Friday, March 17, 2006


When I was growing up, I hated school. I recall thinking that being required to go there was just the same as having a police department cruiser show up at the door, and being escorted to homeroom, doing the perp walk the whole way.

A lot of that was delusions of persecution, and I’ve never met a teenager who didn’t have a huge dose of that, but what they feel persecuted about varies from kid to kid.

From my point of view at the time, school was pointless and deadly dull. I suffered through as best I could when I was younger. By the time I was in high school I found all sorts of ways to keep it from being dull much of the time, but of course it was still pointless. The school did not at all approve of how I was preventing boredom, and they were unaware of most of it.

My dad had a cattle farm where I worked in the summer and during breaks. I also went on farm calls with the veterinarian as a helper when I could. I knew how to work and enjoyed it. This was not pointless. The cattle ate the hay I put up in the summer. Doctoring the animals helped them to survive, usually.

I would tell my dad that I wanted to farm. He would argue against it. Said it would break my hart and leave me broke.

My dad and me, about 1974

Understand that my dad was a farm kid himself. He did not make a living farming though, he had a nice safe income from the University and kept the farm as a hobby and as a way to try and keep his six sons out of jail. “It’s this or keep a bail bondsman on retainer.” He would joke.

He thought I should become a vet. That would only require something like eight more years of school. I could imagine no worse fate than being stuck in school, any sort of school. Even pop knew that wasn’t going to happen.

I was reading something recently that got me thinking about this. It touched on the difference between school and learning. I never had a problem with learning, I enjoyed learning things, it was school I despised. Of course I didn’t think about it in these terms back then.

People pack their kids off to school because they have no other use for them. Long ago when people did subsistence type farming or some sort of artisan occupation a kid could make a real contribution to the rest of the family. In the modern world they’re not good for much.

Schools don’t have much to do with learning except accidentally, there for warehousing people (kids) that are not useful elsewhere.

When I think about what I learned growing up, the only thing I’m sure I learned in school was contempt for authority. So I guess it wasn’t entirely useless, just mostly useless.

I remember being told to reverse direction after the first lap around the field with the hay mower, so as to lay the grass down more evenly to dry. I remember going to the sale barn with my dad and him explaining how it all worked and what everyone was doing. I remember the lesson on how to safely cross a fence line while carrying a shotgun.

I know they don’t teach these things in public school.

Pop understood the difference between formal education and learning far better that I did in those days, probably because he spent so much time in academia. One time during one of those “What will you do when you grow up” discussions he recommended against going to college to figure that out. He recommended reading and travel. He said I could do a lot worse than reading philosophy and working as a deck hand on a freighter. This was just an example, I’ve read a lot of philosophy but I’ve never actually worked as a deckhand.

He said “You know how to work and you know how to learn, you’ll do fine”.

Well, I took my senior trip all the way to South East Asia (no, I was not in the army), and learned a few things I would have never figured out on my own. When I got back and was no longer required to go to any sort of school, I gradually learned to use school (University at least) like a library card.

When there was something I wanted to learn, sometimes the way to learn it was to take a class. Most of the time it was sort of OJT. I’ve been to schools of one sort or another many times since then, but always for some specific reason. I still don’t have any sort of degree and don’t have any need of one.

I’ve learned more in the last couple of years on this little farm than I have in all the formal schooling I’ve ever had. I guess if I ever stop learning I will have started on that long proverbial dirt nap.

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