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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The gift of learning

Mark Twain was quite pointed and sometimes downright callous with his remarks, many of which are now elevated to famous quotes. You can’t help, however, to chuckle at some of them, such as this one, "First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made School Boards." Twain must have been aggravated about the way schools were managed in his time. Whether that has improved in our times I will not discuss here, because this piece is not about schools. It is about education. I believe that we all agree, to some extent, that self-development is a good thing. While not everyone may be equally enamored by formal education, we all seem to be in sync about the importance of learning, whether this happens in school or somewhere else.

Perusing through the “Ask the Expert” section of a Surinamese newspaper, my eyes fell on a letter from a man who expressed his concern about the fact that his wife wants him to return to school and finish his education. The couple had met when they were both still in school: she was studying to become an educator, and he was in the arts. She got pregnant and he exchanged his schooling for a full-time job. She finished her education, and continued it after the birth of their child to the point where she now holds a master’s degree. Having a good job now, the wife wants her husband to also elevate his education, but he doesn’t feel that this is necessary. He holds the opinion that he has a decent job, which served a good purpose over the past years, so why should he return to school in order to learn anything else?

I felt that the response from the expert to whom this letter was addressed made good sense. The expert understood the man’s complaints, but also invited him to try reviewing his circumstances from a different angle: when one part of a couple continues to educate him- or herself and the other doesn’t, a disparity may emerge. Personally, I believe that there are even more viewpoints to consider here, such as a positive self-image and more opportunities for the person who engages in continued self-development. So, aside from restoring the intellectual balance with his wife, this man could increase his opportunities in life, whether the couple would stay together or not. And this element of continued progress for the self (and not necessarily for others) should be a key driver.

Studying is like working out. If you have not done it for a long time you feel reluctant to start again, because you know you'll have to reactivate muscles that were inactive for quite some time. In the case of education you will need to put gray cells that may have been hibernating back to work. It is particularly hard in the beginning; yet, it becomes more fun when you immerse more deeply into it. And the outcome is priceless! At the end of the ride you are extremely proud of yourself!

Now returning to Mark Twain, I readily admit that formal education can be frustrating sometimes. There are many stuffy, obsolete policies and practices that remain unaddressed because they would require too much money, time, and effort: admission procedures are often unreasonable, structures often outdated, lesson plans often dusty, and teachers often stranded in theories that are no longer valid. Fortunately, there are many roads leading to Rome today: the Internet, for example, with its abundance of material online, and books through which you can engage in self-study. And let's not forget the many independent courses worldwide. These are dynamic times, and I make a bow to anyone who dares to resume the thread of his or her development. Good luck!

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