Sunday, December 5, 2010

Self-Education:Take Back Control.

The title of my blog: "Where are we going?", once provoked this very specific image for me. It was meant to be a question to the many others whether or not of my generation, facing insurmountable debt, confusion, with little hope for the future they worked for. They feel cheated, lied to, when they climb the mountain of expectation only to find another abyss. One we were not at all prepared for.

Taking time to reflect, research, and study the "alternatives" I find that the title of my blog provokes a new image. The title questions not only the future of those in my situation, but is now a rhetorical question to the person no longer in the driver's seat. The one who steered us off course. We have lost control over our own education, and therefore control over what we can do with it.

I want to reach out to anyone who feels they have veered off course. Those who feel that they followed the rules but were still lead astray. Everyone, whether or not they feel they belong outside the confined walls of the education system, or those who still have faith in it. Both should recognize the benefits of being in control and continuing to learn and thrive. This was the advice given to me by author James Marcus Bach.

Take the next step and encourage it for people who aren't talented enough for conventional education. Then you might as well include everyone who is exactly the right amount of talent... The notion of "talent" with respect to conventional schooling is just circular logic: if someone thrives in that environment, then they are deemed to be "talented enough but not too talented." But this is a fallacy. It's not talent. It's FIT. Some people, regardless of whatever talents they may or may not have, are good fits for that system.

"Buccaneering" or Self-Education

Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar is his book, one that has pinpointed some serious issues in the education system and thankfully, offers solutions. One solution in particular: Take back control of your own education!

Bach became one of the youngest technical managers at Apple computer with less than a high school diploma. Is he a genius? Technically, but he no longer attends Mensa meetings. More on that later. The genius of the man is not measured in numbers necessarily. Despite his high IQ, he did "poorly" in grade school. He was depressed by being classified by numbers, and not challenged intellectually, and how however unintentionally, began to take control of what number he was designated.

He intentionally failed tests, he ignored his homework assignments. Was it because he didn't care about learning? No. Did he do nothing with his time? On the contrary. Bach spent his time building and programming the very first computers. He studied physics in his spare time---but was failing physics! "See that 49 in physics? Looks like a low score doesn't it? But I loved physics. I studied it at home... I taught myself how to use sliderule and calculated trajectories...but none of that was part of my schoolwork, so it didn't count." So why would a genius not be a good student?
Something he refers to as "mental mutiny". Your mind is free to accept or not accept, to grow or not grow. Refusal of homework, failing tests on purpose, etc., are a natural response to not being challenged, to being disinterested.

The topic of interest, frequently reoccurs in this blog, because the argument of it's necessity in education. As noted before, colleges feign interest in your interests. They create "fluff" courses so you can have fun and become a well-rounded person. Education should be fun, and make you a well-rounded person, yes, but not for a one-sided pay out. As addressed before, the school gets your money, and you get nothing in return. No marketable skills or even usable credits, just memories.
But interest IS a necessity to learning. The brain only retains what it deems necessary! A professor, a teacher, a counselor, even an employer may not deem it necessary, but your brain has.

Buccaneering is Unstoppable Curiosity

Beginning in grade school, we are taught various subjects, math, art, science, etc. Are we ever asked to make connections between these varying subjects? Most often they are distinct and separate. But learning connections between various subjects is key to understanding why learning is important. A child needs to learn at a very young age that all learning is important, if he or she is to retain any information, and to continue to believe that as an adult. At high school and even college age a student continues to be confronted with old information in a brand new context, and most often reacts to it in the very same way. It is only when someone teaches new connections, charts new territory, and braves the unknown,that students are interested. Imagine a professor who teaches that a literature major can and should be interested in astrophysics for _____ reason, and makes that reason exciting. Students will make the connection. The education system is caught up in the alternative, and you are caught up in the hypocritical dichotomy of "why are these classes required of me, if I am not SUPPOSED to even be interested in them?" Alternating the dynamics of doing things excites the mind. Learning the exact same things over and over does not. It only causes burn out, mental mutiny, and, worse, depression. So many young people are depressed by what they consider their lack of ability, simply because they do not coalesce to a system that has no designation for them. Are they slow, stupid? Are they just *too* "gifted"?

"Guaranteed Not Stupid"

As a member of Mensa, Bach was told having a high IQ meant simply that he was "guaranteed not stupid" and therefore should never again doubt his ability to learn. Shouldn't that be the designation for everyone? What makes this particular group so elite, if they can't even call themselves "smart"? IQ is just another number designation by a grade, only dictated by a test that means just a little as a 7th grade history exam. Test and homework grades, IQ and SAT scores are all supposed to be the building blocks of our prospective list of credentials. But what do these credentials mean? What again does a high school diploma signify if a genius cannot earn one? What then does a Bachelor's degree signify, if the person possessing it has no idea what to put it towards?

Bach says his book "isn't about school". In his email response to me, he even seemed to argue that there was nothing wrong with the system and with people who fit in with it. But he does point out that there is something wrong with how education is fundamentally presented. It is purely presented as "facts", in context of the classroom situation. Anyone who has ever really learned anything, did so through reflection, by partially teaching him/herself. A person learns by literally becoming a better person of their creation, influenced by the information presented. Education is construction and reconstruction of your mind, and as Bach says, “Education is the you that emerges from what you learn”

Taking Back Control

Self-education in this economy is necessary for success, but self-education is most often discouraged within the education system. In my own self-education, I came across this book and many others that are helping steer me in the right direction. One could say the only thing I really needed to learn in school was how to read, how to write, and how to check out a library book. Everything else was superfluous.

This however, is a list of invaluable information I gleaned just from Bach's book:

1. Education can only happen in an environment in which people feel respected, and that their learning is necessary. They need love and encouragement from their teachers to succeed, not by way of high marks, but by formulating a personality that comes from knowing things and the curiosity to know more.

2.In school, and even in the working environment, most often others succeed when they have a sense of uniquely belonging. They want to be apart of something, but they want to bring to that something their own unique contribution. This is necessary in the classroom to a student who wants to learn, but doesn't simply want to follow along in the textbook, and regurgitate facts. Think of a pack of wolves rather than a school of fish. We want children and adults who devour their own sought out information, not passive fish who glean what they "can".

3.Criticism and intimidation are not the same thing, but in the school system are hand-in-hand. Most people who are "bad" at science and math, say it is because they are intimidated by numbers. People who are "bad" readers say they are intimidated by words. Numbers shouldn't be threatening, and speed reading should be discouraged. Criticism should be healthy, and failure should be funny.

4. People should be encouraged to take pride in what they can uniquely do, which encourages them to be successful at it, and other things. They should be encouraged to learn outside of school, and for that learning to count.

5. Adults in the workforce need to enrich their lives by continuing to learn. Learning after college, in the workplace, should always happen! Experts know that being an expert means knowing who to ask. Create your own syllabus of books to study. Create a syllabus of questions to spark your curiosity. Don't ignore your curiosity. Learn, explore. Know that you are smart, and no matter what your vocation, become a professional intellectual.

As a graduate do you have all the information you need to succeed in the working world? Of course not, no one does. I especially do not, that is why I am continuing to learn, and doing so for free. I may not have the degree but I will know as much as someone who does. I am taking control of what I am learning. I am in the driver's seat again. Are you in the driver's seat of your education?

Next time: What does it mean to be "gifted"?

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