Classroom vs. Real Life

Regarding the value of graduate-level education it was recently said that, “Even rectal thermometers have degrees!” Regarding the type of people who make those types of comments it was slightly more recently said, “Sure, but a rectal thermometer without degrees is just a pain in the butt!” I’m personally conflicted over this, as I have major sympathies with both sides.

But the battle over theory vs. experience was driven home in my life at the beginning our recent 2600 mile road trip, manifesting itself this way: 26 years old, 8 years of college education, and I can’t drive a stick. The car we gratefully borrowed for our 3+ weeks on the road was a standard, so it was either I learn, or Jessica would have to drive the entire trip. I’m happy to say that after 2600 miles I can drive a stick – at least, I can drive that one. But moving understanding from your head into your hands (and heart) takes the willingness to go through a learning process that usually can’t be found inside a big box with desks and chairs. Here’s some of what it took for me to learn to drive a stick (note – some of these are connected):

  • Green lights sat through until they turned red… 1
  • Honked at by other drivers… 1x
  • Red lights accidentally run… 1
  • Very frightened in-laws… 2, at least
  • Furry woodland creatures killed… 1
  • Number of times Jessica hit the hazard lights… [incalculable]

Understanding something in my head and having a real feel for it are two totally different definitions of understanding (remember your honeymoon? Ha!) Our friend from Brazil talked one day about how it’s easy for him to have a cultural discussion about English “swear words” and necessarily use those words in the discussion. He can explain the cultural significance of those words but doesn’t feel the cultural significance when they’re spoken. At the same time, he won’t have the same conversation in his own language with Portuguese swear words because he feels those ones when they are uttered, and it feels wrong for him to use them, even in that kind of discussion. Driving a stick, sexual intimacy, cussing people out, and living in another culture all have this one thing in common: you won’t really get it if it’s all just in your head. Head knowledge is good and in most cases necessary, but it can only take you so far. You’ve got to do it and experience it and start living it to have any hope of really understanding it.

I can’t wait for China!

One thought on “Classroom vs. Real Life”

  1. Joel, it’s so good to connect with you in blog space. We have often wondered where your life has taken you since we met in Uganda. I have often mentioned your being sacrificed to the bugs, allowing them to chew on you rather than embarrass your village host. I knew then that you have what it takes to be a great servant. Phyllis and I went to China two weeks after 9/11 and loved it. We were on our own without a group, from Bejing to the Li River, including 5 days on the Yangtze, Tibet and Everest base camp – all without a group which they said was required. […] We expected to see thousands of bikes, but it was an automobile traffic jam we were caught in at 10:00 PM in Bejing. Oh yes Joel, they are all stick shift. There is nothing like experience whether it is bugs, cars, or different kinds of people. Glenn Cash

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