Lifelong Learning

“Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” — Henry Ford

At 74, Hope Rapson points to her elementary school experience as pivotal to shaping the tenacity and resolve that has carried her through the roller coaster of life and into her senior years. When she was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired 8-year-old, she lived on a Makah reservation in Neah Bay, Washington, residing and attending school among American Indians in the early 1950s. Assimilation was still alive and well in America; tribes all across the United States were encouraged, or in some cases forced, to abandon their cultures. Her military father, Lt. Kenneth W. Linsley, was assigned to a line of radar stations during the Cold War. They lived in a three-room shack in a fishing village, and Hope attended the government-run reservation school. The resentment-charged Makah community targeted the little girl with taunts, threats, and some bodily harm. The children stole her lunch and threw her into nettles. One woman swept her off a porch. Yet, the illegitimate “half-cast,” but untouchable, granddaughter of the chief secretly befriended Hope and inadvertently showed her the valuable lesson of perseverance.

It took Hope 20 years to achieve her master’s degree in theological arts from Columbia International University. In fact, she just graduated this past April, surrounded by four of her five children and at least half of her 25 grandchildren (she has one great-grand on the way). She has bachelor degrees in music and English from the University of California at Santa Barbara and in education from Wright State University in Ohio.

“Life happens,” she says from her classroom at Covenant Classical Christian School, where she teaches six middle and high school classes. Blue eyes still vibrant, Hope explains how she started the degree simply because she loved learning as much as she loved being a teacher. When she started the degree online with CIU in the late ‘90s, she was living in Ohio and in the throes of breast cancer recovery. “It was having that intellectual stimulation that brought me through nine weeks of radiation treatment,” she says.

Hope moved to Columbia in 2003 to be closer to her daughter and other family, and she continued the master’s degree pursuit. While attending classes, she was also teaching classes and helping to teach homeschooled grandchildren. Just as she could see the home stretch to graduation, Hope was diagnosed in 2015 with uterine cancer, which she battled and beat. “I was just determined. I wasn’t going to give up or let anything keep me from what I wanted to do. It made sense for me to finish, regardless of my age. I set that goal, and I was going to achieve it.” Yes, she already had degrees, but she found the topic of theology interesting. And, she has the mindset that to be a good teacher, one must be a good student as well.

Her extended years as a student helps her weave knowledge into curriculum and lessons, whether teaching literature, Latin, or music. She especially likes students to evaluate writings and to journal. She asserts, “They learn about themselves through different writings, and they learn to be curious and ask questions.”

Hope admits that she has been a teacher, and student, long enough to realize that much has changed in the world of academia. She meets with other senior-age colleagues who lament the current educational climate of technological  distractions and disrespect for authority. “We talk about how when we started in the ‘60s, all we had to do was walk into the room, and the children quieted and did what you asked,” she says. “Now the concept of being quiet doesn’t mean anything, and authority is difficult to establish. Then students knew right from wrong, but there is a real lack of moral direction in classrooms that really reflects today’s society.”

Still, she continues, “There are days when I think I should retire, but I think, ‘What would I do with myself?’ I’m so thankful to be a teacher. It’s all consuming and it takes a lot of energy, but it’s so rewarding, and I have no real leading to stop.”

She would like to spend more time editing other people’s works and writing creatively. She enjoys the process of writing so much that every month she sits down at a desk to “correspond.” Think Jane Austin. She writes a handwritten note or postcard to each of her 25 grandchildren, age range from 5 to 33. “I affirm the activities they are involved in, issues affecting their stage of growth and life, and reassure them I love them. I send birthday cards and an occasional extra postcard if I’m traveling and see something that especially pertains to them.”

She also texts and keeps up through Facebook and FaceTime, and she tries to attend the activities of all grandchildren who live close by or in traveling distance, including sporting events, fine arts performances, horseback riding/equestrian training, graduations, and weddings. In summers she travels to Michigan, Ohio, and Montana to see grandchildren in those states. She teaches the younger ones arts and crafts and sewing.

“We have made snuggies with matching pillow cases to hold them, T-shirt dresses, and dolls –  including a Minion,” she says with a smile.

