There are numerous ways to improve skills

Published 9:36 am Friday, April 10, 2015

“I just found out that Britney Spears is taking pre-algebra classes,” I told Sera, figuring she’d be interested in what her former Halloween costume inspiration was up to these days. My wife didn’t really care, but I did. Turns out, I think more people should be like Ms. Spears.

In an interview with People Magazine, Spears said she was taking the classes because next year one of her sons will be taking pre-algebra, and she wants to know how to do it too. Her sentiment was oddly inspiring to me. Not only does she want to further her understanding of a subject that will likely never benefit her directly, but she also wants to do it to help her son’s learning. That’s pretty awesome.

In my work, I’ve heard many stories of people hitting a roadblock in their career and having no where to turn. Spears is certainly far from a roadblock (she could probably afford to literally pave her own road wherever she’d want it to go), but her desire for self-improvement is a model for others who may feel stuck. There are plenty of opportunities for reinventing your career by taking classes. A quick search online showed me that Albert Lea has Adult Basic Education courses focusing on math and writing skills, job application and job retention skills, computer keyboarding and word processing, and even an online GED class. These are more than courses, they are life-changing opportunities for people in the community.

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Speaking of an online GED class, the Internet has increased our capabilities for improving skills. Online education offers certificate programs and more now available at your fingertips from reputable colleges and universities. Even beyond traditional educational opportunities are web resources like Khan Academy where you can learn everything from macroeconomics to computer programming for free.

Opportunities like these mean people aren’t limited in their career pursuits if they suddenly find themselves unemployed or no longer passionate about their work. Help is out there, and thankfully you’re never too old to learn. Sera and I just recently found success after weeks of trying to teach our dog, Beesly, how to bow on command. You can teach an old dog (or a young one that isn’t very bright) new tricks with persistence and dedication.

Of course learning opportunities are plentiful for Spears. If she wanted to learn to be a brain surgeon, she could certainly hire an entire faculty to teach her how to do it. The inspirational piece from her story isn’t that she’s overcoming barriers to further herself, but that she’s improving herself to become a better parent.

I fear the day when I realize my future children are smarter than me. Don’t get me wrong, I hope it happens, but it will be an awfully uncomfortable position. They will certainly reach a point where they won’t bother to ask for my help with homework because they know I won’t know the answer. I’ll be swift to point out to them there are other concepts I know far more intimately than calculus, but part of me hopes my fear spurs me to grow. If I take Spears’ approach, I’ll be proactive and seek out their upcoming courses to ensure I’m prepared to be a resource for their learning. It’s not something every parent has the time to do, but it’s a noble effort.

People may make fun of Spears because she doesn’t have pre-alegbra mastered, but if I’m being honest, a refresher lesson or two might not hurt this still recent college graduate. We forget what we don’t practice, and there’s no shame in going back to learn it again or even catching up on what you never got the first time. Not everyone experiences the same stages of life at the same time, and I’m encouraged by those people taking the opportunity to further themselves (and others) by learning more. There’s not much to lose when we live in a society of educated people, and I’m excited for more educational opportunities becoming available for those seeking to improve their lives.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.