“Is I gotta go to school, Ma? I’d rather stay home with you?”
When I Googled the lyrics to this song that the Sam Robbins Orchestra popularized in 1934, I only remembered the song as one that my mother, zichrona ‘’l’vracha”-of blessed memory—used to sing to me in response to my occasional whining about getting up to go to elementary school. I thought it funny that Mom—an elementary school teacher—would sing an ungrammatical lyric when her profession centered on proper speech, correct spelling, and accurate communication. That did not obviate a sense of humor when musically cajoling her little girl into waking up and being ready for school.
In truth, I always liked school, having first attended in utero. Mom gave birth to me not two weeks after the end of the Spring term when she taught fourth grade. After I started kindergarten, Mom returned to teaching as a full time substitute. I always found it amusing when my own young teachers in high school recalled having my mother as their elementary school teacher. Mom held one of them back—lovingly—because she was not ready for fifth grade. My teacher’s mother gave Mom a gift for not just passing her along but caring enough to ensure that she got the most out of the fourth grade curriculum.
Mom always exhorted me to seek help from my teachers if I did not grasp something right away. I did just that, even into college. If I wasn’t receiving clear or usable instructions, then I may as well just try to learn it on my own. I taught myself calculus because the professor was a brilliant mathematician who could not teach his way out of the proverbial paper bag.
Over the past few years, I started relearning American history by reading about the administrations of earlier Presidents and even non Presidential Founders like Alexander Hamilton. Having descended from a line of autodidacts, I enjoy pursuing the subjects where the material focuses biographically on the people and the spirit of the times and not in dry textbook format that fixates on dates and dusty statistics.
For readers of my prior JLife article on Spectator University, where people assume and project specious expertise based on their own observations and research, I am not advocating autodidacticism as a substitute for solid, formal, education even though we are taught that certain admirable figures like Abraham Lincoln were self-taught.
My husband recently asked me to purchase a tube of caulk from a local hardware store so that he could complete his repair of some tile grout in our home. At the hardware store, among many unfamiliar objects, I was inspired to draw an analogy between the caulk and my lack of a proper educational foundation in history. So, I am caulking my knowledge. I am no expert but am working toward being better informed and conversant on the subject. One never knows when a roving television interviewer may stop you on camera and ask a general knowledge question that elicits the cricket chirps that signify ignorance. In my case, I’m enjoying the heck out of the books. It fosters interesting conversations with my husband, who has vast knowledge of what I’m reading, and with my father who remembers the Presidential administrations of Harry Truman and a few others.
ELLEN FISCHER IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE