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  LIFE AS A LOSER #182: "LOWER LEARNING."  
   
   
 

Do you know how to type? I don't mean that hunt-and-peck, using-just-your-index-fingers garbage. I mean actually being able to type, with your fingers in the set position, hitting the Q with the left pinkie and the P with the right. Can you do that? Did you ever learn?

I love the way the keyboard is set up. QWERTY. It always amuses me when people say they can type faster by hunting-and-pecking than they can by actually learning how to type. People, you are wrong. They designed the keyboard to be typed using the correct way; that's why the letters are in such a weird order. That's why the E is easy to get to, and the Z is not. It's simple, really.

*****

During the barren job market of a couple of years ago, people often suggested that I, struggling to find gainful employment myself, think about going to graduate school. Grad school is the Get Out of Jail

 
 

Free card for people under 30. Unhappy with your career? Not sure you're a 9-to-5 type of guy? (Jeez, who is?) Miss the freewheeling, responsibility-free days of youth? Heck, go to grad school! Why not!

I have a difficult time relating to lifetime academics. Neverminding their tendencies to conceive of problem solving techniques only in the abstract rather than in practice, ignoring their tendency to hide from real-world issues rather than deal with them, exempting their complete lack of understanding of what it means to work your ass off for 10 hours so you don't get fired and lose all your self-respect … I find them helplessly pretentious, as a rule. They're the type of people who would say Stephen King and Eminem are worthless or pandering simply because they sell well. Try stepping in a Wal-Mart sometime, buddy. There's a whole world out there that can't be found in a syllabus or dissertation. You should check it out sometime.

This is probably not fair, but, to me, people in graduate school are wasting their time. I'm particularly confused by people who study English or literature in grad school. The only way to become a better writer is by reading all the time, and writing all the time. Sitting in a brown classroom discussing what Jacob was going for with his short story about her java-swilling lesbian sculptor and her "complicated" relationship with her mother and their pensive little brother is a Waste Of Time. Who cares what you're trying to say? Don't try. Just say it. It's very simple. Quit trying to be all allegorical and just write something.

Example:

Clove-smoking turtleneck grad student sentence: As Judy glanced into the azure-dipped yet sepia-toned firmament, with the post-nocturnal visages of white hope coruscating past the horizon, her meditations on the ardors that have evanesced through the dotage-laden teardrops of history brought her to nomenclatures of corybantic paroxysm.

Real sentence: Judy looked up and was sad.

Real meaning: I, as a writer, have nothing to say. I was hoping you wouldn't notice.

I mean, if you can write, you can write. You can get better at it, if you don't have it, you never will, I don't care how much you pretend you love Philip Roth to all your friends.

But grad schools for writers, taught by professors stuck in their own stage of arrested development, continue. And what's infuriating is that they think they're the smart ones!

*****

You know what people should be learning in school? Skills. Trades. Something practical. People make fun of vocational schools, but that's the only type of school that serves the purpose school was intended to serve: Teaching. No mental masturbation in trade schools. You want to fix a car? Here's how you do it. Need to know how to build a house? Write a computer program? Bake a cake? Wire a house? Go to a trade school. That's why they do there; they teach you how to do stuff.

Isn't that what school is supposed to be about? Why else are you paying these people?

*****

The only thing I learned in school was how to type. Mrs. Rapp taught a class of bored sophomores straight from the book, starting with left-hand words (stewardess … abracadabra), going to right-hand words (loin) and then hopping to perfectly balanced words (finishes, noises). The class was dull by design. They taught you where to put your fingers, which key to hit with which finger, how to reach up to hit the numbers, how the SHIFT key factors in.

Each day, you focused on one aspect. Then, once a week, you combined all you'd learned and took a test on it. Each day, you got a little faster, it made a little more sense, it came a little more naturally.

Mrs. Rapp was not a warm teacher. I don't think I ever saw her smile. She just stood up there, told us what to work on, answered questions if we had them and otherwise kinda just sat around and either graded papers or read a paperback. Mrs. Rapp was not the sort to try to inspire her students. They had a lesson to learn, and she made sure we learned it.

At the end of that nine-week class, there wasn't a single student in there who didn't know how to type. The burnouts, the cheerleaders, the jocks … everyone who took the class took a lesson from the class that they will use the rest of their lives. They can all type now. They don't hunt-and-peck; they know how to do it the right way. From one nine-week class when they were 15 years old.

Now that's what school is about. Learning how to do something that you will actually use. My question, frankly, is this: If you can't fix a car, or build a house, or write a computer program, or type the right way … seriously, what did you get out of your years of schooling? How to shotgun beers?

Not that that's not a valuable skill, of course.

 

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