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Education Is Wasted on the Young

By Patsy Trench February 11, 2023 Lifestyle

Although the original thought is “Youth is wasted on the young,” in my case, this was certainly true for education.

I went to an all-girls private boarding school in rural Sussex in England, which even then – back in the late 50s/early 60s – was old-fashioned in its methods and outlook.

Everything Was Taught by Rote

Repetition, when it comes to times table, was and still is quite useful. For the rest of our studies, it was in one ear and out the other. The only subject I found remotely interesting was history, but I couldn’t remember dates, and so I flunked my exams.

Our Life Expectations Were Limited

At the most, we were expected after we left school to learn shorthand and typing so we could become secretaries, or go on to become physiotherapists before we married and settled down with children.

The word ‘university’ was not even mentioned, except to the rare blue stocking who made it to Oxford or Cambridge (no other university was worth considering). I always wanted to be an actress so that didn’t really bother me. What did bother me, in retrospect though not at the time, was the fact that I left school a stuck-up prig knowing absolutely nothing about the world.

It Wasn’t Until My Middle Years That I Realised the Extent of My Ignorance

At middle age was when I decided to do something about my lack of world knowledge. By then I’d given up acting and become a writer and, to my surprise, a part-time teacher. I was aware of going about things backwards – do the job first, learn how to do it second – and enrolled myself in an undergraduate course in Humanities at the Open University. (The Open University is a non-campus organisation based in different parts of the UK, available to anyone, aimed mostly at mature students.)

It was a six-year part-time course, and we were able to choose six different subjects to study from a range including history, philosophy, religion, music and literature and so on.

There Are Many Advantages to Studying in One’s Mature Years

Firstly, you know what you want to know. Unlike at school one’s curiosity is already aroused. Unlike at school, I was not afraid to speak up if I didn’t understand something or if I disagreed with the teacher. (Mature students can be quite argumentative.)

In addition, I learned as much from my fellow students – who were mostly of a similar age to me and, like me, had missed out on the opportunity to go to university when they were young – as I did from the teachers. There was a huge amount of variety of life experience among my fellow students.

In addition again, my studies gave me the wherewithal to know how to go about researching for my books, and more importantly to recognise which kind of sources could be relied on and which not. (Just because it’s in the newspaper doesn’t mean it is true…)

Then, an Unexpected Bonus

In my 60s, I decided to do a Master’s degree in theatre, a profession I’d worked in all my life. (Do it first, learn about it later…) It so happened that at the same time as I was studying theatre I was also teaching it.

This strange juxtaposition was surprisingly useful. As a teacher, I understood the pressures of having to write essays. As a student, I was able to learn from my tutors how – or how not – to teach. I learned the importance of not imposing my own views and allowing students the freedom to say what they liked in class, however weird or wonderful. I can honestly say I learned as much from them as they did from me.

Most Important of All, It Kept My Brain Alive and Up-To-Date

There’s nothing like being in the company of young people to keep you alert, and aware of how modern brains work; their views on the past, often quite at odds with our generation’s, and the struggles they face with cancel culture and issues such as racism and colonial guilt.

Not to mention modern technology. I came to the strong conclusion that the old and the young should mix more. We have a lot to learn from one another. After all,

The Learning Process Never Ends

And nor should it.

To quote Einstein: ‘The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.’

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What kind of education did you get as a girl/young woman? Did you go to a private or public school? What was your experience like? Did you get to go to university? Do you think you’d follow the same path if you were to go back?

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My college ‘event’ ended when a nun, it was a Catholic college..berated me for not helping a novice carry her typewriter instead of the nun, Mother Superior guiding me into studies for my sophmore year..I started out to be a teacher but wanted to change courses from a BA degree to a BS degree. I was so humiliated I never pursued my art major dream…

Patsy Trench

That’s a sad tale Jeanne. Is it too late to pursue your art major dream?

Lisa Nazarenko

I went to university, got a job, then some years later went for my MA and started a new career. I loved studying and learning. Now I’m retired and take online courses in different subjects, just for pleasure. Last summer I took a week-long course at Oxford Summer School for Adults. Loved it! This summer I’m doing this again at Cambridge. And celebrating my 70th birthday.


What a great way to begin your seventies Lisa!

Frances Pennacchia

What a great topic! Great for me because it gives me the opportunity to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a few years now.

For various reason I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge. As life would have it I took a detour and married a year after I graduated from High School. I married a wonderful, self taught blue collor worker who always encouraged education to our four daughters and one son. Amidst those years rearing my family I always dreamt of going to college. I mentioned this once at the dinner table and my husband asked me if I wanted to go to college so that I could say that I had a degree or was it to learn. I remember feeling so misunderstood.

Three of our children had graduated from college when my husband passed away. That fall I enrolled in a public city university. I graduated with my BA in Women’s Studies, 4 years later. It was the best thing I have ever done for myself. My youngest daughter graduated
college and our son never did but is a successful entrepreneur. I am one proud and grateful woman.

Patsy Trench

Bravo to you Frances!

Yvonne Marks

I was brought up in the RAF and went to 13 different schools so didn’t learn a lot at school. But I loved English and History. My grammar is not good at all. I wasn’t encouraged to go to college so went when I was 20 and married. I went to evening classes for shorthand and typing not so great at shorthand. But helped with getting a better job. Now fast forward to 68 years I have learned a lot I really should have gone to Uni I know I would have done really well. I love all the classes I do (I always take more than I need for my job still working which I don’t mind it keeps me younger I think) I encouraged my daughter to go to Uni and she now has a career in medical research. I am very proud of her. I also encourage my granddaughters as well. I had a wonderful childhood though traveling around the world so that in itself was a great experience. Lots of life experiences I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.

Patsy Trench

13 schools, it’s hard to imagine. Presumably you lived in several different countries, which is education itself. But as I said in the piece, it’s never too late to study!


The Author

Patsy Trench has been an actress, scriptwriter, theatre tour organiser and theatre teacher and lecturer. She now writes books about her family history in colonial Australia and novels featuring enterprising women breaking boundaries in Edwardian and 1920s England. She lives in London.

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