Formal Education: Less Evil than Previously Imagined

The education bug has bitten me lately, I think. I mean, I\’ve always been for learning, but any formal education has been a serious turn-off. My parents stressed over it so much when I was a kid — they\’d explain how I needed good grades, and I\’d explain how I felt that understanding the material was much more important than doing my homework. Fundamentally, we agreed, but they were afraid the grades would hinder me in the future. College went pretty much the same way, except my grades got worse, and I eventually dropped out.

I was severely disillusioned by the whole thing. Each step of the way I thought, \”well, the next step will change, and they\’ll really start educating.\” But no, high school was just like middle school, and college was just like high school. It was frustrating. I knew it didn\’t have to be that way. I thought of places like MIT — how they must really be about education — I had just made some poor decisions as to which direction to take.

Now, I haven\’t made any major turnaround, but I have become more class-oriented. I just took a taiko workshop. It was great. I\’m planning on starting breakdancing classes soon as well. And I\’ve been watching MIT\’s Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs lectures. All of this stuff is a bit more along the formal education line than I\’m usually comfortable with.

I\’m starting to think that maybe I should head back to school. I don\’t care about a degree (in fact, I have to swallow my pride to even accept the symbol of someone else\’s approval), but I\’m beginning to think that some things are facilitated by a more formal setting. One of my mistakes previously was majoring in Computer Science. I love the field — it\’s what I do on a daily basis — but, at the time, there was the Internet boom and the classes were more oriented toward getting people into high-paying jobs rather than actually educating them. This time, I\’m going to go with Math. It\’s more abstract and tends to be populated by people who are passionate about the topic, not people looking for work.

A math program would be great. My code has been leaning in that direction, and I find myself requiring more math skills on an almost daily basis. It\’s the kind of knowledge I grope around for to find specific answers, but where I should be working through a more directed process in order to actually understand what\’s going on. Like History, I always found the classes to be useless. With History, it was a list of dates and events, with no real comprehension of the why, or of the surrounding cultural context. It wasn\’t until I saw Boorstin\’s The Discoverers that I realized it didn\’t have to be that way. With Math, it was rote memorization as well, without derivation or explanation. I\’m not sure who the mathematical equivalent of Boorstin is — maybe Hofstadter (both introduced to me by my frequently-surprising father).

In any case, I\’ve relaxed my \”education is evil\” stance. I\’m easing myself into it and hope that I can be a bit more patient this time around.

My high school geometry teacher (who gave me frequent detentions for not doing homework) would be proud.

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