Learn for learning’s sake

Aaron Lyons

When I was 5 years old, I practiced writing the alphabet or sounding out sentences at school, while my brother was already using the sharp scissors. I quickly found myself becoming tired of drawing while watching my brother bring home 20 addition and subtraction problems each night. I’m not sure what finally spurred me to do what I did next, but it is a decision I would later question for years: I asked my teacher to give me homework.

Actually, begged is probably more accurate. The homework I was given was simple: draw a stovepipe hat on an ink thumbprint and write a few sentences about our 16th president. I really loved that assignment. I felt like a grown up. I looked around, or rather down, at my classmates, wallowing in intellectual mediocrity as I had just conquered the most arduous assignment ever. Of course, it was a 4″ x 6″ piece of paper with just 14 out of 23 words spelled correctly, but looking back on it I find more meaning than there may have been originally.

Back then, I was never satisfied with how much I knew or the boundaries of what I understood. I’m sure if I said any of this to my 5-year-old self even he would call me pretentious, but then again, he had endless free time to think and write down his nonsensical musings; I just get one column each month.

I’ve never exactly lost my inquisitive nature, but I find I have had to exert far more force to stretch my knowledge the same amount. I don’t read as much as I used to, I don’t write as much either. It’s understandable that this is a part of growing up, that not every discovery I make at age 16 will wow me like it did when I was 5, and that as I take on more responsibilities it will be harder to encounter new academic challenges.

I’m also aware, however, that this capacity for discovery will only keep decreasing with time, and that I have to take action to enrich my mind as much as I can now. There are a finite number of years that we can learn on our parents’ dime and take classes in topics so supremely inapplicable to our future careers that we will perhaps never talk about again. To me, these are the topics that make for the fullest education.

This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in traditional classes, but I do believe that even if something won’t be applicable in daily life, there remains a definite purpose in education for education’s sake.

This is why I feel the Kutler Center classes are the best things to happen to our school in a long time. Some students in these classes will apply skills learned here to future endeavors, but the classes also draw students who simply love to learn and want to push the limits of what an already tremendous Harvard-Westlake education can offer.

The new curricula also made me realize the wide breadth of already existing academic electives for willing students to explore fascinating topics most high-schoolers wouldn’t dream of taking.

I don’t plan on being an avant-garde chef, but I plan on taking molecular gastronomy next year. I watch my fair share of Top Chef and wouldn’t mind learning a bit more about making a raspberry gelee. I implore you to indulge in the stimulating classes taught by some of the most interesting people you will know. Take classes that you’ll love instead of for their appearance on your college app. While I’m certainly guilty of doing the latter, I’m trying hard to tap back into my 5-year-old self and ask him what he wants to learn.

According to scientists, our brain stops developing when we’re 25. I used to be scared of this number, thinking I could never truly learn anything new after Oct. 21, 2021. Now I see it as a challenge, a race against time to load my brain with knowledge of all subjects I’m passionate about. It’s an impossibly daunting task, and one that I will inevitably fail at, but to me this is part of the fun of intellectual pursuit. So to you, universe, I say challenge accepted. To other chasers of intellectual superfluity, I wish you good luck. And to you, the Kutler family and everyone else who has facilitated the beginning of a new era of academic exploration at Harvard-Westlake, I say thank you.