It adds up: My education is lacking

Lao Tzu was a philosopher of ancient China. In the Tao Te Ching, he wrote, “The wise man is one who knows what he does not know,” or in more modern terms, “I know squat, and I know it.”

If that is true, and I believe it is, then I am wiser than all the owls that ever lived, combined. The reality of my wisdom is revealed to me with increasing frequency as the years pass.

Recently, I began studying mathematics again, partly to keep my mind sharp and partly to try to appreciate the beauty and wonder of numbers, which largely escaped me during my school days.

The jury is still out as to whether or not my brain is any less dull, but I am certainly learning to appreciate the beauty of math. Granted, it’s much easier to appreciate the wonder of numbers when no exams or grades are involved.

While I’m enjoying my study of mathematics, I’m also being reminded of how little I know, and not just about geometry.

Exploring prime numbers, the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio can be enjoyable. But let’s face it, for most of us nonscientists these things have little practical application in our daily lives.

After a few decades “on the streets,” I feel my high school years could have been better spent learning more practical applications of math.

Instead of spending a semester learning how to prove that two lines are parallel (when any joker can tell they are just by looking at them), perhaps I would have benefited more from learning the ins and outs of saving, compound interest, investing and retirement planning.

I spent two years studying German in high school. Today, if I found myself in the center of Berlin, my communication with the natives would be limited to asking “Welches Datum haben wir heute?” (What is today’s date?), and counting to zehn (10).

Learning ein phrase and zehn numbers in zwei years seems like a pretty poor return on my time investment, even to someone who knows squat about investing. I likely would have learned more had my German teacher not been such a Dummkopf.

Maybe those two years could have been better spent learning the pros and cons of term vs. whole life insurance and the long-term benefits of living on 80 percent of your salary instead of 120 percent.

Many a baby boomer who can tell you which non-Beatle played on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is going to be aufgeschmissen (up a creek) when they discover retirement will never be possible.

Ach du lieber!

My most recent burst of wisdom came during a meeting with my life insurance advisors. I learned that by missing an important decision deadline I had greatly limited my insurance options going forward.

And just in case I wasn’t hating myself enough, I was gently reminded of how much better off I would be now had I made different decisions in the past.

Because of my poorly informed decisions, it now appears my best option will be to walk into the ocean on my 72nd birthday and just keep walking.

It should be quite a party, right?

But, looking on the bright side, as I stroll into the surf I can, thanks to my high school education, take comfort in knowing the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. What for and by whom I haven’t a clue.

And as I sink to the bottom of the sea, I can thank my English teacher for showing me that “Silas Marner” is indeed the worst novel ever written, or at least it was until “Fifty Shades of Gray” showed up.

I would hope school curricula have changed since my day to include the teaching of general “life skills.” Maybe they have.

While recognizing the importance of the “core” subjects, we need to keep in mind that very few of us are going to use calculus, physics or “Silas Marner” in our daily lives.

But each and every one of us needs to know how to balance a checkbook, manage credit, prepare for the future without sacrificing the present, etc. If, like me, you find you could use a little remedial education in any of these areas, don’t wait to seek it out.

Jetzt ist die Zeit! (The time is now!)

Disclosure: The author really does know the phrase “Welches Datum haben wir heute?” and how to count from one to 10 in German. He used the internet to look up all other Deutsch phrases contained in this column. If any are incorrect, blame Al Gore. Doug Showalter can be reached at 379-5625 or dshowalter@therepublic.com.