Some Different Advice on College and Learning

The Higher Learning Blues

First, let me start by saying this: College will not make you smart and your degree of success is not based on your intelligence. Rather college teaches you to learn, think critically, and express your ideas clearly and effectively. What you will learn in college has already been discovered, thoroughly debated and discussed. It is unlikely you have anything substantial to add. So you must learn to interpret (I never spell that word right on the first try) other’s thoughts and present them in your own voice. Strive for this only and you will be successful as a college student.

Instead of trying to become the next great theorists, one should start by setting goals instead.

  • I will not make less than a B on any exam or essay.
  • I will study, read, and practice.
  • I will study, read, and practice (repeat as much as you like).
  • I will not cram or write the day before the due date.
  • I will remember that if others can do it, so can I.

On the other hand, if you solely rely on your professors, lessons, and recommended readings to take you to your highest possible level, you will be thoroughly disappointed. Learning is a love of labor. So it is important that you have a high level of interest in whatever it is you decide to study. You should read widely and continuously. You should amass a formidable personal library. You should become a sponge. Nothing should come as a surprise to you in your given field of study. You should be able to give at least one clear and articulated point on any subject within your field on a moment’s notice. If you do these things mentioned you’ll be able to without knowing exactly how you did. This is the point when you’ve become a serious student.

If you can’t do this, you aren’t learning. If you can’t do this, you aren’t studying. But you’ll probably do well enough – all things being equal.

Learn to learn: Instead of knowing who Karl Marx or Hans Morgenthau was and what they wrote, you should know why each wrote in the first place. What was their era’s like in which they lived? What was their environment like that which motivated them to come to their conclusions? If you can do this, their ideas become more than just words in a book, and their photographs become more than black and white images. You’ll begin to understand them. This is how you learn. This is how you develop instincts and assume ownership of your ideas. This is what separates students from aspiring theorists.

Why did I say intelligence had very little to do with any of this? Let me put it like this. If you can form up, lay plumbing, frame, cut in rafters and build your own house, then you are intelligent. If you can cut and lay tile, you are intelligent. If you can tie a knot suitable for any burdensome task, you are intelligent. If you can crack open a motor and replace the heads, you are intelligent. If you can teach yourself to invest in the stock market, you are intelligent. The person I described may have never heard of Marx or may not even care to know more than just his name, but give him a task he understands and he’ll take ownership of it and complete it comparable to any trained professional.

In other words, college isn’t the be all and end all. It’s just another avenue toward higher learning. It’s not necessarily the place for higher learning. It’s what you do with the access to knowledge and tools for understanding that makes the difference.

You’ll want to link these gems.

The Feeling of Thinking – A Psychology Today blog by successful high school drop-out and author of Buccaneer-Scholar James Bach.

The Art of Self-Education – Lifelong learning enthusiast Race Bannon shares the self-education tips he picked up from experience with dozens of exciting careers.

Wide Awake Minds – Ryan McCarl, a graduate student studying education, blogs about his thoughts on teaching, learning, and self-education.

Freedom to Learn – A Psychology Today blog about the importance of play in learning from psychology professor Peter Gray.

Buccaneer Scholar – James Bach’s personal blog about his experiences with self-education.

LiteMind – A unique blog from Luciano Passuello examines the most effective ways to use your mind.

H/T to Self Made Scholar. Be sure to look around at this site.


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