Jun 24, 2012
By Miriam L. Wallach
There are a number of well-known song lyrics that go round and round in my mind. Some of them I live by, quoting them regularly regardless of time and place. It is safe to say that by and large, my kids would prefer I stop doing this altogether.
I can be heard reciting the immortal words of Mick Jagger, reminding my children they cannot always get what they want, but if they try sometimes they just might find, they get what they need. If they are injured or skin their knees, I ask them if I should sing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” which annoys them every time. (That is not the intent, but it certainly is a perk.) And even though Kelly Clarkson used an already established idiom as the title of her hit song, “What Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger” has quickly become part of my repertoire.
Lately I have begun to wonder if the wise words of Simon and Garfunkle should be added to the list. Who knew just how true they were. “If I think back on the all the crap I learned in high school/It’s a wonder I can think at all” should go down as probably the best lines ever. On that note, I am silently praying that all of my friends who teach in various high schools have decided to skip reading my column this week.
There are about a handful of things I remember learning in high school, none of which have anything to do with math. I remember what a punnett square is (Thank you, Mrs. Fried) but I don’t remember how to make one (Sorry, Mrs. Fried.) I know that “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” and that The Crucible isn’t really about the Salem witch hunts. I know that my hands belong at “10 and 2” on the steering wheel and that squirrels are not targets. The most important lesson I learned, however, is that “The masses are asses.” So said my 11th grade history teacher and they are words to live by.
My education truly began in college and later in graduate school. I was blessed with having great teachers and mentors along the way to guide and shape me. Part of that was the constant nagging question of, “And what are you going to do with that?” It was not enough to learn, study and grow – it was also about having practical and attainable goals. I wonder, therefore, who is responsible for misguiding some of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. One female protestor who was interviewed on national television a few weeks ago touted her Ph.D. in Philosophy and raged against the greater establishment who, she blamed, was responsible for her lack of employment. Personally, I think her biggest problem and the reason for her unemployment is that she has a doctorate in philosophy.
Higher education is wonderful. It should, however, come with a necessary and practical function. Even I recognize that — and I could be a student for life. At one point, I toyed with going back to graduate school. Already holding two master’s degrees, my husband was less than pleased with my idea, even though I swore this additional degree served a purpose. He did not buy it. “Earning graduate degrees is not a hobby,” he said. “You want to go back? Get a sponsor.” That’s when I came up with my idea – I was going to get a corporate sponsor to pay for my education.
The concept was that I would wear a company’s paraphernalia and logo on campus every day for a set number of hours. That would include the cafeteria, the library and anywhere else I went. As a person with little to no shame, using myself a human billboard made complete sense. And however long it took me to complete the degree would be the length of the contract with said sponsor. People thought it was the craziest idea I had ever come up with while I thought it was my best idea yet. And despite all of my excitement, I never went through with it. I had another child instead.
As one’s education becomes more and more specialized, basic fundamentals and foundations of being a well-rounded individual often get lost. It is not a criticism but rather a reality. The same way I no longer remember how to determine the area of a triangle (and who really cares?) is the same way others cannot recall that Walt Whitman’s “O’ Captain, My Captain” is about Abraham Lincoln. However, if you realize you never learned this information in the first place, that is where the gaps in your education become upsetting. Suffice it to say that when a close friend of mine with a successful medical practice realized that he had no knowledge of history – world or American – he was devastated.
“I know nothing about history,” he told me. I imagined he had been exaggerating, until he said, “And I just heard about the Korean War – that was terrible!” I burst out in laughter. It was possibly the funniest thing I had ever heard. “I am going to learn something new about history every day,” he continued. “That’s a great idea,” I said, barely able to contain my giggles. “And you know what else?” he asked. “Did you know about those Japanese internment camps after World War II?” Oh man, I thought. I told him that yes: I knew about the camps. “Well, who else knew?” he said. I promised him that Japanese Americans knew all about it, but he ignored me. “That was also terrible!” he replied. Tears streamed down my face as someone I know to be incredibly intelligent continued to sound like a bumbling idiot. It’s one thing not to know something and a completely other thing to make a public service announcement about it.
“Teach me something right now,” he said. “Okay,” I replied. “What about the Policy of Appeasement?” Before he could ask what that was, I peripherally explained some of its details, making sure to include that Hitler and Chamberlain were the main players. But before I could get too far, he had just one question: “And who was Chamberlain?”
Here are two new life lessons: high school doesn’t teach crap after all and it’s a blessing that doctors do not need to know anything about world history to be great in their field.
Miriam L. Wallach, M.S. ed, M.A. is the General Manager of The Nachum Segal Network. Her show, “That’s Life,” can heard every Thursday @2pm ET on www.nachumsegal.com. She lives in Woodmere with her husband and six children, who provide lots of love and plenty of material.
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