As a high school senior, I’ve spent thirteen years in the public school system. In fact, I’ve spent thirteen years in the same public school system. That’s thirteen years of walking through school hallways, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, trying not to fall asleep at my desk, and attempting to learn something from the teacher standing in front of me. Now, I won’t lie, those tries to stay conscious have occasionally failed and more often than not the attempts at learning have gone the same way. But I suppose that my definition of “learning” differs slightly than that of my teachers, my principal, my parents, my peers, and probably most of the world.
That’s not to say that my grades have not always been good; better than average, mostly decent. And I know that to most people, those grades are a physical manifestation of all that I have learned. But I contend that anyone can memorize facts, anyone can get an A. Which is why in the past thirteen years I’ve found myself fearing that my education has passed me by.
I’ve spent so much time mastering Spanish conjugations, internalizing unit after unit of vocabulary, and cramming important historical dates into my overloaded brain, that when I reflect back on the past thirteen years I can scarcely recall anything beyond millions of hastily memorized facts.
But recently, I entered into a conversation with a teacher from my school. We sat in his classroom and chatted for nearly an hour, discussing all manner of philosophical and abstract concepts. The conversation eventually culminated with him posing the following question: “Do you feel like an educated individual? Have you ever felt your intellect expand?”
Immediately I responded, “Yes. Yes I do, yes I have.”
And then I sat there stunned. My belief that I learn almost nothing from school has been with me for a very long time, and so has my fear that my education has come and gone. But I realized, as he asked the question, that while school may be pointless, useless, and filled with trivial experiences, in no way did that mean that I was uneducated. Over the eighteen years of my life I’ve been gathering my education from my life experiences, and from the experiences of those around me. And those experiences have taught me more than any textbook ever could.
I firmly believe that education, real education, takes place outside of the classroom. It spawns from each friendship formed, each loved one lost, each failure suffered, and each success celebrated. And while these adventures, trials, and ordeals may not tell me when Columbus discovered America or how to conjugate the verb “ser” in the preterit, they have taught me more about life and learning than any lecture I’ve ever suffered through.
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