I think I need a high school education

I want to go back to high school. Not to relive “glory days” or hang out with friends or in order to be 16 again. No. It’s the taking classes part that is on my mind. I think I might appreciate a high school education now. I’m wondering what did I learn in high school? I’m drawing a bit of a blank. When I look back, it’s my friends, relationships, and various moments outside the class room that stand out. Not history. Or math. Or geez, what DID I take in high school? And why don’t I remember it?

Graphic Arts. I took Graphic Arts. That was pretty cool. Prior to that class, I’d had no exposure to the subject. We made pinhole cameras and took and developed b&w photos I have to this day. I had Child Development (or rather was stuck in it after “Single Living” for which I’d signed up, was filled). We made lesson plans for little kids who were brought in by their parents for half days. Spanish. Two years of Spanish. But I didn’t use it and it fell away quickly. Pablo esta en la casa. No hablo Espanol. That’s about it.

Would I be bored in the average high school curriculum today? Or would a modern education be more suited to my learning style than the one I actually had? I.e., sitting quietly in standardized rows for hours on end. Would the teachers’ personal biases and opinions and personality quirks bother me even more than they did when I was a teenager? Would I find the environment stifling? Would I learn?

I’m reminded of Cameron Crowe’s memoir about going undercover posing as a high school student, which was the precursor to his film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s been a long time since I read the book, but remember that Crowe, in his twenties but passing for a teenager, wrote of misinformation being taught by high school teachers. If I recall, he said the gym teacher was also teaching another subject – History? – and clearly getting facts wrong. Does that still happen? (In 9th grade, I had a gym teacher for Health class and I remember very clearly that he decided to entirely skip the text chapters on sex. Just flat out said we wouldn’t be covering them.)

Why is this on my mind? I think it’s because I’ve been away from formal education for so long. I’m starting to wonder what I know – and don’t know – any more. So much of what I studied in college even, is just very hazy. I actually went to college with the desire to learn. Yep, that was my overarching plan. That didn’t entirely work out. College was undeniably better than high school but it still left a lot to be desired. I was frequently bored in my classes. Too many instructors used their class time to pontificate and hold forth on their pet topics to a captive audience, often about subjects that weren’t on their syllabus. I didn’t have a slew of great teachers, but many average ones, including poor planners who farted around all semester and then tried to cram 3 months of lessons into a week or two before finals.

So that kind of messed up my plan of going to college to learn. And, the intensity of the experience rather quickly became about surviving it, more than about broadening my horizons. Yes, I was exposed to a lot of information, but all crammed in at once. That’s not how I retain stuff. And — to pay for school, I depended on, in addition to part-time jobs, grants and scholarships. For that I needed good grades, and grades became my focus; A’s meant cash. I’d do it no differently now.

One of the things I did really like about college – outside the classroom – was all the free lectures that were available on campus. I was – and am – a consummate bulletin board reader and I’d find interesting, or potentially interesting topics, familiar and not, advertised on flyers. They were held right there at the school and often during the day, which was great – I’d go to my classes and if I hung around awhile, I could attend an open lecture, perhaps by a guest speaker or one of the school’s professors. Or a panel forum. Talks and lectures would be attended by students and instructors alike, which raised the level of interaction and discussion. It kept me engaged and up-to-date. I really miss that, and I started missing it as soon as I graduated.

Both before and after my college years, I had jobs on other college campuses, but it wasn’t the same. When you work somewhere, usually the last thing you want to do is hang around longer after your work day is over or worse, come back to attend this or that. No, you want the hell out of there.

I don’t go to classes of any kind now. I have little interest in pursuing more formal education, like a Master’s. Instead, I read books and spend time online. Online I don’t learn who was the 15th President of the United States or what’s in the Bill of Rights or where Madagascar is located or how to conjugate verbs or anything whatsoever about Sartre. No, I learn trivia and gossip and innuendo and scandal and what’s been linked to cancer and who’s died and what sports figure is drugging and all about the latest shooting spree and terrorist bombing. All that without even trying. The dopey path of least resistance. I bet there’s a study out there that correlates point drops in I.Q. to time spent online.

I don’t mean to denigrate the internet. I love the internet. And it’s brought me a lot of good things. But lordy, does it need to be managed. It requires so little of you. That’s the problem. I’m a critical thinker. I don’t tweet. I don’t even WANT to try to think in 140 characters. Not ever. I don’t have a Facebook status. I don’t haves inane arguments or flame people. I require more of myself. It’s too easy for it to become your world. Suddenly you find yourself caring about things you don’t care about. Your head is full of rubbish and you wonder how it happened. Didn’t you used to think bright thoughts and contemplate important things?

