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The Things I Learned In School


When I look back over my 28 years of life I’d have to say that my time at school wasn’t the most influential to making me the man I am today. In fact, even University didn’t turn me into this fine specimen you see before you. It was when I left home and had to fend for myself with no safety net that forced me to grow up and decide who I wanted and had to be. But when I was at school it seemed like the centre of my world and if I fucked up there my life would be over. So it set me thinking, what did I learn in secondary school (aged 12-17) that I still have with me today?

Actually, I’ll tell you what really set me thinking. One of the guys at work was doing something that involved getting the dot product of two vectors. Now, ask a 15 year old school kid about this trivial mathematical exercise and they’ll have it done in a few seconds flat. It’s basic maths. But I’ll be damned if I could remember anything about it. I remember words like “eigen-vectors”, “polynomial equations”, “calculus” and “projective transforms”, but I can’t remember anything more than the words. I’m a software engineer, mathematics comes into my life all the time. But if I need to do something I can’t remember from my school days, I just look it up on Google. I sat back and realised that I could remember virtually no maths that I learned in school, and maths was my top subject.

In fact, about the only information I still retain from school is my knowledge of Scottish history imparted by my scary ex-history teacher (I talked all about that before so I’ll spare you a repeat performance). I guess the lessons went in one ear and over the years have fallen out of the other.

Next is social interaction. When you’re a kid prior to attending school, you’ve spent all of your time with your parents (or their child minders if they’re rich, or the prison officers if you were a problem child), so you’re used to being the centre of attention (one way or the other). But come school you’re just one of many and have to adjust to being surrounded by people who love football, people who hate football, bullies, girls, intellectuals, different cultures and so on. So you need to learn to adapt and fit in. But at my school at least people seemed to join cliques and pretty much hang around with the same people for years. So you join a group and between you adopt an attitude and behaviour patterns. All well and good.

But when I left school I left that all behind me. I am still in touch with a few people I went to school with, but it’s a very small handful. And you won’t catch me looking the rest up on friends reunited either. I actually learned all about social interaction at University where there was a real diversity of people, rather than just a perceived one.

I then considered that maybe I’d learned how to work and study while I was at school. After all, you spend all those years at school to sit a whole load of exams to determine your next step in life. But I didn’t need to study or work hard at school. I was one of those lucky people who could drift through and get good grades without burning the midnight oil. Actually, I wrote my Higher English RPR (Response to Personal Reading I believe the acronym was) essay on two books, one of which I never even read (I got an ‘A’ amazingly). In fact I carried that technique through University and didn’t do too badly!

And then there was school sports. I was a skinny lad at school. I wasn’t fit, didn’t like team sports, didn’t like individual sports (except squash, but I was a sore loser and had more temper tantrums than Elton John in a shoe shop) and couldn’t swim. Nowadays I can catch a football on the back of my neck, fire down the aces on a tennis court (without losing the rag if it goes out), perform four sets of twenty-rep squats of well over my own weight, row 3000m in around 11 minutes, swim 400m in under 5 minutes, run for literally as long as I like and oh, I still don’t play rugby or cricket. The bottom line is that I didn’t become physically active until I hit about 21 (late developer you see, I still can’t even grow a full beard).

So come on John. You’ve started this rant about school and so far all you have to show for it is that you learned your social skills at a later age, you’ve forgotten almost all the knowledge that was painstakingly imparted by your teachers, you were lazy and didn’t work hard at school so you must have picked that up elsewhere (if at all) and you didn’t become a self-confessed sport-a-holic until your twenties. It’s about time you put in some positives and demonstrated that you do have something to show for all those years.

Trouble is, I’m not sure I can. Virtually nothing of the 12-17 year old petulant youth in me is left. My childhood neuroses and insecurities are gone. My personality is completely different. And virtually nothing I was taught is of use to me today. But the point, I think, is this (I’ve got it, ha!). My school years were part of a process. The process of turning me from a child into an adult. The structure of school during that age was exactly what a hormone driven kid like me needed. The things I learned are the things I didn’t realise I learned at all. Enter the analogy…

If you look at a butterfly, what does it have in common with a caterpillar? Butterflies eat nectar and caterpillars eat leaves. Butterflies can fly and caterpillars can, eh, crawl on leaves. They don’t look anything like each other and if you saw them both for the first time you’d never believe they were of the same species. But without the caterpillar and it’s leaf eating you’d never have the butterfly. That’s not to say that I think I’ve become some kind of butterfly (if anything I’d be more of a moth, or at least moth-eaten). But it’s my analogy and I’m sticking with it. And it neatly rounds off this piece.

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

9 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Ahhhh – your article takes me back to those balmy summer evenings playing tennis with you in Dundee, ducking as your ‘aces’ whizzed past me faster than the speed of sound and landed way beyond the court. And hearing those immortal (and oft repeated) words of “Unlucky – but no problem – my next serve WILL be in…….” !!

    (Though in all fairness, despite being unable to serve, you did always beat me!!)


  2. School eh.

    Seems ages ago yet it’s only 12 years since I left CRGS.

    I think we had the wierdest spell at that school – it’s one of the last real grammar schools where you do the 11+ test at, surprisingly, age 11, then those who pass go to the grammer and the rest get lumped into a Secondary Modern – probably all knew that but all those “Comp” people may not have known.

    Well from 1554 till 1984, CRGS boys all went to one site on York street, Clitheroe. Then when girls got educated (still question the wisdom of that move…. just kidding), the school was split strictly in 2 – never the twain shall meet as it would be a frightful distraction!

    In the 60’s the girls got thir own gaff 1/2 a mile away and the boys were left in their own sea of testosterone in York Street.

    That was the case when I went there.

    BUT the following year, the schools “amalgamated” – that was THE word, cause York street was to become a 6th form centre and the other site for the “lower school”.

    What did that mean to us?

    Did we have to go up the the other site?

    Would we meet….. girls??

    My god!

    Well no, what they decided to do in their wisdom, and in hindsite I think it was best, was to leave us, the last ever year intake of “boys only”, at York Street and the younger years went to the other site.

    So we never had the benefit of first years to beat up.

    We were always the youngest in the school, so got beat up as a result! no easier pickings folks.

    Ho Hum – that “shafting” dished out at 12 sets you up for all the other shaftings you get in life I guess.

    Shit – this was really boring and self indulgent – again.

    ta ta


  3. You say that school didn’t make you what you are today, but I have a theory that the opposite is true, i.e. you have a real chip on your shoulder, and learning to serve aces/swim/catch a ball on your neck is an attempt to make up for your perceived early failures.

    Even your inability to grow a beard is
    like a regression to childhood. Its actually an unconscious decision NOT to grow a beard. Do you have pubic hair?

    You need help. Come to think of it, so do I.


  4. What would I know? I’m not a psychiatrist, just the lead singer of a chart-topping 80s pop combo.


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