When I was in the 8th grade, I found a biography about Frank Zappa. I read it and it changed my life. It changed my life because of this quote:
“Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts. Some of you like pep rallies and plastic robots who tell you what to read. Forget I mentioned it… Rise for the flag salute.” – Frank Zappa
I already didn’t like pep rallies, so this resonated with me. Then I thought about the “drop out… and go to the library” part. I knew dropping out wasn’t an option, but the library was right there. I took Mr. Zappa’s advice that day and resolved to educate myself. I decided I had the guts to do it.
30 years later, I’m glad I took that advice to heart. Never mind my college degree: my real education happened whenever a teacher went on a tangent, when I got a chance to listen in on a discussion, and when I got to hit the library. The best thing about the University of Texas at Austin was its massive library system. I used it. If there was something I wanted to learn, I made the time to get to the library and to read all about it. I didn’t necessarily need a class in a subject: after all, a class was pretty much reading books, listening to a professor rehash his own book, and taking a test. If I read the books on my own, what need was there to test to see if I’d read them? And if I read enough books, it would be like a graduate course, right?
With the advent of the Internet, I found it that much easier to continue my education. I hate seeing people sit and wonder about answers to questions while they wait for someone else to Google up the answer. Start with Google and Wikipedia, and see where it takes you, if you want to know the answers. They’re great places to start, but please make sure you don’t finish there.
Another key part of my self-education was the original 10-part series of James Burke’s Connections. The episodes are as vital today as they were when they first came out. If you haven’t seen them, you need to. Burke shows how anyone can teach himself or herself anything and then use that information to make his or her life better.
By “better,” I don’t necessarily mean making vast fortunes with huge inventions. I do mean keeping the wolf from the door through clever thinking and innovation. I mean having a good life through constant learning.