In Painting Chinese (Reviews, May 14), Herbert Kohl, a teacher and author of more than 40 books on education, discusses his experience taking a beginner’s course in Chinese landscape painting. On the first day of class he was surprised to discover that he was the oldest student by more than 60 years.

What was it like learning a new skill alongside kindergarteners?

It was really wonderful. I’ve been teaching and writing about education for nearly 45 years, so I had to unlearn a couple of things in order to become one among children rather than a teacher of children. My whole perception of learning and teaching was transformed.

Has painting helped you as a writer?

Absolutely. When I paint, I’m not really thinking about it, but when I get back to my writing, something seems to have worked through my brain.

You explore a lot of Chinese literature throughout the book. Which story had the biggest impact on you?

The journey of Monkey King, a mythic hero of Chinese Buddhism. In my years of advocating for progressive education and social justice, I’ve had a similar kind of determination and willingness to occasionally break rules that seemed unjust—qualities that have brought me to greater wisdom, much like Monkey King. I identified with his journey toward a redemptive life that’s still unfinished. It’s wonderful accepting that your goals will never be completed if they’re big enough, and that it’s worth making them so big that you leave some unfinished so that other people can pick them up after you.

What are you working on now?

A long-term project is a history of youth and education in the U.S., from the beginning of the republic to the present. I’m collaborating on it with Colin Greer, the head of the New World Foundation. I’m also working on a book with the principal of a large, urban high school in San Francisco. For the last four years I’ve been helping him talk his way through the kinds of problems he can’t talk about with his staff or administration. We have this special relationship where he can vent and question things in a creative context without being judged as distressed or weak—he calls it educational therapy.