Baby Steps

I can still remember my first day of school. I was six years old, and had little idea of what to expect from the day. Some friends of mine who had already embarked on their long journey had told me horror stories about math and homework. It was scary. That morning, I saw many kids scattered over the frosty yard, tethered to their parents, and many of them in tears.

That’s my first memory of school. Surely, for every one of us school has been a different experience. Some have found comfort in their studies, whereas others have failed to see the weight of education in life, and some have been struggling somewhere in between. I could say that I never felt comfortable at my desk the night before a big math test, as I had to pointlessly cram algebraic formulae into my cerebral organ. Can you think of any classmates who sincerely told you how they couldn’t get enough of preparing for their geometry test?

The thing with compulsory education is that it has hardwired us to think that studying is a boring, lifeless process that we just have to accept to go forward in life. We are told by our parents to study hard because it supposedly provides us a stabler future and a better standard of living. Many kids quit school right after they are done with compulsory education because they don’t want the frustration to continue. We often get frustrated because of the workloads that we haven’t been taught to manage, or because we haven’t found anything worth studying, or because we believe that we don’t have what it takes to study something like optical physics at university. There are of course those kids too who desire going to university, but they’ve just naturally figured out how to be in control of their studies.

Separating kids into learners and not-learners doesn’t mean that the individuals who are not so keen to study should be dissociated from education and learning. Quite the contrary, everyone has to learn something. There is always some degree of learning in whatever we want to do.

  • If you want to get a car, you must learn how to drive first.
  • If you want to lose weight, you have to learn about different weight-loss regimes.
  • If you want to win a Quake tournament, you have to learn to be better at playing Quake.
  • If you want to defend yourself against muggers, you have to learn some form of self-defense like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or street fighting.
  • If you want to start your own sushi restaurant, you have to learn how to make sushi and how to manage a restaurant.
  • If you want to drink cheaper beer, you have to… well, learn where they sell the cheapest beer in town.

Different tasks have different steps and requirements. Some tasks demand more effort and involve steps that are more challenging. But if, at some point along the road, we lose that sense of commitment, we might never be able to reach our goal. And sometimes, the lack of motivation to begin studying something is intimidating enough to lose interest and give up.

We have to learn how to keep the motivation burning. The first step is to reprogram our minds to think differently of studying and education. We must let go of our old, negative attitudes on learning, and instill in ourselves a strong sense of self-improvement. Learning isn’t about memorizing data, it’s about improving ourselves as individuals. The mental ailments that public schooling has infected us with can be cured by taking a different stance on education.

So forget the past. Forget all the bad teachers you once had (but be sure not to let go of the enlightened ones). Realize the fact that you have the ability to function as your own teacher. You can be your own mentor who will guide you. If you once chose not to attend college but now regret it, you can still direct yourself thereā€”or become your own professor. Only you possess the power and capability to lead yourself toward goals. If you have ever thought about learning something, but haven’t been able to start because you thought you’d need a school or a teacher for it, you can now trash those misconceptions permanently, and embark on your new journey.

All of us who are not “natural learners” need to be (re)taught how to approach studying. It should have been our teachers’ job back in elementary school, but most of us haven’t been endowed with these advantages so we have to learn the skill by ourselves.