Education, Essays, Personal, Projects, Reflections, Society
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Letters on Tuesdays- Learning to Learn

Dear Wilton,

Where do I even begin? The first time I held you in my arms, you were this tiny little baby, thirteen years my junior. That age gap is precisely the reason your sisters and I ended up missing the majority of your growing up; I have not been by your side since you were 4.

Over the years, I tried to be the best brother I can be despite the distance, but in many ways it does not feel enough. I cannot be there for you like I was for Willy and Jenny, and I cannot grow with you like I did with them. So here I am, perhaps in a way to stimulate your critical thinking, perhaps in a way to serve up some brotherly advice. In this way, perhaps I can make up the lost time and grow with you, now that you are finally at an age where we can hold a proper conversation. Perhaps, you can get to know me a little better.

I remember a couple months ago, when we were talking on the phone, you were scared that you were not smart enough. Your reasoning being that your grades were not as good as your friends’. I explained that I used to feel (even now, continue to feel) the same inadequacies. I explained that it is normal when you are thrown into the world with 7 billion other human beings – someone is bound to be smarter. I explained that grades really don’t hold meaning.

In a way, that never really addressed the underlying premise of your concerns. Grades are the only measurement of success for you. Once upon a time, I cared about grades as much as you. Like you, my own transition to HKIS in middle school left me in a depression because I could not keep up with the course work and my grades went from a sterling record to fairly average with an occasional abysmal. Furthermore, I was not an elite athlete or a good musician. There was nowhere for me to lean on for some semblance of success. I felt trapped even until my high school graduation – no college wanted me except Washington University in St. Louis. So I understand when you say, “I feel like no boarding school will accept me.”

How do we solve this problem? The answer, I believe, is that we don’t. Whenever you are applying for something, whether it is a school or a job, you need a basis for comparison. For students it is grades, for professionals it is experience and accomplishments. That is the way our society is currently structured. However, it is only a measure of comparison not a measure of success. That is a very clear distinction. We can care about our grades or accomplishments because that is a requirement of society, but we cannot let them define us.

This is why our education failed us. It fails to teach us this distinction, just as it fails to teach us many things and a great deal about nothing. Unless you are in a very technical field, most of what we learn in school is quickly forgotten. What is important for us to learn, is how to learn and how to live. That should have been the focus of education, and indeed that was the focus many hundreds of years ago.

By logical extension then, your intelligence is not how well you answer questions but rather how you ask them. The skill of learning is more important than what you learn. This is why we never worried about you. As a kid, you never stopped asking questions. You were always curious. That is what makes you smart and makes you different. You had the inquisitive mind and the ability to take our answers and critically make it your own. You were then able to use that knowledge to solve problems or ask more questions. You intuitively knew how to grow your own knowledge.

That, my dear sister, is what makes you smart and intelligent. That, is exactly why you will be successful.

With love,

Your Brother

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