Real learning is in the extracurricular lessons in life and outside the classroom

Sep 4 2013 - 10:26pm


Listening to mom-to-mom conversations swirling around lately, it's not a stretch of the imagination to believe the reason we send kids back to school is because moms need a break from the kids, and the kids need a break from the moms.

But no, the real reason we send kids to school is so they can get an education. They go there to learn stuff, like reading and writing and arithmetic. Or geometry. Or calculus. Or trigonometry. Or whatever form of number-related torture is trending this year.

So they sit in chairs at desks, pull out papers or computers, and start processing stuff to get it into their brains. The hope is that by doing so, they'll learn enough stuff to become successful at something, and eventually become contributing members of society, which is good, since society can use all the contributing members it can get.

There's another kind of learning that goes on at schools, learning not so easily defined. It's critical to a child's success, possibly more critical than the math. It's the kind of learning that helps them get along with other kids, and figure out how to take care of themselves in difficult situations. It's not written in any teacher's lesson plan -- it's the stuff that just happens when you throw a bunch of kids together in a classroom and tell them to learn. They learn all right -- sometimes at each others' expense.

A few "extra-curricular" things I learned in grade school: Dealing with a schoolyard bully by knocking him out cold with a broken icicle chunk to the head is not a smart move, but it's definitely effective.

If you're a chrysanthemum in the school play, it's a good idea to give your mom more than one evening's notice that you need a costume.

Learning reading and writing is lots more fulfilling than learning math. (Hey, this is my column. If you disagree, write your own column. Use words.)

Grade school learning can't hold a candle to junior high learning, where social-type educational opportunities explode, and you learn things like: Never, ever, under any circumstance, write a note to someone you're breaking up with unless you don't mind having it circulated around the entire free world.

You can do science lab one of two ways: Gag and whine your way through it, or just roll up your sleeves and dissect the frog. Either way, you still have to dissect the frog.

If you don't play a musical instrument, you'll end up in choir, where a lack of talent doesn't seem to matter as much. Just lip sync. Everyone -- especially the teacher -- will be grateful.

And then you reach the pinnacle of public education called high school, where learning actually starts to stick, and you have occasional glimpses that what you're doing has some relevance to life beyond school. It's fleeting, but enough to give rise to hope. Meanwhile, that other kind of learning is taking place at an accelerated pace, and you learn things like:

It is possible to go to school, do your homework and still work a couple of part-time jobs. You just won't have time for luxuries -- like sleeping.

There's a lot of comfort in having a few good friends. In fact, a few good friends beats running with a large crowd of "acquaintances" anytime.

Short girls date tall boys, while tall girls sit home on Friday nights hating the short girls.

Eventually you finish it all, you walk the walk, get the diploma, and you think, "I'm so done with this." But hopefully not. Because learning never ends -- or at least it shouldn't. Especially that "extra curricular" kind of learning. As long as we keep our minds open, our hearts ready to receive, and stay light on our feet, learning can be lifelong. And it should be.

Because when you're through learning, you're through.

You can contact D. Louise Brown at

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