By the time we reach university, we’ve already made it all the way through the school system. That means we’ve all been given a basic foundation for not only what we know, but also how we learn: for years, we’ve sat in classrooms, taken notes on specific information, and studied it for the exams. Most of that information is eventually forgotten—and with no consequence, because we never really needed to know it in the first place. I’m an English major, so what does it matter if I can calculate an exponential function? Now, in university, it’s important that we remember how to learn, but we don’t necessarily need to know most of the actual information we’ve learned up until now.

Because of this process, I think, we tend to rely on school as our one method of learning. This reliance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and there is so much value in our education and the focuses we choose to take, but the process can also be limiting: we’re limited to what classes are available, and which classes count towards our degrees, and how many classes we can afford to pay for. I’ve had friends tell me, while they’re building their schedules, that this class or that class sounds interesting to them, but they can’t take it because it’s the wrong type of credit—and what’s the point of taking it if it doesn’t count towards something? It would be a waste of time and money. But then, what are we missing out on, for not being able to learn about the subjects that we think would interest us?

I have one friend in particular who inspired this article: after graduation, in the face of the realization that she still had so much to learn, she took it upon herself to begin learning independently. Now, outside of school, she checks out children’s non-fiction books from her library for an easy way to learn the basics of the things that interest her. She keeps her eyes and ears open, and whenever she comes across something she isn’t familiar with, she’ll make a point of searching it up and reading about it just for the sake of learning something new. Anywhere from Dadaist poetry, to cultural superstitions, to graffiti terminology, she’ll take the time to read up on it until she’s satisfied. This method of taking learning into our own hands is possibly the best way to combat the limitations of the education system. Not only does it broaden the scope of our learning and account for all of our interests, but it removes the pressure: we don’t have to be experts in a given area to justify learning about it. Our formal education is no doubt important, but it’s also important to recognize our own independent abilities to take on the world around us—even if that ability comes in the form of a children’s non-fiction book. So much knowledge is accessible if we’re willing to look for it, and to let my friend speak for herself: “There is always something you don’t know, something new to appreciate about the world we live in. It’s never too late to learn how to learn. Learning is a never-ending pursuit that leads to happiness.”

(Originally published December 11, 2019)

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