Me, I work in an office but if I try telling people more than that their eyes gloss over. “You lost me at spreadsheets,” my friends say, while yawning and giving the waiter a head nod and ghost pour for another beer.
But I get that — jobs are complicated and it’s hard to understand what anybody does anymore.
When I was a kid I had a big hardcover book showing me all the things I could be when I grew up. “One day,” it said, “you can be a teacher, factory worker, or astronaut! You can be a fireman, doctor, or traffic cop!” The narrator didn’t say anything about strategy consultants, event planning coordinators, or business analysts working on special projects.
Yes, we all started down the same school path but along the way our lives took different turns. Wide roads twisted into off-ramps, off-ramps broke into sidestreets, and sidestreets split into dirty little paths every which way until we all ended up where we are today.
Life gets tricky and sometimes our day jobs feel so far away from everything we learned when we were young. But there’s something so sweet about the things we learned in third grade – about how they shaped our world and got us started on the same page. We started rolling down long lives of learning … but it all started when we all knew the same things:
1. Types of rocks. Wasn’t it mind-blowing to finally learn what we’d been crawling and standing on our whole life? Also, igneous, sedmientary, and metamorphic were fun words to say over and over again. Speaking of fun words, you remember what igneous was made of, right? Magma.
2. How to Brush Your Teeth* (*and other hygiene basics). I miss the days when nurses would come to school and teach everyone how to clean themselves. Anyway, back in third grade my friend Natalie and I were making construction paper crowns in the hallway when a nurse came to visit our class. We completely missed the oversized toothbrush scraping that big set of plastic teeth (obviously stolen from Giant World in Mario 3.) Most kids picked up the basics that day. Me, all I got was gingivitis.
3. Cities and Countries and Planets, Oh My. Did you memorize all the states or provinces? Draw a map of your home country in pencil-crayon? Did you slop papier-mache on a balloon and paint a little globe on it? Or draw a big chart of the planets? These early experiences gave us all a sense of place in the world. Everything was smaller before then.
4. Dinosaurs. No offense to Marco Polo or The Boer War but learning about dinosaurs was the greatest history lesson of all time. “Listen up kids,” your teacher would say with eyes popping wide, sitting cross-legged on the carpet. “Before you got here giant lizards the size of houses stomped around eating things right where we’re sitting today. They all died when a huge meteor crashed into Earth so heads up.” Talk about a bombshell.
5. Puberty. When it was time for The Talk they shipped in a guest speaker at our school. She put big pink drawings of a boy and a girl on the chalkboard and we had to go sick little brown hair clouds made of construction paper on them. “Here you go Neil,” she said. “Put this hair on any part of the body where you think hair will grow.” There was no Internet so everybody sat quiet the entire time. People took notes.
6. Adding and subtracting. Newsflash: Nobody uses algebra, calculus, and geometry. It was all a ruse! “Hey Hank, can you trigonometry the wall to figure out where the studs are?” Yes, I’m saying getting through life is basic math – adding up tabs at the bar, figuring out if you’ve got enough on your credit card for Christmas, and splitting cable bills with your roomies. We learned it back then and it still comes in handy.
7. Storytelling. When Mrs. Dorsman grabbed her glasses and headed for the rocking chair we scrambled for a good spot on the carpet to hear her spin a tale. We got suspense, funny voices, and cliffhangers. From those early days stories become how we communicate, remember, and share everything.
Yes, the world sure was simpler back in third grade. We started learning hard facts and clear rules that gave our lives hard edges and then colored them in. Names of planets, types of triangles, and the boiling point of water all added certainty in a fuzzy world.
Of course, fuzziness comes back later on, when our baby brains find hidden worlds of complexity and nuance… when we realize we don’t know what’s farther than far, why things are this way, or where we really are. That’s because when the world straightens itself out … it all gets crooked again. When our minds seem settled and still … that’s when the drink swishes and spins. So that’s why it’s nice looking back and feeling all those lessons from yesterday — when everything to know and learn was right inside third grade.
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