Thursday, October 1, 2009

Operation Scholar-Without-College

"Humiliation and mental oppression by ignorant and selfish teachers wreak havoc in the youthful mind that can never be undone and often exert a baleful influence in later life." -Albert Einstein

I am a learning junkie. Always have been. The problem is, I don't like school very much. I went to really good primary and secondary schools and have taken a bunch of college courses at good schools but I get really bored easily. Classes never move fast enough for me and I've always been in trouble with teachers and professors for getting ahead of my peers, which is stifling and frustrating. It doesn't help that I'm a freethinker who likes to search outside the box for answers rather than regurgitate what someone else thinks. Teachers are rarely fond of that, only the best of the best want students to be that way.

I come from a super-academic family where almost everyone has at least a master's degree and there are several Ph.D.s (with more in progress), including my mother (who was the first). So, school is frustrating but not finishing is also frustrating and a disappointment to them all. I just can't win.

Of course, now I have another factor (a very common one these days) of not being able to afford school. Even if I could get loans I do not want to do it that way. I've watched my friends struggle for decades under the weight of loans and college was a LOT cheaper when they went.

In the end, though, a degree isn't that important to me. What I care about is learning. The only thing I miss about school itself is the conversations that make you think more deeply about the subject. These days, though, I'm finding that online more and more. Not to mention that I can now watch lectures from schools that would probably never have me, read journals I never knew existed, and keep up with the absolute latest studies and experiments. I'm so grateful to be alive in this day and age with all these opportunities for learning outside the classroom. I think I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: I'm also grateful to the American Museum of Natural History, particularly Neil deGrasse Tyson, for their excellent lecture series, even though I haven't been able to even afford to attend those recently. Still, they are responsible for my rediscovery of my love for math and science, plus anthropology and other related fields of inquiry.

Today I joined the local library at last. It's a pretty good one for a small town and is part of a consortium that carries plenty more books than we have right in town. I've been reading about quantum and theoretical physics quite a bit lately and decided it was about time I take these studies seriously. To that end, I checked out Relativity by Albert Einstein and A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I read the latter years ago but simply can't believe I never read the original Einstein itself, no matter how much I've studied that theory.

Is that the best way to go? I don't know, I don't have anyone guiding me in this.

For fun, I also checked out Astronomy by Mark A. Garlick and A Devil's Chaplain by Richard Dawkins. Luckily, this library gives you four weeks with any older book! They'll even let you renew twice, but I'm hoping I won't need that privilege. At the same time I'm working my way through books on algebra, geometry, and calculus to refresh my memory and expand on what I know.

I realize that all this learning might make it even harder to go back to school (see the boredom problem above) but I'm also aware that I may never get back there and I just can't wait. It's not like I'd have a shot of getting a job in the sciences without a degree but this is the best I can do. My brain needs the exercise, anyway. Years in the music business rotted it pretty thoroughly, as can happen when you have to focus on fluff like what someone wears or how to write an effective fake bio to make them look more interesting. Even the intellectual challenges always felt so unimportant.

Most of my educational background is very much in the humanities but the more I get to know myself the more I realize I missed my true passions and (according to testing) talent. It's astounding how easily you can get swept up in a direction that you never sought out in the first place. Time to get back to myself.

The most pressing challenge at the moment, though, is to find the time to pursue all these things without wrecking my business and personal life. It might be nice to get some sleep at some point, too.

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