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I am (and to some extent, have always been) a writer, but my desire to become a novelist did not emerge until after I’d made the choice to drop out of high school and become an “autodidact” (someone who is self-taught -- see My Experience With Unschooling). All I knew then was that being in a traditional school setting made me terribly unhappy (for reasons that could fill a separate blog piece) and that I’d always had a knack for creative writing. I had no idea what was in store for me, venturing out into the wilderness, leaving everything I was expected to believe about school behind.

I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it, either, if my parents hadn’t been so supportive and my brother hadn’t already blazed the trail before me (see leftyparent's blog -- Pulling Eric out of School). I met some form of resistance from almost everyone else, having come from two generations of college graduates, a world where all of my adult role models worked white-collar jobs, and a Unitarian Universalist community of (primarily white) kids who all had college in their sights.

Growing up middle class only reinforced this notion that not only could college give me a leg up in life, it would prove something about how smart I was. I won’t deny that getting into college is no easy feat (and would have been doubly hard for me without a proper transcript), and I admire anyone who has the focus and mental fortitude to pursue that kind of intensive study. But once I left high school, once I began to pursue things entirely in my own way and on my own time, I knew in my gut that a 4 year university wasn't going to be right for me.

Why? Because no matter the exposure to people, places and knowledge, I wasn't willing to give up total ownership of my learning process. It was a tough sell to the people around me, who could not divorce the concept of “learning” from “teacher” and “classroom”. But part of being an autodidact is embracing how you learn best, and for me, the first step to becoming a writer meant doing just that -- writing. A lot. In those initial post-high-school years, that’s all I did, in a community of people who could enjoy writing with me.

I still had a small college fund at my disposal, but it would only be enough to cover a year's worth of expenses at most universities. I didn’t want that much debt, and while I may have had to shut the door on certain aspects of the college experience that had always appealed to me -- networking, living in another city and studying abroad -- I was able to have my own unique adventures because I was not in school -- working on a farm in French Canada, attending language school in Montreal for a couple months, and going to Australia to meet some of the closest friends I’d made in my online writing sphere.

These were empowering experiences, but my family and friends’ combined pedigree still hung over my head like a cloud. It was my own judgment I had to face, moving forward with my life, watching my peers drift off to college, one by one. Like them, I wanted to be someone successful, who was educated, articulate and witty. But in the white-collar world of the liberal elite (a club that I had grown up eager to enter), that meant you went to college. Plain and simple.

Instead, I got what I would classify as a “blue-collar” job, and resigned myself to being looked down upon. We all know the stereotype -- you drop out of high school, don't go to college, still live with your parents and eke out an existence flipping burgers. Well, I had a little more gumption than that! I was 18, had just gotten back from Montreal, and I'd only ever worked at my local coffee shop for a dollar above minimum wage. I ended up charming my way into a waitressing gig at another small business -- a full service breakfast/lunch place and bakery.

At times it could be exhausting work, getting up before the sun, juggling a restaurant full of people (and many regulars) with a very small staff, and doing just about everything outside of serving, myself -- set-up and breakdown of the restaurant, bussing, making drinks, running food, fielding the pastry and bread counter, and taking orders by phone.

But I was making a living wage. By 19, I had moved out of the house. I was paying for a studio apartment, art and piano lessons, a cell phone, monthly car payments (and everything a car entails), and I was able to eat out several times a week. I was always in a little bit of debt, truth be told (until my boyfriend moved in and cut my rent in half), but I had shattered the stereotype. I was on my own and thriving. It may not have been glamorous, and it wasn't sustainable in the long term (at least, not for me), but I knew that I could survive. And it was only part-time, so I could still write.

I started to let go of my preconceptions, one by one, to just accept what I had and what I could make of it. I can still remember the day my boyfriend helped me move stuff out of my room and into my new apartment (it only took one trip in a rented pick-up truck). Just before we left my parent's house (which is about 30 minutes away from where I currently live), he insisted my mother and I pose for a quick cell phone photo. He preceded it by saying: “This is a big moment, after all!” and my mother and I sort of shrugged and laughed and said: “I guess you're right”. At that point I’d been spending 5-6 nights a week at my boyfriend's apartment, anyway. I had already moved out without meaning to. It was unceremonious... it was just life.

And so was my job. While the majority of my friends spent 4 years experiencing college, I spent 4 years working at the restaurant. It's how I met my boyfriend, Luke... for that alone, it was worth it. A year in, I was promoted to manager, but don't let that fool you -- it was really more like waitress-plus. I still had to work hard and get my hands dirty, but I was also responsible for the mess.

I could talk a long time about my experiences there; how much I learned about myself, how tough it made me, how my small cadre of co-workers grew into a family. How stressful and intense those shifts could be. I made good money for what I did, but that fact was bittersweet. I was proud of my job, and proud of myself for how good I became at it, but it wasn't my passion.

I was working on my very first novel on the side, taking courses through UCLA's Extension, even meeting weekly with a writing group, but it was an uphill climb, and the more serious I was about writing the novel, the more I realized that my job was taking too much out of me. I envied my peers in college their time to devote to their fields of study, but I had to wonder... how many of them were there to pursue what they hoped would be a career? And how many of them were as clear about their passion in life as I was? It seemed that many of them were only there because that was what was expected of them.

My best friend was one of the only people I knew in a predicament similar to mine. She, too, had dropped out of high school, and while she'd taken the time to pass the G.E.D. (which we jokingly called the “Good Enough Diploma”), she simply didn't have the money or resources to go to college, and was not willing to put in that amount of effort when her interest lay in the restaurant industry, a field where practical experience largely outweighs education.

Our initial job experience was very similar, too, and I took comfort in that. We'd both been baristas and servers at small businesses. But while I was moving out and in with my boyfriend and starting to integrate into his circle of friends, her life had taken a very different turn. In the wake of losing her father to cancer, she and her sister decided to leave L.A. and move to Chicago, where her sister's boyfriend was already situated.

We did our best to keep in touch, but it was definitely a shift for me, as I found myself surrounded by people 5-10 years my senior, my boyfriend included. Many of them were aspiring actors (this is L.A., after all), and almost all of them had had some sort of college experience, whether it was for theatre or something else (I came across Poli-Sci, Psychology and Communications majors quite often).

As I began to interact more and more with these mid-to-late-twenties/early-thirty somethings, I noticed something startling -- the majority of them were in the very same situation that I was. We were all working blue-collar (or more menial white-collar) jobs, trying to launch some kind of artistic or otherwise higher paying career. In the case of my co-workers, who were virtually all college graduates, I (the youngest among them) was their boss.

They felt like my peers, and whenever I admitted my age to them, they tended to be astonished. When I would reveal that I had not only never gone to college, I had dropped out of high school... their jaws would literally drop. “But you're so smart,” they would say. “You're so mature.”

To the latter I would often answer: “Well, I've been out of school for nearly 5 years”, and that seemed to resonate with them. But what does that say about what constitutes a person's maturity in the “real world”? Because I had been in it for as long as some of them had, I read as 25-30, when I was really just shy of my early 20s. It seemed that not only was college not always indicative of success, it wasn’t necessarily a barometer for maturity, either.

For the first time, the choices I’d made didn’t feel so baseless. It was like I'd gotten the jump on life. While going to college had definitely broadened the intellectual/artistic horizons of many of my peers, practically speaking, I’d come out ahead. I had a reliable job that paid well, ample time to work on my book, and I wasn't mired in debt.

Sure, there were times when I felt under-educated (and secretly embarrassed), but I had come to realize that my lack of knowledge had very little to do with dropping out. Even when I was in school, I didn’t feel very smart -- retaining factual information has always been hard for me, which made me a terrible test taker. It’s one of the biggest reasons I left. I could understand the information put before me, but absorbing it was an entirely different matter, even when I was interested in the subject. I knew that no matter the choices and freedoms a college experience could offer me, it would still be largely that -- a classroom, a textbook, lectures, notes and test-taking. And that wasn't me.

But, as someone who grew up with a lot of privilege and the inbred promise of more, choosing another path meant altering my expectations. It was very humbling to make a living working a blue-collar job. Even more humbling to realize that on the spectrum of blue-collar jobs I was very much at the top of the pecking order (particularly once I was promoted), in large part because I was young and white. The back-of-house Latino kitchen staff were the ones who really had it hard (and their families back in Mexico, even harder), working 10-12 hour shifts, 6 days a week, many with second jobs and no cars to get around. I knew it was likely they’d be working blue-collar jobs for the rest of their lives, but for many of them, it was a step up.

It really started to open my eyes to my own sense of entitlement. I may have been supporting myself financially, but it was only part-time, and I would always have a roof over my head and food on my plate if I needed it. I was still living in the first world -- I would never know poverty, and unlike many people (college educated or no), I had an immense support network in place to help me achieve my dreams. It made me feel so grateful for all of these things.

And I realized, too, that I had always unconsciously assumed I would go to college because it was just what people of my caliber did. But now I know that there are people in this world with the capacity to do great things who don't have or can't get a degree to prove it. My experience in the service industry really drove home why my parents and grandparents didn’t want me to spend my life working at the expense of my dreams. I learned that I didn’t want that either (and that I was lucky enough to be able to make a different choice), but I think it was worth coming to that place on my own, to solidify just how much my dreams meant to me.

I’m a firm believer in “going with your gut” when it comes to navigating your own life, but part of trusting yourself is having the time, space and support to develop those instincts without being too outwardly influenced. I had some of that time while I was unschooling, but I have to wonder how much further along I’d be on the path to publication if I had unschooled from the beginning. When I look back, I’ve been writing and enjoying stories since I was a small child, often entering contests at school and winning awards, even choosing to spend a large chunk of my adolescence online, immersed in fantasy roleplaying worlds and forums, writing to my heart’s content.

And when I think about what I took away from school, I honestly come up with more negative than positive. I don’t feel like I came out of it well-rounded or balanced. If anything, I took away a feeling of inadequacy, a penchant for insomnia that I still can’t seem to shake, and some serious damage to my self-esteem that took years to rebuild. I don’t blame my parents, though, who were willing to listen when I wanted to try something else. They were on their own journey to figure out how they felt about traditional education, and so was I. If I learned anything from school, it was what I didn’t like about it.

It can really shape kids’ priorities and expectations, which they internalize over time, and then they’re set on someone else’s idea of the “right path”, for better or worse. It no longer surprises me that many of my peers nowadays seem lost or confused about their own direction, now that they’ve finally been given full custody of their own life. I felt that way, too, but I was 15. I had a lot more time to figure things out and a lot less of the pressures that come with adulthood.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I came out the other end of what would’ve been my college years that I finally felt ready to commit myself to full-time “study”. I was able to use my small college fund to leave my job last September and pursue my dream of finishing the novel at last. I’ve spent the last 10 months learning what it means to be a novelist full-time. I have my grandparents to thank for the money, and I love them for fully supporting the choices I’ve made with it.

