Here is a secret about me: I did not actually go to traditional high school. I was home-schooled. My feelings about home-schooling, based upon my experience, are decidedly mixed, and lean negative, but that’s not a discussion I want to get into here.
One of the things that has haunted me through most of my life was the feeling that I had major gaps in my education. I think perhaps one of the reasons that my interests are so varied and diverse is a subconscious desire to close those gaps. I do not feel this as strongly as I used to, but I still feel it on occasion. A haunting sense of inferiority that drives me to always learn more, always study more, and it always feels like there’s something big that I’m missing that is just out of my reach.
This weekend I bought myself a present. I bought a lego model of the Saturn V rocket. It stands a meter tall, and has 1,969 pieces in twelve bags. I spent probably three hours tonight building just the first stage. I gotta say, props to the designers. They did an incredible job with the details of those monster Rocketdyne F1 engines. But, as I was literally putting the final piece on the stage, I discovered that I had put an important brick on backwards. Worse, it was one of the very first bricks that I had put on the model. I very easily could have had to dismantle the entire thing to turn that brick around.
But in thinking about it, I realized that I did not need to take that approach. I realized that the instructions built it the way they did in order to maintain structural integrity – everyone who has put together a lego structure understands that it’s very difficult to create a lego structure that does not come apart at particularly weak spots. So, instead, I just pulled the engines and farings off, popped the sides out, and got access to the brick from underneath. I turned it around and had the whole thing fixed in ten minutes.
And as I was solving this problem, I realized that I was teaching myself a life lesson on learning, as well. Children have to build up their learning as a structure – stacking basic life skills on top of others until at the end they are capable of being functional people in society. But as adults, we do not have to follow that method of learning. We can evaluate the problem, find a solution that works for us, pop off the sides, and flip that brick without having to completely dismantle redo the whole structure.
So, thinking about it, I don’t think I feel all that inferior anymore. I had reason to, once, but I’ve learned much, studied much, and accomplished much. And although there is nothing I can point to as a crowning achievement of my life, I can still point to quite a bit and say “I can hold my own there”. I don’t have to feel inferior and I don’t have to allow the pomposity of others to get under my skin.
So let me tie this back in to the topic of this blog. One of the reasons that I attended a college Japanese course in the first place was that haunting sense of insecurity – feeling like if I didn’t take an actual course the people coming out of the classes would know things I don’t. Maybe that is true. I hated the experience, but I can’t deny it helped solidify the hiragana and katakana in my head. But I know things they don’t, too. I know the difference between ichidan, godan, and suru verbs – they would have never heard those words, because sensei doesn’t teach them. They wouldn’t really understand how kanji radicals work, and there have been multiple times where I taught sensei something about her own language because I had incentive to learn it. These are things you don’t really need to know as a JSL student – but knowing them and using them the right way makes life a whole hell of a lot easier.
Classes are good. They are a basic starting point. But there is no substitute for curiosity, having questions, looking up the answers, and going down that rabbithole until your curiosity is assuaged. I don’t have to feel like there are gaps in my structure. Because if there are, I have the framework that truly matters – curiosity, and the intelligence to find the patterns if I need to. I can fill the gaps. Asking “why” is worth more than all of the college courses in the world, if you get As in every single one and never ask that simple question.
I’ve done okay for myself. There’s no reason to feel inferior anymore. And Japanese is going to be what I make of it and what I want it to be, for me. No more, and no less.