She even has “dates” with them when possible, going on walks or taking them out to eat so that she can have one-on-one quality time.

She started a Christmas tradition with each grandchild to give them a Christmas tin for their first Christmas. Each year until they are 18, she fills it with appropriate gifts and candy, and then after Christmas they return it. When they turn 18, she includes $50 and a poem written especially for them, and then they are allowed to keep the tin to use “as they wish.”

Hope says her father had something to do with her itch to be both student and teacher. He was an Air Force pilot while also studying law and eventually passing the bar to become part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, or legal branch, of the Air Force. He also became a professor at the New York School of the Bible as well as an author and pastor.

“I saw him studying, and I just loved going to school and learning,” she says. “It was the discovery aspect of it all. My parents and my home were very quiet, but I was a more active, energized child.”

By the time she was 22, she had been in 22 schools. She was salutatorian of her high school class and took her first college courses at the University of the Philippines while her family was stationed there. For 55 years, she has taught every age from pre-school to college, as well as literacy and GED-prep at AmeriCorps. She even worked as the vice principal at an elementary school, but she knew the classroom – not education administration – was where she thrived.

Hope desires to always work toward soaking in more knowledge so that she can learn and grow as a human being. Even though arthritis has begun to hamper classical piano performances, she is learning simple jazz and improvisation. She has taken classes in watercolor painting and wants to study other mediums so that she can combine art with poetry and create cards and stationery and write children’s stories.

Finally, she says she never tires of learning languages. “My interest in Latin, Greek, French, and Spanish will probably compel me to enroll in classes at USC,” she says. “They’re offered free of charge to anyone over 60!”

In all that Hope does and continues to do, she attributes that young start on the American Indian reservation as key to shaping her as a lifelong learner and teacher – and just someone generally interested in the world.

She also points to one of the white teachers assigned to instruct tribal children as a strong early influence, as she treated all equally and respectfully. The teacher desired that the Makah children have knowledge of their culture – in a roundabout way. Thus, she read them The Story of Doctor Doolittle (1920), written and illustrated by Hugh Lofting. It was the first of a series of children’s novels about a man who learns to talk to animals and becomes their champion around the world. Animal spirits were an important part of the Makah culture. This teacher, Hope realized later, knew that while she could not teach or allow them to study that aspect of their culture, she could equip them with literature that was relatable.

“Her teaching made an impression on me that stuck with me. Students need to be exposed and equipped,” says Hope. “An education is universal knowledge so you can discern and make smart choices.”

That tumultuous year as a third grader – a foreigner in a foreign land – stuck with her and guided her so much that she went back to the Makah reservation 50 years later and looked up Louise, her only friend, who buffered Hope from any serious physical abuse. Interestingly, Louise had no recollection of ever knowing Hope. The person who made such a lifelong difference to Hope had not given her a second thought. However, Louise was just recovering from breast cancer, and since Hope had survived breast cancer, she was able to comfort and encourage her childhood friend. The two instantly formed a new friendship. “I told her, ‘You were so significant to me then.’ I wanted to thank her. On her life I was a blip, but to me she was a whole chapter.”

The resilience that Louise taught Hope as a young child also carried Louise through life. From an outcast in her community due to her birth, Louise earned her way on the reservation’s Indian council and became highly respected in the community. Hope and Louise committed to staying in touch and corresponded for many years.

Hope was also able to see on that return trip the thorny childhood experience for what it was intended to be: a lesson in purposefulness. She remembered falling asleep to the sounds of nightly Pow Wows – the Makah adults drumming around a fire. She remembered the ceremonial canoes decorated elaborately on their sides like totem poles. She remembered wearing moccasins to school.

“I realized that the experience did not put a bad taste in my mouth for Native Americans,” says Hope. “In fact, I find now that Native Americans’ history and culture is so fascinating. And I was glad to learn that today their culture is publicly celebrated there with a museum.”

Hope desires to instill the same fascination and enthusiasm for learning and teaching in her students that sparked in her years ago. “I will enjoy investing in these pursuits for as long as I’m able.”

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