Everything I Learned as a Youth Happened Outside of School

All my best learning during my youth came from outside of the school system. I do not remember being taught to read, but I remember always having a book with me. My mother was a 4-H leader so at the age of 2 I was a mascot in 4-H. When I was old enough, I became a 4-H club member, and then when I was 16 or 17 I started a club of my own. Through the projects and activities of this club, I gained the essential skills for adulthood: communication, teamwork, problem-solving, analysis, honesty, integrity, motivation, and leadership. When I was in 4-H, we earned pins for accomplishing various programs, such as photography. Each program had a distinct set of requirements that had to be achieved before the pin could be awarded, much as Boy Scouts has a set of requirements before badges are awarded. They were not handed out because you showed up for a set number of hours; they were given for accomplishments.

Both of my parents worked outside of the home and, they having been raised during the great depression, they were frugal and resourceful. We had a large vegetable garden that provided the bulk of our vegetables throughout the year. Although my parents both worked, there was no nanny or babysitter for us, the older looked after the younger, and we all pitched in with housework and meal preparation. The work ethic was born in me through these needs, another necessary skill for adulthood. I remember many hours in the garden with my father, not talking but watching and doing. Time spent brushing the horses and seeing their muscles made me wonder about how they moved. Feeding and tending our many animals, trying to invent shortcuts to unpleasant tasks, working with friends on engineering problems, all of these had deeper meaning and served greater purposes for me.

As a teen, I also was on the swim team, which included a daily practice, a member of a religious group, which instilled a discipline of spirituality, and volunteered in many other activities and clubs. There was choir and camp counselor and candy striper and "Center of Hope" volunteer and more. Again, these demanded I learn self-motivation, teamwork, and interpersonal skills.

It is not important which clubs and groups I belonged to or actively participated in. What I find important, looking back on it, is the fact that most of my learning for success came outside of the school system. I put in my seat time at school, I turned in assignments on time and passed the required tests. But I did my true learning after school, on weekends, and during the summer.

My son is in Boy Scouts. The essential skills he gets from weekly meetings and monthly campouts are far more valuable than the public school skills he receives. Public school is teaching him math facts, science facts, social study facts, and making him read. Boy Scouts is teaching him how to live.

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