Everything I’m good at is self-taught. Just about everything I’m terrible at is what I learned in school. I was struck by this thought a few weeks back.
Maya starts preschool in a few weeks. We’ll test the waters by sending her to preschool two mornings a week. Maya has been canvassing to go to school since about six months or so. When she learnt that neither Shanthala nor I can be with her at school, her enthusiasm flagged a bit before picking up again. What kind of school do we want to send her to ? That question has been on our mind for the past six months or so. I kept hitting the snooze button every time the thought popped up.
All Shanthala and I were certain of was that given our location, it had to be a private school, at least till middle school. Neighbors who had sent their first kid to the local public school, shied away from them for their next batch. The elementary schools have gotten really bad, we heard. So, what kind of private school ? Things were easy for my parents. They just looked for a reputed English medium school and preferably that had the words “Convent” in their name somewhere. Shanthala and I agreed that we didn’t any place that was a pressure cooker, that obsessed with academics and grades, and that was too much of a commute. We wanted to continue our single car lifestyle. We seemed certain of what to say no to, but not what to say yes to. These choices drastically curtailed the list of private schools we could consider. Part of us felt that we had gone to fairly parochial, middling schools and we seemed to have turned out OK. So, we didn’t want to obsess over schools, but some nights we wondered if we were wrong ? Were we shortsighted or too radical to impose our ecological choices to Maya’s schooling ? Were we undervaluing academic achievement ?
And then one day, I had a conversation with a wise friend whose children are home schooled. He asked me to think about what I wanted Maya to get out of schools, what was the connection between learning and schooling. A host of quotes leapt to my mind, such as Mark Twain’s famous “Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education”, Churchill’s “My education was interrupted only by my schooling” and Einstein’s “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school”. Upon a little more thinking, I was struck by the thoughts expressed at the beginning of this article.
My career is in software, a subject in which I took just a single unmemorable course in undergrad, “Programming in the Fortran language”. Everything else I learned in the backseat of classrooms as I programmed on a Casio PB-100 computer that my father bought for me. When he saw my burgeoning interest, he upgraded my computer to a ZX Spectrum, not a cheap venture in those days. It is from those roots that I’ve developed into what I consider a fairly successful place in the industry.
My most passionate side hobbies are running and writing. Both of these are self taught too. I never hired a coach or enrolled in a team to teach myself how to run a marathon and continue to improve my running skills without injuring myself. I spoke to a couple of wise, old runners and read a lot of books on running. I finished in the top 12% of all runners in the Big Sur Marathon, less than a year after I started training to run for a marathon.
On the other hand, my basics in science and math are abysmal, especially their application. Shanthala’s jaw frequently bruises her knee at my ignorance in basic concepts and their application in everyday life.
As I mulled about these thoughts, another friend pointed me to the videos of Sir Ken Robinson over at TED talks. The talks were riveting, entertaining and eye opening. They were a scathing indictment of schooling just about everywhere. I highly recommend you to take 20 minutes and watch this first video. You’ll also be well entertained.
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