Back-to-School Bliss

One of the very first things you learn in the classrooms and hallways and playgrounds of the public schools of America is you’re a loser if you love school.

I mean—being exposed to new ideas that might forever change the way you look at the world, learning to do things you didn’t think you could do, transcending the boundaries of space and time by studying the thoughts of brilliant people from all corners of the world and all eras, escaping the suffocating prison of your own perspective by talking about important issues with people from all different backgrounds, reading a book that speaks to you so deeply you’re convinced the author had a secret webcam implanted in your very soul—who likes that sort of thing?

Coelacanth planets

I do. I love school. I loved it before I was even old enough to attend. I spent my first five years in a state of bitter jealousy that my older siblings got to go to school and I didn’t.

Then after a gazillion days or so I finally got to go to kindergarten. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more. On the last day, filled with end-of-the-year excitement like all the other kids, I invented a song that played in my head all day long. I still remember the tune. It was just one line that repeated over and over again:

The day after tomorrow, I’m going to FIRST GRADE!

I thought that’s why we were all so happy and excited. We got to advance to the next grade! And a grade, mind you. Grades were so much more legit than gartens. The big kids were all in grades, not kindergarten or preschool.

I was crushed when my mother broke the terrible news that summer vacation is three months–not 24 hours–long. At least I can pinpoint the exact moment that summer became my least favorite season.

Studies show that three out of four children are not happy about back-to-school time.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I like sitting in a well-ordered, air-conditioned, quiet room, doing what some smart person tells me to do. Maybe I enjoy the comfort of knowing that school is a game with predictable rules—a game I’ve always somehow known how to play well: pick up on that this-is-going-to-be-on-the-test tone in your teacher’s voice so you know what to study and what you can ignore, understand the subtle difference between thinking you know something and actually knowing it, choose the right answers on the test, write a kickass essay here and there, and boom: you’re golden. You can make it rain with A’s and check pluses and gold stars and eraser-cleaning privileges.

C’mon, guys. In what other period of time in your life does some wise, unappreciated, woefully underpaid person (who’s not related to you by blood or legal bond) devote the best years of his or her life to helping you improve and succeed? When else are you handed, right from the start, a syllabus that gives you plenty of advanced notice of your deadlines? And a written rubric outlining exactly what you have to do to make the grade? Where else is in life is there a teacher’s edition of the book sitting right there in plain sight–and you don’t ever open it–but you feel reassured because you know it holds all the answers?

None of that’s going to be true in your workplace. No, those things only happen in school. It’s a unique situation in the otherwise chaotic, illogical, cruel, unjust world we’ve all been plunked into.

So if you’re a weirdo loser like me, happy back to school! This is our time of year. Revel in it. Even if we’re not enrolled in school or teaching a class at the moment, soak in the excitement. Enroll in a special independent-study course entirely of your own design, tuition-free, where you are both teacher and student. Buy yourself your favorite kind of pen and notebook, read a new author, find some question you’re curious about and chase down whatever answers you can.

As we like to say in the rough crowd I run with, let the love of learning rule humanity.


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