Thursday, July 26

School of Life

My parents made sure I knew that education was the key to success in America. My father and his family were from Russia, and he grew up really poor--like no food on the table poor--and my mother was from an American family, but she was never really given the option, I don't think, to go to college. Girls went to secretarial school back then or got married.

So doing well in school was THE most important thing in my house. My father is an atheist, so we didn't go to church. We didn't play sports. We studied. I skipped a couple of grades, graduated early, got a scholarship to a private university. Seems like Dad's plan worked.

But the thing is, the BIGGER thing is, my father also sneered at education. He told me from the time I was in third grade that my teachers weren't ANY smarter than I was. They just happened to go to school for teaching. So I should never be intimidated by them, I should ALWAYS question their authority. And I shouldn't believe anything they told me unless I verified it from independent sources and formed my own opinion. Also sensible--I mean, you can't believe history books all the time. You can't believe anything--you have to search for your own truth.

However, what was really important in terms of school was I was educated in the school of life. My father made me read the NY Times every day from the time I was in first grade . . . I HAD to read a paper each day. My mother didn't just read--she devoured books. I wasn't allowed to watch much TV at all--but books overflowed from my nightstand.

My father was a classic pain in the a**. If you had an opinion, you had to defend it. And woe to you if you formed some kind of snap judgment of war or politics without a solid basis to defend your beliefs.

So when I look back on my education, granted it was a little unconventional, but the message I got was the school was important, but education was more important, even, than school. The piece of paper is important--but it's nothing if you just grab it without having LEARNED in the process.

How about you? What did you learn from the school of life?


Wendy Toliver said...

Oh man ... I totally agree. I think school is a great place to discover more about your self (I'm a huge advocate of moving out of the house to go to college if it's at all possible) but it's the School of Life where you learn the most. And we never graduate!

Alyson Noel said...

My “school of life” was travel. I was raised by a single mom, my dad was pretty much AWOL, money was extremely tight, and all I knew was that I wanted to get the heck out of The OC.—because at that time in my life, living there felt stagnant, and boring, like I was being buried alive. So I did, financing several trips to Europe with odd jobs, until I ended up living in Mykonos for seven years. After that, I moved to NYC, became a flight attendant, and traveled the world. But the one thing my mom did share with me was a passion for books, and I’ve been a voracious reader from a very young age. But all that travel taught me tolerance, compassion, and gave me a much broader view of the world—it shaped me into the person I am. And now I urge all of my nieces and nephews to get out there and see the world too.

TinaFerraro said...

My school of life was discovering, after-the-fact, that despite the disappointing grades I often got in school, that I AM smart. I probably just daydream more and process a little differently than others. But when I put my mind to learning something, I'm usually successful. Timed tests aren't the only way to measure intelligence. :)

Sara Hantz said...

The school of life taught me that education/learning is something best done when you're old enough to appreciate it!!!

Gerb said...

My dad is a university professor who values education in all its forms, so my school of life began early. We traveled extensively throughout the United States when I was a kid. I agree with Alyson that travel broadens one's perspectives and sparks new avenues of learning.

Some of my most valuable lessons were also learned while living abroad. In college, I took time off to travel to Finland and lived there for over a year. More recently, my family and I spent four years in Japan. Being a part of an international community really opens your eyes to different philosophies and cultures and teaches tolerance and respect.

The cool thing is that even though not everyone has the opportunity to travel or live overseas, we can enter those worlds through good books and if we are open to the experience, we can learn and grow and increase in understanding for other lands and people just as much as if we had the chance to physically go there.


Erica Orloff said...

Alyson and Gerb:
My father took us to Europe, but we didn't see that much of the U.S. Then, we lived in Bermuda for a few years (a beautiful island!). When I returned to the U.S. after living in Bermuda, it was the Bicentennial Summer (remember that?). I saw the tall ships in Bermuda set sail . . . and then I came to NY. My grandparents on my mother's side were big history buffs, so we went to every re-enactment under the sun up and down the East Coast that summer--and I learned my history by "being" there vicariously.


Erica Orloff said...

I always got straight As, but I remember feeling very "different" because there were always characters and stories in my head and I was always daydreaming.

Erica Orloff said...

Yes . . . I definitely would like, when the baby is a little older, to go back to school and just study physics . . . for fun, not a career. I appreciate learning . . . more so than then.

Kelly Parra said...

My school of life was simply experience. I moved frequently as a kid since I lived with my single mom. I came across so many different people who impacted my life--both good and bad. I didn't have anyone pushing me with my school work, but if a teacher cared, I cared. And if I wanted to learn something, I've always known I had to learn it on my own. I researched and always learned best hands-on and if I wanted answers I researched the net. It's how I became a writer.

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