While I’m still not done with the novel, I’ve made some significant progress, and the experience of this past year has been invaluable to me. Just in the last month I’ve had to open myself up to the idea of part-time work again, knowing that the money I’ve been subsisting on will be gone soon. I decided to approach the restaurant industry from a new angle by going to Bartending School, and was able to get back in touch with just how hardworking, poised and adaptable I can be in any environment.

While bartending isn’t my eventual career aspiration, it was for many of the people around me. There's a threshold to the amount of money you can make as one, certainly, and it's a physically demanding job, but as I sat there, learning about Mixology and Dramshop Laws, it felt as valid a choice as anything else, blue-collar and all. I realized that everyone's entitled to their own experience, and to put our own qualifiers on it seems shortsighted.

Now that I’m a certified bartender, I’ve begun to look for a job again, but even as I resign myself to the amount of time and energy it will require to return to the restaurant industry, I no longer consider my aspirations of becoming a writer to be “higher” or “better”, just different. And while I’m happy to ensure people have a good experience wherever I work, performing that function shouldn’t relegate me to the background. Regardless of whether it’s for life or just in the interim, being blue-collar shouldn’t make me wallpaper in a white-collar world.

While I only got a glimmer of what it feels like to be disenfranchised, it was enough to know that there were worlds of people who would never even have the opportunities that I had always assumed I was owed. It reminded me that we are all human together, and that so much goes into determining our circumstance in life. It no longer seems fair for me to feel entitled to so much when so many people have so little.

Instead, I try never to forget how lucky I am in the grand scheme of things, that I’m able to strive toward exactly what I want in my life and be happy. Recently, my father confided in my brother and me that he was glad each of us had charted our own course and that neither of us was “working for the man”. It just goes to show that it all comes down to perspective; another parent might’ve disowned me for the choices I’d made.

I’m so happy we’re on the same page, and I’m relieved to no longer be overly worried with whether or not I “measure up”. If experience has shown me anything, it’s that being a blue-collar girl in a white-collar world doesn’t mean that I’m somehow worse off. It just means that I took a different path, and that’s what works for me.


Thanks for reading Education Alternative's Series on Homeschooling!

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Originally posted to Education Alternatives on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You might be interested in a conversation I (18+ / 0-)

    overheard yesterday while sitting in the Smithsonian Portrait Museum in DC. A family, grandparents through adult grandchildren, were discussing the importance of a college education. One adult grandchild was trying to explain her boyfriend's choice to go with blue collar training straight out of high school rather than go to college. Grandpa seemed to understand that there is still a place for electricians and plumbers who are well-payed. Grandma was having a harder time with the concept. Parents were surprisingly quiet through it all. But the fact that families are having this conversation at all is eye-opening.

    My own kids want to be scientists and we've had the conversation with them about becoming scientists without a traditional college education. We haven't figured out a way but would certainly be open to it. My oldest is about to tackle community college classes and he's already frustrated by chapter one in his biology textbook. In his words, it's poorly written and you have to read each paragraph twice just to get to the point. Basically, he feels like he is translating poorly written science into accessible science that he can understand. Considering how much money that textbook cost, it's a damn shame. Let's hope the lecture portion of the class (and the labs) are more engaging.

    I look forward to the day when we have more than one path to jobs that traditionally require a BA or BS. After all, college classes are not the be all end all of learning.

    •  oh dear, I wish you were here (12+ / 0-)

      I am hosting a High School biology class in my home this year with an absolutely fabulous teacher coming in to do labs every week with a group of kids I've cobbled together.

      If you took the greed out of Wall Street all you’d have left is pavement ~Robert Reich

      by k8dd8d on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:34:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Sounds familiar (8+ / 0-)

      I'm sure that the grandparents were well intentioned... it could be that they did not have access to the same opportunities, growing up in a very different world. I imagine in their minds they just want their children and grandchildren to "do better". But that's almost part of the problem, now, that we're so mired in this idea that we need some kind of pedigree before we can enter the real world, and that it's perfectly okay to judge people based on that.

      That has to be very tough for your kids! I knew that I got lucky with writing... all I have to do is write and pitch the book. Not that that's an easy feat, but I don't need to point to a BA to legitimize myself. And I got lucky with UCLA's Extension courses; their writing program is actually quite "reputable" while remaining flexible and affordable. I really did learn a lot there and even formed a writing group out of one of my classes. Part of what I loved about those classes though were that they were very hands on. The primary focuses was on the work itself, and learning through trial and error. But I was still exposed to some great literature and some very helpful books on writing.

      Have you ever considered UCLA extension for your kids? I took nearly all of my courses online with an instructor in Kentucky, so you don't need to live in L.A. to take advantage of it. I don't know what (if any) science related courses they have, but I do know that they offer a wide variety of courses in several different areas. Might be worth looking into. Otherwise, good luck.

      I also look forward to a time when college is not the be end all of learning, as you so aptly put it. Personally, the state of the economy definitely factored into my decisions, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one. Maybe that's why the parents were so quiet.

      •  We're considering extension classes next year (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FloridaSNMOM, Cali Scribe

        when we move overseas. For this year, we decided the oldest needed the lab experience and it's really hard to replace that with extension courses :)

        We'll check out the UCLA extension and see what's what! Thanks.

        As to the money side of it, we're luckier than we originally thought. We recently learned that my boys can use my husband's GI bill benefits. He doesn't need them anymore so they each can have two years of paid public university. So we've proposed that they each take two years at a community college and then the four year school for the last two years. It's how both my husband and I afforded college and it seemed to work back then.

        •  Community college is awesome (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM, leftyparent, angelajean

          because you can take courses you want to see if a certain major is right for you. My nephew (the one who just got married) said he wished he'd gone to community college for a year or two; that way he would have learned that he hated computer programming (he started out as a Computer Science major) and could have changed his major to mechanical engineering without needing to spend an extra year at Cal Poly. Then again, he might not have met the young woman who just became his wife, so I guess things balanced out in the end.

          Great news on your sons getting to take advantage of the GI benefits -- got to wonder if the same would hold true under a Romney/Ryan administration.  

          "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

          by Cali Scribe on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:46:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  My college textbooks (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Renee, ladybug53, angelajean, rosabw

      I had several text books like this, or that were just plain wrong (our Kinesiology text books actually had abdominal muscles connecting to the scapula according to the written description). What I learned to do was take the topic, and look for college youtube videos or college websites and learn the information that way. It's a shame to spend so much for a text book and only use it as a subject guide, but that's what I had to do for several classes, including Biology.

      "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

      by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 11:06:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Textbooks (4+ / 0-)

        One of these days, physical textbooks will be replaced with electronic tablets, and we'll all either have such a device at our disposal or we'll have relatively inexpensive access to one. I've heard it's already starting to happen with IPads, to much success, although I know that change won't happen over night.

        Textbooks are kind of indicative of the traditional schooling system, though, aren't they -- static, outmoded and often flawed. And yet we put up with them, don't we, make due with their shortcomings, even swallow the price tag when it seems too high. I honestly think "doing better" for our kids means challenging conventional wisdom and creating a system that can foster their unique interests and be flexible enough to change with time.

        The internet is a beautiful thing. I've learned a lot simply by searching, often in the course of working on my book. While it's true that you can't inherently trust anything you read on the internet without verifying it's validity (I know Wikipedia tries to do just that by citing source material), I still think it's a better medium by which to learn.

        I remember my 9th grade teacher giving us an essay assignment (the subject of which we were not allowed to choose) and telling us that we had to site 5 different sources for information, and only 1 of them could be the internet (and only 1 could be an encyclopedia). I distinctly recall that she sounded almost smug, like she knew how difficult it would be for us. While I suppose she was just trying to push us to seek out other forms of information (books written on the subject, etc.), to me the requirement felt frustrating, and tacked on a lot more time to an assignment I already didn't want to do.

        I felt like... as long as I can verify the information, why should it matter where it comes from? It hasn't been my experience that information I find on the internet is more limiting than reading something in a physical book or physical reference material. And it's likely that if I'd been free to do my research as I wanted to, the internet would've led me to several books, which I would've then sought at the local library. Instead, I resented being forced to, which made me resent the assignment altogether. Kids shouldn't have to be coerced into learning, and if parents and teachers sincerely feel that's the case, then there has to be something inherently wrong with system that kids are not responding well to it.

        •  Certainly my paid "knowledge worker" job... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

          has nothing to do with finding info in hard-copy texts, and everything to do with gathering info online or through mostly phone or email exchanges with other people.  The skills that I have in this area I certainly did not learn, or did not have the opportunity to learn, in school.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:17:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  I had teachers who put on those restrictions... (4+ / 0-)

          And then I'd go online, find an article that references the book, go to amazon and get the book reference, and use the book reference. Without a car and working while I was in school I didn't always have time to get to the public library while it was open to find non-internet sources. I also didn't have a lot of time to use the school library because I would have been late for work. So when push came to shove, I bent the unrealistic rules the teacher had placed.

          Not to mention in the medical field, finding up to date resources on some of the newer techniques and discovery in paper, unless you had access to a lot of medical journals was nigh impossible without the internet.

          "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

          by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:26:00 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'd get the book reference (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            angelajean

            from amazon, not the book itself. But often the article itself would have the book reference in the article's reference information.

            "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

            by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:26:50 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Exactly (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

              I feel like the internet is a great tool not just for learning but for synthesizing the information that's already out there. That was part of what I struggled with when doing that assignment; a book isn't necessarily easily accessible, even once you get your hands on it, particularly when it's written to be read front to back and you're just looking for token tidbits of information.

              I just felt like I was being punished for not subscribing to conventions that were rapidly becoming obsolete, and that I was somehow being "put in my own place" by my teacher who wanted to assert that I wasn't capable enough or invested enough in the assignment to do it without being micromanaged.

              If students are going to base assignments on information from the internet that ends up being unreliable, then by all means they need to be made aware that they should research things more thoroughly. But I think that's just part of learning, and if a student is truly invested in the topic they'll be eager to learn how best to learn more.

              •  This is to a point where a book shines... (0+ / 0-)

                ...while using the internet is a great way to get specific information (and yes as a college student I do it all the time) a book can help provide a lot of context and highly detailed information that the internet will generally summarize.

                I know based on the internet that the book I am slowly working though is about. But it was only from reading the book that I was able to not only get that information but a ton of other information I had not previously even considered. To that respect the summary done on the internet was inadequate to provide other contextual cues or open other avenues of though tangentially related to what the book was about and mentions.

