Amanda says that if she ever had to go through her schooling again today, she would just, to quote her directly, “do things a whole lot different!”
“You mean ‘differently’, don’t you?” Saffy asked the other day.
Amanda paused. “Do I?” she asked eventually, a question that led Saffy to later say privately, and not for the first time, that it’s an absolute scandal that Amanda was ever allowed to step foot into a classroom at Harvard, much less graduate from it.
Aside from that grammatical point, I told her, I said that I did see Amanda’s point.
Looking back, I remember long days and long nights that stretched literally into years of me just sitting at a desk. Just me with a pile of books in front of me, scribbling and reading. Reading and scribbling. Sitting back in the chair and sighing.
I sweated blood and tears getting to grips with calculus and valency tables. I struggled to memorise the capital city of Czechoslovakia and the speed at which a falling object dropped from a great height would hit terminal velocity. I went cross-eyed trying to understand the subjunctive in French while I barely understood how to conjugate the verbs.
Oh, I passed all my subjects eventually, but what good did any of it do me, I now wonder? Czechoslovakia doesn’t exist anymore, so what was the point of knowing the name of its capital? As a lawyer and later as a journalist writing about hotel rooms, I’ve never ever had to use algebra. Ever. Or calculate the density of water at 10 atmospheres of pressure. And I have literally never had to discuss with anyone the rainfall patterns of the Sahara in July.
So, beyond learning how to read and write, and do basic maths, I don’t see how much of anything I ever studied in all those long years of primary school, high school and university was beneficial at all.
What I wish I had learnt in school was how to pick a lock and hotwire a car.
“Really?” Saffy asked when the subject of wasted education came up again the other day.
“Totally,” I said firmly. “I can’t tell you how many times in my life, I’ve locked my keys in the car. Of course, that was back in the day when you could manually click the lock from the inside and then shut the car door. But still…”
“And hotwiring the car?” Saffy asked.
I shrugged. “Oh that. I always thought that would be a cool trick to know. They do it so casually in the movies!”
“Well, if I had to do my schooling all over again,” Saffy said, “I would have learnt yoga instead of stupid netball. Eight years of netball and only because I liked the outfits! Being able to do a headstand like you can now would have been so much cooler than stomping so pointlessly up and down that court!”
I preened, pleased to be reminded that after years of fruitlessly slamming myself up against a wall, I am now able to wobble up to an unassisted headstand. Next on my bucket list is the handstand which, in terms of utility, is probably not very useful, but then again, neither was the ability to work out when and where two people would meet if they started out from opposite directions and moved towards one another at different speeds.
At least a handstand has the advantage of being a great party trick.
The other day, Sharyn’s mother-in-law fainted in the bathroom. To hear Sharyn tell it, there was a great deal of screaming. “My maid found her. She scream. My husband go in and to see why she scream, and he saw his mudder on the floor, he start screaming. Den I go in and have to scream at him and my maid to stop screaming! Wah liau!” she sighed, shaking her head at the memory.
Saffy’s bosom inflated. “What happened then?”
Sharyn shrugged. “Like dat lor! Must call ambulance! We all doh-no what to do! My husband say must put pillow under the head. My son says must lift her leg. My maid say must put Tiger Bum! My neighbour come in and say must turn my mudder-in-law on the side. We all like Doctor Quack. Lucky ambulance come so quick.”
The long and short of it is that Sharyn says she wishes comprehensive first-aid was a mandatory subject in school. “What for learn about what year Raffles arrive in Singapore? Better you learn what to do if your mudder-in-law faint or have heart attack, right or not?”
Amanda says she wishes schools taught girls what to do when boys say they’ll call and then they don’t. Saffy says she’s practically got a PhD on that subject.