Friday, 15 August 2014

Education is Rarely a Waste

by Paula Altenburg

Education is rarely a waste.

Sometimes it is.

But most often it’s not.

We’re in the midst of home renovations. That means the Foreign Guy is yanking stuff out of closets and bedrooms, dumping it all in the middle of the living room floor, and then walking away, wiping his hands and whistling as if his work is done.

As I was sorting through boxes of papers and photos, and swearing at him under my breath, I came across class notes, lab reports, and old exams from two third year university biology courses I took mmph number of years ago. The Foreign Guy, who doesn’t have a Canadian degree, had asked me to take a couple of classes for him.

I have a degree in Social Anthropology. No background in science. Physiology of Aquatic Animals and Fish Health were a BIG stretch for me. But I was game to give them a try. Because yes. I am that person. I like a challenge.

And those classes were HARD.

(Did I mention the arts degree?)

My first lab, I was the only student who didn’t know I was looking at a red blood cell under the microscope. I had to borrow a first year biology text book and basically educate myself in order to get up to speed. I’d write down any words I didn’t understand and look them up later. I created my own thesaurus. I even resorted to calling my old high school biology teacher to get help with some of the homework.
He chuckled. Loudly. With far too much evil pleasure. “Bet you wish you’d paid more attention in my class now, don’t you?”

I passed those two classes. In fact, I did really well. But some of my notes are hilarious. I’d written in the margin during one class, “Another effing graph.” The sadist professor liked to use them to illustrate points and I couldn’t read them.  I still can’t. Don’t judge me.

What I remember the most, however, was the huge sense of accomplishment when I did well in an area that did not, by any stretch of the imagination, come easily for me.  In fact, looking over my old notes now (the information, not the swearing), it’s like they’re written in a foreign language.

Education, it turns out, is my adrenaline rush. Some people skydive. I buy Physics for Dummies. I understand the second law of thermodynamics now, although I’ll never, in this lifetime, be able to do the math. I know my limits. I’m still trying to figure out entropy and measuring the disorganization of a system, too. I understand it in theory. I can’t remember the flow. It looks too much like a graph.

I pace my adrenaline rushes. I’m not insane. After I took those courses, I checked out every Georgette Heyer book the local library had.  Thanks to Ms. Heyer, I also now know what ratafia is.
I can use that.

Paula Altenburg

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1 comment:

  1. Dear Paula, I couldn't agree more. What I love about learning things is the great opportunity to turn what you learn into a story idea, plot point or whatever you need.