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Janoah Bailin ‘14
For Janoah, approaching life and learning at College of the Atlantic is best done with a sense of playfulness and randomness.
I hope I will never stop learning and playing, and continue to take concepts and mix them up to generate something new—to let randomness play a part of my life.
Learning at COA
During his sophomore year, Janoah started to understand and take advantage of the freedoms COA’s self-directed curriculum provides. While struggling with completing Film Theory’s final written assignment, Janoah decided to complete a set of recordings instead, both meeting his needs and demonstrating his learning.
I realized I could specifically tailor a class to what I was interested in, not just meet a formal requirement. I could channel stress into something both creative and productive. At every block I came to, I realized I could shape the course. It amazes me that I didn't see that at first. It both dawned on me and was passively taught to me.
Coming from a United World College, a learning environment Janoah describes as highly idealistic, he was drawn to College of the Atlantic for its “Life changing, World changing” optimism. He was pleased to discover that rather than imposing a specific view of how the world should or shouldn’t be, “People at COA do not force a concept onto the world, but look at it.”
This is the most positive part of the school. A lot of people start with dogmas and lose those, eventually getting to a place where it’s a lot more exciting to look at the world. I stopped fighting myself when it came to my expectations of what my school work was “supposed to be” and went through a similar process with my ideals. Acceptance is challenging!
The Significance of Self-direction
Self-direction is about having a network of classes, and you choose them to create a path for yourself that is not prescribed. The problem with set paths is that they can funnel people into specific mindsets and limit creativity. Self-direction takes a lot of energy out of you. COA may not seem like the most challenging school from the outside, but the amount of time you commit takes a lot of energy, because you are constantly questioning. Having majors might allow you to turn that questioning off.
Janoah noticed that particular seemingly disparate courses often meld together in unexpected ways. For him, it was Advanced Chaos and Fractals, Proust, Beckett and Joyce, and Wilderness. For instance, he started looking at how the mathematical theories of chaos and fractals emerged in the structure of literature and art in his other courses.
In each class I was bringing in work from another class, and I had to think of ways to explain aspects of literature to students in my Chaos class, and vice versa. This dynamic happens constantly at COA.
In Art and Culture in Northern New Mexico, students studied Native American concepts of vision. When an idea for a puppet show centered around a “trickster” character came to Janoah, he was encouraged to trust his vision and delve into the project.
The task for the course was to create an artistic project that reflected our learning. The special thing about the class was that I was permitted to follow my vision. I built the puppet and had to explore how it worked. When I performed the show I went further into the character than I had ever been before. It was a completely new experience, to be lost in this trickster puppet.
As a student at COA, Janoah has learned to see relaxation and playfulness as valuable and even necessary elements of learning.
While at COA I’ve definitely become a lot gentler and more relaxed with myself and others. I’ve rediscovered a playfulness that I'd started to lose. I see the value in relaxing: rather than seeing relaxing as something you need to do to complete your work, relaxing is another way of being—of seeing the world differently. It has inherent value because of that.