what did you get out of school?

Let me ask you: what did you get out of school? 

Did it prepare you for the sleepless night you had last night, when the baby was teething, it’s rear red raw with nappy rash? Or for when your parent, close relative, or friend was dying? Or what about tonight, when you found yourself caught up in that brain-numbing queue at the Mall? Or just now, when your seven-year-old siloed another belligerent bout of eye-rolling at you? Or when that asshole cut you up? Or when you found yourself ruminating over the text that never arrived? Or the love interest who never returned your smile? 

How did education prepare you for all of that? You know, the stuff you’re just expected to learn. The stuff that most of us are beyond shit at? The stuff they call the School of Hard Knocks? Come to think of it, why isn’t there a School of Hard Knocks? I’d go. I’m up for a starter, a main, and a plenary in that school. I’d engage.

Because here’s the thing, I still have these misconceptions. I still keep on getting it wrong. And no matter how much I earn, consume, or numb my perceived pain, I still feel unschooled in how to encounter all of that. And while we’re at it, where does ‘all of that’ fit into this market-driven world of educational performance, with its currency of attainment?

Are we asking these questions? Or are we too busy sitting in quiet anguish, all Larkin-esque, avoiding the things we feel we must say - to our boss, our partner, our present or absent parent - because we never learned how to encounter ‘all of that’? Perhaps we push it all away? Push the pesky, yukky, downright visceral stuff away, as we settle for the white heat of comforting inebriation? 

It seems curious (to clumsily paraphrase Eliot’s 'Prufrock'), that here in the UK (and I'm sure it's similar elsewhere too) we measure out our formal schooling in key stages; in traffic lights of green, red and amber-hued simulacra of progress. Then suddenly we find the key stages have gone. Disappeared. And we're left: like Shelley’s lone and level sands. Somehow we got to Key Stage 5, but then it all just ground to a halt. Why is that? Can somebody tell me? Because I want to know what happens at Key Stage 6? Why is there no key stage 6? Because education seemed to imply there would be this comforting linearity: if I knuckled down, that is. So, what is Key Stage 6? Is it the apprenticeship, the internship, the debt-dazzled dependency of University? And what about Key Stage 7? Is that the first of the many careers? Or Key Stage 8? Is that marriage? Key Stage 9? The first child? Stage 10? Divorce?

Why didn’t I get schooled in these key stages? By my reckoning I’m on about Key Stage 19 now, or thereabouts. But I don’t feel prepared. And I’m diligent too. I’m hard-working. I do as I’m told. I know my place. So what happened to linearity? I thought I was going to get linearity. Or was that just a convenient story I was told? Am I just being told stories? Is that what was meant when my teacher taught me about the unreliable narrator?

And what the hell has a mindful life got to do with this?

Calling it out. That's what your mindful life will teach you. It'll tell you: if you can reframe your own experience then make sure you call it out when someone, or some institution, tries to frame experience for you. 

Learning to call it out. Name it. That's what you should be able to get out of school.

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Every month or so I'll send out ideas and resources - what I think might be of interest and use to you, such as links to books, articles, podcasts, quotes, stories, art, music, meditations - that I hope will help inspire you to cultivate your own mindful life.