Friday, June 21, 2013

Learning from Life and Books

I’m having lots of flashbacks to my college days.  I’ve been having dreams about test taking and all the anxiety I experienced as a college student.  There are two reasons for this, I believe: I am teaching a new college course on biological & physical anthropology and I haven’t been immersed in the subject since my undergraduate days.  Second, my daughter is a full-time college student and shares with me her class experiences.  Yesterday she sent a desperate text message, followed up with a phone call, about how she completely bombed in her speech class. 
Her recounts bring to my mind my own experiences: the love of school, the fear of failing, and the times I, too, bombed on a speech, a test, or a project.  Now that I’m a college professor and used to student panics, I have a great deal of empathy for the college student, especially those who really care about their grades and have a real desire to learn.  And the truth is, that is the majority of students; at least in my experience.

Sure, there are those that sign up for a class then never show up.  They end up with a fail grade and to their dismay they discover that down the road, when they finally grow up enough to apply themselves that the grade point average suffers forever due to that “F.”   I’ve long since given up in trying to convince students to drop the course if they discover they can’t cut it; after two warnings I say no more about it.  It’s the students that see college for what it really is – that of a learning experience, that I put my efforts into.   Both my daughters fall into that category; when they are in school they love to talk about what they are learning, and the best part of all (aside from my pride in their accomplishments) is that I learn something new from them, too.  There’s lots of new stuff for me to learn; after all, it’s been a while since I was in school.  Life truly is a life-long learning experience, from real-life experience and from books, not just a stepping stone to a high income paycheck.

I have to say, I just don’t understand anyone who is not a reader.  So much knowledge can be gained from the written word and I can’t grasp the notion that reading for pleasure and for learning is avoided by some.  But, I realized long ago that what I think is best for me is not necessarily the case for someone else.  I recall a woman I worked with during my waitressing days who was single, no children, and hated her job.  I pushed and pushed her to either travel or take college classes for a degree and better job opportunities.  I envied her the freedom she had to do what she wanted; I was raising my girls, married, and waitressing didn’t bring in much money.  One day she shot back at me, “Not everyone wants to do what you want!”  or something to that effect.  I never forgot how strongly she said those words. 

Although it’s hard for me to this day not to try and tell someone how they can have a better life, improve their situation, etc., I know after several incidents such as the one I just described, people do what is best for them, and my idea of what that is may not necessarily work for them.  That’s what life experience has taught me. 

So, for me, I’ll continue to read and learn for my own benefit, knowing that my kids picked up the same initiative and hopefully, they in turn will pass the love of reading and learning on to their own children. 
I can hardly wait for the next dream – probably it will be the one where I have to give a presentation and I’ve forgotten both my notes and my clothes!

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