D. Louise Brown

Louise Brown

I recently sorted through a shelf of three-ring binders filled with four years of college work, tossing most of those papers into a large black garbage bag. Assignments from double majors of communications and English produced hundreds of papers that were once so critical, and now ... just taking up space.

I admit to some affection for those pieces of evidence that I have a brain. When my husband and I married decades ago, I dropped out of college to support him for the three years he needed to finish his degree. We agreed then that I would somehow finish my degree — which I did decades later, graduating at age 49.

But eventually my fondness for those papers faded. So into the recycling sack went typed and handwritten assignments, red lined papers, test results, presentations, lecture notes, published articles, pop quizzes, worksheets, puzzling math equations I no longer comprehend and more.

I’m astonished at how much I once knew. That large sack of scattered information represented a long journey of discovery not only of the world of book learning, but the world of myself. A legitimate degree requires a pre-determined, “well-rounded” education — meaning you take classes you’d never choose on your own and learn things you never thought you’d know. Most of it I never regretted.

But 15 years later, much of that mass of papers contains information I could no longer reproduce. I learned it, regurgitated it to complete assignments and tests, then lost it. Such is the retention practice of an aging brain that chooses what is to be kept and what must be discarded to make space for more important things. Much like filling the garbage sack.

After the first several hundred papers slid from my hand into the sack, a thought started nagging me — was this a waste? Was all that class time and tuition money and brain exhaustion and test anxiety and presentation angst and tutor time a waste?

It was not. I learned things far beyond college knowledge, things like:

Group studying stays in your head better than solitary studying. It’s evidence that none of us is as smart as all of us.

The teachers aren’t the only smart ones in the room. But they pay the price to be up front, so wise students pay attention to them. (Plus, they’re the ones who write the tests).

Free tutoring is the best learning aid money can buy.

The harder you have to work to learn something, the more you’ll value it when you do. This is true of everything except that algebra equation about how long it takes to burn a candle or how many lumens it has or what the flame will look like in outer space ... or something like that.

You can’t take knowledge in by osmosis. Your bottom in the chair does not guarantee info in your head.

The grade you get is reflective of the effort you put in. Unless you’re stuck on that lumens thing.

Doing something that scares you to death (and surviving it) is a huge confidence booster.

Older people (called “nontraditional students” by some institutions) are also known as “DAR”s — Damned Average Raisers. I’m okay with that.

Despite what the Algebra teacher claims, most normal people don’t use quadratic equations in everyday settings.

Sometimes you have to pretend you understand until you really do.

The diploma is worth it. You can say that once you’re done. But while earning it, there are moments ...

Finally, learning should never end. Opportunities to learn surround us. Library books and DVDs. Educational TV. Online courses. Adult education classes. Newspapers and magazines. Neighborhood book clubs. Church classes. And much more. So before your brain turns to oatmeal (it can happen), do yourself a favor and feed it something new. Because it’s true that when you’re through learning, you’re through.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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