Education is Wasted on the Young

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I often lament that education is wasted on the young, the young me included.  If I could do my undergraduate years again, I’d do a whole lot less worrying about the boy who broke my heart and a whole lot more expanding of my horizons.  I have spent years wishing I had taken that Art History course instead of planning my classes so that I had a day off in my schedule. 

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

Another thing that I can see clearly now is that the teachers who worked me hardest are those whose work has stayed with me longest. 

For 11th and 12th grade I had the English teacher from Hades, whose homework load was notorious, but I can say without a doubt that it is to her that I owe my doctorate.

Preparation for our weekly spelling and vocabulary tests included writing out not only all the primary and secondary (and tertiary) meanings for each word from the dictionary entry, but copying out the etymology for each word as well.  I can tell you that I cursed her with each laboriously written word.

For our research papers, we had to transcribe our quotations onto index cards with the complete bibliographic citation.  This for every blessed quotation. 

We worked on draft after draft after draft of our work, and she would not brook breaks in logic.  Each and every word, sentence and paragraph had to flow smoothly from one to the next.  A leap in logic meant being sent back to the beginning.

And when the research papers, labours of half of the year, were turned in, she would deduct 1/4 of a percent for each missing or misplaced comma, semi-colon, parentheses or period.  She had to deduct only 1/4 of a percent because otherwise, more than half the class would fail. 

I frequently felt overwhelmed by the minutiae.  I felt resentful of the hours of homework. 

And then, of course, I went off to university and sailed through all of my English classes because the vocabulary from other centuries did not faze me, and the stages of researching, drafting and writing research papers was already second-nature.  She gave me the invaluable head start of being able to forge through the mechanics and focus on my intellectual engagement with the books I read.  I am a book lover through and through, but without the solid preparation that she gave me, I would never have gone as far as I did.  I would never have become Dr. Book Lover.

From the first week of undergraduate classes, I felt a humbling and profound sense of gratitude for all of the hours of work she’d given me.  They saved me countless hours of work.  And when I got to graduate school, and started marking research papers myself, I felt even more humbled by how much effort she had put in to helping us polish our work.  Never again have I met an educator who has paid such careful attention to detail.  I can’t begin to imagine how many hours she spent marking draft after draft after draft of her students’ work.  I mean, 1/4 of a percentage mark for errors–the math alone would have done my head in!

Griffin just finished a year with a teacher who had a similar stickler-for-detail personality.  Being now older and wiser, I, of course, rejoiced in her regimen.  Griffin, not so much.  He had a lot of homework, and a lot of writing practice, and there were a lot of nights when it was a fight to get him to apply himself.  At the end of the year, we read through some of the early entries in his journal, and he was able to say, “Hey, Mum, I’m a much better writer now.”

Hindsight.  20/20.


One thought on “Education is Wasted on the Young

  1. It was Mrs. Gittens in Grade 10 and 11 for me. She brought history alive. It wasn’t just facts about old dead guys and place names of battles past. She made history about storytelling: these were real people, no less than us and our (so-called) leaders today. More than that, she impressed upon us that history is a living thing and that someone someday will be looking back at us and what we do today in the same way we are looking back at the War of 1812 or the Versailles Treaty and Confederation. That’s the year I became a lifelong historian.

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