I was just thinking about…back-to-school envy
By Janice Lindsay
When I was a student, back-to-school meant, for me, a new beginning, new adventures, new friends. Of course, I was a nervous wreck in the face of all those unknowns, in that confusing place of wishing the first day would come quickly and wishing it did not have to come at all. But I could not resist the lure of those lovely new notebooks waiting to be filled, pens whose ink had never yet run, unsharpened pencils, unread books, unfamiliar ideas. Plus, the joy of new clothes.
A world of possibilities opened before me.
Each September, I’d receive a new math book and examine the first problems. They looked hard. Then I’d flip to the back of the book. Those problems seemed impossible. Part of me believed I would never be smart enough to solve any of those last problems. The other part remembered last September, when I had felt the same way about last year’s math book. I remembered that by June I had confidently tackled even the problems at the back of the book.
The memory gave me self-assurance: I might be able to master subjects that seemed scary, incomprehensible, and overwhelming to a student, like me, who did not abide in the realm of genius.
So, for example, when it came time to choose a foreign language to study, French or Spanish, I chose French because I thought it would be harder. Those are the kinds of choices I made when I was a kid.
When you’re a teenager, it’s a good idea to try to learn everything available to you. When you’re 13, you don’t know if you’ll ever need to calculate the area of a triangle. Or if you’ll ever want to know the locations of major Civil War battles. Or if you’ll need to understand the innards of a frog. Or order from a French menu. So, just in case, you might as well learn everything.
I made one special exception to this approach to learning – chemistry. Chemistry and I just could not get along; rather, chemistry was being its uncaring self, and I could not make sense of it. It was my fifth major that year, and only four were required, so I felt free to drop the course. Mr. Verdun, our imposing but kind chemistry teacher, tried every argument, offered every help, to persuade me to stay in his class. He seemed to believe that he had failed me as a teacher, rather than that I had failed him as a student. I felt sorry for Mr. Verdun. It was not his fault. My brain was chemistry-intolerant. I couldn’t wait to make my exit. Fortunately, my lack of understanding of chemical formulas has not had a negative impact on my subsequent life.
What if I had to do it all again? What if, knowing what I know now, I found myself once again in junior high or high school?
I would be a terrible student. I would know what I want to learn, and I’d be too impatient, too aware of the passage of precious time, to waste my moments learning anything that seemed inconsequential. I would not even consider chemistry.
I’ve narrowed my possibilities. We all do, sometimes unawares, as we make decisions about our adult lives and careers.
But for children going back to school, the possibilities are still endless. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit envious, why I’m drawn to those store shelves marked “School Supplies.” They signify, and promise, an unlimited world of adventures yet unimagined.
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