Tuesday, 3 July 2012

School's Out

I've been thinking a lot recently about what a great steaming pile of fail high school was for me. There is quite a limited list of what I got out of it, which I'm sure was not the intended result of my attendance. But I've also been pondering the irony of that, because I really do love to learn.

Today I had a breakthrough in this line of thinking. It was such a failure because I love to learn. It sounds daft, but let me explain.

To do this I need to start way back. At four, I had already been taught to read by my parents through bedtime stories and the like, and I pretty much told my parents that I would quite like to go to school now please, thank you very much. And so I did. And then I came home... crying. I was distraught that this magical place where they would teach me shiny new things sent me home with a picture book. The bottom fell out my tiny world. Where were the words, the new thoughts, the interesting things I had been looking forward to? I quickly realised that I had a year of colouring in to do before we actually got started on the good stuff.

For the rest of primary school, once I got proper books, I loved it. I was learning new things every single day, and that made me happy. I was always pretty much at the top of the class, not because I was the most clever, but because I paid the most attention. I was interested in what they were teaching me. Then came the opportunity of moving schools to what was considered a better school. I was excited, and continued to be for the next three years at that school. But then it happened. In my second year of high school there was a slight change, only noticable to me now as I look back. In order to succeed I no longer had to learn; I had to achieve. It became a game of A's, B's and C's and what you had to do to get them. Learning all but went away entirely. By my fifth year all the focus was on what you were going to study at university... which subjects you had to take for which courses and the grade you had to get to get in.

I have a big issue with this way of thinking. I wasn't allowed to take the subjects I was interested in if I only got a C the previous year in that class. I couldn't have cared less about the grade, I just wanted to study that subject. Take history as an example. I love history, I always have. I'm fascinated by other periods in time, and in other people and their lives. I love Mary Queen of Scots, the Tudors, Duchess Georgiana of Devonshire... and so many more. Instead I had to sit and read about "The Voyages of Exploration". Basically, how they built the boats that they discovered America in and how many potatoes they could fit in them. Dull, but fine if I was learning. I wasn't. I was "evaluating sources" written on how well you could determine what happened.

Source A - "We sailed in wooden ships and returned with 100 weight of potatoes" - Englebert 'Seaweedface' Bradbury, sailor on The Great Lump.
Source B - "They had these huuuuuuge boats made of chewing gum and brought back green stripey giraffes" - Wee Jimmy from down the street.
Which source do you think is a more reliable example of those great voyages?

It was idiotic, and not always as straight forward as you'd think. I came close to failing, but my ability to make stuff up as I went along really helped. I think I might have failed all but English if I couldn't do that. I would have done much better if I was called in to a room to have a conversation about the topic with the examiner and marked on my knowledge in general on the topic, and the number of questions I had myself as a demonstration of curiosity and interest.

Since leaving school I have begun to learn again. I've taught myself all the things I expected to learn before. I listen to the most fascinating podcasts, read articles and books that spark my curiosity and generally soak up information like I always wanted to. The school system did nothing for me, other than show me why Uni was a bad idea. On my own I can pick and choose my own topics. And really enjoy learning again.


  1. I had a very similar experience - but I do love learning on my own. I brought home 8 books from the library today. History is amazing. But the ability to regurgitate everything isn't a proven method that you've learned anything. (In my opinion). Truly, one of the few things I miss about college/university is talking about the things we read. The discussions could be amazing and i miss that.

  2. I can sympathize with all that. I spent a lot of time at school, learning about things I would never need in the real world....how much wheat is grown in Manitoba....the annual rainfall in South Africa...if Y over X squared = 32.5 what is the value of (sitting here bored out of my mind?).
    When I grew up I began to learn all the things I needed to work my way through life. Then it was fun and fulfilling and exciting.

  3. I sympathise too, but with a little envy. I spent most of my time at school trying to get at least 51% in tests and exams. Latin, maths, chemistry - not much rapport with those. I wasn't that keen to learn rather boring subjects (or was it boring teachers?), rather, keen to try new things - which is maybe another side of a similar coin. It wasn't till 6th year when 'I' chose to do art as a subject that I began to enjoy school. Tried new sports too; hockey, discus, long jump, high jump, cricket, ran the mile. Most of the subjects at school held little interest apart from geography.

    Careers interview was even worse. "What do you want to do at university?" 'Dunno' I thought to myself. Civil engineering wasn't a good choice - short uni visit followed.

    So, if you can, do things you want to do. Work and money tend to be means to other ends.