Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Lisa Mackie
English 100
Essay 1: Out-of-Class
January 11, 2002

What I Really Learned in School

School never has come easy to me. I have a lot of trouble concentrating especially when it comes to school. I read once that in order to concentrate on a subject you must first find an interest in what you're studying. Well, the person who wrote that should have taken into consideration that the reason some of us have never been able to cultivate an interest in some subjects is that the subjects we are truly interested in are berated and belittled by our society.

When I was younger, I loved creating things. My imagination was so strong that its voice overpowered that of my parents and teachers. However, every young child seeks the approval of their elders. And when the elders whose approval I sought after showed little encouragement for me to pursue my artistic aptitude, my creative voice began to grow silent. In school I always felt inadequate because I never had enough interest in what we were learning to apply myself, and the subjects I was interested in seemed to have little value to most people.

Elementary school’s strongest draw for me was art class. I felt competent in my ability to create, and I longed for the part of the day when I could sink my hands into a ball of clay and forget about all my seeming inadequacies. At one point I received an award for a ceramic project I did. This was the first formal gratification I ever received for my art, and the last. I was extremely proud of my accomplishment, but I soon became aware that no one else seemed very impressed. After awhile, I began to think being artistic and creative just wasn’t that "cool." I also found that if I was a good kid, I could get by pretty easily and have a lot more time to daydream. So, I suppressed my desire to be recognized as a person with a talent and settled for the position of the sweet shy girl in class.

I felt happiest when I was in my own little world; my best friends were always the ones I imagined. However, I learned that you are less conspicuous if you have lots of friends, so as a teenager I became a socialite. I had a poster that read "What I really learned in school," and on the rest of it were recipes for cocktails. I have never professionally tended bar, but the majority of what I learned definitely did not come out of a textbook. I think this is the case for many kids in high school; they learn how to conform to society’s unspoken laws instead of learning how to learn.

During high school, my saving grace was graphic design and photography. It was the only time I really felt like I knew what I was doing. These subjects came naturally; they were never like work because I enjoyed them so much. I would get lost in the colors and pictures and my imagination. My teacher was encouraging, and he told me I showed a lot of potential. However, I had a hard time taking him seriously. I just did not think what I did was important to anyone beside myself.

All my friends were excellent students; they were college bound and always seemed to know what they were doing. I just tried not to think about my future. I thought things would just happen. Then, we all graduated and they went off to school while I stayed home and worked. I felt like I was falling behind them in some way. They were all on a path that could lead them to a career and I still had no idea what I wanted to do.

After working at a couple of jobs I really did not enjoy, I met a family who I liked and became their nanny. It was a wonderful experience for me; I learned a lot about children and real life. I also earned enough money to go on a four-month back packing trip through Europe. I learned more on that trip than I ever did in school. It gave me a different perspective on art and its validity to the world. Art is much more prevalent in European culture; I was immersed in the beauty of paintings, sculptures, architecture, food, music, and language. I also learned that there was a lot I needed to learn and how important it was that I go back to school.

When I returned from my trip, I decided to move to Bellingham so that I could be close to my sister and go back to school. Since I moved, I have grown so much. School is still a challenge for me, but it is a challenge I know I have the ability to accept and over come. The things I have been learning in college have made me realize that our system is not perfect and we are the ones who need to change it. Some students may learn in different ways and have strengths in areas besides Math and English, but that does not make them stupid. If everyone was encouraged to develop their natural talents, people would be a lot happier and society would be a lot more productive.

Reading theories such as Howard Gardner’s "Seven Intelligences" has made me realize that I have many strengths, such as intrapersonal, interpersonal, and visual-spatail intelligences. Intrapersonal intelligence has to do with knowing yourself and self-examination. Through yoga I have found a profound understanding with the connection between body and mind which helps with the trouble I have concentrating. Interpersonal intelligence has to do with having a strong understanding of others and relationships. (Maybe high school wasn't such a waste of time.) Visual-spatial intelligence has to do with understanding space and visual art. Perhaps if I continue working on the things I was interested in as a child, I might be able to fine-tune my skills.

My friends may have been ahead of me on the grade scale, but they have invested a lot of money to find out that they don’t really know what they want to do or if the degrees they receive will take them to the place they want to be. For me it was more important that I develop an understanding of myself and what I’m truly interested in before I committed the time and money one must put into a formal education. I believe interest stems from an understanding that what you learn can enhance your life. Without that you’ll have a hard time finding a reason to concentrate or the capacity to retain the things you learn.


Copyright 2002
Lisa Mackie

Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA