What I learned and how I learned it


Opinion: Columns

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John Stanger

When I was a young guy, I learned a great deal from both my elders and from books, and as this year draws to a close, I reflect on these lessons.

Although some teachers and other people suggested the possibility of my becoming a teacher, I rejected this advice. But during my first year of college, an English professor brought up the topic of my becoming an English teacher. Somehow his approach made an impact on me, so I switched my major from math to English.

When I told my family and friends, they thought I had lost my mind. They felt that way because they knew of my longstanding desire to be a civil engineer, but I stood firm.

The lesson I learned was to be open to changes in life and to be willing to change my mind.

In my younger days, I spent much time playing various sports, and I learned that sports can enrich one's life and gave me the opportunity to build friendships and test myself both physically and mentally.

I learned that sports are a source of accomplishment and self-knowledge, but at the same time, I learned that nothing is a substitute for education, and I always made certain that I would never forfeit education for sports.

My grandfather taught me that it is important to learn from the ordinary experiences of life — from everything we do and say and think and feel, and as important, from everything those around us do, say, think and feel.

It matters what we make of these experiences. It is necessary to examine them, to choose and to come away from each experience a better person.

Reading is an invaluable skill, not only for the vast knowledge it brings but for the sheer pleasure as well, and as a youngster I learned lessons from a number of books.

The King James Version of the Bible gave me spiritual nourishment and also served as a model of great writing, language and style.

In my fourth year Latin class, I read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius [with the English translation open beside me] which showed me the importance of having an internal moral compass.

I read The Origin of the Species when I was in college, and it helped me form the opinion that the world could be understood in a rational way.

When I was in my second year of French in college, I read Les Miserables, which taught me certain social values that have stayed with me.

I was quite aware of the Civil Rights Movement when I was a senior in high school, but it wasn't until I read Black Boy that I became truly aware of the meaning of racial prejudice.

Once a year for many years, I read Alice and Huckleberry Finn.

Huckleberry Finn was a boyish adventure, but it was also comedy, terror and lyricism, and it taught me that the best writing and the subtlest makes artful use of plain and ordinary words.

Alice taught me that witty and comic writing can do justice to the strangeness and dangers in the world.

All in all, I have had a lifetime of rewarding learning experiences.

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