The Dragonfly and Raven

The Dragonfly and Raven

Monday, April 6, 2015

Always Learning: The Story of My Academic Success

This is a creative nonfiction essay I wrote for my writing class. I hope you enjoy it.

Always Learning: The Story of My Academic Success

I was not always a know-it-all. I did not always know about the formation of the German State, or of the tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet, or of western imperialism and its lasting impact on the lives of everyone. I was not always a know-it-all—it had to be learned.

Public School is one of the most important things in the world. Having an educated population benefits everyone. It provides an informed electorate and civil servants, like engineers and doctors. It creates a population of intelligent, thoughtful people. And if nothing else, having free public schooling brings literate, somewhat well mannered people who can do basic mathematics into the workforce While I learned many things in public schools, the majority of my knowledge originates outside of them. It all goes back to my fourth grade year.

When I was young, I used to get sick quite often. It was always at the same time of the year—like clockwork. Every October and January, I would be wheeled into the doctor's office, and every time I was assaulted with a battery of tests, and given a new drug to try. It became a problem in the fourth grade though, when I ended up missing the entire month of January because of the same barking cough that came very year. Eventually, we found out that the cough was triggered by my body treating scotch broom pollen as a foreign invader and a common cold. After the first week or so, my symptoms were psychosomatic. Which basically means that my brain was telling my body that I was sick, even though I wasn't.

Instead of falling behind like most people would after missing over a month of school, I thrived.  Being stuck at one's house alone for weeks tends to make one bored. After exhausting my video game collection, and after watching television until my eyes ached from the brightness of the LCDs, I decided to read. At first, I read fiction. I read of fantastic rebellions against Magician-Kings and of deep space outposts guarding valuable shipping lanes. Then I moved on to science and history—natural jumps from the science fiction and fantasy that I loved. From there, I was off to the races. All of the free time that I had was spent reading and learning—bettering my life.

By the time I got to seventh grade, I wasn't learning a thing in school. My days were spent sitting bored on my ass, creating cartography of imaginary worlds, or simply staring off into space. I had just about checked out. I was arguing with my teachers—winning too—and I was being sent to in-school detention. What I found funny about this was that the in-school detention supervisor was on my side, and so when I was sent to him, he almost always let me do what I wanted.

The school—and all of my teachers—knew that I was smart, that I was not like the rest of my peers. The only option I saw was to be moved ahead—to skip a grade. The school feared that this would cause severe social repercussions for me, as many studies show that children often discriminate based on age. For me though, this proved to not be a problem. In fact, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Moving into a new grade was difficult, but I managed to scrape together passing grades. This is because I continued learning after school was out. Around that time, I began to listen to podcasts and audiobooks. Instead of listening to music, I listened to Click and Clack talk about cars. I listened to Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak of the stars—whose dust we are all made of. I listened to Sun Tzu explain The Art of War. I listened to all of the stuff that I missed in history class, from the Encephalitis Lethargica outbreak to the Tunguska Event.

Around this time I also began to play video games that had a historical basis. Through these games, I learned about Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. I learned of the evolution of Christianity: of the Great Schism, the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation. I learned of the fall of the Ilkanate and Mongols, and the rise of the Ottoman Sultanate. I learned of all of these things from video games, and while a few of the finer details of history were altered for gameplay purposes, the games served as a launching point for my own research into subjects such as the Burgundian Inheritance.

I also started watching educational videos to supplement my learning. The advent of the internet, and the rise of Youtube has created a space for people from anywhere in the world to share what they know. Khan Academy, started November 2006 by a guy trying to teach his cousin. Today, Khan Academy has its own website, and a large staff that teaches everything from math to art. Other Youtube channels provide crash courses in subjects—like psychology and biology—while yet others explain the science behind our everyday lives—like why an object can appear to be two different colors to two different people. To this day, this is how I enjoy spending my free time—learning.

Public education is an extremely important social institution. It has its purpose, and it is here to stay. Because education is the silver bullet. It can, and will fix so many problems in our society today. It can combat poverty and reduce drug addiction. It can save our environment and out culture. It creates human beings who care about other people, and not just themselves. It levels the playing field for people of all pigments and creeds and nationalities and classes. What is important to realize though is that education does not, and cannot end when school is out. Everybody must continue to learn throughout their entire lives. For me, video games and podcasts and educational videos do the trick. I was not always a know-it-all. I had to learn how to be one. I had to put in time and effort, mental strain and sweat. At the top of the hill looking down though, it is clear to me that it was worth it.