                This is the main most problem I have with the elevation of the internet as the best research tool. It is so variable what best means, but general articles on the internet with their summary miss other contextual topics that help broaden the scope of the work.

                By the way, great article.

                •  Thanks! (0+ / 0-)

                  I agree with your assessment. Everything in moderation, the internet included. It's definitely true that it can be difficult to verify the information you find on the internet, whereas a book has clearly already been vetted by someone, and whoever took the time to write it was obviously very invested in the subject. Context definitely matters, but it all depends on the subject at hand. I think, had I been more interested in the topic that was chosen for me (or perhaps, been allowed to choose myself), reading some sort of book would not have felt so daunting.

    •  fwiw, one can still get pretty far on the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyparent, chimene

      technical side of theatre without a formal education/piece of paper.  Its one field where a history of competence and one or two really good references counts for everything.  It probably helps that theatre people are generally pretty open to non-traditional approaches to living as well as being a relatively small community.

      And if one has any talent at all and has a mind to, its very possible to jump from tech into design.  You'll have to start small and probably even do some work pro-bono but you'll have real life experience (and probably better contacts long-term) that can't quite be copied in a university atmosphere.

      Not saying or implying at all a college education is inferior, just that sheer hunger, ambition and competence (ESPECIALLY competence) can provide another route up the food chain in tech theatre.  At least, that was my experience.

      •  Agree that key is experience that demonstrates... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bnasley

        competence. And real-world competence trumps academic competence in many areas, like theater.  

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:20:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  education is crucial for an artist (0+ / 0-)

          Those of us in the theater world wouldn't call such training 'academic' - we want actors, designers, directors, dramaturgs, etc. to be well-trained AND well-educated.  You've got 2500 years of people making theater before you came along, with thousands of wonderful plays (some of which we still have the privilege of reading) and a lot of thinking done by our predecessors about art and life.  And that's just the theater history stuff per se.

          Artists ought to know about ideas, and their genesis, and philosophy and history and literature and even science.  To say nothing of the visual arts heritage.

          College isn't for everybody, but it can provide a rich and focused environment for minds to develop in, alongside others, something autodidacts can't fully achieve on their own.  

    •  Becoming a scientist . . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyparent, FG

      Becoming a writer is a wonderful ambition and a necessary part of our culture, but becoming a scientist is something else entirely.  You don't need to read Chaucer or Hemmingway or write papers on the transmigration of Greek mythology to write excellent novels, though such pursuits may enrich your own experience.

      It is not possible to do meaningful science, on the other hand, without understanding the work of scientists of the previous two or three centuries.  It would be impossible to learn electrical engineering without, for example, learning about Faraday's law of induction rather than trying to reinvent it on your own.  Nor could you build meaningful circuits without access to machinery to make printed circuit boards.

      One can attempt to learn about science through books and online materials, but it is remarkably easy to fool yourself into thinking you understand a concept just because you could follow the author when he worked it out.  In this way, better written books are actually a trap for those who are trying to self-teach.

      To be a scientist, though, one must learn not just about science, but how to do science, and that is only really possible by being in contact with people who are already doing it.  Even though it is possible to get a science degree from a university just by going to class, taking tests and doing the homework, you will have robbed yourself of a real science education by not making contact with your professors who are themselves researchers and getting interested in the problems they are trying to solve.  By contrast, it is fairly impossible to do this if one attempts to learn science by avoiding the university setting.

      Lastly, the pedigree of a science diploma is important precisely because there are two few scientists to go around.  Those in charge of hiring and managing scientists and giving out grant money to research projects are most often not scientists themselves.Thus, you cannot convince them you know what you're talking about through careful argument -- only by recommendations and letters behind your name.

      The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

      by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 02:41:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's where formal learning stands out... (2+ / 0-)

        as the best path, along with plenty of real-world lab work, as the appropriate way to go.

        Maybe more people would take that deep dive into the concentrated formal learning of a science discipline if they were not so burnt out on twelve straight years of forced seat-time in 1-12 ed!

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 02:47:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  How about learning science in practice? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FloridaSNMOM, leftyparent

        Would it be possible to learn what you need to know in a program that worked like an apprenticeship?

        •  I think so, tho there are a lot of important... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          angelajean

          detailed knowledge to be absorbed so you can function effectively in a real-life science "lab" environment.  But that knowledge could be acquired presumably by self-study and certification as well as classwork in a formal "school" setting.

          But then I'm no scientist!

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 03:28:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  No, it really isn't (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FG

          If all you want is to be a lab technician and work in a science lab -- then maybe.  But if you aspire to be a scientist, then there is a whole lot of information and expertise that you need to cram into your head.

          For example, one of the labs I have worked in used a laser to excite the carbon atoms in graphite.  This laser pulses on a femtosecond timescale, faster than anything we could reasonably buy "off the rack."  So we had to design and build our own, along with the circuitry to detect and measure the effects of the laser.

          On the other hand, that laser will only interact with carbon if it is tuned to a very narrow wavelength.  Just calculating what that wavelength was and how narrow the spread had to be was a non-trivial task.  

          It took not one scientist, but an entire team of scientists with an extremely specialized and diverse pool of knowledge just to make a single measurement.  

          If someone had just trained "hands on", they might know how to perform one role in this one experiment.  However, in three years when our grant is out and we move on to an entirely new experiment with entirely new tools, that person with only the hands on experience would have precisely nothing.

          The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

          by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 03:31:06 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  This answer is rather ironic... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            leftyparent, FloridaSNMOM

            It seems that your solution was found not in a lecture room but in a team setting working hands on. Granted, you each had lots of info in your heads that you may have learned in lecture or from books but it was the practical application that made all the difference.

            I am a big proponent of practical application - it's why I wanted my son to have biology lab along side biology lecture. But I wish we taught more subjects hands on and less by lecture. So many people I know retain the knowledge from those hands on experiences much more completely that the knowledge they memorized only for a test.

            •  The hands on experience . . . (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              angelajean, FG, RainyDay

              was only made possible by the fact I had spent 2 years learning different ways to solve differential equations and hundreds of hours practicing solutions to the Schrodinger equation.

              Sure, get your hands dirty in a lab, but it takes 4-6 years of focused instruction and dedicated study just to bring an undergraduate up to about world war II in terms of understanding math and science principles.  That's the price we pay for living at the top of a technological tower we've been building for centuries.

              The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

              by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 04:19:46 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  The STEM challenge is to make all that... (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                fuzzywolf, angelajean

                seat time more compelling and less "drill and kill", a riddle I guess we have not solved yet because we struggle to get our young people into science career paths!

                Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 04:32:06 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  There is a fine line ... (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

                  that we debate often at the university.  The ultimate goal is to prepare students to do original work as soon as possible.  The problem lies with giving students "enough" background knowledge.  

                  Some students (a minority) will continue on in academia and get a PhD.  Some (considerably more) will get a master's degree to prepare them for work in a specialized field (e.g., U of Oregon's excellent 2 year master's program in renewable energy).  More will stop with a BS degree and then get some job in industry or government where they can apply the background knowledge they have acquired.

                  We are desperately deficient in the number of scientists we put to work.  There are many programs that shave down required material to a minimum.  What we do not want to create, however, is a legion of magicians who are able to apply the principles put forth by the theoretical sciences with no idea as to why they might work.

                  To make an example, someone who intends to be an auto mechanic does not need to be able to calculate the efficiency limits of the engines he repairs -- he can easily look up the relevant benchmarks.  However, he really ought to have some idea of why hydraulic brakes work, what creates an electrical short and what combustion is.    Lacking this information causes a tragic disconnect in his work -- it reduces him to a medieval priest who merely performs the sacred rites handed down to him.

                  The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                  by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 05:30:10 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  IMO we are only "deficient" if... (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    reconnected, FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

                    there are kids that might be interested in the sciences that are not being given an opportunity to be exposed to them in a compelling way.  Kids need to make their own choices.  If kids in other parts of the world have more interest in this area right now, so be it.

                    I have become really uncomfortable with top-down control-model education policy which creates coercive standardized curricula to ensure (force) a certain number of kids to become scientists.  IMO if we can't convince them freely that its a compelling career, then we shouldn't be pressuring them to take so much science and math classes in K-12.

                    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                    by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 05:46:51 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  If kids can't .... (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      angelajean

                      get interested in the concepts that make their milk cold, their TVs turn on, their cell phones work or the sky blue, then the fault does not lie with the sciences .... it lies with us, the parents.

                      There are too many reality based social issues that would simply stop being issues if people had more science education that I could never agree with any call for less science and math in the classroom.

                      The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                      by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 08:51:20 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I hear your concern... mine is forcing... (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

                        the learning process.  I don't think it is effective!

                        Yes... give more kids the opportunity to have compelling experiences in science, but ultimately let them drive the vehicle of their own development.  Trying to control them is not the answer.

                        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                        by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:06:44 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

            •  I will revise and say . . . (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              leftyparent, angelajean

              that they experiences that increased my understanding the most were when I stood up at a white board and verified for myself the results quoted in a textbook.  If that is what you meant by hands on, then I apologize for misinterpreting you, and you are quite correct.

              I always say that math is a skill you learn not facts you memorize, and that the only way to get good at math is to use it.  A lot.

              The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

              by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 08:47:47 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  As a big math person myself, I agree... (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                FloridaSNMOM, Alden

                The best math classes I had were the ones where I spent all my time at the chalk board explaining my problem solutions and proofs.  I liked the algorithmic and logical sequences of math proofs, it really resonated with me.

                My degree was in computer science, but could easily have gone the direction of electrical engineering.  But with the EE degree in Los Angeles in the 1980s I would have ended up working in Aerospace probably building weapon systems.  So I went the computer science route and the more high paying jobs were in business systems, which appealed to my interest in systems theory.

                So I was a math geek, but my own kids clearly are not.  They should be able to pursue their own different passions.

                Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:13:58 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  However... (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  reconnected, angelajean

                  In 35 years of applied computer science, most of it spent at an advanced level creating tools used by other programmers, I can recall only a single occasion when I called on any non-trivial math of the type required so extensively in my CS curriculum.  

                  That was when I needed to transform the output of a random number generator from its uniform distribution into a normal distribution.  Alas such a transformation was not among any of the map theory or calculus or even statistics that had been rammed down our throats.  Instead I looked it up in a handbook of engineering formulae.  Granted, I might have had some difficulty finding and understanding it without at least some of my college-era math studies.

                  Additionally the math/science-track math courses (not the simplified ones for liberal arts majors) focused so intently on computational and derivational details that they largely obscured the grand concepts and their beauty, which began to emerge for me only later in life in a more recreational context.  

                  I've sometimes wondered if the difference in American and European student performance in math, and the absence in many European countries of the boy/girl divide in outcomes we see in America, might be a result of the way we jump straight into heavy computation and manipulation of formulae with insufficient focus on the abstract concepts and their intuitive applications in the real world.

