This I Believe

Evelyn - Sharon, Massachusetts
Entered on January 1, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I’ve always loved the quote attributed to Mark Twain: “I try never to let my schooling get in the way of my education.” You might find it odd to me relay this quote to my students as well as my own children.

During my teaching career, I have coerced students into doing homework, even though I questioned its value. I’ve tried to teach them to love nature, while they spent their days cooped up in a small classroom. I‘ve tried to teach them to be inclusive, while they have been age-segregated since kindergarten. I’ve tried to teach them to be independent learners, yet I tell them what they will learn. I encouraged them to follow their interests, but then switched gears in order to follow the schedule. I told them that effort matters most, yet in school they were compared, tested, judged, labeled, and graded.

Some of my students learn to play the game of school, and win. They might even get an education along the way. Others never quite get the rules, and strike out. I have a special affinity for these kinds of kids. They don’t fit the school mold. They think outside the classroom box. They want to be doing things. And they know more than their teachers realize. Sometimes they grow up to be quite successful, in spite of their schooling. Albert Einstein was one of these kids. So were Annie Sullivan, George Lucas, and Charles Schwab.

My real education as a teacher began the year I started home schooling my seven-year-old daughter. She read books for hours and I didn’t interrupt her. She spent lots of time exploring our wooded backyard. This led to an interest in birds. She studied rocks because she wanted to, not because of a mandated curriculum.

One day my daughter asked me who invented the cardboard box. A Google search led us to the answer and also unfolded a wealth of information on the history of paper products.

“Hey!” she said, “Let’s try to make our own paper!”

My daughter’s curiosity drove her learning. Every day became a new adventure, until the line between living and learning blurred. Playing dolls with her friend, building a Lego robot, composing a piano piece, seeing a stage play, creating a solar system, folding origami, calculating her allowance, visiting a nursing home, daydreaming, making a general store, baking bread, collecting postcards, talking about her favorite authors, and asking whatever questions popped into her head–these were all an integral part of her education. Home schooling gave her the freedom and time to learn her own way.

Though I love being a teacher, I believe that the most important learning happens outside of school. Going to school doesn’t guarantee you an education. Sometimes it just gets in the way.