Family & Education

Learning Isn’t Confined to Schools

Expanding our knowledge base is a lifelong process
BY Jeff Minick TIMEMay 13, 2022 PRINT

A lot of folks continue their education after leaving school.

Doctors, attorneys, nurses, computer programmers, and many others enroll in continuing education courses, attend seminars, and subscribe to professional journals to keep abreast of changes in their chosen fields. Several individuals I know in such trades are avid readers of magazines giving them new ideas on improving their work and services to their customers, and homemakers and moms are always looking for tips on decorating their homes and raising their children.

Recognizing these desires, The Epoch Times, for example, devotes nearly half of its weekly paper to health, childrearing, home improvements, and cooking. All these efforts to keep pace with a changing world are admirable and necessary. They’re a vital fuel for the engines of progress.

But we need not confine our learning to our specialties. By stepping outside those boundaries into unfamiliar territory, we not only add to our skill sets, but we can also make ourselves more fully human in the bargain.

Consider the arenas of literature, history, and biography. Great literature exposes us to a vast array of different personalities and situations, providing us with deep dives into the human heart and mind. “Silas Marner” contrasts a man of rectitude, Silas Marner, with two thieves and a father who denies his daughter her rightful place in his life. Homer’s “Odyssey” gives us Penelope, who, at great cost, remains loyal to her husband Odysseus. Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” warns against greed and what we lose when we put money ahead of people.

Deepening our knowledge of history can broaden our views of both the past and the present while delivering a sense of proportion to current events and personal difficulties. Accounts of the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages, of the horrific wars fought around the globe, or of the Great Depression bring home the struggles of our ancestors and may encourage us to face our own trials with courage and strength. Along the way, we also grow more aware of our strong and intimate links to the past.

As novelist Michael Crichton wrote: “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.”

Similarly, in biographies and autobiographies, we can find inspiration. The adolescent Winston Churchill, a mediocre student whose poor academic performance prevented him from attending a prestigious university, offers hope to parents whose child is fighting a losing battle in the classroom. The shop owner struggling to keep his doors open might draw courage and determination from Ulysses S. Grant, a failure in civilian life who rose to command the Northern armies during the Civil War and who in 1864, while battling Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, said, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”

All these books and thousands more offer invaluable lessons, but only to those who read them.

A recent Gallup poll found that Americans are reading fewer books than in the past. As we forge ahead into the future, let’s be the ones who buck that regrettable trend. Let’s take our place daily in that greatest and noblest of all classrooms—the written word—and remain lifelong learners.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.
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