Lesson Six: Educate yourself until you find meaning

Education is not just about going to school and getting a degree. It’s about widening your knowledge and absorbing the truth about life.

Shakuntala Devi, an Indian woman who wrote novels and texts about math, puzzles and astrology. She was known as “the human computer” because of her ability to do complex math calculations in her head.

When I was a child, I didn’t connect with school at all. I was one of those students who wasn’t among the lowest performers in my classes or among the most gifted either. I was one of those lost-in-the-middle students. I can’t remember the name of any of my elementary or junior high school teachers except one fifth grade teacher who was mean to me and other students. Her name was Mrs. Hagensen. We called her “Hag-and-Bag.” She told us “seems” was a ridiculous word. Something either was or was not the case. Even then, I knew enough about the ambiguity of the world to realize she was wrong about that.

After school, rather than doing homework or reading books, I would steal quarters off of my father’s dresser and ride my sting-ray bike to the local pharmacy to buy Richie Rich and Archie and Veronica comic books along with a bar or two of chocolate. I especially liked Nestle’s Crunch and Kit-Kat bars. My father worked full-time as did my mother so I wasn’t closely monitored in terms of what I did after school. Eating all that candy caught up with me though: at one dental visit, the dentist informed me that I had 13 cavities!

I was the “baby” of the family and wasn’t inspired to be a high-achiever. I let my two older sisters pursue those roles. By the time I turned 12, though, I started to read some articles in the Chicago Tribune and that did interest me. There was also a class in social studies in middle school that interested me. We were learning about people and what they had done in the world. Now we were talking.

By the time I got to high school, I realized what interested me most was people and what they thought and what they did in the world. It was in these kinds of classes that I found meaning. In particular, when I signed up for a Great Books course in high school, I got to read Walden; Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau. When I read the following quote, it was the first time I felt truly awake in school.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

Henry David Thoreau

Now that sentiment was meaningful. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Wow! Finally, this was something I could sink my teeth into. History was interesting, yes. But it also involved a lot of facts and dates. Reading what deep thinkers through history had to say about life was the moment when getting an education really mattered to me. I wanted to read lots more books by deep thinkers about life. So, naturally, when I went on to college, I decided to study philosophy.

I read Plato, Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, and Marcuse and so on. I studied other religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. My mind opened wide and took it all in. No more comic books for me. I was finally getting a meaningful education in a subject that mattered and still matters to me.

Life Lesson: This is a message especially meant for people struggling in school. If the subjects you are learning don’t interest you, perhaps it is because you haven’t yet been exposed to those ideas that matter to you. Keep educating yourself until you find that subject that sets your mind on fire. It’s out there somewhere. Have faith and keep reading. Also remember to brush your teeth!


5 thoughts on “Lesson Six: Educate yourself until you find meaning

  1. Current events, history and social studies were my favs. I don’t do school well, but have learned lots from life and reading. School is only an early phase of life and life long learning continues. Great article


  2. Inspiring Lesson…. However, used to absolutely Loooove reading Archie, Veronica & Richie Rich ! got you reading, too, regardless of the Hag-Bag teacher !

    Liked by 1 person

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