I’ll kick off by saying, I really hope our answers are different. Otherwise, satellites will begin falling from space and you’ll probably have to go back to getting out and cranking your engine… with a crank to get your car going. The raw, unvarnished question du jour is: What the hell did you actually get from your education?
As far back as Budd Lake Elementary School in Joisy, I can vouch for the fact that I learned how to spell, learned my times tables and basic math, but beyond that… we’re pushing it. I vividly remember outlining sentences. (HATED IT) and after 24 published books and another on the way, outlining a sentence has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I also learned in first grade that kissing-and-telling is not the way to keep a girlfriend. That one was branded into my memory. Thanks for that, Neva. You were right, but I learned my lesson the hard way.
High school: I learned a new word: cliques (pronounced clicks at our school). Cliques were little groups of which I never seemed to be a member. That actually had its positives in addition to negatives, but more later about that. I learned biology was easy for me. Chemistry… not so easy, but then I hit physics and I was in LOVE! Physics and I just got along great and although I am now a sculptor and a novelist, I manage to work physics into every possible thing you could imagine.
But so far, what I haven’t mentioned are the myriad classes, which did nothing at all… at least for me. English: I already knew how to read and I figured my choice of books was more helpful to me than Silas Marner and The Scarlet Letter. I was reading Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury by then. Silas Marner??? phhech.…
More importantly, I realized I was dyed-in-the-wool, 1000% girl crazy. In truth, I wasn’t a particularly good guy friend. Oh, I’d hang around, play a little touch football, tell dirty jokes, but then… there were GIRLS, which were and continue to be profoundly more interesting and more fun. Studying girls/women and their nuances and mindsets is a lifetime endeavor. I’m still in the shallow water, but at least I know it. I think it’s kind of Zen: If you think you understand women… you don’t understand women.
College: Franklin and Marshall in the 60s was good at two things: Generating doctors and generating lawyers. First two weeks, freshman year, I also learned that all those young Jewish kids around me were waaaaaaaay better prepared for F&M’s famous weed-’em-out chemistry course. I was a quick study and was out of Physical Chemistry in two weeks. That was a lesson in itself that I could be truly lousy at something.
By default, I went into Philosophy for absolutely the wrong reasons. Absolutely, incredibly, unambiguously the wrong reasons. And yet, it was like throwing a duck in a pond and seeing it realize that it could swim! Loved, philo. Really loved Ethics, Loved logic and for some reason I was good at this. Still had no idea what lawyers actually do, though, which was not a good thing.
Getting back to what I did and didn’t get out of college: All those German courses? Yeah, I can speak a little German in an emergency… which is practically never. Sociology? zilch. Anthropology? zilch. Poetry? I learned how to write a 7-page hatchet job on a fourteen-line poem… a feat unto itself.
Dated profusely and continuously and contiguously, ardently, until I met Pamela and by then I’d learned what all the practice was for. It was to find the girl that suited me 1000%. Now that was worth it!
Okay… senior year, with senior comprehensives in my major. Think of three days of CIA interrogation on everything you ever learned… plus 50 books. Did it, but it was an utter waste… except that I also got accepted to Columbia Law School. My folks loved that… But then, there was Vietnam and I had a lottery number of 17. “Hello? Columbia Law? Can you hold my spot for 4-6 years?” Pam and I wept the day I got my lotto number and figured I was going to be dead meat very soon. It was all very sad, very poignant. It’s also when Love Story came out, which made things even worse.
THE AIR FORCE: Said our profound goodbyes and then… (this part should be obvious) I didn’t die. Unlike some of my dear friends, I lucked out. MUCH more importantly, I learned the meat and gristle and bones of what I really needed to know in life.
First rule: You thought you were important? You’re not. Your men are important and you’re responsible for them. Period. It requires no explanation.
Second Rule: When you fly a plane, your first rule is NOT your survival, it’s the survival of your fellow pilots, but more important than that, the 100s to 1000s you could incinerate if you just bail out to save your own ass. Once again, you realize how unimportant your own life really is.
Third realization: In the military, you quickly acquire responsibilities the likes of which virtually no civilian will ever face. Huge, monstrous responsibilities. Titan IIs, spying by the enemy, debugging secret bases. etc. The military is where you earn your backbone as well as your cajones.
Looking back, at least in my own tiny world, the learning curve was tepid and shallow in grade school, arched slightly, a bit more in college, and then shot straight up thereafter.
I say this with no malice or haughtiness whatsoever, having been through the arc, I would prefer my kid to have his eyes opened early, maybe a couple of years during the teens, followed by college where I’d pick more pointed and more serious courses, and maybe a refresher of a couple (optional) years in the military. Contrary to popular belief, I learned way more of the real humanities, having 180 grown men to be responsible for than Silas Marner, Sociology 101, or Anthropology which is now completely wiped from my memory.
And now, as an artist and a writer? What do I use? Well, it’s not the ONE mandatory art class I took, and it’s none of the English classes. It was learning about people and learning to think and learning how to talk to and handle people. Philosophy and strangely the military… and even more strangely… dating my brains out.
And then the most gigantic life course of all: Succeeding in raising a normal, loving family, by the process of selling odd and peculiar sculptures that you’ve conjured up from God knows where. Now, THAT is a feat.
I’m guessing that a whole slew of you have come to slightly different conclusions and that’s GREAT! Vive la difference! I’d love to hear your arc, your mature conclusions that you’ve come to.
P.S. Oh… one more (for me) utterly pointless, useless course: TRIGONOMETRY. Oh, I got a B for the course. But if you put a gun to my head and asked me to define the relationship between a cosecant and a cotangent… well… pull the trigger. None of that stuck. The meaning of life? Is there a God? Why are we here? That stuff is easy…..
Education is building an intellectual foundation. Reading books in school because you are required provides you with a new reference point. Accept it. You are better off. Diagraming sentences….not useless…makes you subconsciously smarter. My son could not see that algebra had any use in his life. “Do you know how many miles to the gallon your car gets? Yes! You just used algebra to determine the answer”. Learn, play well with others and have your brothers and sisters backs. Are we good?