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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 10/28/2009

'Talking Out of School' .... with musician John Legend

By Valerie Strauss

This is one in an occasional series of conversations about school with people from different walks of life. Last week's was with Attorney General Eric Holder. Please send suggestions to The Answer Sheet for subjects and school-related questions you would like to see asked.

Q) You’ve had a rather interesting educational career. You were home schooled at some point?
A) I was home schooled until I was old enough to start first grade, but my mom gave me tests and the school, a private Christian school, put me in second grade instead. I stayed there for third grade and was home schooled again for 4th, 5th and 6th grades. When my parents got divorced, I went to a public school, but I was tested again and instead of going into 7th grade I went into 8th.

Q) You skipped two grades?
A) Yes. I started 8th grade at the age of 11, and I started high school when I was 12. I graduated from high school at 16.

Q) So you were really smart. What subjects were your best?
A) Through most of my career, my favorite subject was math. I majored in English in college, but I didn’t get interested in English until my junior year of high school. I had two teachers who made me write more and read more.

Q) What was your worst subject?
A) Biology. I had a teacher who was really ineffective and I never got into it. I loved chemistry though.

Q) Physics?
A) I would have taken that my senior year in high school and I decided to take it easy.

Q) If you were two years younger than everybody else in your grade, how was your social life in school?
A) I was kind of quiet but got along with people, especially through music.

Q) Are you still friends with anybody from high school?
A) I grew up in a small town in Ohio. We all knew each other. I still talk to some of them,

Q) Do you remember your first crush in school?
A) It was in second grade. She was older, in sixth grade, the sister of a classmate. She thought I was cute and used to pinch my cheeks. I thought she liked me, but she just thought I was a cute little boy.

Q) Did you ever cheat on a test?
A) No.

Q) Let’s talk about college.
A) I wanted to go to the Ivy League.

Q) Why?
A) Because I could. I was #2 in my high school class and it was what I was supposed to do. I had a counselor at school who steered me in that direction.

Q) I read that you were accepted to lots of schools with scholarship money. Why did you choose the University of Pennsylvania over Harvard?
A) Penn made a lot of effort to recruit me, and chipped in more money. Also I wanted to be closer to home, in Ohio.

Q) Was college fun or a drag?
A) I had a blast in college.

Q) How long did it take you to graduate?
A) Four years.

Q) You said you majored in English. What was your minor?
A) I didn’t really have a minor, but took a lot of history and music. My concentration in English was African American literature and culture.

Q) Would you tell other people who want a music career to study the liberal arts?
A) Absolutely. Studying liberal arts and being involved in writing, communications, literature and the arts helps with a career that is all about the arts and communication.

Q) Can you remember anything that happened in school that plagues you to this day?
A) I always had issues with procrastinating. I pulled all-nighters to finish papers and study. I still have dreams about missing deadlines and not having my paper done. The kind everyone has.

Q) Yes we do. Humans are so predictable that way. If you were school czar and could order students to take two courses, what would they be?
A) Only two? There’s a lot more that I would want to have them take. The most important thing a student learns at the end of the day, besides the basics of reading and math, is how to think critically. You can teach it in English, in science, in math, in philosophy. It is important for people to know what is a good argument and what is not and the best way to communicate an opinion. Good citizens have to know how to make the best arguments that can up hold to scrutiny. If you don’t understand that, you aren’t a smart person.

Q) You obviously are. Thanks so much for talking to me.
A) It was fun. Thanks.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 28, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Talking Out of School  | Tags:  John Legend, Talking Out of School  
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