For the last two months, I’ve been taking General Chemistry at a local community college here in Chicago. It’s interesting, being back in school after several years. For one thing, you realize that not everyone is as enthusiastic about learning as you are– maybe not even the teacher.
I dove in with such vigor, only to be met with a very slow-paced, rote teaching style. But not one to be discouraged, I pushed on, absorbing (and enjoying) what I could.
I made a game of memorizing the periodic table and simultaneously got the tune of the can-can stuck in my mastermind members’ heads for five days. “There’s hydrogen and helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon everywhere, nitrogen up in the air…”
So yes, I was having a fun time with this stuff, though the structure was making me doubt my choice.
Does school interfere with learning?
(Insert Mark Twain quote here. You know the one.)
Educational institutions have served me well over the years. That is, my weird little alternative high school and the small, interdisciplinary communications program I took in undergrad. These places were perfect fits for me. The average school? Not so much.
Multipotentialites love to learn, and maybe self-study or MOOCs are the best ways of going about this. But sometimes you just want a real life community, a teacher to guide you (with some passion), homework assignments, and a place to GO that involves putting on actual pants and venturing outside.
There are art schools that open their doors to the public and allow anyone to enroll (this place is about a 20 minute walk from my apartment). You can pay a small fee and take an 8-week printmaking class, for example. But even getting to take an introductory chemistry class required me to re-learn high school algebra and take an asinine English placement exam. That’s on top of a ton of bureaucracy that made the whole process even slower and $500 in tuition.
If there’s anything I took away from this experience it’s that it’s really hard to just casually take a science class.
Why is it that you can’t learn about science or math or engineering in a similarly casual manner as you can art? Are these the “serious” disciplines that are not open to “dabblers”? Or is there a lack of demand?
My sense is that it’s the former. One can casually try painting, but to take a physics class, a field that requires true intelligence and commitment? This is not something that we want people to be able to do easily or whimsically.
This protective attitude around the sciences prevents outsiders from stepping in, and it is a problem.
It’s a problem for multipotentialites and it’s a problem for anyone who values curiosity and learning. It also holds the discipline back from evolving, since cross-fertilization is essential for innovation.
How cool would it be to have a school where you could casually enroll in any subject? (Again, MOOCs are great, but I’m talking about something in real life). A school where you could take a linear algebra class for fun? But also where you could take a class in construction or herbology or anthropology?
I don’t know if I will be the one to start such a movement, but someone should do it. Maybe they already are. I just know that here, in a massive city like Chicago, this was the only option I was able to find.
What has been your experience going back to school or trying to take classes outside of your major? Did you face a lot of resistance and bureaucracy?
Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist. Learn more about Emilie here.