Self-directed learning is one of the most satisfying kinds. If no one else told you what to study, what would you want to learn about? How often do we stop to ask that question? What are you going to teach yourself?
My stepson is currently teaching himself to break the Guinness Book of World Records in claps-per-minute. He has always been a kid who needs a physical expression for his nervous energy– think, clinking forks, think pinging sporks, think yelling “LLAMA LLAMA!”, think … right.
But he’s actually focused on this one. It means incessant grating clapping– and it’s driving us batshit, but he’s also driven. And he’s getting somewhere. His chest muscles are increasing in size from the practice. If we can separate the sound from its irritating quality, it’s actually impressive the number of claps he can pull off in a short span. There is a technique to it. It’s superfluous, yes, but also a talent. It’s weird and absorbing, the effort to improve.
He’s also got a measurement method– not just “Wow, I feel like I am getting better at this!” but two phones to objectively chart his progress– one with a timer, one with a slo-mo video. He uses them to count the claps. He’s clapping all the time around the house, and he measures at intervals. Soon, he’ll draft his letter to the Guinness Board, whoever that is, and prepare his application materials.
What You Teach Yourself, You’ll LEARN
What’s the point? There is no point, really. I mean, it’s fabulous to be the best at something esoteric– I am telling you, no one can swipe the garlicky-oily-salty residue on a cooking skillet better than I can– but it’s also just something you can teach yourself just because.
Learning should pull us in; learning should make us care to be better, driven to be better, sometimes even maniacal to be better. So often in school we’re told, “Learn this; You MUST be good at Chemistry, or your head will be cut off!” But what if you just can’t hang with the complexity of molecules trading electrons? Or we’re told, “Master the 5 paragraph essay, or you’ll have an F at being a decent writer!” Well, no you don’t. You just have an F at doing it their way.
I’m not against a centralized curriculum. Every student could try their hand at this or that. But it’s just not the (only, or best) measure of who we are as learners.
College Bound Learners
As we cross the threshold from late high school to college, we have to ask ourselves honestly what kind of learners we are. What we care to learn. If we could design our day, our learning menu, what would be on it? Assume nothing is too weird, too problematic, too unworthy of attention– if you care about it, and want to get better at it.
What are you going to teach yourself, and why? What’s your method, your means, your madness?
Also, this matters on your college application. Schools want to know what you are motivated to learn about, and it may be even more interesting to them if the motivation has nothing to do with the reward of an A, or fulfilling requirements. I mean, how many claps CAN you do? How much Chutzpah do you need to have to write to Guinness, introducing yourself and your self-cultivated talent?
Write about it!
Make a list of things you really really care about.
What have you pursued on your own, and how? Why did you do so– outside pressure, inner drive, or both?
Daydream: if no one else told you what to do, or held out crispy expectations about what you SHOULD learn– what would you CHOOSE to learn? How would you self-school? Be highly specific.
Coda, and Apology to Chem Class
My stepson is up to [way too many] claps. Me? I got two.
But in high school, I taught myself (during Chemistry, but saliva is a chemical, right?) to write with my mouth. That’s right: holding a pen in my mouth, I could write my full name, over and over and over, legibly. I figured this would be a useful skill to have in an emergency and I got really, really good at it.
Show your work!
Want to tell us about what you’ve taught yourself? And get help turning it into a compelling school essay? Contact us, and show your upload talent by sending a draft, however first-drafty, when you do!