“Get out of my classroom!”
The words foamed out her mouth and may as well have had “you insolent little shit!” affixed to the end of them. The year was 2000 and I was in grade 8.
I always loved mathematics. It was one of those subjects that appealed to both my creative and logical natures. Some, as experience enlightened me, were not content merely allowing young minds to grow, however, but took to the “molding” concept of edification a little more seriously than I would have deemed necessary. Or healthy, for that matter.
As for most, my life since school diversified: I went off to study new skills; to live in a new country; met a lot of different and differently-minded people; found, grew and lost my longest, most complicated relationship to date; and made a lot of self-discoveries along the way. This is what people mean when they list “School of Life” as their education on Facebook.
Yet I always think back to that day. I recall realising in that moment how it didn’t matter how “right” or “wrong” I was. All that mattered was that she was the “teacher” and I was the “student”. This suspicion persisted for the remainder of my internment – the thought that school is not so much about raising great thinkers as it is about raising people who do as they’re told and remember that information really really well. Like, A+ well.
Today marks the ten-year anniversary of my matric farewell. It’s also my late grandmother’s 90th birthday (Happy B-Day, Oumi! I miss you!). Both of these factoids come compliments of my mother, who remembers every single date since the big bang. I dropped history first chance I got. But it got me thinking…
What have I learned since high school?
If you weren’t one of the “populars” (read: untouchables), you may have tried your best to forget that you even went to a place called “school”, but I’m sure you, too, have your very own list of things you’ve learned since escaping. Feel free to share them in the comments section below.
Here a couple things I’ve learned along the way:
There are no grades, just your ass
In school, it was all about the grade: “Oh no! Tommy got 80%; I got 78%. By definition he’s more successful than I am!” Well here’s the big boy lesson: Real life don’t give a shit about your grades, son! You got an A in chemistry? Here, unclog this toilet, Heisenberg. Won the regional prize in art? Better get crafty filling out those tax forms*!
In life, there is no B- or A+. There’s only, “you get that shit done yet?” Because if life had an actual grading system, people would be forced to be evaluated on merit, and I’m sure you know how often that happens.
The people “educating” you were just as misguided
In school, teachers were hailed as the grandstands of supported authority. Their dogma touted as the be-all of information – “Seek no further, children. All answers lay hidden within these walls, beneath these rules.” And while it’s easy to get angsty and start screaming “fuck the system!”, it’s important to remember that they too were just people… Some had failed marriages, some were suffering financially, some hated being there every damn day as much as you did. As a child we are so captivated by this concept of being “an adult”, that it becomes difficult to see a figure such as a teacher as being anything close to human.
But they are, and are as completely and hopelessly flawed as you sit here today. Now imagine good ole, messed up YOU carrying the responsibility of helping to raise a nation on your back.
The most practical lesson was recess
For the most part, the old adage of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” holds true. The simple fact is that regardless of how hard you studied, how well you did on that test or, overall, how much you deserve that job/position/raise, unless you can back up your shit with a crafty mouth and leading personality, it won’t get you very far.
I’m not saying that nobody gets by on the merit of hard work. I’m just saying that, in reality, there are much more important factors to consider, such as: Does your boss like you?
Being likeable is good. And I would generally put “likeable” ahead of “great education” on the list of important life skills to have because in the long run it’s likely to get you further. Having a solid set of social skills and a wide network of friends is how most influential people left school. Probably wasn’t enough room on the syllabus for social interaction facilitation with all the algebra and Mao Zedong trivia to learn.
Life is not a competition
I think this was the biggest one for me. I’ve always been a pretty competitive person and, if you are anything like me, school may have at times brought out the worst in you. There’s a great deal of pressure, both from above as well as from our peers, to be “the best.” They gave out medals to the best, and certificates and gold stars and favourable words and degrees of latitude. And those not at the top had to be careful to not allow this to negatively affect their self worth.
But, in reality, everyone has their own truth in life, and being the best almost always comes secondary to experience in terms of “the soul”. Nobody has “A+ student” etched proudly into their tombstone, yet we grow up with this mindset of happiness coming from displaying superiority in some way over others.
“He scores well every test.” “She only wear designer clothes.” “He sleeps with all the hot chicks.”
These were actual benchmarks when I was in school. We were valued and evaluated on and by everything besides the contents of our hearts and the circumstances we were growing up in. I believe any attention to this at all would have kept a lot of children from feeling alone in their problems. But it wasn’t about compassion back then. It was about dominion. How much of the pie could any one student accumulate before their time was up? And we went out into the world to perpetuate that exact same way of thinking.
Baz Lurhman famously said, “The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.” He also passionately taught us the importance of sunscreen… An incredibly valuable life lesson I don’t recall being covered even once during my years of formal study.
I guess there were more important things to learn…