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Five life lessons I didn’t learn in school

Algebra. It baffled me. I could never figure out what “x” was, nor could I understand why it mattered. I excelled in every other subject, because I could memorize what I needed to know for the test and ace it every time. But the truth is, I remember very little of what I “learned” in school: about five words in Spanish, a few facts from American history, and the titles of a handful of famous literary works. Most of the information my teachers labored so hard to teach me went the way of a defunct hard drive with no Cloud backup—lost forever.Apparently, I am not alone in my lack of retention. In his latest book, Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World, Harvard research professor David Perkins wrote: “The hard fact is that our minds hold on only to knowledge we have occasion to use in some corner of our lives. Overwhelmingly, knowledge unused is forgotten. It’s gone.” (I didn’t go to Harvard, but I could have saved him some research time on that conclusion.)

But this is not to say that education isn’t important. It is. What I think we learn in school is how to learn. We also discover what piques our interest, which helps us retain the knowledge that will serve us best in the future. And if we’re lucky, we also learn a bit about ourselves and others: how to get along, how to listen, how to tolerate differences and welcome diversity—physical, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual.

But education doesn’t end when we throw our graduation caps in the air and frame our diplomas. In fact, this is when the real learning begins—when we step out into the world and start living—when we have to figure out the value of “x” without a formula.

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