Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Classes That Mattered

What classes from school were helpful over the years? This is my list.

I completed eighteen years of school. Certainly, many have achieve success with twelve or fewer years of school (my grandfather only completed 8th grade; my father dropped out in 10th, but went on to complete a master's degree in education). Others, such as medical doctors, complete many more years of education. A physician with a sub-specialty is typically in school for 25 or more years (8 elementary, 4 high school, 4 college, 3 medical school, 3 residency, 3-4 specialty fellowship, and 2-3 sub-specialty fellowship).

In my case, I completed 8 years of elementary, 4 of high school, 4 college, and 2 master's-level. However, out of all the classes, from the standard reading-writing-'rithmetic classes in elementary school to specialized classes in my clinical psychology master's degree program, there are honestly only a handful of classes that really made a difference.

1. Handwriting (6th grade) 
Instead of regular handwriting classes that in previous years focused on improving cursive, my sixth grade teacher taught us calligraphy. We learned basic calligraphy and Old English styles of decorative writing. Beyond penmanship, what I really learned was the basics of layout for graphic design. Although my calligraphy pens are long gone, I utilize graphic design skills every day.

2. Geometry (high school)
Even though I use statistics extensively, my favorite math class was geometry. My school wouldn't buy the book back at the end of the year, and I still own this book, my only one from high school. Although I occasionally reference it for basic calculations for area and volume, what this book really taught me was a form of philosophy, critically analyzing a situation with theorems and postulates.

3. Chemistry (high school)
As I struggle when helping my daughter with her junior chemistry this year, I am reminded of my own high school chemistry experience. I learned all of the same concepts, and after a little studying, was able to pull some of this long-forgotten information out of the recesses of my brain. However, what I really learned in chemistry was an approach to thinking. My teacher, Mr C., frequently encouraged us to take a break after reading a chapter, sit back, and think about what it all meant.

4. Typing (high school)
My typing class occurred at a time when electric typewriters were en vogue. The Internet as we know it today did not really exist in 1986. Our typewriters did not have any type of correction abilities. However, learning to type with the proper fingering by far was the best class I took in high school. I type every single day.

5. Principles of accounting (college)
I was unsure of a major when I started college. My father suggested I start with a general business degree. One of the first classes I took was principles of accounting. The basics of accounting apply to many situations. The concept of balance is important in accounting and life. However, what I really learned in accounting was that I did not want to be in business. I radically changed from business to psychology in the middle of the semester. Interestingly, my former 6th-grade teacher was now at the university, and discouraged me from switching majors. Of course, stubborn student, I did not heed his advice.

6. Learning theories (graduate)
With a focus on clinical psychology, I completed several behavior-related classes. Learning theories was a joint upper-level college course and lower-level graduate course, the only difference being an extra research paper. A knowledge of behavioral principles is applicable to all situations. I also had to complete a series of experiments in the university's pigeon lab, and working with live animals in an experimental situation came with some life experience as well.

In think about your own academic experiences, what classes were the most meaningful?

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