                  ------
                  Ideology is when you know the answers before you know the questions.
                  It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

                  by Alden on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 09:27:25 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Difference skills (3+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    reconnected, angelajean, melo

                    In fact, in teaching programming courses to people from various backgrounds over the years, I've come to the conclusion that math and the kind of sequential logic and visualization used by programmers must be not only separate skills, but perhaps different ways of looking at the world or different types of intelligence.

                    I found that many (not all) mathematicians in my classes had trouble with the sequentiality of programming.  They expected a certain relationship to simply BE true, it seemed at times -- something they could assert by knowing it is so --  without going through intermediate steps to make it beCOME true.

                    That's not easy to reconcile with the notion of a mathematical proof, which is indeed sequential, and yet I saw this sort of difficulty recur over and over again in students coming from a primarily mathematical background.

                    One of the most promising backgrounds seemed to be music.  I have only an intuitive notion of why that might be so, and it has to do with music as an unfolding process, a cyclic, iterative process, in which certain "things" (events, alterations, whatever) are stored (or occur) at certain "locations" along the way.

                    Math and music both require visualizing and remembering complex, abstract structures, but there must be a difference in the way they are processed in the brain.

                    There is also a certain arbitrariness to music or a computer algorithm.  Unlike how it is in math, there is no single inherent truth to uncover and represent.  Rather there is an arbitrary path to create in order to achieive a certain desired impression, effect, our outcome.  There are few points of reference along the way that an tell you if you are 'right' or 'wrong'.  You're right if the outcome in the end is what you were looking for.

                    ------
                    Ideology is when you know the answers before you know the questions.
                    It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

                    by Alden on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 09:46:04 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Abstract math is such a conundrum... (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Alden, angelajean

                      when it comes to education and requiring all kids in high school to take several years of it.  That abstract math requirement (rather than an option) is what seems to make school problematic and unpalatable for a lot of kids, including both my son and daughter.  It really struck me when I saw it in them, since I had always been a "math geek" myself.

                      How do we design an education system that identifies the students with an aptitude for abstract math and get enough of them to pursue it as a career to staff the needed job slots requiring this skill set? An how do we do that while not inflicting all this abstract math on the rest of the kids who just do not think that way and are debilitated by being forced to embrace these abstract methodologies.

                      Certainly concrete arithmetic is important for most everybody - budgeting, accounting, etc.  But requiring that all kids have three years of abstract math to graduate high school is an awful imposition on minds that don't readily think that way.

                      I think right there in abstract being a big part of the teach-to-the-tests high-stakes standards we are destroying the public school system as a viable institution to actually help all kids with their development.

                      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                      by leftyparent on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 11:11:32 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Abstract is a misnomer (2+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        angelajean, Alden

                        for, at least, secondary math education.  Arithmetic, basic algebra, basic geometry, basic trigonometry ... what concepts could be more concrete?  These are the basic tools that move our everyday technology from the realm of dark mysticism to the realm of bright possibility.

                        Put another way, mathematics is one of humanity's greatest achievements, and it is all the greater because it developed across boundaries of culture, gender, race and history.  Why do we take for granted that children are enriched through exposure to the subtleties of Shakespeare but not the beautiful infinities of calculus?

                        The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                        by fuzzywolf on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 02:54:42 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  IMO good drama resonates more broadly... (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Alden

                          Because it is about the range of human interactions, and most everybody is invested in that and can get some inspiration for leading their own lives.  I think a significant percentage of people just don't resonate with the numbers that lie under the biology and physics of our lives.  It's hard to give them context.

                          Neither of my kids were at all interested in algebra, geometry and trig.  Many other young people I interact with are not either.  Others are.

                          IMO it is a way of abstracting the real world that resonates with some but not with others.

                          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                          by leftyparent on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 05:46:08 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  I don't resonate with numbers, but... (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            leftyparent
                            a significant percentage of people just don't resonate with the numbers
                            I don't resonate with numbers but I resonate all the more with abstract concepts and sometimes with the curves that represent them.

                            Internalizing the symbolism that represents these concepts has always been difficult for me, just as the sounds of Ancient Greek never leapt off the page at me the way the sounds of something in a Latin alphabet do.

                            The swoops and swings and tapers of nature are particularly interesting and I find them in the rhythm and dynamics of music as well.  But I would be in baby steps at telling you how to codify and parameterize them mathematically.

                            I did acquire (recreationally) some new physics/mathematics terminology two weeks ago, relating to the higher-order derivatives of position:  In addition to velocity and the change in velocity called acceleration, there are changes to the changes (higher order derivatives) known as jerk and then jounce and thereafter, in the words of some wags, snap, crackle, and pop.

                            Whether there is anything in all of this to inform the mathematical education of future generations, I do not know.  But math seems to be taught with a bottom-up approach.  Maybe some kind of top-down approach that starts with the concepts would work better for some of us.

                            ------
                            Ideology is when you know the answers before you know the questions.
                            It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

                            by Alden on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 09:54:46 PM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I think more context for math instruction... (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Alden

                            would be very helpful.  That said I still think abstract math should not be a high-stakes requirement for all our youth.

                            Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                            by leftyparent on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 08:24:32 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  abstract math includes . . . (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Alden

                            abstract algebra, number theory, complex analysis, topology and a dozen other fields that 96% of people have never heard of.

                            What students learn in high school is more properly called concrete math.

                            The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                            by fuzzywolf on Mon Aug 27, 2012 at 09:14:04 AM PDT

                            [ Parent ]

              •  Too true. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                reconnected, leftyparent

                I didn't have trouble until college level calculus and a learned the hard way how much math I had memorized and how little I understood. As an adult, I look back at that time and feel sorry for the kid that I was. Back then, I thought I was stupid. But now I realize that the system was designed to push us through and if memorization was the way to do it, so be it.

                Just the other day, I was going through old papers and ran into my SAT scores. My oldest, 16, is getting ready to take his soon. I showed him the scores as an example of how testing can be so wrong. My math scores were incredibly high and my reading comprehension on the low side. Yet I couldn't crack it as a Electrical Engineering major. Instead, I graduated as in English Lit.

        •  No. You need to know a lot about the subject area (0+ / 0-)

          in order to even start doing anything useful. While it is possible to learn some of it from textbooks, it will take you almost as much time as actually going to college (given that you can start actual work while you're still in college). People will not bother explaining you the concepts behind every single thing they do if you don't have at least some idea about them already.

          And it's pretty much impossible to find a job in science that doesn't require a college degree.

    •  no, no they aren't. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FloridaSNMOM, angelajean
      After all, college classes are not the be all end all of learning.
      and, contrary to apparently popular opinion, they were never intended to be. see my much longer post below.

      i am a cpa. in order to even be allowed to sit for the exam, i was required to have at least a BS, with a specific number of hours of accounting/law credits. you can't read to sit for the cpa exam, like you can in some states, to sit for the bar exam. however, that isn't the end of it. in order to retain my license, i am required to have a certain, minimum # of hours of CPE (Continuing Professional Education) every year, and 120 hours total, every 3 years. clearly, those college classes i took are not considered the be all and end all, by the accounting profession. the same is true for pretty much all professions.

      in any event, it is a good thing people are at least talking about it, not everyone is meant for the traditional college path.

    •  Go online (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyparent, angelajean

      and check the free online offerings from some of America's best colleges that give free education.  Here's a place to start:  http://ocw.mit.edu/...

      If it weren't difficult, it wouldn't be an achievement.

      by Wife of Bath on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 06:05:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Have him read The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean

      For a great intro to physics.

      The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

      by Persiflage on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 06:57:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Really liked your piece on two levels... (10+ / 0-)

    First of all giving a portrait of where your head is at these days as a young adult trying to make your way in these tough economic times.  Second for calling out the various forms of privilege that are in operation including continuing societal assumptions around blue vs white collar work and the people that do that work.

    I know you are focused on writing your sci-fi book, but I hope you keep writing essays as well about your life and that of of your peers.  It is a challenging time to grow up and try and integrate into and influence the adult world, and us older types need to hear the stories of younger generations.

    I also added some more tags to maybe bring more readers to your piece.

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

    by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:23:37 AM PDT

    •  Thanks for the tags (6+ / 0-)

      I admit this can be a nice reprieve from the book, and a new challenge because it's a different kind of writing. This one took me a long time to come around to, though. I had to really parse out my thoughts on the subject, since my experience could fill many pages. I have a new appreciation for your ability to write a new vignette every week!

      •  You're Welcome & I think its important... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Renee, FloridaSNMOM, chimene

        that every writer have that constant challenge of putting their material up in front of readers, getting feedback, and then continually improving their craft and clarifying their message.

        I find after doing this for three years and over 380 pieces my work is getting more into the synthesizing and not just telling.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 11:17:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I've just started keeping a journal (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        angelajean

        finally -- it's been something I've been putting off for a while. But I found some software that makes it easier; I can do entries from either of my computers or my iPhone (and hopefully someday I'll have an iPad, either a standard one or the upcoming iPad mini) and it updates across all platforms. I'm hoping to use it not just for a place to keep track of what's going on in my life (have some personal and family challenges going on) but also a place where I can do some writing practice; I've got a fiction book underway but it's stalling out just a bit.

        "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

        by Cali Scribe on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:51:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My son and I are in discussions about this now. (5+ / 0-)

    He's 17 and considering what route he wants to take for his future be that college or tech school or some sort of 'apprentice ship'/starting at the bottom and working his way up. He has the added difficulty of his disability and how that affects him so far as sensory issues and issues dealing with people. Because he started school a year late, he has two more years to figure it out at least before he graduates school. And I've told him he's welcome to work and live at home so he can save up if he wants.
    Hopefully by the time he's graduated and worked a couple of years the economy will have settled a bit and he'll better be able to make a decision.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 11:11:38 AM PDT

    •  Good luck to you (6+ / 0-)

      and your son. Sounds like you're giving him the best support you can, and that he has some viable alternatives to the traditional route if that's what he chooses. It also sounds like whatever he chooses will really help him to secure a career in his field of interest, which is always heartening to hear.

      Not that I disagree with people who choose to go to college purely to broaden their horizons, but... it often feels like many kids who go don't make that informed of a decision. They're really just fulfilling long held expectations that they've internalized, and they can come out the other end with more loss than gain. For example, a friend of mine graduated UCLA with a PolySci major (and 20k + in debt) and told me: "While my classes were fascinating... ultimately all my experience really taught me was that I didn't want to be a politician." Another friend came out of a very expensive art school as an art history major (with 100k + in debt), only to tell me that art wasn't really her passion... she was just expected to pick something, so that's what she decided to pick.

