Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages..

I’m back!


Photo CC-by Bart Maguire, who presumably went on an adventure.

Yes, it’s a new year (and my final one) here at Chadron State, and the prodigal son truly returns to the English and Humanities department with a vengeance. This year I’ll be comparing religions, novelizing graphics, and literally digitizing with the very best of ’em. In all seriousness, it feels good to be back among the bookworms and writers among us.

That brings me to the main event of the post: Dr. Elisabeth Ellington’s Literacy in the Digital Age class. This class is going to center a lot, I’m guessing, on learning. About learning. Wait, what?

So, on the note of learning, I’m being asked to give something new a whirl here. I’m still blogging in my lovable Cracked,com format of witty banter-image-witty banter-image, but now I’m being asked to give it an actual purpose – 5 things that shaped me as a learner – and to do it all without potentially violating copyright law.
I think I can handle that.


Photo CC-by az. Quite the name.
The first of five key experiences in my life that shaped the way I learn, and the way I pretty much operate at all today, was learning to read.

I know that sounds like a “duh,” but I could read on my own before kindergarten. I have my mom to thank for that. When I was around 4 or 5, every day was ended with a Goosebumps book. She read them to me, often had me read a few pages, and I would inevitably pass out on the couch. Not only do I have her to thank for my ability to read, but for my affinity for all things dark and spooky. Thanks, ma.

Seriously, though, being literate early on has given me the biggest jumpstart I could ever need. When you can read, the world is open to you. Travel isn’t an issue, you can do almost anything with a How-To book and a decently put together YouTube video, and you are never incapable of communicating with someone.. despite possibly being a continent or two away. Reading = writing. From literacy comes a growth of vocabulary, empathy, geographical knowledge, what have you. Reading is step one on the journey that is learning. When people say “I haven’t read a book since high school,” I want to vomit. On them. Hopefully I’ve eaten something messy the night before.


Photo CC-by crypto, because street signs are apparently all the rage right now.

It wouldn’t be until late middle school-early high school that I would come across a teacher that I truly respected. If my appearance in the “About Me” section of this blog doesn’t give it away, I have a bit of a problem with authority figures. Always have, always will – only now I can use the excuse of being an adult for when my mouth happens to fire off like a cannon.

That being said, Mr. Dick RIschling taught the marching bands at Alliance High / Alliance Middle School in Alliance, Nebraska for I believe 33 years, and I was fortunate enough to be a small part of those years. Those who made the mistake of thinking band was an excuse to dick around for 45 minutes and get an easy A were in for a brutal wake up call. This man provided me with such great quotes as

“I love conflict, I win them all!” 

Dick Rischling was the type of man who would go for a two-mile run and smoke every 15 minutes while still running. He had zero time for slackers, zero tolerance for class clowns, and was not afraid to say what he thought. He was like the Gordon Ramsay of marching band. Ask other AHS graduates if I’m kidding. The man taught me to stand up straight and carry myself with some dignity, to force my nose to the grindstone, and kept me humble when my sarcastic mouth got the better of me. If my mom provided me with the tools to learn, Dick Rischling provided me with the devotion that was necessary.

So I had the skills, and I had the motivation. What’s left?


Photo CC-by Nate Cochran, and a damn fine picture if I do say so myself

Self-confidence. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I began to branch out and discover something about myself. I was borderline misanthropic, extremely anti-social, and probably pretty socially awkward. I had a set circle of friends I had always had, and other than out with them, I went nowhere. I hung out at home, read, played video games, and surfed the web. My life was pretty consistently boring this way until my parents bought me a guitar.

About a year later, around April 29th, 2009, the band I’m in, Monster in the Mirror, had their first concert. Something lying dormant inside me woke up that night. The general consensus was shock: this shy, kinda weird kid who didn’t say much in class was a natural on stage. The crowd of 200 or so people loved us. And 6 years later, we’re still a band.

Being up on a stage allowed me to be everything I wasn’t. Up there, I was loud, I was mean, I was aggressive, I was a commanding force. And it all felt good. After that, I began to speak up in classes. My sarcasm and my opinionated nonsense became more and more frequent. I knew what I was talking about. If I didn’t, I knew I could learn, and I knew I could be good at it. Now I make money making an ass of myself on stage, and I’m slowly but surely beginning a career as a writer, something else I thought I could never do. Never underestimate the power of knowing you can do something. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.


Photo CC-by Phillip Taylor, of something that doesn’t exist in 2015

Success is nice, of course, but to me, the most powerful teaching / learning tool is failure. For me, the hardest lesson I ever learned was learned the hard way. That lesson, quite simply, is not to settle.

I was in a relationship for 4 years, 2 in high school, and 2 in college. When that relationship started to fall apart, I panicked, and did the worst possible thing in an attempt to try and salvage what was left. I proposed.

19 and engaged. Never thought that would be me, but it was. I’m not against early engagements: if you think you know, then go for it. Just be prepared for what could happen. But take it from me: never, ever, ever, ever propose out of fear. You’re building pillars of salt on top of a waterbed. It was doomed to fail from the start. Friends and family tried to warn me, but I was comfortable in my routine of boredom. I don’t regret the time spent, because the lesson I learned was invaluable. Still, it’s left me with some extra bags that I’d very much like to get rid of, and have yet to figure out how. I do have someone very special who’s helping me with that, though. Things do get better.


Photo CC-by SNIJLAB Rotterdam

That being said, the bottom-line lesson that has come from all of this, and the thing that will best facilitate both teachers and learners alike, is flexibility. Don’t become rigid in any way. I understand that routine and familiarity is comfortable, but standing water breeds pestilence. Not everyone learns the same way you do. Not everyone teaches the same way you do. Deal with these things. You can make plans for 6 years from next Tuesday all you want, but the fact of the matter is, life is unpredictable. Sometimes it’ll flip the table on you, and you’ve got to be prepared to pick up the pieces and rearrange the silverware, ya dig?

So, that’s it for me. 5 things that shaped the way I learn, but in all honesty, these 5 things shaped my life; who I am as a person. Maybe those things are synonymous – being a person and being a learner. Whoa. I just blew my own mind. I think I need to sit down.

Percipio Percepi Perceptum

  1. My favorite part of this whole post was the quote from your band teacher! That sounds like something I would say. I have a bit of a sarcastic mouth myself…I sometimes think it’s going to get me in a boatload of trouble one of these days. But then I think “I’m me. If you don’t like what I have to say, you probably shouldn’t listen.” Of course, I hope I know when it’s appropriate or when it isn’t okay to voice my opinions.

    • jamcfarland says:

      I’ve always been extremely opinionated. When I was younger, I really prided myself on it, and was probably way too mouthy. I’m still that way, but I try to have a little tact about it.

      I also search for mediums where it’s acceptable for me to say whatever the hell I want. Like this blog, or the newspaper. My #1 rule is that I always take credit for what I’ve said. No hiding behind Internet anonymity for me.

  2. I love what you say about failure and flexibility. I think learning to be flexible is maybe the hardest learning I do? It’s a work in progress for me. I like for things to be planned. Mostly I like to be in control ALL THE TIME. Teaching has shaken that need in all kinds of good ways, and parenting has shaken it much, much more, in ways that have forced me to really examine myself and grow. It’s not always fun, it’s not easy, but it’s necessary. I don’t understand people who are stagnant.

    • jamcfarland says:

      I try my hardest not to become a stagnant person. It’s pretty difficult when you’re as set in your ways as I am. I have a way I like my house, my things, etc. etc., but I’m not at all a fan of a structured schedule. I much prefer winging it when it comes to planning. Is that strange?

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