You may have noticed media covering research about air pollution after a paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This study from China found air pollution increases the risks of dementia, and impairs cognition, affecting language and arithmetic test scores.
Xi Chen, Yale School of Public Health: “Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year…we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.”
Terrible. Interesting, and something that needs to be urgently addressed. But I’m not writing about air or pollution…
No, I am not writing about pollution because I’m pondering the idea of losing a year’s worth of education. Which year? What year of my education could I do without…or would do over in a blast of fresh air?
What year of education would you be willing to lose, or grudgingly sacrifice to the polluting devils haunting the ethereal realm?
If I think about it, there was no year during my education that wasn’t tinged with tragedy, difficulty or some kind of personal and/or educational hardship. And yet I came out of formal education still defending and advocating for it, and for life long learning. The benefits of education are backed up by this air pollution study, which found deficits in tests worsened in those with less education.
So which year can I delete (or do over)? My answer, straight up without thinking too hard is this: the last year of my MA. This is because writing a thesis when working full-time while not impossible, could have been made easier. I would have demanded a different supervisor for starters. And even though I did ok, I didn’t meet my personal goals. But mainly because some of the comments from thesis examiners broke my heart, and any resolve to even attempt a PhD. Even this week, years later, I saw the name of one of my examiners in the media and I … I just can’t. And this person by now will have entirely forgotten about my thesis, and happily continues with an academic and creative career. Begone year of hopes dashed.
All the other years can stay.
I wouldn’t touch the years in primary school I couldn’t read, or the year in my undergrad I was called illiterate by a visiting American lecturer. I wouldn’t delete the year I wrote my first story, nor the year I found a safe haven in my teacher’s complete set of the Three Investigators. I keep in my memory the years at university when a classmate was murdered and when fellow were residents were killed and injured in car accidents, because to delete these is a further denial of life to those who are not here to even consider changing their pasts.
I wouldn’t delete the summer between second and third year when my mother died…but I’d do things differently. Happy birthday Mum, for next week!
I wouldn’t delete the myriad humiliations and daily difficulties in class – including not knowing what dictation was when I changed schools to being tormented by maths quizzes – because I did learn.
I wouldn’t delete the years of high school lunches spent reading amazing books in the high school library, nor the year I brought tears to the eyes of my American Literature lecturer for an essay I wrote on Billy Budd. I wouldn’t delete them because these are the shining moments amidst the bleakness. Much like the lectures I will never forget, teachers whose words of encouragement helped me, and friends who saw me through.
But yeah air pollution is welcome to delete those MA examiner comments. I’m ok with that.