      I guess it left me wondering... if these two (and others) could go back, would they make the same choices? Would the positive experiences they did have outweigh the financial burden and lack of opportunity they garnered as a result, moving into adulthood? Whether homeschooled or traditionally schooled or anything in between, I think it's important for kids to have at least a year outside of school entirely to contemplate how they want to move forward with their life. Working some kind of job might help to temper those thoughts, as well. To me, college isn't simply the "next natural step", it's really a commitment to your future, one way or another. I feel like that warrants a bit more thought, and some time away from the system altogether, before diving back in again with a goal in mind.

      •  Well said! it isn't simply the next natural step.. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FloridaSNMOM, chimene

        It is a commitment to path including a big commitment of financial and psychic resources.  People should "measure twice and cut once" when it comes to that commitment.

        I think the education "industry" contributes to the overhyped "consumption" of college as something everyone should (or even must do) right out of high school.  It keeps the demand jacked up so the "suppliers" (the colleges) can charge a top-dollar premium for what they are offering rather than its real value in a more balanced market.

        I too have seen a number of young adults coming out of college dazed and confused and worse for wear, not really excited about their path forward but just stressed.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:06:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is the crux of our discussions of late. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          leftyparent

          he thinks he needs to choose immediately after or during high school. I've told him he can wait, try out a few jobs, and THEN decide. He may find something that fits him that he didn't expect to. Perhaps some of that is just me not being in a rush for him to be out on his own, but more is that I don't want him to be so in debt from a degree only to find it doesn't work for him, and then have him have trouble getting funding for education if he needs it for something he finds passion in, or not be able to get a job in that field because it doesn't pay enough at the start to deal with student loans. I don't want him finding himself stuck in a job he doesn't like or can't handle. And I don't want him giving up and going on disability because he thinks he can't handle anything. I want to give him that room to experiment and find what works for him.

          "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

          by FloridaSNMOM on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:22:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree with your opinion, here (3+ / 0-)

            Your son is no doubt feeling the pressure not just from society, but from his peers. The latter can be the toughest of all at an age when it's very important to feel like you fit in and to feel affirmed by your friends. When I was his age the number one question I was asked by basically everyone I encountered was: "So, where are you going to school?" And even as I grew older, I was asked about what I was majoring in and where. As I mentioned in a previous piece, this could feel very isolating for me and I often outright lied to people or stretched the truth, saying things like: "I'm going to community college for awhile" or "I'm going to take a break and travel" just to evade the inevitable "you need to go to college" lecture. It wasn't until several years in that I started to feel comfortable enough with my choices to speak freely about them; to even wear them with pride.

            I feel for him. I even had one of my closest friends tell me she was afraid I "ruining my life". I knew in my gut that I wasn't, but I just didn't have the vocabulary yet to explain why, and I hadn't been at it long enough to be entirely certain, so that stung. But I don't regret anything, and I really hope your son's able to come to a place where he can see his options for exactly what they're worth.

      •  I'll never forget my first real job after college. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FloridaSNMOM, leftyparent

        The job description said that the applicant needed a BA or equivalent life experience. I thought that said a lot. I wonder if that same job (entry level Volunteer Organizer for Girl Scouts) would have the same requirement today. Of course, the fact that the job was in Fairbanks, AK might have had something to do with it. Not a lot of job applicants that far north.

  •  words (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftyparent, FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

    "to my own sense of entitlement."

    I think you meant 'privilege' there, replacing "sense of entitlement".  That is: You don't sound like you expect things handed to you, but it is easier.

    •  I see your point... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyparent, FloridaSNMOM

      And I appreciate you making that distinction. I really have my parents to thank for doing their best to provide for me without warping my expectations too severely. I can imagine it's a fine line to tread. From a relatively early age they started teaching me how to save money for the things that I really wanted that felt important (big things, like a new computer, for example) and initially they would even meet me half way, but the older I got the more I would use my own money to pay for those pivotal items. It really helped me appreciate their worth. Even my car... while my first car was inherited from my grandmother, the second I paid for entirely on my own, taking out a 3-year loan to do it (which my mother graciously co-signed). I've also paid for the majority of the repairs, since. I definitely feel I value it more and take better care of it than I would've if it had just been handed to me like a shiny new toy.

      And even though I didn't start to really work until 17, my allowance wasn't limitless from what I remember, and it was up to me to spend it wisely, and to save it (along with money from holidays) when I needed to. But once I started making my own money, I no longer got the allowance and I also started to pay for some of my own expenses, like clothing and eating out. When I got my second job and started making more money, I then began to take on my monthly expenses (car insurance and gas, cell phone bill, etc.). Moving out and paying rent/utilities was really the final frontier; it was a gradual progression up to that point, which helped me adjust to the financial reality of being an adult.

      While I may have been subsisting off money I didn't make myself for the last 10 months, it's been with a specific goal in mind, in the hopes of kick-starting my career. Otherwise I've learned what it means to support myself, and that goes a long way in making me feel like I can navigate "the real world" and well... be a functioning "grown up".

  •  Maturity is less a matter of age (3+ / 0-)

    and more a matter of attitude -- that's what I've found.

    Back in my 20-somethings, I worked in data entry/order administration with a bunch of other 20-somethings, yet I was seen as more "mature" by my supervisor and the other Powers That Be of the time. Why? Maybe it was because I had interests outside the traditional clothes/drinking/dating scene that my co-workers discussed (usually during Saturday overtime when none of the "suits" were around). I and one other young woman (the wife of a military man) were the only ones registered to vote; when the rest of the department was listening to soap operas on their TV band radios (we were allowed radios as long as we used headphones and didn't make mistakes in our data entry), I was usually listening to either news/talk radio or baseball. And when it came time for promotions or taking on added responsibilities, my name was at the top of the list, even though I too was a college dropout (I got burned out, and would rather hang out with my friends in the Music department than go to my own classes, but that's another story).

    As the spouse of another (now retired) blue collar worker, I never look down on anyone for their choice of career. If you're doing an honest day's work, and doing something that you enjoy or at least tolerate, more power to you.

    "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

    by Cali Scribe on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 12:42:25 PM PDT

    •  I think you make a wonderful point (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyparent, reconnected, Cali Scribe

      Particularly that last sentence. It took a lot for me to let go of this ingrained expectation to strive for "something better", which of course included a college education. I had to take a step back and look at exactly whose expectations I was trying to meet, where they had originated, and what it was that I wanted and why that worked for me. I also had to acknowledge that many of those expectations came from a well-intentioned place, but that doesn't mean that I needed to make them my own.

      Your story reminds me a bit of my middle school experience at a progressive charter school. The majority of my friends there had come from a traditional school setting and were constantly testing the more liberal boundaries they'd been allowed as a result of the charter's philosophy. While I readily embraced taking more ownership over my learning process (and was considered more "mature", often winning accolades and leniency from many of the teachers there, as a result, to my friends' perpetual vexation), my friends did their best to sabotage themselves and point to their own failure as evidence to discredit the charter school, overall.

      I think they were just echoing their parents' values and likewise their fears that without external control via rewards and punishments (which included A-F letter grades, something this school had pointedly abolished) their children would never "learn" anything and would be doomed to a life of failure and social ridicule.

      A little over a year ago I went to something of a middle school reunion only to find that not much had changed with my friends in terms of their level of maturity or their interest in their own direction in life. The only key differences were that all of them had some form of low paying employment (that they were disenchanted with) and they could now drink and party accordingly. Most of them hadn't moved out yet and had ended up in local and/or community college. It just struck me that they had done everything they were expected to do including college in some for or another, and yet their interests remained largely superficial and their self esteem fairly low. Whereas I had dropped out and was now living on my own with a serious boyfriend and serious career aspirations. I felt like we were leagues apart, due in large part to the fact that I knew what I wanted and I believed in myself.

      In both of the jobs I've held so far, I've been the sole person to be promoted for showing initiative and investment in my workplace, as well as an aptitude for leadership. These were skills I feel I garnered entirely outside of school during my YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists) days. As I said in my piece, school didn't really help my self esteem, and I spent a good amount of "detoxing" before I was able to make any real progress in terms of charting my own course in life.

      •  My spouse took a few courses (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        leftyparent, angelajean, FloridaSNMOM

        in community college, but realized early on that college wasn't for him -- while he loves to read, writing and math are not his strong suits (whereas they are mine, hence my being the family secretary as well as not being able to shut up around here ;-) ). And fortunately, he had parents who encouraged him to follow whatever path he chose, and didn't pressure him to fit some preconceived notion. He worked part-time for several years as a theater usher, then was fortunate enough to luck into what for him was his "dream job", bus driving (transportation had always been a passion of his). He held that job for 29-1/2 years till he retired last October -- that's something not too many people in other professions can say these days.

        Best to you in your future paths.

        "If we ever needed to vote we sure do need to vote now" -- Rev. William Barber, NAACP

        by Cali Scribe on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 02:18:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I think there is a conventional wisdom... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    angelajean, brae70

    in our society with its obsession with ever-more formal education and judging people by their degrees and how much money they make, that blue-collar work is a less desirable.

    Though most progressives acknowledge "the inherent worth and dignity of every person", I still think there is a strong bias toward having ones own kids get degrees and have some sort of white-collar career. Even many of us who consider ourselves strong believers in egalitarianism, still believe in a hierarchy of meritocracy, where its appropriate for the more highly and formally trained to tell the less so what to do.  Your value as a person is judged by your level of formal education and your salary, not by "the content of your character" as MLK said.

    So particularly for kids that start out with white and economic privilege, it is discomforting to many other progressives with that same privilege to see kids not strive for that continued privilege.

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

    by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 01:01:09 PM PDT

  •  Thanks to everyone for commenting (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftyparent, angelajean, FloridaSNMOM

    I've enjoyed the discussion and being able to impart some of my own experiences as well as absorb some of yours. I'm signing off for the day but I'll check back in late tonight/tomorrow if anyone else decides to comment.

  •  Going to college won't help much with that novel (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftyparent, pundit

    but I think it is extremely valuable all the same.

    I'm a firm believer in unschooling. I homeschooled, on and off, my two daughters, and I've seen a lot of people learn a lot without formal schooling.

    I think that its possible to go to college as an unschooler and I think that the college experience can be much more satisfactory that way, at least for many people.

    What I mean is that college should be treated as what it once was, a place to get new experiences, to meet lots of difference kinds of people, and to learn all kinds of interesting things. This is, I believe, the essence of unschooling, and, strangely enough, the essence of going to college.

    If you are young, that probably sounds like an extremely strange characterization of college. Today, it's about getting “skills” and a degree that is prerequisite for a “good job”.

