• Jae

Down a Rabbit Hole

My fellow blogger, Ed Wood, wrote recently about the influence two teachers had on his life. Reading Ed's essay got me to thinking about my favorite and most influential teachers. I was going to write my thoughts about these wonderful teachers last week. Instead, you might remember, I wrote about what influences us today versus in the “olden” days. Each one of these wonderful teachers deserve to be recognized. But today's blog is not about them.


Alice in Wonderland

I've had ideas about how to reform the American educational system ever since returning from Malaysia,where my family was stationed for two years while serving in the Peace Corps. When we got back home in the summer of 1973, I was 15 years old and would start High School in the fall with the friends I had made two years earlier in the first hellish year of middle school, 7th Grade. We barely survived that year and so I was worried about them navigating their way through the maze that is “junior high” in South Weymouth, MA. At the same time, I was slogging my way through Forms 2 & 3 at The Methodist Girl's School in Kuantan, Malaysia.

Kuantan, Pahang

The Malaysian educational system was heavy on the “schooling” part and very light on the “social” part of junior high. It was a relief to me that we had to wear uniforms; turquoise pinafore over starched white collared, button down, short sleeved blouse, white ankle socks and sneakers. It meant I didn't have to try to figure out what to wear or if it would pass muster with the “cool kids”.

Attending school in Malaysia was very tough for me. I was suffering from homesickness. I was trying to adjust to a new way of life. I was thirteen! Learning was done by rote memorization mixed with strictly enforced respect of teachers as authoritarians. And fear, wholly different than the kind of 7th grade scary I had just experienced in America!

Jae (before becoming Jae) - School Uniform in Malaysia

BUT, the experience of traveling across the country and then across the world with my family, benefiting from the fortitude and bravery of my parents, watching the growth of my sister and brother, witnessing abject poverty in the streets, hearing the songs of Islam, participating in colorful, tasty, fun celebrations of every Eastern Indian religious sect, Buddhist holy days, visiting nearby Singapore and Thailand, vacationing up and down the long sea coast of Malaysia, being exposed to – immersed in cultures and religions different from my own. THIS is where my REAL education began. I could and may write a whole book about the most profound discovery of myself through retrospective and introspection of that experience in Malaysia.

Brother Casey in Malaysia

Sister Karen in Malaysia

Mom and Dad in Malaysia

But I digress. I really like this saying and the way in which it is sometimes uttered. “But I digress!” Or should it be “I am digressing” or “I have digressed”? O.K., now I have to go “search that up”. As I mentioned last week – this is my grandson's expression for looking stuff up on the internet. Boy, do I miss him. Buddy, Bud-Bud. Best-Bud. We were fortunate to get to spend two whole weeks together this past summer. His mother tells me that he is doing alright in school. He is a wicked smart thirteen year old kid who has passions that lean toward piloting planes and building things. I hope these don't get swallowed up by an educational system that values test scores.

Jaylin the Master Builder from an Early Age

Where was I? Oh yeah, major reforms to the educational system. Starting to write about this topic is what propelled me down some major rabbit holes. I was thinking that in order to know where to go next with my ideas, I really needed to know where we started, how we got where we are now, and then put forward a theory about what to do about the horrible educational system now and in the future. So, I began at ground level with Wikipedia – “History of Education in the U.S.” The very first linked source had me off and digging. “Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States.[1] "

I was born and mostly raised in Massachusetts- you can see why I HAD NO CHOICE but to start down this particular burrow.

Pushing or pulling my curiosity, the wiki-links took me through the 17th century, across the whole U.S.A and into other countries. The starts in one direction sometimes hit dead ends, brick walls that stopped me scratching at the dirt here and sending me down another hole over there. It's not realistic of me to believe that I could sit down and write out a whole thesis about reforming education in America in a weekly blog post.

But I can illustrate with this rambling post, that there are different (BETTER) ways to teach children through exposing them to experiences, understanding their passions, developing those passions in ways that make sense to the child, allowing time for burrowing down rabbit holes. For what is a rabbit hole, really? Fans of Alice in Wonderland can read into this what they will! But to me, a rabbit hole is nothing more than indomitable curiosity that feeds our minds – sparks our imagination- grabs hold of our attention- keeps us digging.

Just now I was checking references and inserting the wiki-link about Boston Latin School above. That got me to thinking again about Katina Huston, my favorite college professor who facilitated my education about art, critical thinking, reading and writing. And Cynthia Talbot, my sixth grade teacher, who like Katina, sparked a fire in my curious mind. They and many other teachers deserve to be recognized for their influence in our lives. This thought takes me down a whole other rabbit hole. One that will likely appear in a future post here on Culture Salad. Stay tuned. Dig deep. And keep on digging.


1. "History offBoston Latin School—oldest public school in America". BLS Web Site. Archived from the original on 2007-05-02. Retrieved 2018-11-30

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