Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Motivated Learner

One of the areas I identify myself as having a strong interest in is studies of sexual orientation. I have never received any formal training in this area. None was available in high school (we briefly discussed homosexuality in one PE/Health/PD lesson (- that's Physical Education / Health / Personal Development -) but that was it. At university I was in an Introduction to Feminism course for a few weeks, and that was about as close as I got to anything resembling 'queer studies'. Some universities do offer these courses, but mine didn't.

However, I had been busy learning outside the classroom from the age of fifteen, when I first became aware of finding females sexually appealing. I read encyclopedias, social commentary, personal accounts, history books, relationship and sex advice, more statistics and anything else I could get my hands on during those first couple of years. I was intrigued by how I had forged an entirely new dimension of experience. It was exciting to re-evaluate my perceptions, indulge my curiosity and stray way off the well-trodden path (or what I perceived it to be, anyway).

So when I listen to Sugata Mitra speak (allude?) to the tenacity of those who develop an interest in learning complex things on their own, I pay attention. There's nothing more motivational than finding your unique journey in life, which might be guided by your mentors, but should never be dictated by them.

It wasn't until Years 11 and 12 that I really started devouring the English education I was getting - in previous years, I had felt like I had had to adopt affected stances in responding to literature, which often didn't intersect deeply with the experience I had had with the text. It seemed like there was a 'set' way to take pleasure in, and speak of, literature, and I always had to adopt mannerisms which didn't come naturally in order to play by the marker's rules.

During the last two years of high school, however, my interest in learning became extreme, due to a shift in the way we were asked to look at literature. The syllabus had become more postmodern! The emphasis was now on such things as a gaps and silences within the text, and we were introduced to a number of traditional critical perspectives (Marxist, psychoanalytical, feminist, postmodern), to just name two of the changes. I was very enthusiastic about the new educational tools I was offered, and my grades in English became the highest they had ever been. That was at the beginning of year 11. Two years later, I still got very high marks, but I felt like I wasn't as encouraged to inform my existential crises by the material I was learning as much - at that point, the teaching had become all about refining exam technique, and I was left with just a simulacra of the original inspiration to guide me through.

A keen student of people and the way they form and reshape their perspectives, I was bored.

At university I learnt about narrativity, and how to write about it. I learnt about poetry, and how to take more pride in my fragmentation. I eventually came to the conclusion that university was too limiting, and that I had a fervent desire to design my own education - an education which was informed by the best of the techniques I had already learnt, but could not be created within a system in which the worst of the techniques were firmly entrenched.

An education is what you make of it. Even the dullest of permanent influences can play a charmed role in your development of brilliance. Going through the education system is no guarantee of living a passionate, fully engaged and personally meaningful life. For me, the first step I had to take to drastically redesign my life, was to say goodbye to the University of New South Wales, and all the dreams my parents, teachers and peers had associated with becoming the popularly socially acceptable version of successful.

These days I pay close attention to what happens in academia, and also in the marketplace... it's good to know what's going on, even though it rarely intersects with my personal style of writing. And despite all the conformity I am constantly shaking my head at, reading widely means that I also find many inspiring texts which compel me to stay in an ultra-creative zone for as long as possible.

What is your own story with, around or against the educational systems you've known?

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