Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I have not been enrolled in any traditional educational institution since early December, and while I definitely miss the atmosphere of a community of learning, I've not stopped learning by any stretch of the imagination. One of the greatest things about not being in school is the amount of time I have available for leaisure reading (although most of my leisure reading prompts the people around me to ask me, "is that for school for or fun?"). It's amazing to me how lost this pleasure had been for me; this idea of reading for fun, for the sheer beauty of mental stimulation and entertainment. It seems like our lives in the 21st century are so full of constant over-stimulation in the form of media, electronic devices, and just the general underlying stress of our daily lives (very aptly described by Dr. Candace Pert in Molecules of Emotion, that the thought of engaging more mental energy to read seems either daunting or exhausting. Considering, especially that the general social attitude towards reading stems from the experiences starting as young as 5 or 6 years old when the teacher pulled the pen out of your left hand and told you draw with your right hand, or in middle school when summer reading assignments are about as boring as they are obscure and the intentions of such assignments are far from child-oriented. Reading is seen as a task, met with responses of children watching their weekend plans destroyed.

And yet when we are given the luxury of "free time," and the option to do with it what we please, it may be surprising what we end up doing. For example, I'd been working in retail, about 50 hours a week, three of which was spent on the same shift as a 17 year old, high school student, a very sweet boy, we'll call him Greg. Greg was preparing for the HSPAs, a state-wide test given yearly to keep track of the progress of students etc., and he brought his "practice problems" to work one day after school in case there was any down-time. I watched him do a couple of problems before jumping up and asking him to make me copies of his homework- I wanted to do some math.
Let me repeat that. I wanted to do some math. I hated math in high school and I haven't taken a math class since senior year, in fact, I haven't taken a math class seriously since junior year. And all of a sudden, the prospect of figuring out how fast train C was going from point A to point B was not only challenging, but fun.

Malcolm Gladwel talks about teh variation in success, in his book "Outliers" (which I highly recommend), and he discusses the widely-held belief that Asians are better at math. His argument is that because Asian languages have a more logical numbering system (ie, twentyone is literally "two-tens-and-one") and because the words for numbers are shorter, and therefore take less time to say (the human brain can only easily remember what can fit into a 7 second chunk of time), Asians have a leg-up on what most Europeans, or at least, Americans have difficulty with- math. His argument suggests that it is not something innate about Asians, but their environment that allows them to hone better math skills over time. (Gladwell presents these points in a much more concise and understandable fashion with more detail.)

This argument gives us hope, because it means that, like Asians and math, it is not necessarily the information presented in schools, but the environment in which we are placed to learn. This is one of the biggest reason why I myself have loved college. The incredible opportunity to be engaged, constantly, with other students, thinking, learning, experimenting, exploring; it is a unique community- one that I have missed during my time off from institutional forms of education. Other aspects of school have been, thus far, less inspiring. While we all learn relatively huge quantities of information in school, some of the most important lessons we ever learn are not the ones taught in class rooms, and even though I learned a lot of very useful and interesting information in my old college (hereby referred to as college A), probably one of the most important things I learned was that there are many ways to an education, and college, or formal institutionalized learning is not necessarily the end-all-be-all.
And thus, I am on to college plan B!

love and props go out to my friend and fellow "eduventurer"!

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