To My Six Year Old Nephew As He Starts First Grade

English: France in 2000 year (XXI century). Fu...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know right now it is all the excitement of a new backpack and a new pencil-case and new notebooks and maybe a bit of apprehension about who your new teacher will be, and if your best friend is going to be in your classroom.  You are already, academically speaking, way ahead of your fellow students, and I think you know that, so that isn’t going to be an issue.  But I foresee a day, maybe not soon, maybe not even this year, but someday you are going to ask some nearby adult, “Why do I have to go to school?”

I asked that question over and over again during those 12 years, and I never got a good answer.  I don’t think teachers and parents have an answer to that question.  “You have to do it because we had to do it,” is the closest they’ll get. Because, really, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.  If the point really was to learn ‘reading, writing and arithmetic,’ then the last place they’d send you is to a room full of distractions. (i.e. other kids)

No, the answer to the question, “Why do I have to go to school?” is not to learn how to spell ‘Mississippi’ or the square root of 144, or the date of the Battle of Hastings.

The answer is, you go to school to learn how to be a functional member of society. You go to school to learn how to make friends.  You go to school to learn how to get what you need (attention, assistance, resources) in the midst of competitive forces.

This is the secret to a successful academic career: learn how to get along with people.  This world isn’t made up of facts and figures, it is made up of people.  Especially nowadays with all the information you need literally in the palm of your hand, always accessible.

Oh, sure, if the apocalypse comes and our cell phones stop working, you’ll need some facts, like how to make fire, and which wild berries are safe to eat.  But you won’t learn that in school anyway.  No, the people who would survive the apocalypse are the same people who succeeded at school, the same people who learned how to just get along with everyone.

This is what I wish I had learned in school.  I wish the adults around me had stopped harping on my bad grades and had harped instead on my lack of friends.  I wish they had taught me the skills I needed to stop being so afraid of people’s emotions. Instead, I learned to hide from the other kids.  I learned to bury myself in fiction. I learned how to dress and walk and talk so anonymously that people who sat next to me in home room for four years of high school do not remember me being there at all. (this is not an exaggeration – this really happened.)

Anyway, back to you, my favoritist nephew. All you really have to do for the next 12 years of your life is learn how to make friends, and keep them.  Learn how to be nice and caring and empathetic. Learn to work with people who think differently than you do.  Learn how to enjoy the company of others.  Because that is why you have to go to school.

It won’t be easy, but it is worth the effort.

4 thoughts on “To My Six Year Old Nephew As He Starts First Grade

  1. Love your take on why children go to school! You’re right – if they want the answer to a question there are so many resources available to them now where they could learn things so much more efficiently (internet). Unfortunately, I didn’t learn the lessons I needed to learn in school either because the other kids didn’t know what to say or do around me because they knew I was being abused at home & were uncomfortable. No one talked about it & we all just tried to pretend we didn’t know, but it affected how I was treated & how I perceived my world.


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