Not the same thing

Today's students, like all of us, will learn more outside the classroom than inside it. I photographed these school children in Dominica, March 2010.

Today’s students, like all of us, will learn more outside the classroom than inside it.
I photographed these school children in Dominica, March 2010.

“They say that we are better educated than our parents’ generation. What they mean is that we go to school longer. It is not the same thing.”Richard Yates

“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.”1 Corinthians 8:1-2

It bothers me that formal education is becoming a status symbol, a commodity to be rated and sold as a means of achieving society’s wealth and adulation.  Never mind that the world is kept running largely by people who are unable to go to the local community college, let alone Harvard.  In the mutual admiration society that constitutes much of academia, this kind of reality doesn’t intrude until one’s plumbing goes awry, or the sanitation workers go on strike.

I’m guessing we all know many people who never got a college degree (and maybe never even a high school diploma) who were sources of unfailing wisdom, strength, humor, achievement and support.  I feel safe in assuming that many of these people were of our parents’ generation, and went to high school during a time when there was no cottage industry that existed purely to increase SAT scores.  They made their way in the world without benefit of AP courses or programs for the gifted, before anyone ever thought to talk about self-esteem.

Knowledge does not equal wisdom, and increasingly, formal education does not necessarily equal either wisdom or knowledge. I’m not knocking education; it’s a wonderful thing.  Sometimes you can even get it from a school or a university.

But we learn the most practical and lasting lessons from life outside the classroom, through the person-to-person exchanges we have with each other, especially the ones that don’t involve grades, money, or other not-so-hidden agendas.  None of us needed the Ivy League to teach us to cook, pay bills, cheer others on, fix what breaks or volunteer to lend a hand where needed.  We learned those things by watching others, and most of the people we watched don’t have any impressive initials after their names.

Today, I hope you will remember fondly those lessons you learned from people who were teachers in the truest sense of the word.  They may never be honored with formal titles or pomp and circumstance.  But whatever good we have in our lives is directly connected to their unheralded faithfulness in showing up and keeping on.

One year ago today:

The answer to a great many things

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Judy from Pennsylvania

    My comments are few and far apart but I’m reading your inspiring posts every morning to get my boost before starting the day.

    My grandmother was born in rural Indiana in 1890 and, like all the other children there, only had an 8th grade education because that’s all that was offered. Yet when I read the school books she studied, I’m amazed at the depth of their education in English, literature and practical arithmetic. She was the first female in my ancestry who could vote. At the age of 60, she could still recite long complicated poems she learned in school and she cooked without recipe books. She taught me nurturing and homemaking skills.

    My mother was the first female on both sides of my family to graduate from high school and drive a car, and the first to leave the rural culture to strike out on her own in another state. Learning from watching others, she carved out a life for herself in the 1930s and 1940s despite the upheavals of the Great Depression and WWII. She taught me endurance and hopefulness.

    You wrote, “But we learn the most practical and lasting lessons from life outside the classroom, through the person-to-person exchanges we have with each other, especially the ones that don’t involve grades, money, or other not-so-hidden agendas.” So true, Julia, so true!

    • Judy, as always I appreciate your thoughtful comments and kind words of encouragement. I think it’s more important than ever to pay attention to those traits that enabled our ancestors to survive. Life today is arguably more complicated, but I don’t think anyone could say seriously that it’s harder, on a physical or even emotional level. We went through a couple of generations who seemed to find it acceptable to indulge in extensive criticism of their parents without any serious thought for gratitude or admiration on any level. Horror stories got all the press, and memoirs with barely believable, sensationalistic plot lines and anecdotes made the bestseller list time after time. It’s refreshing, then, to read your tribute to your mother and grandmother. I believe that the parents who set mostly good examples far outnumber the ones who became fodder for solipsistic pity parties or cruel jokes. As always, the good fruit is there for those who know how to find it, and I am thankful for the emotional nourishment I find in the fortitude of generations who came before. I wish some of the worthy individuals lauded by history were around to give their opinions of what life is like now. 😀

  2. God’s morning, Julia!
    I love this photo. Not just the subject matter, colors and composition, but also the energy. I can almost feel the air and hear the chatter. I love the woman’s expression, too, and the two boys in the middle, who are doing the talking. It’s very dynamic.

    • Thanks Susan. The school children in their uniforms, so different from most of the ones I see in the USA nowadays, made a definite impression on me. I’m glad you like the photo.

  3. Elena

    Julia, thank you for sharing, I totally agree (even if I have a PhD degree ;-))
    One day we were talking with my 11-yo daughter about what she would like to do when she is grown up and when I mentioned that she may or may not go to university, my parents were surprised that I didn’t take for granted that she will pursue university education. Maybe they value it so much because they could both go to high school at the cost of sacrifices – their siblings didn’t go.
    I really liked university and I am thankful that I could study and for what I learnt but I have seen that, in general, a higher degree is no guarantee of wisdom, happiness, wealth or even a rewarding job.
    Also, my husband says that there are jobs that one “invents”, for which no formal education is available – he mentions cell phone technicians 😉 – for which one build his expertise on his own.
    Surely most practical skills, as well as social abilities are (better) learnt elsewhere and that’s why I have come to sympathize with informal schooling. I guess school in Italy is very academic! A former colleague told me she learnt much so more from her sport practice…
    Have a nice day

    • Elena, I appreciate this balanced perspective from one who has “been there.” I think education itself has changed drastically since our parents were so determined that we would graduate and maybe attend college and beyond. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I believe that instruction was much more objective 50 years ago than it is today, when professors are allowed to push their own agendas onto their students with very little resistance. In any case, life itself teaches lessons that are stubbornly consistent and often argue with what a particular generation views as wisdom. I think this is true the world over! Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

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