odds and ends

What did I actually learn in school?

I’ve been reading about how degrees are being pushed too much these days. Too many people get degrees for the sake of having one and then can’t find a job because they just don’t have anything to offer. I also just read an article talking about how half of Yemen’s college grads are unemployed. I don’t remember the exact figures, but I remember a stunning number of Yemeni college students majoring in Arabic, something around 40%. Keep in mind that unlike a typical English major, a lot of an Arabic degree involves advanced grammar. In other words, it’s a course of study that will help very few folks once they get out of college. I haven’t heard any talk in these articles about what else people might have gotten out of their education other than a job, seems to be there should be a bunch.


Along those lines, I started to think about all of my years in school. What did I actually learn there? What proved to be useful or important to me in my life? Thinking back to my elementary days… well, I can’t remember much. I do remember moving in the 1st grade and it messing with my development. I went from copying my name off of a piece of paper in one school to being expected to take dictation at the next. I was actually put into a remedial ed group for a while. It seems to me that once they figured out that I didn’t actually have a learning disability I was placed back into the regular classes. Most of my memories involve not being able to spell and having terrible handwriting, things which I have never really gotten very good at. I remember my 4th grade science book talking about how “One day man will go to the moon,” which I thought was hilarious. We had new books the next year, they spent a chapter talking about the upcoming ice age…

I guess the thing that stands out to me the most from back then was how much I read. I read both of those textbooks even though we only used parts of them in school. I read Lord of the Rings in 3d grade and I think I read the Foundation Trilogy in 4th although I don’t remember a thing about that. I had read the entire history textbook in 4th grade within the first month or so of school. I ended up spending a lot of time bored in class. I spent a lot of time factoring big numbers in math class in the 6th grade just to kill time. I deemed homework boring and pointless. My grades started to tank and hit a low point in the 6th grade.

Interestingly enough, one class in 6th grade stands out to me. We had an “elective” course that was actually split between… 3 classes? We had  home economics, art, and music classes split evenly across a school year. I must have learned something in the home ec. class cause I’ve never been shy about working in the kitchen. The art class was a total waste of time. We were expected to draw stuff and I was hopeless at it. Advice to “just draw what I saw” wasn’t very helpful. The music course, now that was the real deal. We didn’t play anything, but I learned how to read music, tap out time to sheet music, and what different instruments sounded like. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that class changed my life. It was what, 9 weeks long? By the end I could tell my musical IQ had gone way up. I could hear much more when I listened to music and i could start to appreciate the layers and complexity as well. It was probably the first time I came into contact with actual expression.

Like I said, by 6th grade, I was bored beyond belief and was skating by with mostly D’s if I remember correctly.Then we moved. I had been living in what turned out to be a rather tony suburb of Richmond Virginia and we moved to the sticks, Gloucester, VA. Luckily for me, one of the first people I met there, and my first friend was Todd Shelton. He went on to become the Valedictorian of our graduating class. From the time I moved to Gloucester till I went to college, my friends were a much bigger influence on me than any teacher. Todd, William, Dean, and many others really pushed me, expected me to be smart and I felt like I had to live up to that expectation. All of us were in the same classes from the 7th grade through high school and their influence was the only thing that drove my grades to a respectable level.

This is getting long, so I’ll continue in the next post…


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