Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Back to School

June 1983. I don’t remember the exact day, but that was the time I was no longer going to be in class. I graduated high school. Full up on smarts. I was an eighteen year old know-it-all ready to tackle the world. I thought with the fancy hat and tassel accompanied with the little scroll saying I was “done”, I really was no longer confined to having my cranium force fed with what I considered useless information. I was now liberated to exercise free-will and apply what I had learned to practical use. I was done learning and ready to start doing.

I went to college after that. True to my words I was “done learning.” My heinous GPA reflected that statement. I lasted three quarters. The knowledge gained mainly in reference to the “under-age” friendly bouncers who would let me in the bars. After twenty one, that type of information is rendered obsolete.

I had always associated that learning came from an academic institution. Students sat in neat little rows, teachers paced in front of the crowd fingers smudged with chalk. The information transfer based usually upon meeting some sort of criteria governed by a board somewhere.

I realize now that I am often being schooled.

I have mentioned many times my philosophy that “in life, not every classroom has a desk, nor every church a steeple.” I have found that life experience presents us with educational opportunities in random format and context. Our teachers often have no chalkboard, degree, or spend time in the teacher’s lounge. The most important and enduring lessons arrive like a sucker-punch via delivery of a formidable instructor.

My wife and I recently were discussing a person in her life she has challenges with. Nothing monumental, but that is often where our resolve and composure is most tested. I proposed to help her get by the animosity she can often feel in encountering the aggravating behaviors, that she considers this person her “teacher.” With raised brow she still speaks of this person as she would “Old lady so-and-so” who abrasively taught her math in elementary school. None the less, the lessons continue.

I then reflected upon my experience. I realized the faculty of the “University of Me” was vast as well. I didn’t know I was in class, but I have many diplomas. I have had many mentors, teachers, sensei’s, gurus, and coaches.

I realize all experiences past and present are presented to teach me something. Whether or not the “subject” is relative to me or another, I try to be connected to what I am supposed to gather. This is the practical side of learning I expected so many years ago. Be careful of what you ask for.

I must have failed everything I studied in my first twelve years, because I have had many remedial lessons ever since that day in 1983.

I have had to relearn math. This painful lesson taught to me by the economy, taxes, inflation, accounting, and a budget. The funny thing is that most of the skills I needed I learned early in elementary. Recently I heard my oldest telling my youngest as he tried some awkward subtracting that he cannot subtract one number from another and go below zero. A great lesson in credit and budget. Wish I had her in sixth period.

I have learned a lot about social studies. Just watch CNN. I interact with my neighbors. I watch my kids interact on the playground. I see the social climate change. I have a feeling this lesson is going to have a tough midterm.

I have revisited Home EC and have fared well. I found self reliance and the key to Home EC has a lot to what we do in service of others before ourselves. Through practical lessons I have learned to cook, clean, do laundry, and I can sew a button. Most of these lessons imposed through the desire to eradicate hunger, dirt, sloth, and inconvenience–not only for myself, but those I love.

Shop – Stuff breaks, we must fix it. I have yet to make an ashtray or birdhouse though.

Physics – You drop something it could break. Gravity. You push something up hill. More effort. Eat too much. Mass.

Phys Ed – It is good to run around and get some exercise for a while each day. Showering nowadays is less awkward in my own shower. Phys Ed improved.

Health – These lessons you learn not by a book, but by experience. I hope you all get to pass on having to sit through the lessons on cancer, diabetes, childhood illnesses, cholesterol, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and addiction. Those classes sucked.

Psychology – Some people are nuts. Some are not. Some are “quirky.” To other people you are nuts.

Government – I wish it was still only a 45 minute class every other day where the answers were in the back of the book.

Foreign language – It used to be where I was from there were two languages: English and redneck. The melting pot has obviously gotten “meltier.” And that is okay.

I guess I am thankful not so much for the lessons, but my teachers have been vast and colorful. I find those I once considered adversaries have taught me the most. I have learned patience, acceptance, compassion, humility, respect, and that if I mess up, and if I don’t agree with you, it is not your fault.

I have learned that age has nothing to do with wisdom. My kids have taught me among the most about myself. They have mirrored back to me my flaws so I can fix them in time to become the father I wish I had as well as to remember and respect the qualities in my father(s) I so dearly love. They took me back to innocence and accountability.

My wife has shown me balance, respect, humility, and that the desire to “always be right” is an unflattering trait. I realize that others can hold the key to our completion. Sometimes those we may find occasional opposition with are often our strongest allies when the real battles appear.

I like school now. I find every day I get to spend some time in the lab, the class, the shop, lunch, health, and phys ed. The syllabus always changes. So do the teachers and I love them one and all. I am also thankful for those who get to sit beside me in class every day. Some I know, some I have to get to know. The lessons are so much more practical now too. The beautiful thing is that there are no school bus rides and a lot less wedgies going on.

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