Sunday, August 23, 2009


I've been a student most of my life. As a child, I was a reluctant student, finding it difficult to get up in the mornings to get off to school. Maybe if they'd had later hours it would have been easier. I didn't really hate school, I just hated getting up. A false tummy ache was declared many times in order to convince my mother that I was sick, but she knew my tricks and it rarely worked.

In high school I'd get up just a few minutes before I had to leave for school. No breakfast. I quickly threw on some clothes, brushed teeth and hair, and headed out.

Although I got great marks in school, I didn't work hard for them and was not a dedicated learner. I was bored and uninterested in most of my subjects, and if you ask me what I learned in all those years that serves me now, I'm stuck beyond the obvious math, reading, language, and basic science knowledge that one seems to need throughout life. Oh - I did take Home Economics and learned how to sew. They tried to teach me how to cook too, but I had better teachers - my mother and grandmothers.

As an adult, I've continued taking courses that are geared to my interest or my work - and in many cases, both. I'm very lucky to be doing the type of work that also happens to be what I enjoy. Learning is fun, and a challenge, and I put everything I have into it. In my second career (information technology), keeping current is required. Let your skills become obsolete and you are no longer marketable.

Miguel's education history is very different than mine. Growing up in the mountains and expected to work on the land, he had little time to attend school or do his homework. I hope one day he will write about his perspectives on that, it is very interesting.

At the age of 14 Miguel's father brought him to Isla Mujeres to help work at Aquarama (now Zama's Beach Club). Aquarama was similar to Marineland in Niagara Falls - dolphins, sea lions, and other aquatic and non-aquatic creatures. Although Miguel learned a lot while working there, his formal education stopped.

Later Miguel joined the military, and continued his education. He was part of the special forces and learned some skills that will serve him for life.

Somewhere along the line Miguel learned spelling and math - he spells perfectly and uses good grammar, and knows how to calculate the square meters of a construction site. He is very interested in current events - he watches the news, studies geography on the internet, and knows his history and politics.

To me, formal education is just one way of learning. Living life teaches us things that better prepare us for the future (if we pay attention). But nobody gets certification for figuring out how to pick oneself up off the ground after the loss of a loved one. Nobody gets education credits for teaching a child the lessons of life, for writing a blog that reaches people all over the world, for cooking a fabulous meal for 25 people, or for knowing how to repair a leaky pipe. How does formal education help one live life other than through work and a paycheck?

But now, Miguel wants to complete the formal education he missed out on. Yesterday he went to 'school' here on the island, to take a test to determine his level. It's a school for people who are beyond the age of normal students - people who now want to finish their formal education.

Miguel said that there was one person older than him, and many others - about 30 - many women, at the school. Some were there to complete primary levels. All were there to continue their formal learning, and to receive the piece of paper stating that they were now educated.

I applaud all those students for making the commitment to get their education. I wish I'd known as a child what a privilege it was for me to have all those years of schooling - years where my only task was to get up in the morning and go to school and learn. I resented it then. I appreciate it now. Sort of like a few other things in life - things we take for granted at the time, and only when we look back do we realize and appreciate what we had.

Buen suerte a Miguel! (and all his classmates)


Life's a Beach! said...

Sue, I remember sitting in grade school dreaming about the day when I'd no longer have to go to school! I was a really good student, but my main goal was getting out of the building! It's wonderful that Miguel's made the choice to get his official diploma. I think he's already got his doctorate in life.

jeanie said...

Kudos to Miguel and all of his classmates. I think it's admirable.

Anonymous said...

at about age 35 i decided i wanted to go to college. i packed up my 10-year-old son and the few things that would fit into my little Honda Civic, and off we went from New Orleans to Indiana, where i enrolled as a freshman at Indiana University in Bloomington.

five years later (i had to take a year off to establish residency), i graduated with a B.G.S. (bachelor's degree in general studies -- i still couldn't make up my mind what i wanted to be when i grew up). i was asked to speak at one of the functions held for graduates after the ceremony. i said i felt like the scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz"....i wasn't sure i was any smarter, but i had a piece of paper now that said i was.

however, i would not trade the experience for the world....even though i'm STILL paying off students loans from graduate school. (yes, i continued on, working on my doctorate in anthropology.) so Miguel, more power to you! learn for the love of learning! learn more about things you already know something about, and learn new things about areas where you don't know much. (for me, that included Shakespeare, art appreciation, and physical anthropology.)

and, Sue, as to what i learned in high school that is still with me after all these years (i'll be 62 in a couple of months), i can still recite my whole name backwards....which is all i learned in geometry and which, i feel certain, is one reason i never married and changed my name. (no, it wasn't taught in the classroom, i just sat in the back next to a friend and that's what we did.)

best of luck on your adventure, Miguel! and have fun!

barbara in jalisco (or arabrab to those in the know)

KfromMichigan said...

Best of luck to Miguel. I bet he knows MORE and can do more things than most people that graduated for school.

Leslie said...

Good luck to Miguel!

A formal education is a good thing - it helps one to better interact with other people, to speak well, to communicate clearly and to take the time to pay attention to information sources and learn ...all good life skills...but you are right - its just a piece of paper and other than obtaining employment and a paycheck its main asset is in the sense of accomplishment it brings...reaching a goal and having that acknowleged by some authority. Some very bright people, with many degrees don't do well at the job of living...

Life has many lessons for us which help us to grow and to live our lives to the fullest work well with others and to make the world a better place....whether we accomplish those lessons and take the information to heart and use it is up to each of us...some do and some fail and give up....I am sure Miquel has a PhD in living....

Its get no credit for surviving and making it over the big hurdles in your life...again, what you get is just a sense of personal accomplishment - a glow from within....

rummy said...

What a lovely piece of writing... I can hear the support, pride, empathy from you and you've conveyed the grit, determination, longing and awareness of Miguel. Best of luck often comes to people who slog at it, but I still wish it to both of you.

Island Nana said...

Students like Miguel are my favorites - they are motivated and have life experiences to draw on. Last winter I taught a GED class here on Martha's Vineyard (it is for adults who never completed high school). Some of my students were Brazilian immigrants and some were American dropouts; it was a great experience. So much so that I'll be teaching again in the fall. Good luck to Miguel and his classmates.

Bennie said...

WOW! This is great news about Miguel going back to school. He is such a sharp guy I know he will do great. I have to say I admire him for going back to school at our age.

Vee said...

Sue, that was a wonderful post. Congratulations to Miguel! I love school - the challenge as well as the knowledge gained. I take workshops at the university where I work all the time, and I'm considering enrolling in the MALS program (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies). The program is geared toward older students - retirees included.

Islagringo said...

I couldn't say it any better than Rummy did! Go get 'em!

Sue said...

Thanks to all for your comments - I have read them all to Miguel and although he didn't understand all that I said (my Spanish isn't that great), he appreciated the thoughts.

Beck - I remember staring out the window too, especially in spring and summer.

Barbara - thanks for sharing your story. I hope it's ok but I am going to make your comment into a blog. I laughed out loud about the story of learning your name in reverse!

Leslie - your comment about very bright people not doing such a good job about living is right on.

Rummy - thank you! It's always nice to know that people have 'heard' the tone of the message.

Nana - you are right, people who return to school are motivated, unlike Beck and I when we were children. Good luck with the upcoming year - have fun!

Vee - good luck if you decide to pursue that Masters program!

Jeanie, K, Bennie, Wayne - thanks!

Mic said...

I somehow missed this post...but wanted to add....

Buena Suerte Miguel.
I already think you're perfect

Sue said...

Well, Mic - he isn't perfect, but he's pretty good (most of the time).