My Educational Autobiography
By Ron Charest
This educational autobiography has been difficult to write and not just because I’m narrating nearly sixty years of continuous learning. Many parts of this narrative are painful, with a few parts that bring pride. But I feel it is important to honestly relate the history that has shaped my approach to learning, and how these experiences will continue to shape my approach as a future instructional designer and adult education teacher.
First: I have never been a “good student,” even though I’ve always respected education and continuous learning. My educational history has been checkered and generally difficult. I now believe many of my issues can be traced to the neurodevelopmental condition “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – Predominantly Inattentive” (ADHD-I). I was only diagnosed in 2018 and started medical treatment. However, the symptoms that led to this diagnosis have been with me for most of my life.
My symptoms of ADHD-I include short attention spans; difficulty paying attention to details and making “careless” errors; trouble organizing tasks and hesitancy to start large projects; forgetfulness in daily activities; the appearance of not listening when spoken to, and difficulty completing tedious or time-consuming tasks. It’s always been extremely difficult for me to focus on reading technical literature even in my professional career. Another facet of my ADHD-I issues has been what some ADHD researchers describe as “hyperfocus”: the ability to become completely immersed in a project and rapidly master new learning material, but then move on to something else.
Having made myself familiar with ADHD-I symptoms I now believe I’ve struggled with this condition starting at least midway through elementary school. My symptoms seemed to have been more pronounced during time periods when I was under high stress or chronically fatigued and have generally increased with advancing age. I also suspect my ADHD-I coping strategies, developed without understanding the underlying causes, have not always been effective for academic learning.
I have nearly sixty years of continuous learning to relate. When I include the context of social, political, and cultural events of the time, along with positive and negative experiences and technology impacts, I have a lot of subject material to write about. As a way of keeping my educational autobiography manageable I have chosen an interactive web page format.
My learning experiences form three eras: my K – 12 education, my navy career, and my post-navy career. I will relate these experiences in a chronological timeline of learning events posted in a brief format. Any relevant social, political, and cultural events critical reflections or insights discussions of the particular educational model of the time period, or other narration relevant to the specific learning event may be accessed via accompanying sidebar icons that open pop-up windows. My readers may elect to open as many or few of these pop-up windows as you have the patience to read.
I’ve also created occassional “Tool Tip” windows to explain a word that doesn’t rate a full sidebar popup; these words areand in blue font.
I will finish this autobiography with reflections on why I have chosen to join the instructional design and technology field as a third and probably last career.
By the start of my senior year, 1973, I was ready to quit school and get out of Pine Bush. I started thinking about joining the navy. I had been inspired by my maternal grandfather and one uncle who had been sailors in their youth, and I had grown up on their sea stories. I was also fascinated by submarines and had a dream of becoming a submarine sailor. That October I answered an advertisement for the local navy recruiter.
Primary Education – Commentary
I took the military entrance exams and scored in the top two percentile, which qualified me for every program the Navy offered. My poor vision disqualified me for some of the more esoteric programs such as nuclear power and navy diving but I was accepted for submarine duty and accepted into a training program only available to people with my top entrance scores. Prerequisites for both required me to have a high school diploma and to enlist for a minimum of six years. In January 1974 I enlisted and was scheduled to go on active duty immediately upon completing high school. I bowed to the needs of the greater good and stuck out my remaining senior year.
I graduated in June 1974 as a straight “C” student, received my diploma, and left home for navy basic training (“boot camp”) five days later. I was seventeen years old and I never again wanted to see the inside of a classroom.
Political Context – Vietnam War
My first learning experience on Scamp was qualifying as a submarine crew member. The qualification process starts the day a new person checks aboard. So, on Friday November 22, 1974, I reported aboard USS Scamp (SSN 588), a nuclear fast attack submarine, which happened to be in Hawaii. I was handed a set of qualification books and told we were getting underway to San Diego the following Monday.
Submarine Qualification Training Model
After four years on Scamp I was coming up on the end of my obligatory six years enlistment and faced with the decision to either reenlist or leave naval service. My department head talked with me and suggested I consider submarine special programs, then called the “Deep Submergence Program.” This consisted of a small fleet of navy owned and operated deep-divingused for marine research, search and recovery, submarine rescue, and two special-design research submarines. The program sounded different and interesting, and I wasn’t yet ready to leave the navy anyway at that time.
I applied for the Deep Submergence Program and was accepted for an assignment to the deep-diving diesel-electric research submarine USS Dolphin (AGSS 555) also home ported in San Diego, California. I left Scamp and reported aboard Dolphin in February 1981.
Prior to reporting to my next assignment as a Navy Technical Instructor I attended Instructor Training (IT) school, a four week “C” school that awarded anotherupon successful completion. The school was in San Diego and my class convened in April 1982.
