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Thursday, September 05, 2013

Lessons Learned - and Lessons I'd Like To Forget

I don't know what it is about September now that I am an adult, but there's a part of me that kind of feels strange not getting ready to head off to school. I know it's been several years since I've set foot inside of an educational institution, but there's a part of me that misses it.

Well...the learning aspect of it, that is. Not the social aspect. That part I could do without.

And, well...since I'm talking about learning, I thought that I would use this Thursday Diary to talk about learning. Talking about the lessons that I wished that schools taught us, as well as lessons that upon retrospect were absolutely useless to me.

And, well...for today's entry, I'll be using multiple font colours. Just think of me using one of those four-colour pens that you frequently see. You know, the ones with red, blue, green, and black ink? You'll see what I mean as you read on.

September 5, 2013

This is the very first diary entry that I am doing for the month of September, and I am very pleased with the subject that I am writing about.

I'm still trying to decide on what the future of this blog is going to be over the next few months. I'm still wondering if I should keep the pop culture element in place permanently or whether I'm going to switch it up and make this blog a more personal project. But I'm sure that one day, I'll have my answer and that I will make the transition seamlessly.

Anyway, since we're in the month of September, I wanted to do a blog entry on my learning experiences with school and school work. Specifically on the lessons that I learned that ended up being meaningless in my own life, as well as the lessons that I do wish that they taught in school.

Don't get me wrong. For the most part when it came to school work, I absolutely enjoyed most aspects of it all. I was always someone who loved learning (hence the reason why I spend so much time doing research on this blog). For the most part, my teachers did a great job educating us on the basics from reading, writing, and arithmetic to the more expert lessons, which included history, the arts, and sciences.

Well, okay...I'm embellishing my learning capabilities in science class. I would imagine that the only way I was ever going to learn anything in science class was if Bill Nye was my teacher. And, unfortunately for me, he's signed up to be on “Dancing With The Stars” this upcoming season for me to get private tutoring from him.

Opportunity missed, I suppose.

Ah well. The truth is that I'll never become an emergency room doctor, find a cure for a potentially fatal disease or discover a brand new chemical alloy which will make home building projects more affordable. For someone like me, all of those science lessons I sat through weren't very helpful. Not that I am badmouthing science by any means. I'm actually jealous of people who understand science because there's a part of me that wishes I could.

At the same time though, that learning experience helped me realize that I make a much better writer anyway. I'm still trying to find out a way that I can profit from this craft, but I'm still on the optimistic side that it will eventually happen for me.

But you know something? Sometimes we're taught things in school that for whatever reason are absolutely useless. And, sometimes there are things that we are never taught in school that I wish we were.

So, I'm going to highlight lessons that I was taught but never use in red lettering, while the green lettering will be assigned to lessons that I never learned in high school, but wish they taught us.

Ready? Okay. Class in session.

LESSON FAIL: The Pythagorean Theorem

Okay, so the only jobs that I can see this theory on triangles being even remotely useful is either A) jobs in construction which require building a lot of triangles, or B) a deli counter where you're slicing egg salad sandwiches into perfect triangles. And I'll be really honest with you, even “B” seems a little ridiculous at that. To be perfectly honest, I've been out of high school for thirteen years, and I've completely forgotten how to even explain the Pythagorean Theorem. I guess it just goes to show you just exactly how much I use it in every day life, doesn't it? But I'm sure I'm not alone. Let's take a look at a mathematics lesson that I actually could have used a lesson in.

LESSON PLAN: How to understand basic banking

And, by basic banking, I'm not talking about those worksheets you used to do in second grade math class where you had to figure out how many pennies you needed to buy a popsicle from the ice cream man. For starters, those worksheets were printed off from a textbook written in 1969 and I'm pretty sure that popsicles no longer cost twenty-seven cents.

No, I mean lessons on which savings plans to invest your money in. How to decipher interest rates. How to find the best mortgage on a home. How long it will take to pay back a student loan depending on the amount of interest that is tacked on. I know that life would have been made so much easier had we been taught these things in high school. I mean, it was fairly sad that I was in the supposed advanced class in high school for mathematics for my first two years of school, and yet we learned none of those things. Yet, we had the Pythagorean Theorem shoved down our throats. Go figure.

