You can put away your lessons
Throw away your books
‘Cause I’m gonna tell you what cooks
[...]You don’t learn that in school.

—From "You Don’t Learn That In School" by Marvin Fisher and Roy Alfred

In the early 1990s, I happened upon a small book loaded with invaluable insights far greater than its 0.5 by 6 by 4.5 dimensions. "Live and Learn and Pass It On: People Ages 5 to 95 Share What They’ve Discovered About Life, Love, and Other Good Stuff" is the brainchild of H. Jackson Brown Jr., who compiled and edited it.

You may be familiar with Brown’s other books, including "Life’s Little Instruction Book, A Father’s Book of Wisdom" and "Life’s Little Treasure Book On Hope." A few years after the initial release of "Live and Learn," Brown published Vol. 2.

Certainly, the title intrigued me, and I was dazzled by the gems of wisdom. The one I’ve never forgotten is by a 7-year-old, "I’ve learned that you can’t hide a piece of broccoli in your glass of milk."

Once I stopped chuckling, I recognized the metaphorical savvy of the observation. Teenagers and their parents will appreciate this lesson from a 44-year-old, "I’ve learned that if your teenager doesn’t think you’re a real embarrassment and a hard-nosed bore, you’re probably not doing your job." The book’s final entry is particularly astute because it was contributed by a 92-year-old, "I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn."

I quickly realized that the book could serve as the basis for any number of activities, so over the years I’ve designed and implemented a variety of them. One activity is to have students write their own list at the outset of the school year or semester, taking account of their prior knowledge (schema) what I’ve previously referred to as "“the knowledge in the room."

Begin by asking students what they’ve learned; leave it open to see how they respond. Then, show them examples from the book and have them write again. Students can choose to read their list or parts of their list, including even one sentence, or they can choose not to share. Because their lists may contain personal information, students should have the options to share, share some, or not share.

The activity can be done in pairs, small groups, or as one large group. One of the transcendent lessons I learned as a fellow in the Northern Virginia Writing Project about the same time I found “Live and Learn” is that teachers should model writing by writing with their students, so of course, as a teacher, you should write your own list and share as much as you feel comfortable sharing.

You can consider sharing first to encourage students’ participation and to minimize their affective filters. Near the end of the school year or semester, have your students write another list and compare their lists (and you do the same).

Use the comparisons for pair, small group, or large group discussion, guided by these questions: What are some of the differences on your list? What surprised you about what is new on your list? How much of what is on your list did you learn in this class, and how much did you learn elsewhere?

My only nephew (I have no nieces) recently graduated from high school and is preparing to head off to university, so I decided to create a current "Live and Learn and Pass It On" list for him. I’m giving him a copy of volume one to accompany it. Here’s my list. What’s yours?

I’ve learned that:

  • I don’t have to wait for permission to tell my story, and (I won’t) let anyone else tell my story. (“You don’t have to wait for permission to tell your story, and don’t let anyone else tell your story.”)
  • It’s impossible to say thank you too often.
  • It’s impossible to be grateful too much.
  • Blessings are found in both darkness and light, in the momentous and in that which appears to be inconsequential.
  • Nothing is inconsequential.
  • It is necessary to question everyone, especially authority and authority figures: parents, teachers, sports figures, artists, friends, lovers, politicians, doctors, lawyers, everyone.
  • It is necessary to speak truth to power.
  • Trust is not good behavior; trust is predictability.
  • There is crying in baseball and in everything else.
  • There’s absolutely nothing wrong with crying.
  • Emotions won’t kill me.
  • To heal and learn, I need to move through pain instead of avoiding it.
  • Avoiding pain creates more pain.
  • I can’t compel anyone to love me.
  • I can choose who I love.
  • I can’t compel anyone to respect me.
  • I can choose who I respect.
  • I can’t please everyone.
  • I will never again allow anyone to abuse me.
  • I will never again seek others’ approval.
  • I am resilient.
  • I am adventurous.
  • I am brave.
  • I am iconoclastic.
  • I can always change my mind.
  • I can always say no.
  • Life isn’t fair, so I must work for justice in everything I do.
  • Sometimes [I’m] the windshield/Sometimes [I’m] the bug/Sometimes [I’m the Louisville Slugger/Sometimes [I’m] the ball.
  • There are necessary and unnecessary losses.
  • Some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”
  • I don’t know how others feel or what others think unless they tell me.
  • Authentic education is, tragically, rare.
  • Too often, the best schools are for the wealthy and privileged.
  • As a culture, America values sports and sports figures and devalues its teachers, its public school students, and its public schools.
  • Aging is not for the weak of spirit or humorless.
  • My body is not the body of my memory.
  • Experts are often clueless.”
  • Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ = Emotional Quotient) is far more necessary than Intelligence Quotient (IQ).
  • Many people have underestimated me.
  • People are foolish to underestimate me.
  • Honest communication and the willingness to communicate honestly are essential for healthy relationships.
  • Honest communication and the willingness to communicate honestly require communicators who are willing to honestly communicate.
  • Yelling is not a communication strategy.
  • Anger is an excellent motivator.
  • The best gifts are not expensive, can’t be bought, and aren’t gift wrapped; they are not sky box seats, first class tickets, designer clothes, luxury cars, or exotic vacations.
  • The best gifts are priceless: They are the people with whom I have synergistic relationships; we love, respect, and accept each other, we are actively interested in each other, we encourage each other’s goals and dreams, we support each other through heartache, heartbreak, and joys, we are lovingly candid with each other, we learn together, we have fun together, and we don’t give up on each other.
  • The best gifts are companion animals who have wholly entrusted me to care for them and who have loved me unconditionally, in ways even people often have not.
  • The best gifts — loving, respectful relationships, companion animals, clean air, clean water, natural beauty, ourselves — require our constant, loving, respectful attention and patience.
  • Ignorance is not bliss; it is ignorance.
  • I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”
  • I will stay forever young.

I’ve learned to:

  • Tell my story without anyone’s permission or approval and without apologizing.
  • Give thanks daily.
  • Maintain a sense of humor even in — especially in — the darkest times.
  • Question everyone and everything.
  • Speak truth to power.
  • Thank and be grateful to those who others overlook or believe are insignificant.
  • “[...] See the trace of G-d in the face of a stranger.”
  • Live authentically.
  • Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
  • Take risks and thrive.
  • Live my values.
  • Avoid hypocrites.
  • Avoid where I am unwanted and unwelcome.
  • Go where I am wanted and welcome.
  • Avoid those who are unwelcoming and unkind.
  • Embrace those who are welcoming and kind.
  • Listen closely.
  • Pay close attention.
  • Pay it backward and forward.
  • Idolize and idealize no one, not parents, not sports figures, not politicians, not teachers, not artists, not coworkers or colleagues, not supervisors, not lovers, not family.
  • Allow no one — not family, not lovers, not teachers, not supervisors, not co-workers--to diminish me.
  • Avoid those who try to diminish me.
  • Allow no one — not family, not lovers, not teachers, not supervisors, not co-workers — to abuse me.
  • Keep “working on (my) dream/though it can feel so far away.”
  • Never stop learning.
  • Stay forever young.
  • Give this book to others so that they may live and learn and pass it on.