    But it doesn't have to be that way at all. If you are working part time, you could probably take a course here and there. You could start in a JC because there are generally no requirements for admission. There are lots of interesting classes at JCs, which are basically what corresponds to what is called the “Lower Division” at a college or university, plus what used to be called “Trade School”. If you run out of things that interest you there, then if you have a reasonably good record, you could probably either enroll in a college or university, or take classes there through “university extension” or similar programs.

    If you ever get interested in a field, you could go for a degree in it; if not, you would still gain quite a lot, I think, from those experiences. In my case, I got interested in a random field I'd never heard of before starting college, and went all the way to a PhD in it, although it took me quite a bit longer than most (about 17 years from graduating from high school to the PhD).

    So, in conclusion: yes, going to college to get job skills, that can be a total crock for a lot of people (people who aren't already dedicated to a specific plan for their lives). But that doesn't mean that college is always a waste of time, even for an unschooler.

    •  Yours are good points that echo my experience... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FloridaSNMOM, antirove

      Particularly when you say..

      college should be treated as what it once was, a place to get new experiences, to meet lots of difference kinds of people, and to learn all kinds of interesting things. This is, I believe, the essence of unschooling, and, strangely enough, the essence of going to college.
      But now college has become so expensive since there is much less taxpayer money subsidizing, that the investment of money and time in college, for many, has to have an economic bottom line or it may not be worth it.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 03:34:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I totally get your point... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      reconnected, leftyparent

      And have definitely learned a lot through enrolling in UCLA's Writer Extension Program. Not only did I get a dedicated writing group out of it, I also now have a writing mentor (a published author) whose taught me a ton about novel writing that I'd feel lost without, as I move forward with my own work.

      But I have to echo my dad's reply to this -- it wasn't just about investing the time and accepting the format (lectures, test taking, etc.), it was about the money. I definitely used my college fund to help me pay for my extension courses, but that was about all I could afford if I wanted to keep any of it to be able to write full time at some point (which is what I ended up doing). Sure, I may have been working a part-time job, but just enough to cover basic expenses, not part-time school on top of that. The closest I got was taking french through community college (and going to language school).

      I love the idea of being able to take specific courses to enrich myself, but I either couldn't afford it, or didn't feel like I could afford to give up my time, when I was trying to figure out how to write my novel. That was sort of part of my "blue-collar" experience, and part of what I mean when I said that I got a "glimmer of what it felt like to be disenfranchised". Not that I truly was, by any means, but I had grown up in a world where college was typically handed to you on a silver platter. That wasn't the case for me, so I had to be a lot more picky. Maybe even too picky, because I didn't expose myself to as many things. But that was just the reality of it, for me, and I feel like I took away some valuable life lessons, even if I wasn't quite as "enriched".

  •  As a formally educated person (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    leftyparent, Flying Goat, pundit

    and a career educator, I found this very interesting. While I made a very different set of choices in terms of my own education and learning, and I dedicated my life to working within the "system," I can certainly understand much of what you and others have had to say here. There is a lot to criticize about how we herd people through educational processes...

    I have to confess, however, that found myself thinking "yes but" several times as I read the diary. I have just spent a large amount of money sending my two sons to tier one universities each ranked within the top three schools for their chosen majors. Both are very independent thinkers and will be life-long learners. I cannot help but believe that life for them will be better and opportunities more abundant because of their educations. I know for myself, and I very blessed, the investment of time and putting up with assignments, instructors... created a foundation upon which I have became secure and free to be an auto-didact for most of my life.

    I think I detect a slight tone of defensiveness in the diary and throughout the stand of comments and replies. Learning is learning. Personal growth and discovery are wonderful phenomina whether they occur within formal educational setting or not. I can tell you that they do occur in formal settings. I have been a part of them both as a student and as a teacher.

    If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living. - Gail Sheehy

    by itisuptous on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 03:35:29 PM PDT

    •  There is a certain definsiveness because... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      angelajean, brae70

      a blue-collar path for the offspring of a white-collar family is still viewed by much of society as a "step down", a surrender of privilege.  The diarist and her parents were raised and steeped in that conventional wisdom and sense of white, middle-class white-collar privilege.  

      Allowed to pursue her own muse, her own direction, chicgeek has decided the academic/white-collar path is not for her, at least in this chapter of her life.  With a likelihood of many career changes ahead for most members of her generation, whose to say what she will be doing in 20 years.  But for now she is following and honing her own compass, swimming upstream against the conventional wisdom that you highlight in your comment.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 04:12:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Everything you say certainly (0+ / 0-)

        seems  to on target to me. I came from a blue collar family but accepted in part the conventional wisdom about the value of an education. I saw both the truth and the short-comings of buying into it. I have an independent streak and a certain aversion to authority for authority's sake. I adjusted along the way primarily because I saw it in my own best interest to do so. At the end of the day, I think that is what we all must do.

        Our educational choices are but one category of decisions we make as we construct our lives. I have known students who refused to learn in particular setting because they did not like the teacher. They could not see that they were hurting themselves far less than the teacher and disadvantaging themselves in the process. Rejection of the educational system in total in order to become completely self-taught bears some similarity in my view but on a grand scale. One also has to wonder if there is not some element of just wanting to be free to only think about and learn what one wants to think and learn without being challenged. The challenge sometimes is a critical element in the learning process and one that good instructors use appropriately.

        If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living. - Gail Sheehy

        by itisuptous on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 10:02:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Challenging work (0+ / 0-)

          It's quite possible that some people want to be free to think and learn about only what they want to in order not to be as challenged, but I think in the long run that people who unschool and/or are autodidacts quite likely do challenge themselves.  That's because when truly free to make our own choices, when we truly have ownership of our learning and direction in life, our innate drive to be engaged with life and learning kicks in.  After all, who wants to be bored?  That is, if in a healthy relationship with life and not impaired by having been controlled into learning.

    •  Thanks for sharing your experience (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      reconnected, leftyparent

      It sounds like you made the system work for you and your needs, and I think that's one of the best ways to move through it. If you sense any defensiveness, it's because I spent a lot of my time defending my choices to people, or outright evading even talking about it. I don't sense that same level of judgment from you (which I appreciate), but you're sort of an exception to what became a rule, at least for me.

      I never meant to imply that learning cannot happen in formal settings. But I was speaking from my own experience, where learning generally didn't happen for me in a formal setting, or if it did, it came with some kind of caveat. I also explained why I felt that was true in my case -- I've never been much of a "book learner" and that tended to be the format I was exposed to.

      Of all the classes I took in 9th grade (which was my last, official year of formal schooling) I can only remember some of what I took away in English class (being a writer and all, I was interested), Art class (art is a secondary pursuit for me), and French class, since I've always been into foreign languages. I went on to pursue all three subjects more intensively, too, whether through private instruction or practical experience, so it helps that that knowledge and literature I was initially exposed to has since been solidified. These were things I was interested in regardless, part of why I chose the school I went to and the schedule I ended up with that year.

      But of the other subjects, I remember little at all. I hated my Geometry class; my teacher was mean and not only made me feel like I was stupid, but did his best to make me feel guilty for the fact that he had to put up with me. My history teacher thought that "learning" meant making us write an outline of an entire chapter in our history book, essentially making us rewrite all of the information (that was already provided) in an abbreviated format, without really bothering to ensure whether or not we absorbed the information or understood it in context. I guess the only other class I had was P.E., and I intentionally took a class focused primarily on body conditioning, because I've never been a fan of being arbitrarily ranked in a competitive environment where merit is based purely on athleticism, something I wasn't super interested in taking the time to really develop (beyond staying in some kind of shape). I do remember that I was forced to run a mile every Friday, and that my teacher did nothing to show us how to pace ourselves or control our own breathing, he just sat there, praising the kids who came in first and picking on the stragglers, which was always me.

      Even the three classes I did like I had a lot of issues with, whether it was the format of the class or the instructor. Whenever I would try to commiserate with other students, I was often told: "Oh well, just wait a couple years. 9th grade always sucks." I'm sorry, but I don't accept that. I don't accept a system that requires a certain amount of my time and is only really effective and/or enriching depending on random variables completely out of my control, like which teachers I have to choose from or which time slots certain things are available.

      I remember sitting down with my guidance counselor, trying to hammer out a schedule for 10th grade (before I decided to drop out). I really wanted to do theater, but the only way I was going to be able to while still meeting all the requirements was to take health/career planning in summer school. When I told the counselor that I didn't want to be in school for the summer (I wasn't going to give up the two months of freedom I had, and that's what summer felt like to me -- freedom), he said: "Well, it's really just the best way to get this course 'out of the way'". It frustrated me to think that there was anything I had to just 'get out of the way'. I'd taken a fairly comprehensive health class in 8th grade (having gone to a charter school, they were a bit ahead in some areas like that) and I had no interest in a career planning/aptitude class, when I was already starting to feel pretty good about what I wanted to do in life (something with writing and maybe art). But I wasn't allowed to have total ownership over choices like that, which is another part of why I left.

      I realize that this comment may sound defensive. It's certainly not directed at you, but at a system that just did not end up working for me, and I guess at a certain mindset I encountered often that I should just grin and bear the bad for the possible good. I just felt like there had to be a better way, at least for someone like me, to learn and grow in the ways that felt like they'd benefit me the best, without sacrificing so much time on wasted efforts; certain subjects that would've been nice in theory for me to know, but in the end I retained very little of.

  •  The subject of auto-didacts is an intersting one (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    melo

    to me.  I've been thinking about that quite a bit the last week or two.

    I'm an auto-didact.  It almost sounds like a disease.  I was told, many years ago by a professor "You're an auto-didact."  It may have been meant to sound like a compliment, or like something interesting and personal, like saying, "You're a Scorpio."  Said with a smile, yes, but the underlying message was, after she explained what that meant from an educational perspective, was that I was a BURDEN for teachers like her.  Gifted in that I could learn better at my own pace.  Difficult in that I couldn't resist just blowing off the normal hierarchical step by step educational process.

    I've been writing diaries about classical music on DailyKos for a couple of years ago, writing detailed Bernstein-esque analysis of symphonies by Beethoven, etc.  And I never took music theory in school.  I'm even proud of that, I suppose.  I pass up no opportunity to point it out to people who are better educated who come into the comments and don't understand my folksy non-jargon descriptions of events.  I've had to explain before, everything I know about harmony I learned, at the garage-band level, from the Beatles Songbook, which takes a very different approach to the subject than the music theory 101 approach.

    But the Internet is a real boon to auto-didacts everywhere.  You can learn just about anything online on your own now.  I wish I had had this when I was a kid.

    A few weeks ago, I decided to break open some music theory books so I could learn a few things I wasn't finding online.  (And I snagged the books online in PDF form, so it still constitutes Internet-based learning).  I've been surfing through several of them at a time, not really taking the step-by-step approach that they try to enforce on the reader.  

