Tag Archives: self-education

Mama Goes to College

Well, sort of.  But not really.

I realized recently that though I don’t miss being told what to read, when to read it, and how to think about it, I do miss the stimulation and accountability that college builds into my reading life.  So I took it upon myself to create my own semester schedule!

I know I’ve said before that reading plans stifle me, but this is looser in the sense that I have assigned course topics and beyond that can read as I please, whatever book strikes my fancy on that topic.

Originally, I had a four-course load but realized that’s too much when paired with my full-time job of monkey wrangler mom and part-time, self-imposed writer gig.

So my “formal” courses are

Ron Paul-ism.  I started following Ron Paul’s political career in 2007 when I saw “Who is Ron Paul?” scrawled in sidewalk chalk on my way home from class.  After a little time on Google, he became my candidate of choice for the 2008 election and I am thrilled to support him this time around in his bid for the presidency.  I am in love with this Congressman from Texas’s principles, integrity, and consistency.  Only the first can be learned by books, so I’m reading books by Dr. Paul and some he recommends on monetary and foreign policy.  I highly recommend you check out his campaign website here.

The French Revolution.  After reading Gates of Gold and seeing several documentaries that show how much the French influenced the American Revolution and vice versa, I’ve wanted to know more about this period in history…beyond Kirsten Dunst and “let them eat cake.”

Running.  Not reading material, true, but it takes up my time for it, and if I went to University, they would charge me to take a class on it, so it counts.

I’ll also be reading fiction, cookbooks, and anything that grabs my fancy from the “New” shelf at the library as I see fit.

What are you reading this fall?



The Inspiring Helen Keller

I truly enjoyed Helen Keller’s autobiography…right up to the end.  The last chapter is mostly a list of thank-yous to people who meant a lot to Ms. Keller up to that point in her life (she wrote her story while in or just after college), and included great praise for a bishop to whom Helen, quite young, posed the question, “Why are there so many religions?”  And the bishop replied with the cop-out all-religions-are-the-same and that the main point is to love.  Ms. Keller was quite taken by this notion and held to it.  But it is not true: Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the only Truth, the only means of salvation, and the greatest mark of love there can be.

Phew.  Can you tell that bothered me?  Now, onto the positives…

Helen Keller is fascinating, and she was a tremendously strong-willed child who was able to funnel her energy into learning, playing, and loving once given tools to communicate.  She tells stories that I never would have expected possible for a girl both deaf and blind, like when she and some friends had to scurry down and cling to the underside of a bridge as a train went over top!

I was surprised and pleased at how much Ms. Keller wrote about education, about what works and what doesn’t.  She sounded quite like Charlotte Mason: lots of nature time, lots of stories.  Sounds like a good start to me.

As usual, a few of my favorite bits:

“Those early compositions were mental gymnastics.  I was learning, as all young and inexperienced persons learn, by assimilation and imitation, to put ideas into words.  Everything I found in books that pleased me I retained in my memory…and adapted it.  The young writer…instinctively tries to copy whatever seems most admirable…It is onlyl after years of this sort of practice taht even great men have learned to marshal the legion of words which come thronging through every byway of the mind” (67).  So true: how many little ones come up with stories that look very much like something they’ve just read…unfortunately for Helen, she did so unknowingly, it was published, and the whole thing caused quite the scandal.

An interesting take on college–that it’s not quite what it’s cracked up to be (as many students realize at one point or another):

“But college is not the universal Athens I thought it was.  There one does not meet the great and the wise face to face; one does not even feel their living touch.  There are there, it is true; but they seem mummified.  We must extract them from the crannied wall of learning and dissect and analyze them…Many scholars for get, it seems to me, that our enjoyment of the great works of literature depends more upon the depth of our sympathy than upon our understanding” (88).
Here, here!  I have enjoyed books so much more outside of school than I did in school, and somehow my thoughts are deeper–and more mine–when I’m not worried about some exam.

Beautiful, beautiful language here about returning to the countryside:

“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!” (104)



I told myself no more library books until I felt “caught up” on the reading I’ve already got going.

