The Amazement of Life Long Learning

Somebody taught you

While reading an opinion piece about concerning budget negotiations up here in Washington where I am at currently, comments to that piece by readers and the author reminded me of one of the many stories of which I have been known to bore students at the time but are often appreciated years later.

I attended the same public school in Livingston Parish from Kindergarten through 12th grade with the only change being junior high of 7th and 8th grades where two communities combined at the one school before returning back to your village for the high school grades.  In retrospect, those junior high years had advantages which benefitted us tremendously.  We had to interact with new kids, and we began friendships.  By the time we left for our respective high schools, we were friends with the students at our hated rival school which allowed for a unique combination of cooperation and competition both individually and as schools.

In many classes, especially survey level history courses, I brag about my time in public school back in Livingston Parish.  My teachers and classmates were so great that by the time I graduated I honestly knew everything that one needs to know.  Then I started working on my undergrad degree.  I really can’t complain about the quality and commitment of the majority of my professors, but when I graduated I knew less than I had when I graduated high school 3.5 years earlier.  Due to my mother’s death and feeling the need to stay involved and be available for my Dad and grandparents if needed, I entered the graduate program in history.  Again, the professors were not the issue.  There were some real scholars on the faculty, some were great teachers in the classroom while others seemed more comfortable in that office setting discussing book reviews and critiquing your research papers.  I also had the great fortune of being a graduate assistant for a professor who headed her own research center and served as the archivist.  Hundreds of hours of conducting oral history interviews with individuals from all walks of life, assisting with numerous exhibits, learning how to work with glass negatives and primary documents, assisting researchers in the archives, and being involved in preparing various grants helped me more professionally than anyone can imagine.  Needless to say, the professor was an outstanding researcher and someone who thought of every moment and activity as a teaching opportunity.  For a program with only an MA degree, the faculty was very strong.  Even so, after earning that MA degree, I knew less than I had after receiving the undergrad degree let alone high school diploma.

I spent a few years working in various political and government capacities and environments and actually did quite well financially.  I cannot pinpoint a single event, but some of the promises made and deals conducted under the table played a role in my thinking.  While I never compromised my values, money seemed the only factor to remain in that type of work.  As a result, I moved from Louisiana to return to graduate school.  Again I was blessed with professors.  I became a teaching assistant for an internationally recognized scholar who during his tenure at the university had been awarded every research and service distinction along with university recognitions for both graduate and undergraduate teaching.  Working with an individual who chose to teach a survey level course every year and sitting in on those lectures allowed me to avoid the common pitfall of teaching my first undergrad survey sections like the students were capable of graduate level work.  He is also the source of my belief that you recruit students to upper level courses through survey courses and administrators need to spend time in the classroom to be competent because the environment changes quickly.  Even though he was my teaching mentor, he was not my major professor as he was of that old school belief that it is the major professor’s responsibility to find the student the first job.  Most of his peers had retired, and he felt he would be cheating any student.  My major professor, however, had the same level of personal excellence.  He differed from the other in terms of personality and many beliefs.  The two men had some intriguing discussions on a number of topics with the same intensity of the Hearns and Hagler fight.  Still, they were friends because they both had a tremendous amount of respect for each other, and I got the benefit of discussing the same issues with each and learning different approaches which I’ve since forged together in a manner which reflects my style.  Doctoral studies, however, is the point when you realize that you know absolutely nothing.

I joke with students that one is never too old to learn.  A great example is my Dad.  I respected him back when I knew everything after graduating from high school even though he seemed uninformed about a lot of subjects.  As I continued in school and really more so in life, it amazes me just how much smarter my Dad has become.  When I was younger, I would only listen partially but now it is complete and undivided attention because the man really makes sense.  Who could have imagined that he would have been capable of learning so much after I became an adult?

What bothered me about this opinion piece I read today was the complete lack of respect by the author and her band of groupie commentors for those who had differing ideas.  They preached about wanting to “restore” the United States to the way it used to be.  Yet, the ridicule and language levied on an older individual who remarked that previous generations had been able to sacrifice and overcome obstacles and that should be a sign of encouragement to those of her generation floored me.  How can one write about promoting a restoration of  individual responsibility as they claim it once existed and then berate an individual who tells you that change is possible but it is not easy?

I think of those who survived the Great Depression and the Second World War as the greatest generation of Americans in my lifetime.  The sacrifices they made and hardships overcome make a lot of things pale in comparison.  I mean today life freezes for many when the power goes out or their smart phone is not attached.  We of this generation do have our problems that might be unique compared to previous ones, but don’t preach about individual responsibility and then blame not just others today but someone of the time-period you think was so great.  Why do you expect those before and others to give you what you want when you are unwilling to do any of the work yourself?  Why is it acceptable for others to give to you, but unacceptable to provide assistance to someone else?  I just don’t get it.

By the way, a student did point out to me a couple of years following the course that my Dad hadn’t really gotten more intelligent.  It’s just that as my world expanded, I began to realize how much I did not know and simply began to appreciate that additional experience my Dad could provide as I got older.  Sometimes being a teacher has its own rewards, but they aren’t financial sadly and often taken for granted.