    Most of them are absolutely terrible in this respect, for instance, avoiding the subject of dim7 chords for the first two hundred pages of text, as if it's like working up to three-dimensional calculus.  Any garage-band Beatles-faker, though, can tell you what a dim7 chord is, where your fingers go, which songs require it.  There's no explanation of why it's used.  It's a great introduction to chords.  You can pick it to your heart's content during commercials on TV.

    Imagine my frustration then in reading music theory books and seeing the subject of dim chords avoided for hundreds of pages.  Well, the easy way around that is to skip ahead to the interesting part, which I suppose is probably the classic auto-didact trick.  However, the heirarchical approach is so deeply embedded in the tradition of music theory instruction that it's not even that easy.  

    I wrote a whole diary one time on the subject of dim chords in music.  I think I explained their purpose, their evolution, what makes them sound the way they do, and how musician have used them, and I did it more concisely and with less bullshit than what I've read in several books so far.

    I'm plowing through Schoenberg's Theory of Harmony right now, which has a reputation as one of the harder books.  I can attest to the fact that it's difficult in many ways.  Schoenberg, at that time, in 1911, was a little bit crazy.  His writing style is overblown and verbose and he goes off on long, long gratuitous tirades against music critics and theorists and tradition all over the place, attacking their intelligence and creativity and boasting about his own, even when it totally interrupts the presentation of whatever he was talking about.  It was funny for the first fifty pages and then that became tedious and I had to learn which parts I could safely skim.

    However, I notice that at many points in this book (and his other one, Fundamentals of Music Composition) that he points out that he never got a formal music education.  His contempt, then becomes a bit more understandable (although it's still poor writing style and lacks discipline).  In his Fundamentals book, he goes further and recommends his book to college music students and -- with a peculiar emphasis -- to self-educating students of talent who wish to learn more.  

    Now that endeared him to me.  I don't consider myself a talented musician at all.  I think of myself as a talented listener.  I could identify with him and where he was coming from.

    In the last couple of weeks, I've tried to think about how I do my own self-education, my own weird formula for learning.  I can summarize it this way:

    1. Set a particular task for myself that looks fun and interesting and way above my pay grade.  Not a lesson to learn or a book to read.  A practical task.  In this case, I decided a few weeks ago to compose a fugue, even though I've never composed anything at all.  I just started writing one for kick, a little one, using a composing program (Sibelius 6) and once I got started, I had so much fun I kept going and it got big enough to be the real thing, although sloppily done.

    2. Identify those things that I need to know more about that are causing me problems in pursuing my task.  For example, in this case, I knew I was doing well enough but not very well.  I kept going, because I have no real ambition to write a GREAT fugue or make a living out of it.  It's just for fun.  But I did run into stumbling blocks that were stoppers.  At one point, I had got my ass out to E-flat major in an A minor fugue, and discovered that getting back from E-flat to A minor in a GRACEFUL WAY wasn't nearly as easy as I would have thought it was.  I hadn't turned to "official" music theory books at that time, so I started looking for quicker lessons in how to do it by thinking of examples of music I knew where it might have been done (Mozart Symphony #41, final movement, just before the recap, for instance).  I dinked around on my instrument, looking for nice ways.  I read some material online about how to modulate to distant keys -- but discovered, and this pisses me off, that the more music theory-ey they were, the less likely they were to be helpful because they focused at great length on less useful examples that couldn't be extended to the problem at hand.  I found the best information in comments on jazz sites, people sharing advice to each other.  I solved my problem, although I didn't feel totally satisfied with my solution.

    3. NOW, having pretty much finished my task (almost finished, really), I went to the books to see what would have been useful to know.  And this is the way I've ALWAYS learned things although I've never tried to break it down in this manner before.  Now, knowing what was difficult, what came out sounding a little bit hinky, I could zing in on things that flew by that would have been good to know, before, and do it with a renewed and more focused interest than I would have had before, if I had read it from cover to cover first.  And I felt comfortable skimming over useless bullshit.

    4. Lessons learned (or suspected) during the earlier task process were strongly reinforced by reading them written down as revealed knowledge.  Things that I hadn't understood, but I did right because it just sounded more Bach-y if I did it this way rather than that way.  Their are a huge number of often arbitrary rules of counterpoint in music theory.  Really arbitrary.  Based on tradition.  To give full credit to Schoenberg, he rhapsodizes at length about wher some of these rules may have come from, while pointing out that they are bullshit and only useful to know if you want to write something that sounds old.  Many other texts (including Piston's, for example) don't make that point very clearly and instead just deluge you with a bunch of rules that make no sense but only have the burdensome "this is a classroom, so write it down" feeling to them.  

    5. Having completed the task, having read the book, I then create my own boiled down lesson in my head that's easier to remember.  Now, this is something you probably just can't teach other people to do, something peculiar to me and probably other auto-didacts.  In this case, I'm creating my own simpler music theory for myself rather than trying to digest whole the big lump of authoritative crap in the books which I don't have all that much confidence on based on my experience to this point.  Having first tried to write a fugue, I could now read the many rules in the theory books and see better which ones were useful to know but had only been vaguely FELT before.  I could see that some of these rules were actually just repetitive of a more basic rule  (for instance, parallel fifths sound boring because the music doesn't sound as full).  A more basic rule that was easier to learn to use and remember because it made more sense.

    •  I like you am an "auto-didact"... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, FloridaSNMOM

      My motto is try it first, see how far I get until I get stuck, and then look around for some wisdom from someone else!  And yes, the Internet has been a total boon for me... I'm a kid in an endless candy store of knowledge!

      My own writing, and just about everything on the "learning edge" of my life this last decade has come from the "candy store" of the Internet.

      Thanks for the comment and your own extensive "unschooling" anecdote.  You may want to consider posting some of our pieces on our "Ed Alt" group, since you exemplify an "alternative learner".  Let me know and I will send you a contributor invite.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 04:53:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Try first, then backtrack. (0+ / 0-)

        I thought of drawing an illustration (and I'll leave that to you if you find this discussion interesting enough) of the following, to try to explain it.

        On the one hand, there's the linear method, which is what conventional teaching emphasizes.  Lessons number one to N.  You could illustrate it as a flat number line with arrows from point to point.

        The other way of illustrating the learning process is with what in computer sci we call a binary tree.  (google an image of that).  It looks like a tree, or a bush, upside down.  When information is organized that way, it's easier to get to the information you need.  This has a parallel in computer database theory, which often compares old magnetic tape access methods (tape being a linear device) and disk-based b-tree databases.  

        Binary trees (or n-ary trees to be more exact) also have many uses in artificial intelligence theory.  On the one hand, they provide one model of how humans can organize their own knowledge for easy retrieval.  On the other hand, they give us A METHOD for finding things -- not just saved information, but solutions to problems -- through a method called backtracking.

        Backtracking is similar to what you and I have described.  You try something, you fail, you back up and try another path.

        I suppose when lessons are organized in such a way that the learner can do this, it's easier for learners like us, and more useful for the person who doesn't want to engage in a full semester's immersion to find the information they need when they need us.

        The downside of such an approach is that it creates an environment in which some people might just pick and choose those things they need and leave the rest.  In a formal school environment, that might have a bad implication in that the fullness of the lesson can't be evaluated very well.  You might be able to read Huck Finn but not able to explain how apostrophes are used.

        I suppose that might be one of the flaws in my own education, now that I think of it, so it might not be something to praise and boast about TOO much.

    •  i love how deep you get into analysing music (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo

      have you ever read 'body and soul' by frank conroy?

      i sense you'd love it like i do, because he weaves music into the plot and character development so intriguingly. brilliant novel on any level, for musos it's awesome for better understanding the building blocks of western music through to jazz.

      give it a try, i bet you'll dig it bigtime.

      thanks for that comment, it really rang my bell, the way you speak of the queen of the arts.

      why? just kos..... *just cause*

      by melo on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 03:13:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is great! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      reconnected, leftyparent, Dumbo

      Thank you for the detailed breakdown of your process. Music is actually a tertiary pursuit of mine; I spent several years taking piano lessons, as well as guitar lessons for awhile. I was also a painter for many years (art is a secondary pursuit). While I've had to give up piano for the time being, I still play guitar on my own, just for fun. Music brings me a lot of joy, and I like to listen to a wide variety of it.

      As to your process, it sounds a lot like how I go about novel writing. I've been trying to write this book, in some form, for the last 5 years. It's been a long process of trial and error, which has included some semi-formal schooling via UCLA's Extension, but even that was very hands on, focused on helping me through the trial and error process (although I was also exposed to some great literature, which was nice). Another big part of it was having an audience to give me constructive feedback on my work, which included the writing group I got out of it. We met weekly for over 2 years, and they've seen just about every iteration of my book that there is.

      It's only now that I'm finally coming to a place where I feel like I'm getting to a professional caliber of work. But I still encounter hurdles that are tough and set me back. It's such a process and no one can really teach me how to do it, just impart their own experiences and skills. It's up to me to apply those where necessary, as well as to learn how to accept feedback.

      I actually spoke at length about this in the comments section of my previous blog, but I did my best to school myself in what I considered to be the classics of science fiction, since that is the genre I intend to write in. It helps that my dad read or encouraged me to read a lot of great sci-fi growing up. And nowadays, since my focus is on YA genre fiction, I read a ton of it, to critically access what I feel works and doesn't work and to understand what's selling and why. Nobody instructed me to do this -- it's just what my gut told me to do.

      •  One practical piece of advice... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        leftyparent

        Don't get too bogged down in "learning the craft" as so many people do.  That's what I did.  I hosted a number of writing workshops.  I was never a successful writer, just a dilletante, which describes almost everything I've ever done.  I'm more enthusiastic than ambitious about the things that fascinate me, and writing turned out to be similar in that respect.

        But craft...  There are writing craft ADDICTS.  They can suck you into their orbit.  I wish I had resisted that urge.  Buying books on writing, the workshops, the mailing lists, begging for critiques, etc.

        One funny thing I found on the pro mailing lists is that they never, never, never talked about craft.

  •  interesting article, and i'm happy for you. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pundit

    but i think, somewhere along the way, you missed what the actual whole point of college is. it is not, as you seem to think, simply a 4 year accumulation of facts. were that the case, you wouldn't need a campus, instructors and all the other infrastructure that goes into making a college/university, a set of good encyclopedias would do just fine, and cost a lot less.

    the primary function that college serves, is to teach you to think critically. to take all those facts, and make something useful of them, and not take forever and a day in the process. this is true, regardless of what your major is, english lit to nuclear physics. college teaches you the shorthands, that you may or may not learn on your own. if you are fortunate enough to do so, it probably took you longer than it would, had you gone to college.

    all that said, good for you. school isn't for everyone, and you seem to be progressing without the structure that most people require. i wish you well in your future endeavors.

