As the child of a near-high school dropout and a salutatorian, education has been taught to me as a both a staple to success and an insurance to a better life. Education to my mother is the difference between a job in the hot sun and a job in an air-conditioned office, and an apartment that you rent and a house that you own. Therefore, it is essentially an expectation that it be taken seriously. To my father, however, education opens doors and paves the roads that which one would use to find their place in the world. Growing up with this mixed drink of perspectives as well as living my own personal journey of being educated for 75% of my life has led me today to form my own take on education: that the term “education” has more meaning than meets the eye.
During this journey through the American school system I also came to realize something that I am surprised to say not everyone realizes: school is not a synonym for education. In essence, the definition of education is learning. There is no specified field or criteria that must be satisfied by whatever material is being taught for it to be deemed as contributing toward someone’s education. The learning of how to ride a bike is no less of an educational experience than the learning of calculus, the same way the learning of calculus in high school is no less of an educational experience than the learning of the same material in college a few years later. Instead the value of what is learned is left to the learner; an inquisitive student may value a science class over an English one and a musically-inclined student may value singing lessons over either of those. Simultaneously, a person’s education continues throughout their entire lives; just because only the life experiences one gains in designated buildings between the ages of 5 to 18 are explicitly called education does not under any circumstances mean that education ends after one obtains a diploma or a degree. An elderly woman learning a new recipe would still be getting educated in the subject of cooking. Just because she is old and may have already finished school years ago does not mean she no longer learns.
School, on the other hand, is a medium in which children enter in order to begin a formal education on varying disciplines specifically chosen to help narrow down their interests and prepare them for the working world. It does not span across a lifetime - in the United States it is only compulsory until age 18 - and it is not all-encompassing as not every topic that can be learned is taught; only a limited, general study of a choice few subjects is conducted. Because of these facts, school itself is not a synonym for education.
However, that does not by any means imply that school does not offer an abundance of educational experiences beyond the standard subjects that they offer. For example, school taught me more about the way the fickle, capricious being called life moves and behaves through the people I’ve met and the realities I’ve been met with as I began my education in preschool up until where I stand now as a junior in high school. School in many ways was a sort of third parent, one that teaches their children how to interact and behave around others, to meet deadlines and responsibilities or face consequences, to go about doing things efficiently and balance pleasure with obligations, and to overcome challenges or be essentially left behind by the world as you are taught in school that the earth never stops turning.
After I moved from my birthplace to a new state I went to a small private preschool that also served as a daycare. It was located right outside my neighborhood - literally, as the only thing separating the property from some of the houses is the neighborhood wall that surrounds the perimeter on one side. Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy being there, as commuting was effortless and preschool wasn’t accompanied by obligations like homework (unlike high school), but for some reason all my memories of that preschool were negative ones. Reminiscing my weekdays in preschool, flashbacks of me being alone while watching other children play together come to mind. And, to make matters seem even worse, all the memories I have of my younger self actually interacting with other people were never very positive either. It wasn’t that I was a disagreeable or unfriendly child either.
Instead, I think the root of the issue was that I did not speak English. My mother always told me that the only reason she and my father bothered to send me to preschool was for me to learn English from fluent, native speakers. In a sense, preschool was the equivalent of free English lessons. Back then I spoke fluent Indonesian (I’ve been told it was much better then than now) since my parents spoke Indonesian at home and I spent a great deal of time with my grandmother who strictly spoke that language. This was, in hindsight, certainly a good choice on their part as it would exempt me from ESOL classes in the future. However, this also meant that I would be entering a public, academic environment unable to properly communicate with my teachers and fellow classmates. Back then, I don’t think I quite understood the concept of language or the concept of loneliness as I would come to realize later, but that doesn’t mean I was oblivious to the impact and the effects of the language barrier.
My earliest memory of me interacting with another human child in an academic setting involved me trying to clean up some wooden blocks. I was moving them from the rug to the shelves next to me along with some other boy. While moving a particularly long block, he failed to pay attention to its path and smacked his head on the end of it. As a result he cried - in a strange way I had never heard before that resembled the relentless, maddening computer hum that old computers make when they are overheating (like the laptop I will receive a decade later, but we haven’t gotten there yet).
Anyways, the teacher instructed me to apologize for bumping his head. I don’t remember how I responded, though I remember feeling as though I wasn’t really to blame. I mean yes, my three-year-old self was able to comprehend the fact that I was indeed carrying the block that hit him in the head, but I had also felt that he should’ve been smarter and more careful than as to sit right in front of the shelf that we were supposed to be transporting the blocks to. And, to add to the mess, he conducted himself so dramatically with his alien crying that I found him and the whole situation itself to be rather ridiculous. What I managed to take away from this event, however, was a valuable lesson: sometimes regardless of what you think authority always holds precedence, and the only way to impose influence upon their decisions is to appeal to them. And, in order to make an effective appeal to authority, one must be able to communicate with them. But guess who couldn’t communicate with others at the time...
Another early memory I have of preschool involved the various activities that the children were allowed to participate in for fun. I remember always wishing more than anything to paint on the easel. Unfortunately, only one person was permitted to paint at a time and others wishing to paint as well would have to wait their turns. It always seemed like everyday I would try to paint on the easel but someone would arrive there before me. And, to rub in my disappointment more, I would try to find something else to do to occupy my time while waiting but when I returned a different kid would be painting. When I was not waiting on others to finish painting however, the only other events I recall myself doing weren’t what one would normally consider fun either as they consisted of wandering around and watching other kids play. While doing the former I recall wanting to play at this miniature kitchen set with those classic plastic toy foods, but the teacher wouldn’t let me because two people were required to play at the minimum and I was not only the only child that wanted to play there but I also had no one to ask to join me. I believe this was also the first instance in which I realized I had no companions and no means of making any. Being a shy child though, I never made any attempts to approach other children either, so I spent the entire year in solitude (I would later learn in kindergarten that solitude is not the only option, however).
One particular memory and accompanying lesson I remember from preschool, most likely due to its traumatic nature, was actually given to me by another child. I do not recall the name of the child who did it or his or her face, nor do I recall the names and faces of the other children who had asked me what was wrong or why I was crying. I only recall the sensation of sharp pain in my arm and being confused as to why that person would do it at all. However, having never experienced it or been in this situation before, I was at a loss as to how to explain to others what had happened. I recall desperately trying to convey my point by attempting to motion out the other child’s actions by squeezing the air between my index finger and thumb and explaining that “he (or she) did this to me!” Later I began crying as I was met with only blank and confused stares and was left feeling utterly helpless, flustered, and victimized. Eventually though, to my relief, someone - either another child or the teacher - managed to guess correctly at what I was trying to say and asked “did he (or she) pinch you?”
Despite not getting much enjoyment out of preschool itself, I certainly learned much more than English in preschool and to this day I still consider it to be a valuable learning opportunity. Out of all these experiences I learned multiple lessons that I am certain were never covered in the curriculum of any class in any grade level. The first and most noteworthy was that language is an essential aspect of communicating with others and it wasn’t something I can make do without forever. Now that I was an integral part of a classroom, being able to communicate with solely my family at home wasn’t enough anymore. The second was that it was crucial to have friends because, as much as I prefered the freedoms of solitude over having to share things with other kids, I now lived in a world where there isn’t enough of everything for everyone and there are some things that cannot be done alone. And third, the lesson that I remember most distinctly out of the three, is that when someone decides to take ahold of a chunk of your flesh and sandwich it between two of their fingers with a painful amount of pressure, it is called pinching and it is not okay to do to others.