Skule Daze

Another year of school started today with my grandson now in Grade 2 and my older granddaughter in Grade 1. That got me thinking about my own school experience which started almost 65 years ago. That’s me far right first row next to Donnie Keith (or was it Ronnie Keith – never could tell them apart.)

Considering how much time I spent in academia I must say I really didn’t enjoy it all that much. I never really looked forward to heading back to school every year with a few exceptions. Let’s take a look at the various stages:

  1. Elementary School – Yech. Back in the 1950s the experience was totally rote work and seat work. I alternated between stuff that was so easy it put me to sleep – arithmetic, spelling, reading – and stuff that was virtually impossible – art, music, cursive writing. The authorities couldn’t understand how I could ace the hard subjects but fall flat on my face with the “fun” stuff. Besides, they kept trying to move me to the next higher grade level so I wouldn’t be bored. This was great – get me into an older group when I was already immature and shy and just wanted to stay with my friends. I survived thanks to my mother’s influence as she resisted these “acceleration” moves on the part of the school staff. Why they never heard of gifted classes or enrichment activities back then totally escapes me.
  2. Secondary School – Bliss. After getting away from the artsy-fartsy stuff I immersed myself in the love of learning for the high school years – Classics, French and English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History – I ate it up. Nothing I couldn’t do. I had no social life but I didn’t care at the time – the original Renaissance kid. It really helped that I went to a tiny academic high school where anything I wanted to learn about was available, and the teachers cared.
  3. University – Meh. This was supposed to be the the highlight of academic pursuits – not!!! I needed a job at the end of it all, so I chose STEM subjects as my major – Chemistry and Physics. Things got increasingly specialized as I went on; I did manage a couple of courses in Economics and Psych but that was it. Thank goodness I got a summer job in a food science research lab because then I found my life’s work. I would never have made a good academic chemist, I’m afraid. Add to that the fact I had no money, could not stay in residence and lived hand to mouth all the time I was at Queen’s and you can see how it wasn’t such an outstanding time of my life.

So out of the 18 odd years of schooling I suppose I liked maybe 5 of them. Not exactly a poster child for education, was I?

After I got out and embarked on my career I got into the fun part of learning – lifetime stuff. As a chemist I knew more hard core science than the average food technology grad but I needed to learn some microbiology and food engineering. General Foods was great about giving me the opportunity to do this in a practical way. Over the years I had the chance to learn advanced statistics and quality control methods, more computer programming, unit operations in a variety of processes, plus a wide variety of business software for personal computers. And that was just on the job.

At home I’ve continued to learn about economics, astronomy, history, theology and just about anything else that suits my fancy. I firmly believe that life is all about learning and the relatively small time you spend doing it formally becomes less important as time goes on. You can never stop learning though.

65 years – a lifetime ago. I wonder if my grandkids will look back at their lives in 2081 and think the same thoughts. I’m sure lifetime learning will have a whole other meaning for them.

  1. Doug Meale 5 years ago

    Like Ray, I never looked forward to going back to school, other than the interaction with friends I didn’t see in the summer because they mostly lived in the city while I got there by bus from the outskirts. Unlike Ray, University was the most enjoyable experience over all, even if there were down times. I was smart enough to major in History and other Arts courses where there was less class time required, leaving more time for touch football, road hockey and such. I also met the friends I still see on a regular basis to the present day. That includes Ray, who I met by a quirk of fate on a bus from Belleville to Kingston. Our accounts of the circumstances differ somewhat, but we ended up friends anyway. The lasting friendships alone make any unpleasant memories pale by comparison.

    • Sarah MacDonald-McLean 5 years ago

      Doug, I am forever grateful that you and my Dad met on that fateful bus ride, and that you and my Mom took Russian history together. Also that you dragged my Mom along to that Homecoming football game in 1970. I would wager that all my Dad’s happiest times in University were in 4th year once he knew you guys (and had a bit of cash to spend).

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