    •  Critical thinking (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FloridaSNMOM, angelajean

      It strikes me that if 18 year olds, after having been through at least 13 years of formal education, are not able to think critically in a substantive way, then there is something seriously wrong with that education.  And if the implication is that those 13 years are devoted to fact acquiring and it is for college to teach how to make something useful of them, I have to ask, why wait until college.

      •  Its not the system . . . (0+ / 0-)

        it's 18 year olds.  Teenagers are generally kind of dumb, and it takes a while for the hormones to subside before they can really learn to think.

        The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

        by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 08:45:00 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wow...I'm shocked that you feel that way... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM

          about young people!  That has not been my experience at all, either when I was, or my own kids and their friends were teens.  Experimenting, some jagged edges... but not dumb.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 09:03:04 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  perhaps dumb was the wrong word (0+ / 0-)

            Unformed and uninformed, perhaps.

            I see freshmen from all over the US and a dozen other countries, too.  95% of them have little to no critical reasoning skills.  This leads me to believe that it is teenagers in general, and not any one system, which is he problem.

            And yes, I count myself among them.  I'm not too old to remember that I did some genuinely stupid things at 18.

            The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

            by fuzzywolf on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 11:50:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I would say a lot of that is their being... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              reconnected

              dumbed down by their schooling, taught to learn what the teacher tells them to learn and jump through the testing hoops when told.  They have turned off their inquisitive "thinking" minds long ago and maybe even allowed them to atrophy.

              Could that be what's going on?

              Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

              by leftyparent on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 07:54:26 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I would agree if I had observed . . . (0+ / 0-)

                that homeschooled children were immune to this effect.

                Honestly, though, we do not expect critical thinking of teenagers.  We might expect a child has read, say, Moby Dick or Romeo and Juliet by age 16, but do we expect they have much to say about it?  Do we expect them to understand the ridiculousness of how our culture models timeless love on a story about 13 year olds?  Do we expect them to relate the outrage of a Montague and a Capulet loving each other to other divides in our own culture that love isn't supposed to cross?

                No, we don't expect these things.  The human brain is not fully mature at age 16, no matter what upbringing that 16 year old might have had.

                The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                by fuzzywolf on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 03:02:56 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Many of us adults don't expect it... (0+ / 0-)

                  and I think it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I spent my teenage in a unique youth theater group led by one adult but mostly run by a bunch of teenagers.  It was amazing how capable and thoughtful we all were, though certainly we all had our bad moments.  But inspired by my peers in the group, at age 15 I even adapted a novel, Lord of the Flies, to the stage.

                  http://www.leftyparent.com/...

                  Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

                  by leftyparent on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 06:43:54 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  Doing stupid things and being able to think (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              reconnected

              critically about academic subjects are two very different things, don't you think?

              I was a smart teenager who made some poor choices as well but that doesn't mean all teens are bound to make poor choices. Yes, their brains are still in the process of being wired but they are completely capable of having complex discussions and well-thought out ideas.

              My son has asked me why so many adults don't like teenagers. I wish I had a good answer for him, but I don't.

              •  Capable, sure, but . . . (0+ / 0-)

                it may seem overly pessemistic to say that only 5% of teens practice critical thinking, but how many adults do?  I put that number right around 50%.  Around half our adult population has never come close to Descartes cogito ergo sum.

                The only rule of freedom is not to destroy freedom.

                by fuzzywolf on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 03:05:13 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  Not in my experience (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FloridaSNMOM, angelajean, leftyparent

          Is that how you were?  Kind of dumb as a teenager and not able to really learn to think until your hormones subsided?

          I don't experience young people between the ages of 13 and 18 that way at all.  If that is your view of them I wonder if they act that way around you because you expect it.

        •  This shocks me. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          leftyparent, reconnected

          Having two teen boys of my own, I haven't found that teens are dumb at all. They and their friends are a joy to talk to. Maybe it helps that I am an adult who is willing to listen to what they have to say.

        •  Having recently been a teenager... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          reconnected, leftyparent

          It was really the kids who were not raised in nurturing environments where they had unconditional love and support to foster their own development -- it was those kids who seemed "kind of dumb" or "overly hormonal". Kids that felt like they had to rebel against authority figures (often their parents) trying to micro-manage their lives or judge their progress as individuals based on an arbitrary set of standards. Kids who saw this same top-down control model echoed in their learning environments and were burnt out dealing with it in their home lives, who'd never really been encouraged to do any deep learning on topics of interest, but instead were expected to absorb information on someone else's timetable whether they wanted to or not. It was those kids, indeed, who seemed disconnected, disenchanted and even toxic. While I'm not trying to justify any bad or negligent behavior, it was kind of hard to blame kids caught up in downward spirals when I, too, was fighting my own battle with the system and trying to come to terms with leaving it and finding my own way, an option many of them just didn't have.

          It also feels a little unfair to judge teenagers so harshly when we haven't really witnessed an entire generation of youth outside of the traditional schooling system (in it's current iteration) for a good century. So much has changed in terms of how we view children/teens and their physical/emotional/intellectual development, and we've very slowly started to come to a place as a society where we're all on more equal footing in terms of opportunity (although I know it's still a long haul from here). I think it's an incredibly noble ambition that all kids should be allowed to become literate and be exposed to a common body of knowledge, but I feel like the set routes we've institutionalized when it comes to going about that ambition are not as effective or nurturing as they could be.

          As a result, we get a lot of burnt out kids and teens who spend their free time "goofing off", when really I feel like they're just detoxing from being expected to spend a large chunk of their lives in an artificial environment whose every aspect is controlled. I genuinely don't think that teenagers are hardwired to "goof off" or be uninterested in anything of value to them, I think that's a side effect of the current system, which, for the large part, remains authoritarian and unflinching when it comes to kids who don't "measure up" to its standards.

          Part of being a teenager is testing boundaries and learning what it means to create your own. When I was involved in YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists) I was able to have real ownership of my community, participating in week long camps and conferences that were entirely youth planned and led. At one point a close friend and I put together an entire week long camp, including creating the schedule, putting together the staff, deciding on a theme, enlisting guest speakers, choosing special nightly events, and learning how to facilitate effective meetings with that team on the regular to ensure that the event progressed smoothly. In addition to this I had to be on hand to tackle any problems that arose (and believe me, there were plenty, because you're right about one thing -- the onset of sexual maturity is a big part of being a teenager) and to ensure that not only were the problems resolved, that they didn't leave any lasting damage on the community.

          This really made me value and be more invested in my community than I would've otherwise, I think. It also really brought out an aptitude for leadership that I didn't even know I had. In addition to that I was a camp counselor for smaller children, and I learned just what it meant to start creating safe boundaries for other people, and I think that helped me to temper how I felt about my own.

          I really felt like those leadership skills came into play at the last two jobs I've held, and are a big part of the reason I was promoted in both cases.

          These were all experiences I had outside of (and largely after) school. Of course it helped that I was a part of this community and that I had been exposed to it, but life is all about exposure, and a big part of unschooling is ensuring that your kid is exposed to environments where there are opportunities for growth, whether that's traditional school or something else, depending on what works for them. This was definitely something that worked for me.

          And while being a teenager is certainly a very social time in one's life, where the opinions of peers mean more than they ever have (and probably ever will), that's developmental. Sure, I was hormonal and very conscious of how I fit in, but when it came to pursuing my interest -- creative writing -- my hormones never got in the way, and neither did anything else, for that matter. I did it because I wanted to do it, because I had had enough time to trust that that was what was right for me, and because I'd had that instinct nurtured in me from a young age. Many kids are not nearly so lucky, but I think part of the problem is that we then go onto assume they're "unformed and uninformed" as you say, without really deeply speculating on the causes.

    •  You're certainly entitled to your own opinion (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      reconnected, leftyparent

      But I have to agree with reconnected -- I think "critical thinking" can begin at a very young age, in the case of someone whose unschooled. When you truly are able to take ownership over your learning process, to think deeply about subjects that really interest you, the development of critical thinking is almost a natural side effect. You can't help but be critical when you're really invested in a subject and you begin to surround yourself with other people just as intrigued by the subject matter as you are. That's certainly been my experience with creative writing and the merits of genre fiction. And I believe that it is human nature to be curious, deeply curious, about the world.

      If it seems like this only begins to happen for most kids around college age, I can't help but wonder if that's as a result of moving through a system that did not allow them to develop and pursue their own interests in depth, but instead put a lot of emphasis on the expectation that they should be able to retain a certain body of information via one standardized route and then only start to critically apply that knowledge at an arbitrary age. It's a lovely idea in theory and I do think it can work for some kids, but it's a "one-size-fits-all" method that some kids (eager for praise) learn how to exploit without fully absorbing the information for later use, or that disenfranchises others whose brains (like mine) are just not wired to be optimized in such an environment.

      My problem was that it took me a long time to understand how best it was that I learn, and before I did I had internalized the expectation that being a smart, good student meant moving through this particular system effectively, something I just failed to do after awhile. At least I had the love and support my parents to help me navigate a different path, but for many of the kids around me, they didn't have that luxury, and I watched them turn themselves off to the idea of "learning" altogether, watched them convinced themselves they were, indeed, stupid.

      I just don't think people are as simple or as similar as the traditional school system seems to want them to be. It may be an effective model for some, but why then can't there be a system in place to foster that kind of structure for the kids it works for and create a different environment for kids who operate differently.

  •  You have the makings of a great (5+ / 0-)

    person, no matter what you do!  Your Dad must be so proud of you, such an independent person who knows how to work.  

    Good luck with bartending.  My father ran a bar for 50 years and said he heard more problems than any psychiatrist, and more confessions than any priest.  He said you have to love people. My sister runs the bar now.  She works her a** off.  She's the only one who could do it, the rest of us are too spoiled.

    Wonderful piece.  Hope I have time tomorrow to run through the comments.  Often, college is an excuse for an extended childhood.  I'm speaking for myself here...

    If you starve the middle class, whose gonna pay for your crap?

    by rosabw on Sat Aug 25, 2012 at 06:14:55 PM PDT

    •  Thanks for reading! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyparent

      Yes, I can't imagine being a bartender for much more than a couple years, because it's a demanding job in many ways. But I do love people; they absolutely fascinate me and I've made an extensive study of them over my lifetime. It's a big part of why I want to be a writer. I feel like I have it in me to create complex characters that feel genuine. And part of bartending is encountering just about every person you could possibly imagine. It's almost like research.

  •  great diary. (0+ / 0-)

    thanks, i love the way you write. you got it...

    why? just kos..... *just cause*

    by melo on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 03:17:42 PM PDT

  •  Logging out again today (0+ / 0-)

    But I'll check back in tomorrow.

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