I don’t know what I know any more. I think the things I’ve learned or studied on my own, since my formal education, have been relatively narrow. I think about doing it, but I’m not learning Italian on CD or online. I’m not trying to teach myself Algebra or god forbid, Calculus. I don’t try to understand the current state of the Middle East. Nutrition. Psychology. A bit of Literature. Gardening. Some American History. These are the things I’ve been interested in and studied on my own. Not a broad selection. I don’t have cable so I’m limited there, but I used to watch NOVA and other science programs – they’re SO much more interesting than any science I was ever taught in school – but I’ve gotten away from that. Is the internet and the culture ruining my attention span for anything else or is my restlessness stemming from elsewhere? A combination ? One thing now – I’m intentionally quite active – and I neither want to sit around for hours on end or can. Further, when I do stop and relax, I usually want to be entertained. Documentaries are about as scholarly as I get.

There is a particular saving grace. I like crossword puzzles and in doing them, I realize I know more than I would have thought. That is, I can retrieve information I didn’t know I knew. I could never offer it up voluntarily, but when prompted by the puzzle and given a little time, information evidently buried away, finds its way to the surface. How did I know that?? I have no recollection of learning it and yet I know it. This is encouraging.

Sometimes I’ve attended public lectures, but I often lose patience. So few people are good teachers and I’ve grown so particular about that – maybe by all the years of having to sit through what was at hand, like it or lump it. The other thing – the problematic thing – is the other attendees. A lot of adults feel pretty free and easy when attending a class or lecture. They hold forth, dominate class time, talk to their neighbor, and even – in some lectures I’ve attended – get up and wander around the room. This makes me want to knock heads together. It’s so distracting and annoying. The way I feel is this: I’ve come to hear the lecturer or teacher, not to listen to other adults carry on. But that is too bad, yes?

I’ve taken IQ tests online and done respectably. But it’s been several years since I’ve even done that. I’ve never taken a practice SAT but I’m wondering if that would be a good idea. I imagine I’d find one online or in a book. (I recently read an essay by a columnist in his sixties who took the SAT and was pleased to receive the same score he had in high school – although I believe he noted that the way they’re scored has changed.) The thing is I’m not sure I want to know what areas I’ve fallen way behind in, maybe because I’m not certain I’d do anything about it. How much do I care? Enough to do anything?

I do know this. I’m thinking about what I know and don’t know for a reason.

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23 thoughts on “I think I need a high school education

  1. Angie Mc

    Very interesting post, Colette. Fortunately for me, I am in high school vicariously through my teenagers. All three chose to home educate and I’ve agreed to support their decision. I’m constantly in awe of what they/we learn. We create our own curriculum and the hardest part is to narrow down courses of study. Have you checked out Khan Academy? https://www.khanacademy.org/

    In March I will take formal classes for the first time since I earned my MPA. More on that later at my blog 😀

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks Angie. I know that in not having kids, I’ve missed the natural “refresher” courses that come with raising them, let alone teaching them at home! I’ll be curious to hear more about your classes this year.

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      1. Cristina

        I was wondering if I was weird that half the reason I’m so excited about my kids getting ready to start school is so that I can “go back” with them! I can’t wait to follow along and read their textbooks and relearn/learn everything all over again. Of course, she’ll only be starting Kindergarten so I suppose it will be some time before we get to any challenging curriculum (although not too long! I admittedly could probably use a refresher in 4th grade math)
        Learning just for the sake of learning excites me, but I quickly become bored and antsy with formal, rigid classroom settings with their discipline and deadlines so I waffle on going back to school…but in the meantime I devour classes on Coursera and iTunes U. Have you ever browsed these sites? Watching/reading free college courses at your own pace with no burden of being an actual student; it is the greatest thing ever.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          No, not weird! I’d be excited too if I had a child in school. I’d probably make them nuts with my questions and wanting to see everything. Oh, oh! You could probably do stuff like make volcanoes!

          Yes, I’m with you on learning for the sake of learning and having had my fill of formal classes. I just got burnt out. Maybe ONE class at a time…

          That’s interesting about online classes. I know there is so much available but I’ve been (very) resistant to opening myself up, Cristina, to anything that would encourage or require me to spend more time online (unless perhaps it PAID, as in money). p.s. where do you – busy lady – find time to take classes?!

          I have done a few things to jog my brain since writing this post. I expect there will be a followup post. I’m feeling less slow-witted and foggy!

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          1. Cristina

            yes, please do update us! I’m feeling foggy myself these days and would love any tips you could share!
            The Coursera and iTunes U are available as phone apps. Sometimes instead of my usual nighttime reading, I will either view video/read a transcript of the lecture directly from my phone. And I do this for all of 5 mins, maybe 10 on a good night, before passing out asleep! The classes are already complete from previous semesters so this is just pure leisure reading at my own extremely slow pace!

