The Mentor Elective

AKA: Schooless Learning!
(What is the Student's Passion?)

The following discussion is presented to provide a certain perspective to hopefully trigger thought. That perspective is:

The best education does NOT come from the curriculum presented to the students!

Please note: The author does believe in formal education.

It has been said many times and in many situations that in order to succeed, a person needs a good education. But it is quite likely that you have heard about people with very little or no "school education" who have become quite successful. How can that be?

Possible responses might be:

  1. "He was just lucky."
  2. "That person is unusual. Not many people could do that. He must be a intelligent person."
  3. "She is self-taught. She learned what she needed, the hard way, from the 'college of hard knocks'."
  4. "Their self-taught eduction must be very narrow."

(1) Luck has nothing to do with it! It is very unlikely that anyone could have the very long string of good luck fall in their lap that could drive them into success and keep them there.

(2) Anybody with reasonable intelligence can do it. It is not a matter of high intelligence. It is a matter of attitude! The author will comment further when he writes about his own education, below.

(3) If we are wise, we will all be self-taught in many things. We will keep on self-teaching all of our lives. Self-teaching is a very good way to learn, and learn well. If there are hard knocks, we learn those lessons the best. A good education is not measured just by what things we have learned, but also how well we can apply that knowledge. The hard knocks of life are the final layer of our education.

(4) Self-taught is NOT likely to be a narrow education. To be truly successful as a person, and as an earner of income, the person must have a lot of general knowledge. Also, the self-taught person is one who will likely be interested in a wide range of things, and absorb a lot of knowledge because of that interest.

The best of all worlds of education is for a self-teaching person to also be enrolled in school. By definition he is highly motivated, so he has the drive and desire to learn, and he has the school's resources available to aid, amplify, and accelerate the process.

The Author's Own Education

These truths are valid even for someone who is well educated. This writer is formally trained as an engineer. He has earned BSE and MSEE degrees from California State University at Los Angeles. He was elected to three honor societies and was on the Dean's list every semester.

Often during this schooling, he was told that his real education as an engineer would occur when he started working in the field. What they were teaching were just the basic tools the author would be using as he learned the real engineering skills on the job.

And when the author went to work, he found it true. In fact, for him, it turned out that most of the skills he actually used in his work, were skills he learned on his own, starting in the 7th grade. That's when he got interested in radio, and started to study radio to get his HAM radio FCC license. Before starting his formal training in electronics (in high school) he had already mastered the subject, had designed and built his own battery operated portable two-way radio station. Half way through the 9th grade he received his Amateur Radio (HAM) license (his call is K6BMG).

Pretty good for someone who took 3-1/2 years to go through 1st and 2nd grade (trouble learning to read!). And who flunked history in high school! And had to take bonehead English in Jr. College! And took calculus 101 three times before I got an "A"!

So what happened with this author?

  1. He was motivated. BOY, HE WAS MOTIVATED!
  2. He recognized radio and electronics was a good skill to have for his future life.
  3. He loved it!
  4. He spent lots of time reading and rereading, until he really did understand it.
  5. His parents also recognized this was a valid and important part of his education. They supported him by encouragement, and by buying electronic parts and equipment.

Even though the author had mastered much of radio and electronics, he didn't have a "big head." He understood there were probably holes in his knowledge. He understood that he still needed to get his engineering degrees. They are the keys that get one into the door of a company. Once inside a company, then you can show off what you can really do!

The Philosophical Lesson Here

When someone pursues their own passion, it is not unusual that the enthusiasm carries over to other areas, such as reading, writing, and math. These "academic" areas sort of get "carried along with the tide!" The success in one's area of passion can carry over in terms of improved self-confidence. "If by really applying myself I learned this complicated electronics, then if I apply myself to this math, I can master it too!" There is nothing better to conquer difficult tasks than a "can do" attitude!

What is a Teacher to do with this Perspective?

Find out what passions your students have burning in them. Invite them to write creative papers on those subjects. (Mine did, even though they did not understand the technical content!)

If there is a mathematical element in their interest, have them study those areas. What math do they need? How would it be used? Can they do it? What prerequisite math is required? Suggest extra reading and study materials to help them learn what they need.

One example: If a student is interested in chemistry, a math teacher could have them write a paper about how fractions are used in chemistry. Include examples!

If they like to write poetry, introduce rhyming resources, dictionary use, and thesaurus. Point out poetry contests they can enter (use the WWW). Point out good poetry collections to read. Direct them to the many Internet poetry sites.

Put together a database of the professions, general expertise, and major hobbies of family members. Try to match your students with persons who can act as mentors. Keep that database even after your students move to the next grade level. (Passionate experts are nearly always eager to share with kids not in their families!)

If the student has no passion then you need to work to "expand their self-interest horizon." Help them explore.

What is a Parent to do with this Perspective? (Student Passion)

MOST IMPORTANT! Do not "leave it to the schools!" They cannot do it by themselves. They need you as a partner.

Be alert to find your child's passionate interests. Keep your eyes and ears open to see what interests him. Talk with him or her to explore possibilities. But please recognize that as your children grow their interests and passions will change. That is a natural part of growing up!

Tell his teacher what his passions are.

Like my parents did, if practical, encourage any passion that moves your child towards some useful goal, or simply stimulates her mind! Consider it as part of their education. Encourage them to master that area. Buy them materials and books that will help them master it. Encourage them to apply their passion to class work, if at all possible, such as creative writing about their favorite passion. Help them see what academic skills they will need to follow that passion. Where practical, help your child with his projects in his passion area.

What is a School Administration to do with this Perspective?

Create and support a volunteer-staffed elective mentoring program. Use the data collected from surveys sent home to families to create a database of available talents. Monitor its activities. Obtain feedback from all parties. Adjust as needed.

Provide a Mentor Coordinator (a volunteer) to work with teachers, students, and parents. This person will match up mentors with students, with arrangements through parents and teachers.

Encourage parent and family involvement. Conduct parent involvement seminars. Provide printed version of the seminar information for parents unable to attend. Provide and promote a direct help channel for parents. (Parent help channel must have a mechanism for coordination with teachers.)

Support your teachers. Allow buying specially focused resources, when they lead a student towards mastering his passion. If necessary because of school financial problems, provide a channel through which parents or others can finance such purchases. This could turn out to be the single most important thing anybody could ever do for that student and those with similar interests! "The most bang for the buck!"

What is a Student to do with this Perspective?

Write out a list of what really interests you. Talk it over with family and with teachers. Pick the one area that seem most interesting. Talk that one over with family and teachers.

Ask for a mentor to act as a guide and helper. Learn what is involved in that area. Find out what special skills (such as math, writing, science, computer skills) someone who works in that area would need. Obtain books and or kits in that area to help you learn.

Use your passion to become the BEST you can be!

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