The Futility of Conventional Learning

The Futility of Conventional Learning

Can learners overcome the challenges of a conventional system that may be holding them back from their true potential?

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Throughout my childhood in school, I slowly began to notice differences in the ways teachers in my classes presented materials and the very specific expectations they had about HOW we should learn each day. When I reached middle school, I remember feeling a great sense of frustration with some of my classes, particularly during test time. I studied diligently and knew the materials but when it came time to “show what I knew” on a test, my grades would plummet. I grew more and more unhappy with myself, not understanding why I could not produce decent test scores when I knew I understood the materials and had worked hard. Additionally, the activities, projects, papers and assignments required in these classes up until test time would often reflect more positively on my learning efforts and comprehension of the concepts. Learning was always something I loved, so eventually this: disconnect, led to feelings of futility. Little by little, year by year- enthusiasm I had for the learning process became stifled. Maybe I was simply not a good “test taker,” or worse…maybe I would never be able to understand certain subjects, no matter how hard I tried. For someone who loved to learn, this was the ultimate defeat.

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Time passed and finally at the end of my seventh grade year, I went to my parents to talk. I asked them if there was anything that could change about my schooling situation, from an academic standpoint. I felt in my heart a strong conviction there was something better, a way to learn supporting my own personal needs in order to not feel so defeated. This conversation was a start and my parents listened to their young daughter, until it finally led us in pursuit of other schools. There were “some tremendous schools not far from us,” whose reputations preceded them, my parents explained. But they were all exceptionally exorbitant in the cost for even one year’s tuition, and that was IF I could even get accepted.

My parents didn’t let that obstacle stop us and we began to visit these “more quality” schools. I attended a small town public school. After doing several visits to these other schools, I could tell they were better because of smaller class sizes and more personalized attention. There was still something lacking, that my seventh grade brain couldn’t articulate to my parents or to myself. It seemed to be “more of the same,” just with some additional prestige.

The one school I liked the best told my family, “Jennie is the first from your town to ever-even attempt to get in to our private school.” After several intense interviews, exams and essays which they called, “THE Entrance Exam,” I was somehow accepted by the skin of my teeth; only to be told by my parents that it still might not be possible unless we could complete the slew of paperwork on time that would lend financial support SO critical to the payment of such a hefty tuition.

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The news came that everything had gone through and that I would be able to attend; my parents making payments over what basically seemed a lifetime. WHAT HAD I GOTTEN US INTO? I felt guilt, frustration and worry all mixed with tremendous gratitude and the tiniest bit of hope that this huge change might bring.

THEN, the Head Mistress contacted my parents. She wanted to speak with us personally. Uh-Oh, I thought! This is HUGE and doesn’t sound very positive. What could it possibly be about? They have definitely changed their minds and always do “these things” in person.

Well, we all drove to this “nearby” school and it ended up that the meeting was conducted “behind closed doors” with me sitting outside of them. The doorknobs (if you could even call them that) were Lion-heads, each seemed the size of my own head, and I sat there… with them “staring back at me.” It was intimidating just waiting there.

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When my parents finally came out, I remember vividly what the Headmistress did when she walked them out of her enormous office with the copper busts of the school founders near the entryway. She came directly over to me, put one hand on my shoulder and said, “Jennie- your interviews showed that you have more grit and determination to succeed than any student who has ever entered these halls! Now let’s give this a go for a year and see if you can make it here!”

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I later found out from my parents that the meeting was to inform them that, though I was “admitted” and they were “eager to have me,” the curriculum and teaching methods of this school were very traditional and rigorous with weekly exams and high expectations. If I could not meet these expectations after one year, I would not be invited to continue on to the “upper school.”

That eighth grade year proved to be everything she had “warned” of, and more.  I found that though the class sizes were small and the depth & quality of instruction were evident; similar approaches to teaching were used (as I had been accustomed to) with massive quantities of memorization, extensive note-taking over lectures and weekly exams in every subject. For me, this meant- more of the same that I had in my old school, but intensified to maximum brain crunching capacity.

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Somehow, my eighth grade year passed with more stress than I care to remember.

When the time came for the school and our family to decide whether or not there would be a “next year,” we got the call. Another meeting with the Head Mistress…this time though, I was allowed to attend and there were several of my teachers present as well.

