Things I've learned, but not in school

by Vivian Lawson Hogue

In education, there is something called “birdwalking.” It refers to a class discussion that becomes off-subject, much as a bird goes in random directions for morsels to eat. Although not recommended, I confess that my students and I enjoyed it. With purposes and limits understood, it often enriched discussion. Students’ outside learning, which is often in the social world, was valid and valued. I can even vouch for it myself.

For instance, from my early years, I learned:

When you are offered something that you don’t need or want, be polite and accept it with a thank you. Don’t try to figure it out. It’s just the way we get along.

When your dad tells you to be careful of the green, slimy algae on the rocks in the creek, assume he has an experience to verify probable results.

When your mother comes a half a block hunting for you with a switch in her hand because you left the house without permission, it is not the time to bestow your fervent devotion to her. If you think running to her with arms outstretched, all the while repeating, “I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!” through copious tears is going to work, you will soon have that other “think” a-coming that you didn’t think of in the first place.

When you’re 6 years old and your mother says, “We’re going to the library,” never assume that you will not start first with a round of immunizations at the county health department in the courthouse, THEN visit the library.

There are no taller shoulders than an 18-year-old brother’s when you are age 3.

The long four blocks it took to walk home from grade school seemed shorter when we reached high school, depending on whether we were detected by Miss Clayton’s dogs and how fast we could run. There is probably some arithmetical reading problem in there somewhere, but I always avoided math whenever possible.

When your mother tells you to never try to trap a bumblebee in a hollyhock bloom, she means NEVER.

Also at my mother’s feet, I learned references to the Bible, mythology and great literature just by one particular phrase. She would tell me my room (my closet, my hair, my clothes) looked like the “wreck of the Hesperus.” I knew what a wreck was, but was not familiar with the “Hesperus” part. Without Google, I finally asked what that meant, as I’m sure she thought I never would. I was then probably the only kid in Conway who knew about the poem by Longfellow. And that looking like a shipwreck was not a compliment.

In my adult years:

It was a good thing I learned early how the word “anyway” is spelled and pronounced correctly, as today’s nonexistent word “anyways” makes my eardrums scream for mercy.

At some point, I learned that when someone says, “Thank you,” the proper response is, “You’re welcome” rather than “No problem.” Most people never think gratitude would be a “problem” for anyone. This is often said by the same restaurant servers who also call both men and women customers “You guys” instead of “sir” or “ma’am.” As a female, it seems bizarre to be called a guy.

I learned that real friends can be apart for years and return to find their friendship is the same. However, I also found that sometimes they can’t share each others’ clothing or shoes anymore.

I noticed that a grandparent likes to rock grandchildren even if their gangly legs hang over the chair arms and their feet touch the floor.

In the 1980s, I learned that the Commodore 64 would not have the last say in technology, which was fine because I didn’t understand its language anyway.

So, what and how we learn is not always found in a classroom. If we are fortunate, we will never stop observing what life can teach us, even if it is the usual way — the hard way.