Wide awake mind

pic2.jpgWhen Ryan McCarl, AB’08, AM’08, graduated last year, he knew his education was far from over—and not just because he’s pursuing an MA in education at the University of Michigan. McCarl, a promoter of self-education through several blogs and an upcoming book, recently spoke with UChiBLOGo’s Jake Grubman, ’11, via e-mail to discuss education outside of the classroom.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat is self-education, and why is it so important?

QandA_ADrop.jpgSelf-educators are curious about the world and willing to do something about their curiosity. They open themselves to learning opportunities wherever they occur, and they understand that education is a lifelong endeavor. It is absurd to think of our education as complete when we obtain a diploma, a slip of paper; education is about growth and self-actualization, about deepening our understanding of the world and the human situation. No degree or collection of degrees ought to give us the illusion that our education is complete or that we need not bother with learning any more.

QandA_QDrop.jpgTo some people, “self-education” might be a scary term because of all the work involved in formal education. What’s the fun side?

QandA_ADrop.jpgThere is a major difference between pursuing a topic because you are curious about it and completing homework for a class you have to take in order to earn a credential. Suppose you are curious about politics, and your initial encounter with the excitement of current events and political participation leads you to read better news sources, take part in a demonstration, research a policy debate, and wade into political philosophy. The material you encounter is interesting, the process of discovery is exciting, and, above all, the people you meet and the conversations you have can be very rewarding.

QandA_QDrop.jpgYour blog Wide Awake Minds is also part of the work you’re doing for a book by the same name; which came first, the blog idea or the book idea?

QandA_ADrop.jpgThe book idea came first. I’ve been working on it on and off for the past two years, and I decided that a good way to get the book written and out the door would be to make a public commitment to writing it and to get others involved with the project by conducting interviews with other self-educators and sharing their stories and advice. The response so far has been fantastic, and it has strengthened my belief in the idea’s importance.

QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat Web sites or other tools would you suggest for those interested in exploring self-education?

QandA_ADrop.jpgThe Internet has an infinite wealth of resources for self-educators. I recommend familiarizing yourself with RSS feeds and using a feed reader to read the best news sources and blogs you can find in your areas of interest. I also recommend trying the podcasts put out by NPR and the New Yorker. I especially like Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac.

It’s also important to understand the limitations of the Internet and the continuing importance of offline educational experiences. I am a firm believer in the virtue of reading good books. And if you want to increase your knowledge of the world, you could do worse than regularly reading the New York Times and the Economist.

Photo courtesy Ryan McCarl.

August 19, 2009