"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Real Life

I have a couple of specific memories from my home-ec class in Junior High.  I remember making spaghetti:  We took it out too soon, and it was crunchy.  I remember making chocolate chip cookies, and I remember that my friend got reprimanded because it was her idea to add twice as much flour than the recipe called for, hoping to make twice as many cookies.

I remember a little bit more from my shop class, but it was mainly because the teacher was the cool kind of teacher that chatted with us about non-school related things.  I remember he told me once that I was "introspective," and I had to go home and look it up.  He was right.

I remember that I complained about getting smoke in my eyes once when I was using a word burner, and he immediately burst into song, 
"They said someday you'll find

All who love are blind
Oh, when your heart's on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes"

(a band called The Platters, sometime in the '50s.  In case you were wondering)

I did some cooking projects, and some sewing.  I built a birdhouse and made a leather belt.  I was shown how to do a budget and balance a checkbook.  Yes, I was introduced to some "life skills" - albeit in an artificial environment - in school.   But did I learn them?  

I learned to cook and bake from my mother, who made at least a dozen kinds of cookies at Christmas, and patiently explained the intricacies of making homemade bread or pasta or when I asked.

I learned about building things and fixing things and creating things from my father, who has the mind of both an engineer and an artist.

I learned about money and checkbooks and debt when I was a 19 year old newlywed making minimum wage.

I learned about parenting when I had my first child (NOT, shockingly, from the week of carrying around a 5 lb bag of flour "baby" in my high school sociology class)

Okay, you're saying, those things can be learned at home, but things like math and reading need to be taught in school, or at least with a structured curriculum.


My earliest memories of reading involve being read to, again by my mother, who read aloud to me long after I could read on my own.  She involved me, and I learned.  My earliest memories of learning to really appreciate reading came not from school but from my own devouring of Beverly Cleary, Carolyn Keene, and Judy Blume.  Later on I would graduate to Emerson, Thoreau, and Shakespeare, not because I had to but because I wanted to.   Because reading is like breathing... if it hasn't become a chore, and if it isn't forced against someone's will.

Paxton, who learned to read at 5 without a single lesson - and without ever setting foot in a classroom - has read two Boxcar Kids books in the past 5 days.  Spencer, who learned to read even younger -  also without a single lesson - is frequently found on the computer, reading about medical cases he learned about on Dr G;  or researching about what kind of training he needs to operate a construction business;  or gathering information to build his case about the next pet he wants to get.  

And math?  Few things fill me with such dread and anxiety as remembering some of my upper-level math classes.  My history with high school math ended very, very badly... with confusion, humiliation, and tears... visits to the guidance counselor, a class dropped mid-semester, and a teacher telling me that I was shutting doors for myself.  And that I would never live up to my full potential.  And that I would ultimately be a colossal failure at life.  

All because I dropped pre-calculus.  

This was in 1991.   And yes, I'm still bitter.  (Okay, okay, she didn't use the words "colossal failure," but the rest was verbatim.)

And I can't help but wonder:  WHY was that class so important exactly?  What did I gain besides greater fear, a blow to my self-esteem, and a really unpleasant memory?  20 years later, I still don't have an answer.  I don't use advanced level math.  I use basic math.  I add and subtract.  I do simple multiplication (most of the time on a calculator)  I figure out percentages and basic fractions.  And I still, to this day, no matter how many times I do it, have to ask my husband the amount I need for 3/4 cup when I'm doubling a recipe.   My brain is wired for words, not numbers, and isn't helped by the math phobia I acquired from my years in public school.  

For my children, that is not an issue.  They won't have those phobias, or hang-ups, or bad experiences.  They're learning math like everything else:  naturally, from the real world.  Basic math is everywhere.  If they're like me, they'll likely never need more than that.  If they WANT to go into a math-related field, they'll seek more, and learn it, and enjoy it.  Otherwise, they'll learn to appreciate math in the same way that I've finally come to appreciate it:  not as something to dread and fear, but something that's a useful and necessary tool, something to aid in their shopping, and building, and baking, and budgeting.

Real life (and real learning) cannot be duplicated in a classroom.  It just can't.  

Real life is at home.  It's in the backyard: taking care of the chickens, pruning the trees, and putting together a swingset.  It's in the kitchen: baking, and cooking, and experimenting.  It's on the couch: curled up with a good book or an interesting movie or a sewing project.  It's in the office: paying the bills, scheduling the dentist appointments, and responding to emails. It's in the driveway: changing the oil, checking the tire pressure, or creating a chalk mural on the pavement.

Real life is out on the town.  It's shopping.  It's libraries.  It's parks.  It's museums.  It's zoos.  It's restaurants.  It's post offices, banks, and dry cleaners.

Real life is out in the world.  It's traveling.  It's exploring.  It's discovering.  It's giving.  It's learning. It's sharing.  

My parents were wonderful, and taught me many things, but I was still in school for 8 hours a day, every day, until I was 18.  I didn't get to experience the real world until I was an adult.  My kids are living it, and enjoying it, and learning from it, right now.


redrockmama said...


Funny, because when I used to try to explain it to people who were "curious" it was like talking to a brick wall.

I love being your friend!!

Jessica said...

*claps vivaciously*


C&A said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
C&A said...

Another point well said!!!


Related Posts with Thumbnails