October 1, 2012

I don’t know that the educational system encourages people to think of themselves as being able to learn how to do a variety of things.  At least I don’t know that it did that when I was still in it; I think that there tends to be a shunting of students toward what the people who are teaching them find the least difficult to teach them.  I had good teachers for most of my life, but I also was ready for school before I started in ways that other people weren’t because my mother had been a high school English teacher, my father was a lawyer, they both read to me until I could read myself, and they stressed education and being able to write.

My mother read about science a lot, but her math and science interests never did turn out to be like mine; she was better at geometry and had more interest in things that required abstract and purely theoretical thinking.  She’s like that with her artistic interests, too; she has an acute, if underdeveloped, talent for visual art, but if you want to see the definition of stubborn, try to get her to dance.  I got straight “A’s” in everything until I skipped a grade in elementary school, after which I got A’s and B’s, and in math got mostly B’s and some C’s, until my senior year when I took Calculus and got an A.  I think that, once you get used to being good at something, you have to learn to be patient with the learning process for other things that you don’t know how to do and can’t just figure out.  Once you know how to read and write, you can do a lot on your own without formal teaching, although there will be allusions and structures that you won’t recognize in some of what you read if you don’t take literature and writing classes, or read about what you would learn in them.  With math and science, unless you’re going to read the textbooks and learn about formulas and theories on your own, teachers remain important for more years if you’re going to learn to be proficient and to move on from the basics.  I also think that teachers provide more than information and can’t be removed from the learning process without losing more than is gained from removing them.

I’ve heard before that there are some things that you have to teach people starting from when they’re young, and I’m not sure that that’s true.  I do think that what happens as people get older is that they learn to be more self-conscious about what they look or sound like to other people and about the mistakes that they make in front of other people.  I started taking piano lessons my first year in high school, and kept taking them throughout high school.  I think that some of what kept me from being better than I ended up being was that, by the time I started taking lessons, hearing my own mistakes was frustrating and discouraging.  Even when I started to be able to play things, of course when you’re starting nothing that you’re learning how to play sounds Important, and that’s the goal of a lot of people in high school, for the things that they do to sound Important.  Then there’s the part of practicing that’s boring, playing scales and so on; I should have worn earphones and listened to something else while I was doing those, at least for some of it, because a lot of doing exercises is just to give your fingers practice on the keyboard and with the fundamentals of other music that you’ll be playing.

If you are patient with the process of learning how to do something, if you refuse to let what other people might think of your mistakes get to you, and if you are prepared for the pain of getting things wrong until you get them right, you can learn how to do a lot more than you otherwise would.


Copyright L. Kochman, October 1, 2012 @ 11:12 a.m.