LESSON FAIL: Any gym class I ever took

You know what? I earned every single C-minus grade in gym class. I know it sounds like a really bizarre thing to admit to, but I was always the kid who always put out the most effort in gym class, but was never rewarded for it. It didn't matter that I worked out so hard in every gym class to the point where the shirt I was wearing actually changed colour because of the fact that I was sweating so much. The majority of my gym class teachers only chose to mark us on how well we could throw a ball, or how athletic we were. I'll be the first one to admit that I am not athletically gifted, but I would have appreciated the fact that they at least noticed how hard I was trying to hone my athleticism – or lack thereof. If anything, those gym classes made me hate physical activity even more because it seemed as though unless you had the skills to become the next Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, or Wayne Gretzky, you were not worth their time.

LESSON PLAN: Incorporating health lessons into gym class plans

Would you like to know the one year in which I did NOT get a C-minus in gym class? Well, it happened to be in grade nine, where we took classes in health related topics for three periods in three week blocks. We learned all about nutrition, we learned about the circulatory system...and if memory serves me, we also did sex education (something that the schools started teaching in the fourth grade). And, you know what? I took those lessons seriously...a lot more seriously than my classmates. And it was because of that, I ended up getting a grade that was higher than some of the super-jocks who bragged about their athletic contributions in high school. That was very cool. Mind you, it was the ONLY time I scored a B+ in gym class, as the following year I had a teacher who only graded on athletic ability, which lead to me giving up gym class altogether.

But you know something? I think I got more out of the health lessons than I did from actually playing sports. I just wish that back when I was in school, they cared more about that stuff than trying to find the star player of the basketball team so that they could finally defeat the championship team after a seven-year-drought.

LESSON FAIL: Sitting in class while the teacher read us a book

I mean, don't get me wrong. In elementary school, whenever we had spare time before we would leave to go to the French classroom, or to the music room, I really loved story time. Sitting on the carpeted area of the classroom listening to the teacher read us the latest Robert Munsch story was a real bonding experience. Although it only lasted a few minutes, at that point in time, we all got along.

That all changed when we were in the upper grades. You see, right around this time, we all had ample time to be able to pick up a novel and read them ourselves. Some kids struggled, while others excelled. But one thing that I didn't really agree with was the fact that the teachers would often assign us a book to study (be it Winnie-The-Pooh, or Superfudge), and then proceed to read us the book instead of letting us read it ourselves. I mean, granted, I realize that budget cuts made it impossible for every child to have a book, but I always felt it was a missed opportunity for us to improve our reading skills. If you've ever questioned why standardized literacy tests are on the lower end, I wouldn't be surprised if that was the reason why.

Though, one thing I will say about my elementary school was the fact that we had a program called “Reading Buddies”, in which older kids would go downstairs to the primary school classes and read them stories. It worked out really well. I read them a story of my choosing, and then they would read me a book of their choice. It was an ingenious way for us older kids to give back to the school by helping the younger kids improve their reading skills. I often wonder if the program still exists. I hope it does. Otherwise, it may just as well be added to the list of missed opportunities.


Okay, so everyone has endured a spelling test before. I know I went through several myself. Not to brag, but when I was in the sixth grade, I received a perfect score on nearly every single test. In fact, I actually challenged the teacher once in sixth grade for giving me a score of 99/100 because while she claimed I spelled a word wrong, I really didn't. I just chose the wrong homonym, and wrote something like further instead of farther. I argued that I still spelled it correctly, but she wasn't budging.

Whatever. I still had 99%.

Now, here's the million dollar question. How many of you ever had a “grammar dictation”. Not many of you, I bet. I'm the kind of guy who believes that the ability to read and write is so important and I am definitely an advocate in making sure that everybody has the ability to read and write. And, as far as I am concerned that includes grammar.

I get that spelling is important (unless you have the distinction of being born in the Twitter generation where brevity is the soul of meaningful conversation – apparently). But grammar is just as important as far as I am concerned. I actually have to admit that I chuckle at those people who post those your/you're posts.  Not that I'm a Grammar Nazi or anything like that.

What isn't a laughing matter is the fact that schools simply never taught the importance of grammar. I know this because my school didn't begin teaching us grammar until...get this...EIGHTH GRADE. All the kids in my class thought it was the most boring subject to learn about. I, on the other hand, was grateful for the experience. Mind you, a lot of the concepts of grammar I learned on my own, but there were some instances in which I would often find myself questioning whether or not what I wanted to say was written correctly. Those lessons on grammar were absolutely beneficial to me. I feel that they helped me become a better writer and a better communicator. It saddens me that so little emphasis is spent on teaching grammar.

As for punctuation...well, I won't boast. Punctuation still trips me up.

So, that's just a partial list. What are some lessons that you wish you were taught in school? And which lessons would you like to forget?

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