When you read history one of the things that you soon begin to learn is that things change. Eras change. Leaders change. Climate changes. Ideas change. One thing persists — the need to learn. Everyone, no matter how old or how young, needs to learn. This comes down to what we have come to call education.

Education isn’t just something which occupies us at a particular age in our lives, namely six years old to eighteen years of age. Education should be a life-long process. We have come to call this “life-long learning”.

Learning takes place in many ways and at many different times in our lives. There was a time when I didn’t know how to swim, but then there came that day in about 1961 at a boy’s camp near London, Kentucky, that I learned how to swim. I had to learn by doing. Some older boys threw me into the swimming pool and I had to struggle to get out. That led me to the necessary conclusion that I had to learn to swim. I’ve been swimming since that “rude” awakening to the need to “tread water.”

Several people are taking classes in schools right now—public schools, private schools, colleges, technical schools and universities—because they want to upgrade their skills or learn new skills. Most of the time these days that involves taking some computer courses. The best way to learn how to use a computer is to work with one. You can’t learn how to use a computer just by reading a book. You need to get a computer, turn it on and begin to use it. This is “learning by doing” and it works!

As a person works on developing new skills and acquiring new knowledge there are some important things to keep in mind. We all need to be reminded of these essential things.

First, you need to listen, read and study. Instructors and fellow students can be a great help in developing new skills and acquiring new knowledge. You might add to this the necessity of taking notes and reviewing them. Don’t just listen in class, write down what you are given. Write questions and then when you get answers to them, write down the answer. Teachers need to listen to students also. Sometimes we don’t always take the right path or use the right approach. We need to work together — listening, reading, studying, and learning to use what we learn.

Second, work on acquiring the knowledge and then using what you learn. Turn the computer on! Begin to use the programs! Ask questions. Listen to the answers and then begin to use what you learn. Read books. Read magazines and newspapers. The really important part of education is using what we learn. One student said to me, “If someone could just show me how Algebra can be used in a real situation, then I could get excited about it. Why do we have to learn Algebra? If I can’t see how it is important and why we ought to learn it, then I’m not sure we ought to.” These are important questions, which many in education need to be stressing these days. The real education is in using what we learn!

Third, share what you are learning with others, help someone else. This is a certain fact in education — the teacher learns more than the student. If the teacher isn’t learning, adapting and changing, then education isn’t taking place. One of the rewarding and beneficial things about education is the ability to assist others in the learning process. Teachers need students to help in dealing with study materials and the teaching-learning process.

Schools should be places where you can “learn by doing.” We should work on applying knowledge and skills even in our academic classes. In history we ought to work on using the knowledge for practical and useful things.

All through my university teaching experience one of the most important emphases was a Study Guide that I developed containing outlines and other information in lectures and discussion materials where students could take notes and deal with pertinent questions. I stressed that both the teacher and the students should work with local history societies, museums and related groups to preserve our heritage and to assure that future generations will be able to appreciate the accomplishments and struggles previous generations endured. We should join local history societies and museums and take advantage of what they have to offer to help us understand who we are and what has happened in the past that influences the present.

I hope that you will join me in “learning by doing.” There are many free events that can help us understand and learn. One of the best events in East Texas is presented the third Saturday every September by the Davidson Foundation at the chapel on the farm near Harleton just off Highway 154.

This Saturday will be an opportunity for you to “learn by doing” when you drive to the chapel and participate in the Fall Convocation presented by the Foundation. This is another way you can gain knowledge and improve life here in East Texas.

After the address given by the Honorable Lyndon L. Olson Jr., former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Sweden and current chairman of the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, will be the speaker. The meeting will take place at 11 a.m. at the Josephine Davidson Memorial Chapel on the farm near Harleton. Following Olson’s address, all those in attendance can remain to enjoy a complimentary catered lunch on the chapel grounds. One of the best parts of this occasion is the fellowship and conversation following the singing, special music and message given by the speaker. I hope that you will make this occasion one of your “learning by doing” activities this week.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me at drjerryhopkins@yahoo.com. You may also reach me by “snail” mail at Dr. Jerry Hopkins, P.O. Box 1363, Marshall, Texas 75671.

— Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a historian and retired university professor.