of it.”


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5 Responses to “Larsen-Freeman: The Art of Unlearning”

  1. Taheerah Ahmad Says:

    This is why I love SIT!!! The professors are so supportive and encouraging. This will always be one of most cherished places. I hope that I can live up to the name of an SIT member, stay positive about life, and be encouraging to my fellows. I really am proud to be apart of this family

  2. Nina McCoy, Ha Noi, Viet Nam Says:

    As an SIT graduate working in this world of uncertain funding and continuing need, I, too, wish the new graduates strength, endurance and initiative. The challenges today and in the future are why there is an SIT and why we find the inner resources to move forward despite some of the realities we face. We do make a difference, if sometimes not exactly the one we set out to make. Those surprises of change encouraged and result produced are what keep me going! Even after 30 years SIT comes to my mind every day and the memories of its energy,life spirit, the unlearning, the friends support me. Thanks to all who were there when I learned to be even better in this world. I draw on those learnings still.

  3. Aerin Dunford Says:

    As one of the SIT graduates that was not physically able to attend the ceremony, I am heartened to read this article and resonate immensely with the message of UNLEARNING. While I don’t think that this point was stressed often enough during my on-campus experience, it is probably one of the most important things that I learned during the post-campus phases. I encourage us all to continue to unlearn and de-school ourselves.

    • matadmissions Says:

      Congratulations on your graduation, Aerin! Unlearning is a powerful way of considering how to learn. I applaud your awareness of self and recognition that valuable learning can be derived from experience outside a classroom.

  4. Moodiela Mathobela Says:

    SIT is so amazing! I can’t think of any place that could have helped me to UNLEARN in order to absorb new perspectives and ideas than the way it’s done in SIT. The programs are marvelous, the professors are so sweet and the students are very diverse and bring with them multiple experiences. What more could one ask for? This is the best education to have ever occured in my life. Once an SIT, always an SIT. Educational Aluta Continua! Viva SIT’s MAT and PIM programs Viva! Let’s continue to be the change we want to see in the world as alluded to by Mohandas Ghandi.

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