Image Courtesy of Mr. XPK
We all go to school for a reason. As kids, sometimes that reason wasn’t very clear, school was just what we did, or were told to do, as kids. School was a major chunk of our lives, and basically, we were there to learn, so that we could ‘do’ later. We learned things from teachers and from each other. We learned from books and on the playground. We learned a bit about how our tiny piece of the world worked, and how we worked.
For the book part, at least, there was a prescribed agenda of what topics were to be taught, and what details were required to be remembered and regurgitated for pop quizzes, weekly tests, and standardized exams. With the whole of human history and knowledge available, school curricula are pretty narrowly focused.
At the very least, we are taught the basics so we can function on a daily basis in the society in which we are being raised. We learn basic math so we can at least make sure expenses are less than our income, and to ensure that we are getting the best deal on something. We learn to read so as to navigate signs and forms and brochures. We write so there is some level of ability to communicate with others.
We learn enough so we can function as members of a group, and then we learn a bit more so we can do more, like a better job or a hobby. School is just the first step, however. It’s the place where we learn how to learn, so that we can make our own path through knowledge and other people’s experiences. It’s where we learn that knowledge, and the simple act of ‘knowing’, can be it’s own reward with a sense of accomplishment.
With steampunk comes an amazing, perhaps unprecedented, opportunity for us to learn about such a wide variety of topics that didn’t make it into most or all school text books.
Steampunk has opened such curiosities and questions in my mind that I’m almost on overload with all the things I want to know. And it just never stops. Every day there is at least one new thing to learn about. Maybe it’s just a bit of trivia, maybe it’s something that makes a day a little better, maybe it’s something that makes me question my very perspective, outlook, and self-image.
Steampunk exposes us to the most amazing things, and those things cover every discipline of learning available to us.
After watching Disney’s 1954 movie adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, I knew the Nautilus wasn’t real, but it made me ask when the first submarine was built. And learn about the Victorian design style, and octopus ink.
Reading Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker made me pull up old and current maps of Seattle to get a better idea of where the story was taking place. I thought about her premise for the book – what if the American Civil War didn’t end in 1865 and technology bounded forward as the war continued? Aside from technology, what other impacts would there have been in the country, and to other countries?
Listening to steampunk music prompted me to want to list what made a given song ‘steampunk’, which led to reviewing the music forms, the very, very many music forms, in the 1800s. Steampunk music today is as varied as music was 150 years ago. And just what was that music back then?
Steampunk takes place in a targeted time period, one which we can read about and learn from. There are so many more fascinating things to learn than ever were, or could be, in the fairly dry and dull school history books. Because of steampunk, I learned about Victoria Woodhull, read more about the Dowager Empress, understood more about the aggressive acts of colonialism, and so much more.
After one panel about medical practices, I wanted to know more about toothpaste, soap, and how our plumbing systems of today first got started. it might not sound it, but it’s actually quite interesting.
Steampunk showed me not just how one could look fabulous in 19th century style garb, but why people wore such things at the time, how fashions evolved through the decades, and how people in our community take what was, and add in something of what is to create something fairly new. One friend commented that before she got into steampunk, she had never touched a sewing machine. Now, she doesn’t just use one, or several, to create her own outfits, she can service and repair them, too!
The Clacker by Datamancer
Other people in our community wanted to let their creativity shine in all new ways and learned how to weld, or create electric bits and bobs, or run laser cutters and 3D printers. People have made their own brooches, buttons for an outfit, and their own shoes!
Steampunk has inspired people to learn new skills to accomplish something they wanted to do for themselves, for their expression of steampunk. People learned how to do the popular ballroom dances. Some learned how to play an instrument. Some learned how to make that instrument!
At every event, from small local gatherings to large regional conventions, we can learn something new.
How to make something, the actual historical influence behind a story or artwork, how to start a business, the changing design influences throughout the century, and just how good our modern lives are now compared to our ancestors of just 100+ years ago.
School taught us how to learn so that we could keep on learning every day. It gave us the platform, if not the curiosity, to fly out like steampunk adventurers into the unknown, with the sole goal of learning and experiencing something new. We learned to read so we can enjoy the fictions of our favorite authors, the blogs of commentators, the DIY instructions of a new project. We learned to write so we can stay in touch with new friends, and ask questions of others. We learned math so we can make our clothes, design our props, and build that dream airship!
Formal schooling may be over for most of us, but learning never stops, and with steampunk, there is no end to the rabbit hole of interesting topics.