But I just can’t help myself.

Really it’s the Professor’s fault: he had to go into lab for a bit on Saturday and the only way to park free downtown is to check something out from the library and have them stamp your parking ticket.  And somewhere in between, a half dozen books followed me home…

When we arrived and Pookie was down for a nap, I dove right into this one:


I’ve read other accounts of self-educated folks, people who’ve followed their passions rather than just following the crowd.  James Bach’s story is a bit different in that he lived entirely on his own at age 14 (though mom or dad took care of the motel rent and gave him $25/week for groceries).  He dropped out of school, spent all day making computer programs, and eventually started earning money for doing what he loved.

Fast forward and the guy somehow made it to Apple and is now sought after to give lectures and write articles.

I’ll admit, when I read stories like this, I’m both intrigued and put-off: “Yeah, that worked for him, but it won’t work for everybody,” “Well, why can’t it?  Not everybody has tried,” etc.  I also find these stories aren’t written as well as I would like and include cliches and heavy-handed hubris.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable.  It was fun, fast, and humorous.  It even contained some really great self-learning nuggets:


“A buccaneer-scholar is anyone whose love of learning is not muzzled, yoked, or shackled by any institution or authority; whose mind is driven to wander and find its own voice and place in the world” (9).

Mmm…that sounds good.  And that sounds a lot like what I did during college: sure, I studied my course work and got good grades, but my spare moments were spent devouring books on Christian education, homeschooling, and theories of learning–and I found it far more engaging than my regular classes and prescribed syllabi.

“To learn something valuable, you may have to work at it.  It may be hard work.  For me, it has to be fun, too.  Or else forget it.  The secret to my success is this: I found something that was fun for me, I learned all about it, and now I get paid for fun things I do with my mind” (4).

I love his reply to a teacher who said a lecture he gave was “dangerous,” that students might choose a nonconventional path based on his speech:

“So what if they do?…This is America.  They probably won’t starve.  They probably won’t be eaten by wolves.  If they don’t care about education, they may be forced to work at low-skilled jobs they won’t enjoy, such as fast food or house cleaning.  However bad those fates may sound, they are neither fatal nor permanent.  Or perhaps they will accidentally educate themselves by starting a new business, building things, or doing theatre, music, or sports.  Are you worried they’ll turn to crime?  Then show them more options, not fewer.  They will learn and grow from anything that happens, unless they believe there is no hope.  Your job is not to make them huddle quietly in a corral, but to help them get out there and seek their fortunes.  Show them a way!” (6)

Preach on, brother!  Makes me want to become a schoolteacher.

{Well, someday.  I’m going to focus on schoolin’ my own youngin(s) first}

“Knowledge is part of my education only if it changes me” (8).

“If I make a careful plan at the beginning of my journey, and stick to it, I may miss out on a lot of learning.  The beginning is a terrible time to plan.  it’s the moment of greatest ignorance.  In self-directed education, a lot of the value comes from exploiting opportunities that arise well out to sea, once I’ve seen some things and begun the learning process.

“In buccaneer learning, wandering is a necessity, not a luxury.  To wander effectively I need disposable time.  That means time I can afford to waste.  I’ve found that by giving myself permission to pursue things that might not come to anything valuable, more often than not, I eventually discover something really valuable” (41).

And about why he didn’t do homework:

“I was already busy at home.  I read fantasy novels.  I made technical drawings of imaginary spaceships, stargazed, tramped around the forest that surrounded my home.  I collected rocks and tried my hand at bird taming.  I watched a huge amount of television.  But whether my use of time seemed worthy to someone else hardly mattered.  I believed my time belonged to me.  Compulsory homework was theft of my time” (61).

Bach also goes over the methods he uses when educating himself about a new topic, such as “scouting” by skimming through all sorts of resources (books, Google searches, websites, etc.), experimenting with it, even leaving it alone and forgetting he even studied it for a time.

If you have an afternoon and are curious about self-education, this would be a fun read.