The School of Always Learning

By Donnell Ann Bell

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ― George Eliot “

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” ― Andy Warhol

I didn’t go to Harvard. I write a character that enjoys a sterling curriculum vitae, but unlike him I didn’t have what I would call a crowning education. Growing up in a small town, I received the basics, doing well in English and science, things that interested me. But when it came to advanced math, I was lost. I knew it early on in Algebra class and certainly by the time I enrolled in Geometry.  It never occurred to me to seek out a guidance counselor, nor was it ever offered.

While my plight may sound pathetic, I was bright. I liked to write. I also made good grades. I enjoyed my humanities and sociology classes, and a favorite of mine was (forgive the age-old stereotype) Secretary Office Practice. I particularly loved Shorthand. I reached 120-words-per-minute and won awards, and to this day I use Greg shorthand to write my stories. After college, I became an administrative assistant in the Land Department, and when my boss, the Division Land Manager, was offered employment elsewhere, he invited me to join him. By doing so, I earned a substantial raise and more education. When he retired, I stayed at the company and became a supervisor in the division.

The reason I make this deep dark confession about my education is because I am reading repeatedly how the pandemic has set our children back and how public education is failing. I cannot argue either point. We are facing a crisis. According to the World Bank, literacy is trending backwards.

Still, I remain ever hopeful.

Years ago, a young woman came to my house with her two small boys. During our visit, she lamented the boys’ teacher had not taught her children to read. I was rather stunned that she felt she should leave such an important task up to one person. One of my greatest joys as a parent was reading to my children. As my kids grew older, I’d take one page, they’d take the next. It was solid gold, not only in spending time with my children but in educating them as well. A teacher is merely one cog in the learning machine.

Here’s another lesson I learned about education. It’s not stagnant. As human beings, we have the ability to learn and grow throughout our lifetimes.

My husband is a chemical engineer and enjoys giving back. He’s tutored students in math, and when my children were small, he became involved in Junior Achievement and a program called Math Counts. My children attended a small Catholic grade school, kindergarten through eighth grade. Les worked with the seventh and eighth graders on Math Counts and discovered the students in the upper grades were behind. He insisted we move our children, stating, “If a child falls behind in reading, they can catch up. In math, not so much.” We moved our kids to a more affluent school system. They did well. My son is a CPA. My daughter graduated with a B.S. in Business, emphasis in supply chain management. She now works in IT.

Was my husband correct in his assumption that those children who stayed behind could never catch up?  One student in his former Math Count’s program is a medical doctor in Denver and heads up her department, so you tell me.

I have a friend who barely graduated high school. At one time, he was so down on his luck, he missed car payments. His dad invited him to help him build a small golf course in Montana. My friend had never played golf in his life. His response? “I don’t know, Dad. Let me go play a round, and I’ll get back to you.” A long success story considerably shortened, that invitation led to my friend building and working for celebrated golf-course designers in the U.S. and internationally.

Back to me, after college and as a working adult, I used my love of shorthand to go to court reporting school. I learned English, anatomy, and, of course, medical, and legal terminology–courses that admittedly fascinated me.  Although I achieved speeds of 245 wpm and passed my state boards, my career was cut short by a hand injury. A window opened, however, and I left that career and went to work for a weekly business newspaper. My role as topic submission editor and in writing spotlight articles led to my fiction career.

Yes, 2020 and the Pandemic have put us behind. But while traditional K-12 education is a vital steppingstone to college, it’s not the only avenue for additional learning. There are numerous outreach organizations that support advancement, particularly in literacy.   The situation is bleak and for now that’s where the focus and headlines remain.

However, as parents, grandparents, and other caring individuals, I cannot believe all is lost. That opinion is bolstered each time I start a new book and am astounded by the additional knowledge I obtain in researching a novel.

How about you? Are you a member of The School of Always Learning? Do you have a story to share, and are you enrolled in my school?

About the Author:  Leaving international thrillers to world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Traditionally published with Bell Bridge Books, she has written four Amazon single-title bestsellers, with her most current release Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense, book one of a series, and Until Dead, a Cold Case Suspense, book two, which was released May 31, 2022.

Donnell has won or been nominated for The Colorado Book Award, The Epic Award for Best Thriller Suspense, Greater Detroit’s Booksellers Best for Best First Book and Best Single Title, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and the Holt Medallion, among others. She co-owns Crimescenewriter, an online group, in which law enforcement, forensic experts, and a multitude of related professionals assist authors in getting those pesky facts right in our novels.

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4 replies
  1. Gay Yellen
    Gay Yellen says:

    I am definitely a student of that school, Donnell. If I’m not learning something new, even the slightest tidbit of information, I’m totally bored. It came with parents who had lots of books and magazines around, and who read to me every night. For me, the more I learn, the more I want to know. I’m heartened by the literacy groups like the one you mentioned that help open the world to people who are stuck. And I envy your shorthand skills!

    • Donnell Ann Bell
      Donnell Ann Bell says:

      Thank you, Gay. Glad to have you as a fellow alumnae. Many of my classmates saw no need to keep up with their shorthand. It has been such a godsend when I’m at a medical appointment or on an airplane in which I don’t want people looking over my shoulder at what I’m writing. It’s my own personal diary 🙂

  2. Barb Eikmeier
    Barb Eikmeier says:

    I love this post. I too went to a small rural school and was bad at math, good at humanities and didn’t even know I had a school counselor. I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist until I shadowed the head of the PT dept at my local hospital for a day. All day she told me how smart you have to be to go to PT school, what good grades you have to get and how much money it costs. I didn’t think I was smart enough with good enough grades and I certainly didn’t have any money. So I went to nursing school instead. No one told me I had to be smart and get good grades and have enough money. So I did it. And I graduated and went on to become a certified critical care nurse by the time I was 25 years old. The lesson I learned is to encourage others in their dreams. I taught my children they could be anything they wanted as long as they wanted it.

    I don’t know shorthand but I researched it for my current novel! I might need to you fact check for me!
    Thank you for this post.

    • Donnell Ann Bell
      Donnell Ann Bell says:

      Oh my gosh, Barb, your story is exactly the point I was trying to make. I invite you to be on my blog Help From My Friends Friday since you’ve basically written the blog. 😉 We are what we believe we are. I believe you must be an awesome critical care nurse and would have made a worthy physical therapist. Thank you for sharing.

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