During the four-week course we were taught public speaking, instructional theories, and curriculum development using the Navy model of that era. We were required to develop and present to our class four progressively more complex presentations during the course, with the last presentation written to the Navy training model. As with my earlier “A” and “C” schools the classes ran eight-hour days five-day weeks. Upon graduating we were awarded the NEC 9502 designation as a Navy Technical Instructor.
Eight years after barely graduating high school I had earned formal designation as navy instructor.
Navy Training Programs
Upon completing IT school, I reported to Submarine Training Facility (colloquially referred to as SubTraFac), the submarine training center at the navy base when I had previously served on Scamp and Dolphin. I quickly qualified to teach several one and two-week technical courses and settled into the school routines.
Near the end of my four-year tour at SubTraFac I requested a sea duty tour on a submarine repair ship, also known as “Submarine Tenders.” I then received orders to USS Dixon (AS 37), again home ported in San Diego.
I had been promoted to Chief Petty Officer one year before transfer from SubTraFac and as a new Chief I was expected to run one of the many repair shops on Dixon. My assigned shop was the “Submarine Mast, Antenna, and Hydrophone Repair Shop,” which came with my colloquial title of “Shop Master”. This shop handled repairs of the highly specialized retractable submarine masts. My shop also repaired submarine sonar sensors known as hydrophones.
Retractable Submarine Masts
As I approached the end of my NATO tour I was faced with an important decision on my next assignment. I was due for another sea duty tour but did not want to go back to a submarine. Once again I was looking for something different to do. I applied for and received orders to the cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73), a ship still under construction at a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was scheduled to be completed and commissioned in July 1994, and then home ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Island of Oahu.
My wife and I arrived in Pascagoula in June 1993 and by October we had already fallen in love with southern Mississippi. About this time, I passed my 20 year career point and decided to retire at the end of my Port Royal tour. We purchased a home in the Pascagoula area and my wife opted to stay there while I finished out my last two years on Port Royal in Hawaii.
USS Port Royal
My learning experiences didn’t end with navy retirement. Transitioning to civilian life was an emotional adjustment I don’t ever care to repeat, and one that every retiring service member must deal with. My career since leaving the navy has evolved into government consulting. I drifted into logistics not through any post-navy career plan on my part but by reason that I couldn’t get a job doing anything else.
I started an MBA program through the University of Southern Mississippi extension campus but was unable to focus. Again, I suspect my issues with ADHD-I played a large role in these difficulties. I was dealing with a lot of cultural and emotional issues from the military-to-civilian transition and adjusting to life back with my wife after a two-year separation. I completed one class towards my MBA, then dropped out part-way through my second class. It is just now, 23 years later, that I’m returning to school to earn a graduate degree.
As with my navy career, my jobs have been my learning experiences as I’ve never done the same type of job twice. Over the past eight years I’ve earned five career-related certifications recognized within the military contracting field and in private industry. I’ve also earned a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Adult Education Certification.
Since leaving the navy the highlights of my work / learning experiences include the following:
I’m approaching my second retirement age as defined by Social Security. Although I’m more than ready to spend my remaining years fishing, boating, and paddling kayaks, I also recognize I need to keep my mind active with new learning challenges. I’ve decided I need to go back into teaching, focusing on adult education. Earning my Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) adult education certification several years ago was my first step. Working towards this graduate degree in Instructional Design and Technology is my next step. I want to spend at least a few years of my second retirement working in adult education as my way of giving back to my community.
My learning path has not been a typical one and the fact I’m by far the oldest person in my graduate classes is not lost on me. Un-diagnosed and untreated ADHD-I may have been a reason inhibiting my formal education, but that’s not the only reason. I’ve always placed work above academics and preferred learning by jumping in and doing something.
I don’t regret the path I’ve taken; I’ve had a rich and fulfilling life. But I also recognize I’ve been fortunate in my career choices, with my best choice being my decision to join the navy immediately after high school. The navy gave me a chance at a meaningful career and a second chance at an education after even my high school guidance counselor expected me to be a life-long failure. Not everyone is so fortunate to have a second chance the way I did.
I’d like to work in adult education as my third and (presumably) final career as a way of helping other adults who want a second chance. Learning disabilities aren’t the only reason young people may not earn a high school diploma or get into a college right out of high school. Native-born Americans growing up in economically-depressed areas with underfunded and neglected schools also struggle with limited opportunities. Some young people simply make bad life decisions that take years to recover from. Immigrants come to this country as adults looking for a better life and more opportunities than they had in their native country but struggle just to learn English as they adapt. Regardless of the reason, I believe an adult who wants to try for a better life deserves to have their second chance. In a small way, I’d like to be part of the solution by helping to offer them education.
 Clardy, A. (2000). Learning on their own; vocationally oriented self-directed learning projects. Human Resources Development Quarterly, I I(2), 105-125, cited in Sharan & Bierema, Adult Learning Linking Theory and Practice (2014)