I consider myself to be a reasonably well-educated person. I was salutatorian of my high school graduating class. I graduated with honors from a prestigious liberal arts college and continued on for an advanced degree. For more than 30 years I taught high school English.
But as I look back on more than 70 years of learning, I realize just how much I dont know or havent mastered. For example, I remember a bit about ancient history, but I never have found out the name of one of the bravest of the ancients. Some time in the misty past, some man or woman saw an oyster, mumbled Yum, that looks good, and proceeded to eat it without realizing what was being passed along to countless future generations. I wish my history books would tell me the name of this heroic figure, whose well-deserved fame should be part of the lore.
On the other hand, I have no interest in identifying the figure from the past who first propagated broccoli for human consumption.
However, ancient history is not the only area where my education short-changed me. I never took a course in economics. I was a child of the Great Depression, and I suspect that many like me developed a mistrust of the world of money.
Unfortunately, very early I took an interest in cars. I pleaded with my parents to buy me one of the little pedal-driven sidewalk cars. When I had grown a bit, statistics had become a great interest. I spent many hours sitting on the curb of busy Division Street in Spokane, tablet and pencil in hand. I kept a record of how many cars of each brand passed by me. Of course, there were the multitude of Fords, Chevies, and Plymouths. But there were also Packards, Studebakers, and Nashes, and also Marmons and Hupmobiles and Essexes, and many more. I wish I had kept my tally sheets. They might well be of historical interest.
World War II coincided with my high school years, and the familys 1932 Willys Overland went up on blocks in our garage because of gas and tire rationing. And I never learned to drive until I came to Olympia at the age of 22. Now that I look back, the years that passed during my high school and college days I could have used to read and perhaps understand some of the basics of economics. I might have fulfilled my desire for a five-car garage complete with elevators. Bad decision, Jim.
So, my knowledge of ancient history is truly incomplete, and my knowledge of economics is almost non-existent. And thats not all. I can only rarely identify a flower or a tree because I am not conversant with botany. As far as anatomy is concerned, I can name certain bones in the human body because their names appear often in crossword puzzles.
Way back during my high school days, because it was expected of me, I took a class in what was then labeled physics. It should have been an easy-A course for me, and it was, for a time. But near the end of the course came the unit on electricity. For several weeks, I think, I truly understood nothing. Electricity came to mean to me a huge number of super-active insets that ran up and down wires that led from poles and then into households to make light bulbs and radios and kitchen ranges spring to life. Even today, that is the image that comes into my mind. My education has not enabled me to make simple repairs around the house. You can imagine, I think, how my lack of scientific knowledge is preventing me from understanding or using all the means of modern communication that my daughters and granddaughters have at hand in their world.
James Carlson is a retired high school English teacher and 60-year resident of Olympia. He was a member of The Olympian Board of Contributors this year, and may be reached at Ohsrm228@gmail.com .