The more I read and the more I learn, the more interested I become in knowing more.
The internet in particular presents a wide range of possibilities for an intellectually interested audience. You can find simple pictures that explain scientific phenomena or more detailed videos about equally interesting topics. I can buy a book online and have it on my phone 10 seconds later.
I mention science specifically because for me, my current interest in that area is lightyears away from where I was in school.
I love Bill Bryson’s short summary of his own childhood experience in A Short History of Nearly Everything. In grade school, the author of Bryson’s science textbook didn’t answer any of the questions that make science relevant or interesting. Instead, the focus rested solely on terms to learn for a future test. Bryson explains, “It was as if he wanted to keep the good stuff secret by making it soberly unfathomable…There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of mildly interesting and was always a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.”
With most of my science classes, I never really understood the point. Chemistry is essentially the study of everything that exists. That fact makes chemistry unbelievably interesting. What did I learn in chemistry? Well, I remember counting electrons and trying to figure out how some elements would combine with others. That combination might freeze off my hand if I touched it or explode in my face if I shook it. That didn’t matter, though. For me, it was just meaningless numbers and letters on a page. Sometimes, those numbers and letters were wrong for some reason, and I got a bad grade. Other times, I counted the electrons right and did OK on the test. Once the teacher pretended to light water on fire and exploded some potassium, but those experiments were so far removed from the tests that they represented a different world. Other than the grade’s effect on my overall GPA, chemistry meant nothing to me.
Kurzgesagt, the YouTube channel I linked to earlier, has 2.1 million subscribers. Another science-based channel, the Crazy Russian Hacker, has 6.8 million people waiting for him to release footage of a new experiment. I love those guys.
Why the sharp contrast? Why do I love science now, when I see Neil deGrasse Tyson explaining an extremely complicated topic, while in high school I dreaded getting bad grades and rarely really understood what was going on?
From my experience learning, inside and outside of school, school subjects are almost always divorced from the reality which they reflect. Why can’t many American students tell you about European geography? Maybe it’s because in school, European geography was wholly separated from European history. Instead, it became a simple process of remembering how different shapes fit together. Why can’t the Russians that I teach English speak English fluently after 8-12 years of studying? Could it be because their teachers focused more on terms like “auxiliary verb” and “2nd conditional” than the actual use of that grammar in real life?
The lack of life in learning makes zero sense to me. Language teachers should be shouting: “This is how millions of people express their hopes and dreams! Speak this way when you’re angry! Now that you know this, you can ask that fine foreigner out on a date!”
I appreciate more than ever the great teachers I had who brought their subjects alive and made the information stick with me. Everything else is just a small representation of what I show when I need to pull out my diplomas for a job. I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve learned, and that’s natural. The problem is that I wasn’t even interesting to me in the first place. The subjects we learn exist for a reason – and that reason should not simply be a grade on a report card or a college name to add to a resume. Learning is exciting for me now that I’m outside of the bubble of school. What does that say about school?