A few months ago someone asked me what I would do if I couldn’t go to college – what I’d do if college simply didn’t exist. Surprisingly, and coincidentally after reading Kerouac’s On the Road, the answer came to me rather quickly. I’d do just that: I’d hit the road.
There would be no plan aside from the vague ambition of immersing myself in the culture of all the greatest cities, the quaintest small towns, and the most isolated hillsides. Living off odd jobs and the kindness of strangers, I’d share my story and learn those of others as I hitchhiked across North America. Of course, I’d be reading throughout the entire adventure, and attending lectures and museums and concerts as well.
There would be no limits to what I learn, how I learn it, or what I do with that knowledge. I would not stress over compulsory exam periods or timed essays, because everything I learn would be learned for intrinsic purposes – because I genuinely want to learn it. And the information would spread like wildfire from person to person as I’d share my collective understanding as it comes along. There would be so much insight to gain from the people I meet – the mix of old and young, rich and poor, ignorant and educated.
Okay, so this account is incredibly idealistic and doesn’t consider the practicalities of cross country hitchhiking, actually paying for said lectures, concerts, and museums, blah blah blah; but it does illustrate a very fine point. Learning does not have to only take place in a classroom. And in fact, it shouldn’t just take place in a classroom. If the majority of everything you’ve ever learned has come from a teacher or professor, then you’re doing it wrong.
The real learning stems from an intrinsic yearning to pursue truth and knowledge no matter where it may be hiding. It may be found in the dusty books in your attic, or in the mind of the Starbucks barista who just made your pumpkin spiced latte (fall staple by the way), or in a lyric found in The Head and the Heart’s upcoming album. The opportunity to learn is everywhere.
It is a sad fact that many of us have forgotten this reality in all of the stress of school and work. We associate learning with the hassle of studying for SATs or memorizing definitions we couldn’t care less about. But learning is not memorization and learning, if done right, should not be a hassle. I’m going to turn the cliché meter up a notch and say that learning should be a way of life. It should be all encompassing in everything that you do; and you should thoroughly enjoy it. Learning is understanding, or a change in perspective; which is why I can say with honesty that I have probably learned more outside of the classroom in college than I ever did inside the classroom in high school (not to undermine my genuinely enriching experiences in Physics, Lit, US History, etc.).
So take advantage of the infinite learning opportunities presented to you every minute of every day. Talk to strangers, read strange books, question everything, strike up an intellectual conversation with the janitor, stay up late, go to lunch with your professor, get lost in Philadelphia, kindly disagree with people, learn a trade, buy a piece of art from a street vendor, and listen to some really good indie music. Then go home and through your thoughts, words, actions, and persona, relay it to everyone else you speak to so that they too may be enriched with the firsthand knowledge you possess. Learning doesn’t have to take place in a brick building. Go out and find your own sources.