What I wish I’d learned in school
This past week, I had lunch with the program director for Chancellor’s Scholarships at my alma mater, the scholarship I had in college. Our conversation about my college experience got me thinking about what was missing from my education–what I’ve needed to learn on my own since I graduated.
I’m really grateful that my university experience set in motion the process of opening my mind and forming my own values, causing me to examine the belief system I’d been given, and begin the process of determining what I wanted to keep, discard, add, or change. Looking back, though, I wish there’d been more balance in my education, and that a few other processes had been set in motion earlier for me.
As I reminisced this week, it suddenly became clear to me that an emphasis solely (or nearly so) on “the life of the mind” is a seriously imbalanced approach. And really, it wasn’t just about the mind, it was pretty exclusively about the left brain. The right brain, heart, intuition, body, and soul are pretty critical too. Of these, the most emphasis was placed on the body–two physical education classes were a core requirement. I ended up taking three, and after dreading and putting it all off till my senior year, I enjoyed all of them. My modern dance class especially helped me understand my body in a new way. The instructor would regularly give us instructions like, Now breathe through your heart! And I’d try it, and interestingly enough, it was possible. Other than this relatively minor emphasis, though, the whole four years were about developing the left brain. Which in my case, was rather developed already.
When I take the Myers-Briggs type indicator test, my results for the Thinking/Feeling (T/F) axis are equal, but my preference is Thinking, meaning that I like to reason out decisions. So an emphasis on “the life of the mind” pushed me further in the direction of my natural inclination, and I ended up valuing being intellectual to an extent that today I believe is unjustified. It occurs to me to wonder how those with a Feeling preference find this emphasis–balancing? invalidating? I don’t know, but in my case, I believe it was unhelpful.
I remember being asked to take Myers-Briggs in college, and by my first employer, which I did. The results of the test, though, weren’t given to me in any meaningful way. That is, I was given the meaning of each of the four letters, which made little sense to me, but not an explanation of my four-letter type, which I’m sure would have.
Later, on my own, I found the amazingly-accurate type descriptions in David Keirsey’s Please Understand Me II, and found the information quite helpful. Particularly since I have a rare personality type, I wish the institutions that gathered this information for their own purposes had explained to me what they’d learned. I find the ethics of deriving such revealing information, but not sharing what has been learned with the person who’s been tested, at least questionable. I also would love to have been shown how the different personality types fit together like the pieces of a puzzle–no right, no wrong, no judgment, and all necessary to the whole.
I also wish I’d been taught how to meditate, like every student at Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls (who meditate before every test). I feel pretty certain this one change would have altered my life fairly significantly, if only because I would have been able to consistently hear my intuition–which, without meditation, was usually drowned out by the constant chatter of my mind.
The school I attended was so privileged that there was hardly ever a need to mention it. But I think an introduction to the concept would have been really useful to all of us. I also would like to have been prepared, as I left an environment that was generally ethical and discrimination-free, for what I was likely to encounter in the real world–best case, worst case, and on average.
It’s taken most of my life thus far to bring my voice into something resembling balance. I understand why this was an issue for me, but I see a lot of people (perhaps especially women) who share this issue, and it’s also much more rare than I believe it should be to see people of either gender using their voices for good. I took a ‘cattle call’ speech communication class to meet a core requirement, but I wish I’d been taught to use my voice in a more useful way.
Often it seems that justice and injustice hinge on nothing more than whether or not people are willing to speak up for what they know is right. Just one voice can make a difference. So I wish I’d been able to speak to a real audience about a meaningful topic, with an opportunity to make a real difference.
More than one young girl has recently voiced an opinion and made a difference. One example … Els, who’s eight, wrote a letter to Scholastic Books about their gender-based categorization of books. She loves pirates, but all of their pirate books have been printed with “for boys” right on the cover. Based on her letter, they’re changing their catalog and all their covers to eliminate this gender bias. She will know forever the difference she can make by speaking up.
It’s only recently that I’ve begun making art, and I wish a core requirement had pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the fine arts building to learn a new skill and start creating.
I also remember noticing immediately after getting my first real job that the academic model of individual achievement that I’d been working in since kindergarten in no way reflects the real world. Nor do business-school ‘teams’ reflect my experience of the real world either. The unequal division of labor may be true to life, but fortunately it’s far less easy for people to take credit for work they didn’t do in real life. I would love to have had a positive, useful experience of teamwork in an academic setting.
I’d love to hear what you wish you’d learned in school.
This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage® card I made today, The flowering of knowledge.
SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.
Great post Heather, I find it strange indeed that they didn’t gave meaning to the results of the test. Both as a university and as a company it’s strange to withhold a chance for personal development.
My score on the T/F axis is almost equal as well. I took the test for my study but I’ve always had a hard time to figure out if I gravitated more towards thinking or feeling. I’m pretty analytical and not touchy-feely at all, so I always figured out the T would be more logical. However I always scored slightly higher on feeling. But then I read about the Jungian/cognitive functions of each type. My dominant function is Fi (Feeling introverted). This made much more sense, because the feelings are mostly on the inside. This especially rang true: “Fi constantly balances an internal set of values such as harmony and authenticity”. So next time someone calls me cold or distant I’ll tell them al my warmth and fuzziness is on the inside.
Personal development should be a bigger part of the curriculum, I agree. But as someone working in education I also think that implementing activities and lessons on personal growth has it’s pitfalls. Mainly because the way we choose to grow is based on such personal values and beliefs. It’s too bad some people are so stuck in their believes that they’re not allowing themselves or others to grow.I know that some of my students who were offered yoga classes weren’t allowed to take part because of “religious reasons”. However we shouldn’t let that stop offering possibilities. Offering someone an option to break out of their comfort zone is a good place to start I think.
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Thanks, Mark, I appreciate the explanation of making decisions based on harmony–that makes sense to me!
As far as interactions with others, maybe shyness could be an influence? I think I have become much warmer as I’ve gotten older and perhaps less focused on myself and my shyness has gone away 🙂
I never looked forward to taking home permission slips … I expect my parents would have found issues with yoga as well 🙂 But I like that idea as well as meditation … they are both pretty open-ended, so people can find whatever they like in them. They can be spiritual, but are also very objectively useful for stress relief, lowering blood pressure, etc. Having my blood pressure measured is something I find pretty stressful, but I can consciously lower it 10-15 points at the doctor’s office–now that’s what I call a life skill 😉
I totally agree with you, both yoga and meditation can do wonders. I fully support -and practice- both. A lot of health issues would be solved is everyone meditated once a day and did yoga (if only a once a week).
About the interaction, I’m not quite sure if it’s just shyness. I prefer to keep my emotions to myself and a very select crowd, however I feel what you say about getting warmer when getting older. I’m slowly defrosting, who knows where I’ll be in ten years. 😉
Good for you for doing both! I think that’s kind of unusual, seems like most people do one or the other. I want to start doing yoga too, but I need some instruction. Right now it feels like something else to put on my never-ending to-do list, but I bet if I started, it would feel like something great I’m doing for myself.
No question that if everyone–or even a significant minority–did what you suggest, it would change the world. I imagine you’ve seen the studies where violence decreases in areas where people practice TM?
I don’t recall exactly where I am on the E/I scale–and who knows, it may have changed since I last took the test. I definitely recharge my batteries on my own, but I really enjoy unexpected interactions with other people, especially in places like the elevator or the grocery store where people usually ignore each other or stare into their smartphones. (I hope that terrible habit hasn’t spread worldwide, I don’t know …) You should try it 🙂