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            1. writerinsoul Post author

              Oh, I have betrayed my socio-technological ineptitude! You young people and those tiny screens, ha ha!

              Cristina, let me just tell you now, so it gets said, I am so very pleased to have made your acquaintance via the internet and WordPress.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Cristina

              Colette, what an extremely nice thing to say! I am truly touched and may I just say in return that the pleasure is all mine! The day you popped up in my reader was a lucky one indeed as not only do I greatly enjoy your posts, but you also have some of the BEST readers and commenters that frequent your page. I’m fortunate to have expanded my little WordPress community with a lot of thanks to you and your page 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

            3. writerinsoul Post author

              When I found you, there was something so authentic and intelligent in your words, it immediately resonated.

              Thank you for reading the comments – not many people do – I loved it when you first started “liking” the comments!

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  2. John Callaghan

    The single greatest experience of my life, by far, has been my years in university. I went as a mature student. The world opened up for. Almost every question I had, like why we live the way we do, was answered. There were times I could feel myself welling up with tears, from happiness and relief, at finding a home. A place where ideas are discussed, ideology is challenged, and learning how to think, all led to a liberation I had no idea was attainable. Jaw droppingly brilliant professors guiding the mind along the halls of academia. I made a few life long friends and I met my wife (she was my Shakespeare instructor). I learned to read, and I learned to write. It sounds like the college you went to wasn’t very good and that’s a shame. Under the right circumstances I think you would love university. And the education I recieved was worth at least twice what I paid.

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  3. daveb42

    A good education is something you give yourself. The HS, college or university provides a framework that is intended to make that easier. A teacher isn’t “good” so much because of what they know, but rather because of how well they motivate you. So, if you want to learn something, find an appropriate framework that works for you.

    Alternatively, find an inspiring person and learn whatever they are teaching. I used to work at a place that had lots of visits from Nobel laureates and political leaders. My personal policy was to go to lectures or speechs they gave, no matter what they were talking about. I learned a lot and it was worth every minute.

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  4. vanbytheriver

    Pay attention to the last line of your post, Collette, that will be your motivation. It’s all out there, and it doesn’t matter how you get it..reading, classes, people you admire, or Life. The best students are the ones who challenge, the ones who understand how much they don’t know, but stay in the pursuit. Carry on ! ☺ Van

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  5. battlewagon13

    It’s so funny because I hear about people wanting to go back to school all the time – and yet the LAST thing I want to do is take another class or have to be trained on something. I’m at the point in my life where I want to live what I know to the fullest, and learn from experience – not sitting in a class. My youngest son is in High School and I’m constantly amazed at the stuff that he brings home that I can’t tell him means absolutely nothing in the real world. Well, I could tell him that – but my wife would kill me. And THAT’s the kind of learning we all need to do.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I do remember one high school teacher freely telling us we’d never use the information again. (Only one.) But I no longer think that’s the point of high school, or even college. I agree that experience is a great teacher but allow that many people as they get older, don’t keep learning, but just repeating (experiences).

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  6. markbialczak

    You would thrive in a formal setting now, and will succeed in your independent study forages — I believe anyway, Colette — because you possess the single most important academic precursor. Your curiosity rings clear with every thought of this post.

    While I was working in the newspaper newsroom for three decades, I often was asked to speak at high school workshops, and later on, I taught a journalism course as an adjunct at a nearby university.

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  7. markbialczak

    Sorry, published that in error before my closing class statement. …

    I always felt my biggest mission was to motivate the students in such a manner that they’d be looking at that hour in class, that day in their life, that week’s worth of tasks and responsibilities, the next pieces of their academic, social and cultural relevance, all with enthusiasm and a plan of action.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I don’t come across too many adults (as opposed to students and young adults) who look at their lives with enthusiasm and action plans. Life for many people becomes repetitive, and weighed down by all its many details and obligations. Escape, in all its stripes, is frequently a compelling diversion for them. Seeking out knowledge, less popular, is definitely self-propelled.

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  8. Kate Crimmins

    A very thought provoking post. I remember two great instructors out of many. Today I learn from YouTube and other bizarre sites. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? I can DO a lot of things from learning there. I was stunned once when I was making a window treatment and had to use pi to calculate. That high school education came in handy but I could have looked it up on line. Maybe the most important part of formal schooling is socialization and inciting the desire to learn. (They never teach what you really want to know!)

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks Kate, for your thoughts too. I’m like you – I have taught myself so much (useful things) from books and online – not silly at all! I think a high school education exposes a kid to a broad range of subjects to build a base and maybe let them begin to see what interests them and/or what they have aptitude for, but at least in my time, it wasn’t broad enough.

      I like window treatments and pi – I like to say I use precisely one math formula for all my math needs – only one stuck! –Colette

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