Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Interesting Look Back

It has been quite a journey, but it has recently paid off. It is officlal that I am going to University of Delaware next year to start on my PhD study in Education. It is also official that I will be fully funded by the University.

All of this moved me to look at my University of Delaware application, its "essay questions" and my responses. I am going to print here the most interesting of the question/answers, which gets me into what I have long realized is a strange background.

Are there special circumstances related to your academic record that you feel we should know about? Have you ever been convicted of a crime? If the answer is yes, explain the circumstances, give the dates of the offense(s) and discuss what you learned from the circumstance.

While I have never been convicted of a crime, I can say that, at one time, graduating high school was far from a certainty. I remember well the meeting in Liberty High School’s guidance office where I was informed that, without serious concerted effort, I would be repeating the 11th grade. At the time, I was certainly not academically motivated and even toyed with dropping out of school.
Unfortunately, this apathetic attitude towards academics followed me through my undergraduate education, and this is why I find myself needing to apologize for my lackluster undergraduate GPA, and for my “extended stay” in undergraduate study.
I did graduate high school for two reasons: my parents’ desire to see me do so, and my thoughts of attending the esteemed Berklee College of Music, where could do what I loved: to play the drums and write songs. I made it into Berklee on academic probation and while I did well in most of my music classes, I merely tolerated the academic classes as a dry matter of course. I cared so little for academics that when the registrar’s office informed me in my fourth year that I would finish three (academic) credits shy of my degree, I decided that I would move on to Nashville anyhow. Songwriters don’t need degrees, and publishers don’t ask for academic resumes.

It took a full year of living as a struggling songwriter in Nasvhille for me to realize not only that everyone around me knew more than me, but also that this fact really bothered me. I began reading more, in attempt gain on my own the education that I should have already gotten. Once I started, I just kept going, reading in philosophy, science, literature, etc. I decided to get the remaining three credits to complete my Bachelors degree at a local community college so that I might try for a Masters. Much to my surprise, I gained admissions to the very selective University of Richmond and – as the saying goes – never looked back. The once academic-loathing kid, somehow became the student who could never read enough.

Explaining my academic history is uncomfortable for a few reasons. First, it forces me to be acutely aware of early shortcomings, if not outright failures. Second, it makes me wish that I had the type of standard academic history that does not take four paragraphs to explain or apologize for. Behind all that, though, I must admit that I am strangely proud of my non-traditional history: that I was the prime mover of my education, rather than a University. This is how it has been ever since. While I have attained one Masters degree (and am set to attain a second), it is fair to say that I do much more independent reading than my courses require, and have an enjoyment for learning that a more traditional academic history may not have instilled in me. It is this enjoyment for learning that I want to bring to PhD study and a career in academia.

In many ways, I see myself in some of my students: unmotivated but possibly in posession of latent skills or motivations that might manifest later. This is why it is so frustrating to teach in the public schools. I think my experience has taught me, more than anything, that one cannot motivate the unwilling. The reason I got through high school was because my parents forced me. No high school teacher ever got me to love learning. That only happened when I began learning on my own.

So, in many ways, I see my role as a public school educator as helping kids get through with enough skill, discipline, and wherewithall to ensure that no opportunities are unduly closed to them. I would like to motivate, but I harbor no delusions that most students would recieve it. I wouldn't have.

As Mortimer Adler said, the best schooling prepares one for future education. K-12, he says, is not education, but schooling. Living is the "education" part.

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