I will never forget our meeting because it was that day, I found out something I had not known throughout my entire first year there (probably because my brain was already busy enough). A teacher shared with my family, that of the few new students accepted into my class that year, one of them had entered my same class from a much more “prestigious” public school in the area. They informed us (without mentioning a name) that this other student would actually have been entering high school with her former class but was accepted on the contingency she go back and repeat a grade due to the rigorous nature of the academia. They wanted to share this story with me so I might understand something: that although the other girl had come to them with excellent grades from a better school, they didn’t feel she had what it would take, [THE GRIT or determination] to “not give up under the rigors of the program.”

They wanted me to know they saw something in me I didn’t quite see in myself yet…a sheer unrelenting desire to learn. They said this was what helped them make their decision. They hadn’t asked me to “go back a grade” and yet somehow, I was able to get through. The Headmistress did what she had done at our very first meeting: came over to me again- but this time gave me a hug and said, “See Jennie, I told you- you have grit!”

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I went on to complete two additional years of high school there and although I will always respect the journey and experience, it was the most challenging of years for me. It was not what I had been looking for that day several years earlier when I thought I was getting into an instructional environment intended to help me understand my own unique ways of learning. The years spent there, toiling and working hour after hour, day in and day out were not spent in vain. But at the same time, the system, did not “reach me” in the ways I had hoped they would when embarking on this journey three years earlier.

I was still not able to understand WHAT about the instruction process was holding me back from reaching my highest potential. Neither could I “see” the parts of me–of my own self– that might have been preventing me from learning in a most authentic way.    Those years did not give me back the enthusiasm and desire to persevere I sought at the outset.

What those years did for me was force me to want to keep searching until I found the answers. The answers I longed to have were how I could finally get back to being a LOVER OF LEARNING and reap the high reward of understanding brought about by enthusiasm for a most precious process. I was not going to stop until I could find the keys to its most magical doors. The unintimidating doors (no Lion heads), that opened my heart and mind to the vastness of knowledge that can only be obtained by knowing one’s self.

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Oh….and by the way: I never told you about the busses! Ugg! Since my parents were both at work and the school was not as “nearby” as I had once thought…my journey to school and back every day took an hour and 45 minutes. Imagine: every day my parents dropped me off at the library of a school district close to our home where I waited for “bus #1” to pick me up. That bus took me to another public school where I sat, waited… and then switched busses again.

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The final bus change occurred one more time each day and by the time I arrived I was already exhausted!  The school day hadn’t even begun yet!  The rest of my friends where getting dropped off by their parents, one even dropped off on the school’s front lawn by helicopter!  It was a humbling time for me and most of my personal lessons had to do with experiences outside the classroom.  I carry those lessons with me still today, as many helped me realize what “true worth” & “value” in life are (at least according to my own personal sense of the words).

Well, many years and experiences have passed since those days of which I just reminisced. Now I can say from the purest place, I finally “get” what I wish someone had shown me I had all those years ago. This was the very beginning of my personal learning journey. It was a stepping-stone on my path to a true and real understanding about the incredibly individual process of learning. FROM THAT JOURNEY I FINALLY FOUND THE “PEARL OF GREAT WISDOM” I HOPE TO REVEAL TO YOU AS YOU TAKE THIS JOURNEY WITH ME.  

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Though the school had finally accepted me as a ‘bonafide member’ of its flourishing community, I knew in my own heart it would never be the environment where I could thrive completely. So eventually my journey moved on…

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Learning is as unique as our fingerprint. This means YOU need something EQUALLY UNIQUE to nurture the parts of yourself that bring about understanding, knowledge, retention and comprehension. You and I will use this PEARL OF GREAT WISDOM to make sure you discover how to get the most out of what you learn…easily.

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This story was the beginning for me & now can be the beginning for you. Whatever your age, learning in life never ceases. I hope to share with you what no one seemed able to share with me all those years ago… not even in what “conventional wisdom” would have considered the “best learning of environments.”

With this story as well as others to follow, our goal is:

  • to become a source of information for you
  • to explain how learning and true comprehension do not need to be made so difficult by the constraints of conventional instruction
  • to give you your own PERSONAL KEY to open the door to your future!

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Continue the journey with us:

Jennifer C. Lopez, MA. ed.

🐣Twitter @thejennieration

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