Finding Your Passion For Learning

From Justin Zoradi:

A survey by The Jenkins Group, an independent publishing services firm, has shown that millions of Americans never read another book after leaving school. Check out the stats: 33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college graduates never read another book after college. 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. 57% of new books are not read to completion. While these statistics are obviously troubling, I don’t think any of us can honestly say we’re that surprised. But what I’m intrigued by is not the people who neglect to read books, but rather, the ones who continue to do so.

I’m a college dropout. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but it’s also not something I regret or am ashamed of either. It’s just one of many facets of who I am. It’s also a byproduct of what a traditional school education left me with: a general distaste for learning. Or at least that’s what I thought for a long time. As it turns out, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy learning, it was that I struggled with traditional learning. My ADHD and a traditional classroom setting often clashed during my years of trying to shove my square peg into the round hole of the educational system. When I left the traditional system, I nearly fell into many of the startling statistics above.

So what changed? Why do I continue to read and buy books? Why do I have an RSS and Intapaper account full of things I’m anxious to better understand? Why do I have a fairly robust regiment of weekly podcasts that run the gamut from inspirational to informative (or in the case of You Look Nice Today, entertaining)? While there are several small reasons, there are two big ones that stand out to me. The first is a teacher who recognized that I needed to find controlled ways to follow my interests rather than always trying to force me to do my pre-determined course work.  The other is the time I’ve taken to find out how I best learn.

It was in moments of freedom that my passion for learning bloomed. It started in my junior year of high school with my teacher waking me from a sound sleep by slamming a copy of On The Road on the desk. It led me down my first rabbit hole, The Beats. They were the first true spark of interest in learning that I ever had. It was the first topic I ever became obsessed with. It was, pathetically, the first time learning was a desire rather than an obligation.

While this sparked my passion, it’s only recently that I feel as if I’ve had the toolkit to learn more effectively. I’ve always had a challenging relationship with paper (both with writing on it and organizing it), so note-taking as well as capturing and expanding on my own ideas was always a challenge. Simplenote and nvALT changed that. I also tend to lean naturally towards short-form content, so tools like Instapaper and Instacast have been invaluable resources. I’ve also always had terrible recall, so the note and highlighting features for Kindle for iOS has been a godsend for getting the most out of learning from the longer pieces I read.

Today, I read more than I ever have before. Today, I crave a new topics to dive into. Today, I love learning more than I have any time of my life. While I’m not always the best at learning what I should, I’m continually discovering and constantly seeking new ideas.

We live in a renaissance for those who want to learn on their own terms, so if you find your yourself heading towards those highly disturbing statistics try to look at your self-education from an entirely different perspective. Forget the classroom and find your own way to discover. I may have dropped out well over a decade ago, but I can’t tell you that I’ve gone a day since without a love for learning. It’s just looks a lot different from a traditional educational experience.

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  • Brian Driggs

    Dude. Nail on the head. Why do you suppose you seek out all this information so eagerly today? I’d be willing to bet because you see its relevance in your life. You stand to benefit from educating yourself. There are things you want to do (and/or do better), and tracking down this knowledge is a clear means to a better life. 

    Reading, on the other hand, is often central to the rusty choke hold on education still imposed by the industrial revolution. Nevermind the fact that, if you can read and write, you can learn ANYTHING. Reading books is all but reduced to tedium by the educational system. There is no choice. Those books read in school were largely forced upon us, without consideration of our aspirations.

    There is no stopping us from learning what we want to learn. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Tell me I have to read “Where the Red Fern Grows” if I want to pass the class and I’ll don my cynic hat, hastily skimming the story of a stupid redneck hunter who got his dogs killed, but tell me “Shop Class as Soul Craft” really illustrates the importance of knowing how to work on cars and I’ll practically devour it in one sitting. 

    The name of the game is relevance. And assembly line, rote memorization of exercises bereft of context or meaning commoditizes the joy of personal discovery and learning.

  • Joel McIntosh

    I absolutely agree with you about the ways that technology opens up new learning methods and opportunities, and I don’t want my comments to sound like a disagreement with your very good points.

    However, the “data” from the Jenkins group (a corporate vanity press) are suspect. In fact, The Atlantic recently ran an article showing that reading of books and novels is at an all-time high (source was Gallup).

    As an education book publisher, my company is seeing healthy growth. In fact, book publishers who invest in both print and electronic media are seeing gains in unit sales and revenue in most categories. Some of the more forward thinking book publishers are seeing both healthy growth in their print divisions and huge growth in their electronic divisions.

    The consumption of books in the US is alive and well, but it is an industry managing changes … and that is a good thing.

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