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.