CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: MARTY

HED:This school year, get the lard out of your cortex

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

If knowledge has a half-life, then educators and studies say it spans about a month and a half. That's because, after a three-month summer vacation, teachers say students invariably come back to school having forgotten most of what they were taught the year before.

Some of them, in fact, have not only forgotten what they were taught the year before but the year before that as well. And some even have to keep checking the tags sewn into their clothes to remember their names.

Researchers say there is a very definite "brain drain" that occurs over the summer vacation when students are released from a classroom environment and a structured learning process to pursue knowledge on their own, which means 90 percent spend the summer learning how to blast computer-generated aliens on a video screen while the other 10 percent believe even that is too much work for a vacationing cerebrum and prefer to watch TV instead.

They say valuable time is lost in the classroom each year relearning some of what the students were supposed to have learned the previous year because the part of the hard drive between their ears where the information was stored has been overwritten by the plots to three months' worth of Alvin and the Tree Weasels comic books.

Not to be punning, but there's a lesson to be learned from this.

If young, pliable minds with lots of working brain cells can lose a great deal of learned knowledge over just a three-month period, is it any wonder that most adults can't program a VCR or exhibit more than a passing interest in new ideas or new pursuits?

Without being forced to learn new things either by fear of bringing home bad grades or fear of a teacher wielding a lead-tipped yardstick, we tend to take the path of least resistance, which, in most cases, is worn into the carpet and leads straight to the recliner in front of the TV.

If our brains were muscles, most of us would have cortexes of lard from lack of exercise in spite of the fact that studies have shown that people who stay mentally active in their younger years are less prone to memory loss and other debilitating effects of old age when they get there.

Unfortunately, mentally active for most people freed from the classroom usually means knowing where the remote control is located and what time to tune in "When Beach Bimbos Attack!"

So in the interest of our own mental health as well as that of those who have to live with us, why not use the start of a new school year to literally live up to the phrase, "You learn something new every day."

For a lot of people, that could start with something as simple as going back and relearning basic traffic laws and reacquainting themselves with such simple technology as the turn signal.

For others it could mean pursuing a new hobby. In addition to my interest in astronomy, which I'm literally learning something new about every day from the current Mars mission, I've taken up growing orchids and, surprisingly, haven't killed one yet. But I've learned enough about them to kill even the most sparkling dinner conversation.

Even conspiracy theorists are exercising their brains, albeit in a twisted sort of way, when they attempt to logically link the fact that the first federal income tax went into effect on Aug. 5, 1861, and 101 years later to the day, Marilyn Monroe committed suicide.

So get off the couch and learn something new. You'll be surprised at how much better it makes you feel about yourself and how others will be impressed at your newfound knowledge unless, of course, you've decided to learn to play the tuba and the timpani at the same time.

You'll thank me for it later or my name's not ... er ... wait a minute ... Tommy Hilfiger.

Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal

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