Keep on Learning

Monday, September 27, 2010

"The self taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers; and, besides, he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself has done." Mark Twain (from "Taming the Bicycle")
I believe in education. I must, since I have THREE post-graduate degrees. But although I mostly agree with the Mark Twain quote, I also respect the self-taught person. (I bet Samuel Clemens did, too.)

Recently, I purchased Mark Twain's entire collection for my Kindle, and last week I started reading his compiled letters. The compilation includes a biography and running commentary written by his friend Albert Bigelow Paine. While reading the biography, I learned that Samuel Clemens was forced to leave school at age 13, when his father died, to become a printer's apprentice. This icon of wit and wisdom had little formal education. And as noted in last week's post, the same is true of Abraham Lincoln.

I come from a well-educated family, and by the time I met my husband through a dating service I already had a Master of Science in psychology and was working on my law degree. (My third post-graduate degree, an LLM in Financial Services Law, came later on.) When I found out that I had been matched with a man who had dropped out of college, I was skeptical.

We've been married for 31 years. If Roland had been satisfied with what he knew, our relationship would have ended after a few dates. But he was well-read and eager to keep learning, and I discovered that is more important than a formal education.

Still, I'm glad Roland went back to school several years into our marriage and got his college degree. Followed by a Master of Arts in history. Followed by 31 hours beyond that. The college degree enabled him to become a high school teacher, and the MA and Plus 30 increase his paycheck, but I'd like to think he enjoyed the learning, too.

The point is that a formal education is a good thing, but if something deflects you from that path, don't stop learning. Because even the self-taught individual can do great things.

By the way, when Albert Bigelow Paine wrote about his friend in 1917, he predicted that Mark Twain's greatest success--the book that would survive the longest--would be Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc. So much for predictions.

But Paine was right about one thing--Mark Twain lives. If Samuel Clemens had been content with his printer's training, "mark twain" would be no more than a nautical term for marking depth.

So keep on learning.


Caroline said...

Bravo! I like your view on education. Great post, Kaythryn.

Linda Glaz said...

Amen! I often get hung up on the fact that so many people see a formal education as an end, while many friends who are self-taught continue to learn, learn, learn. It's in the heart of the man or woman.

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