A REPORT FROM THE PHANTOM ZONE
“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”
For a lot of people, myself included, summer has always been a time of extracurricular study. This desire to learn in the summer seems to have developed when I was in grade school and my parents would send me to places like computer camp or wilderness “adventures” or twice to Space Camp. (That’s right I went twice.) What my parents instilled in me was that it did not matter what subject I was studying because all learning made my life richer. This desire to learn virtually any subject has continued into my adult life where I’ve spent my summer months learning how to rock climb, getting my pilot’s license, living in Argentina to speak Spanish, etc. Several years ago I decide to spend a summer in the south of France at cooking school. Like all of my endeavors, if I was going to make the investment to study cooking, I wasn’t going to waste my time, so I enrolled at a professional cooking school. I had no intention of becoming a professional chef, but then again, I had no intention of becoming a professional artist when I enrolled in art school either.
As a whole, the time I spent in France was a fantastic experience, but one instructor at the school nearly ruined the whole thing for me. The fact of the matter is that I am not a very good chef and this one instructor felt it was his job to inform me of this every day. He would constantly berate and belittle me, saying that I was wasting my money at cooking school because I would never become a professional chef. He would go on long tirades about how the school was a sham because it was just taking money from people who did not really have a chance at becoming a world-renowned chef. He would then turn on the other instructors, calling them hypocrites who were just there for a check because they would actually try to help the students improve their skills even though they knew that most of the students would not go on to be top chefs. Of course, the other instructors tried to speak calmly to him and explain that it was ridiculously arrogant for them to assume they understood the reasons why any one student was at school and it was equally impossible for them to ever really know what any student was getting out of the educational experience. They would try to explain that their job was not to inform students that they would be failures as professional chefs and then belittle them into quitting, but rather their job was to simply help students improve their skills no matter what. The problem was that this instructor was so arrogant that he could not see that sometimes people have different goals for their education that might not be the same as the reasons he had for going to school. He could not see that he was not being helpful and honest by “telling the truth,” and he was just not smart enough to see that there can be many truths, all of which are equally valid.
Except for that one instructor, I got more than I expected from my experience at cooking school. I may not be a master chef employed at a top restaurant in Paris, but now I can taste the ingredients and skill put into a master level meal. My life is totally and completely enriched by the experience because the school has changed how I interact with every meal I eat (and I can cook a few meals really well). But, according to that one instructor, I wasted my money and all of the instructors who helped me enrich my life were nothing but liars and hypocrites because they didn’t tell me over and over again that I was a failure. The notion that people can enrich their lives through the learning process was completely missed by that instructor and I see now how that was his limitation and his loss.
In fact, cooking school is one of the reasons that I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I saw how fulfilled the other instructors were with their jobs. Every day, people would go to them and ask for help at making something and by the end of each class, everyone’s life was a little bit richer. I can’t think of a better job than one where people come to me for help making something. I love teaching art and I don’t care if my students go on to become top artists because that’s not my job.
I’m not sure what I will spend this summer learning, but I’m sure it will make my life richer and I’m reasonably sure that I will not go on to be a professional at it, but I’ve been wrong about that many times before. I highly recommend that everyone take some time and study something this summer. If it’s art school, that’s great. Just don’t let anyone tell you that education is a waste of time if you don’t go on to be a professional. Education is always enriching.
If you are learning or doing something interesting this summer, please share it in the comments section.
A Note From The Editors: Congratulations to Steve, and his wife (and regular Big RED contributor) Heidi Marston Aishman on the arrival of their new baby, William Edmund Kenji Aishman!