The volatility of the job market and the limitless opportunities afforded by the internet have forever changed people's attitudes about schooling. In this world of rapid technological development, people are becoming successful, making money and finding personal satisfaction through non-traditional means. Ideas have become more important than training; innovation is more important than credentials. The ability to educate oneself -- to learn how to learn -- is crucial.
James Bach, the son of bestselling author Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull,) understands that. Like so many young people, James struggled in school, eventually dropping out at age sixteen. A few years later, he was leading a team at Apple Computer. Now an internationally recognized expert in the field of computer software testing, James has written Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar: a groundbreaking book that shows how anyone can create their own education on their own terms. It is nurturing our individual curiosities and relishing the learning process that will lead anyone -- from children struggling in school to professionals looking to jumpstart their careers -- to success.
In his unique pithy and anecdotal style, and combining his personal story with proven methodologies, James describes the relentless, whimsical, low-intensity learning process he calls "buccaneering." Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar demonstrates that it is the people who chart their own course, who never stop learning, who will come to dominate this new world.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Schoolteachers don't like me very much
Years ago I was invited to speak at a special school for "at risk" kids. These kids had quit or been thrown out of normal high school. I was twenty-four, and working as a software test manager at Apple Computer in Silicon Valley. The kids' teacher had heard about me. Since I was a high school dropout who "made good," she asked me to explain the importance of a good education to her students. I wanted to bring an encouraging message. This is what I told them:
Education is important. School is not. I didn't need school. Neither do you.
School can help your education. Maybe you like school. If it's fun, stay with it.
If you're not happy, leave this place. If you think there's no other way to get your education, or if you think you can't get a good job without this place, then look at me.
I am proof that there is another way to do it.
I left high school because it wasn't helping me. I felt that I was wasting my time. So, I developed my own approach to learning. I taught myself computer programming. Now I'm twenty-four. I've been a manager in research and development at Apple Computer for the last four years. They hired me because I showed them I could do the work, even though I had no degree.
Education is vital to the work I do and the life I want to build. I study almost every day in the coffee shop next door to my office. I study software engineering, systems thinking, philosophy, and history whatever my heart wants to study.
I study, but I don't go to school.
School is temporary. Education is not. If you want to prosper in life: find something that fascinates you and jump all over it. Don't wait for someone to teach you; your enthusiasm will attract teachers to you. Don't worry about diplomas or degrees; just get so good that no one can ignore you.
The students seemed surprised to hear this. They had questions:
How did you get Apple to hire you without a degree?
I knew how to program computers because I taught myself by reading and studying the technical manuals. I wrote video games professionally after I left school, and there was one manager at Apple who liked my experience and enthusiasm. After that, I just showed I could learn fast and do good work.
But how did you even get an interview with them?
I wrote a résumé listing my experiences and projects. It looked pretty good. I sent it to a contracting agency. They sent it to Apple.
Isn't it true that many employers won't even consider you unless you have lots of formal education?
Maybe it's true. So what? I'm not trying to get a job with many employers. One at a time is good enough. There are always some who value what is truly useful, such as technical skill and the ability to play well with others. Find those people.
Why did you leave school in the first place?
I believed it was interfering with my education. I felt that it wasn't just a waste of my time it was using my own time against me. I needed to build confidence and independence, and school was tearing me down. Schools are good for some people, and I bet, somewhere, there are schools that would have been good for me. I never found one, so I took matters into my own hands. In that process I discovered that education is so much more than school.
Are you saying we don't really have to do homework?
Only you can answer that for yourself. Me? I rarely did schoolwork that followed me home. I'll tell you this, though: If you want to take control of your life with the power of your mind, then you'll be doing "homework" whether or not you go to school.
What if I'm not interested in anything? What if I'm lazy?
If you were very hungry, would you make the effort to eat, or would you be lazy and starve? I don't believe in lazy. You just need to find what you're hungry for. So, get out and try different things. One way to try different things is to go to school. Another way is to leave school. Or you can do some of both.
Doesn't learning require discipline and hard work? (The teacher asked this from the back of the room.)
To learn something valuable, you may have to work at it. It may be hard work. For me, it has to be fun, too. Or else forget it. The secret to my success is this: I found something that was fun for me, I learned all about it, and now I get paid for fun things I do with my mind.
AFTER THE LECTURE...
I felt good after talking to the class. I liked the idea of working with kids. People have helped me along the way. I wanted to return the favor. As I was leaving, the teacher joined me.
"Mr. Bach, I want you to know that I will recommend against you speaking at our school again," she said. "Your message is dangerous for children to hear."
She was almost right. It was dangerous, what I said dangerous for her. To maintain a docile herd of students, her school needs them to accept certain truths:
You must study what we tell you. What we say is the only thing that matters.
You must pass our tests. Our tests measure the only important things about you.
You must attend school. Only through schooling can you hope to enjoy a good life.
This is what I call schoolism the belief that schooling is the necessary and exclusive way to get a good education. Must and only!
"I told them about myself," I said, "and how I came to be here. I told them the truth."
"It may be true for you," she replied. "But these kids aren't super smart like you. They don't come from well-off families. They're barely staying in school, and you just told them that they don't need to be here. They do need to be here!"
"Ma'am, my eighth-grade English teacher told me I would have to pump gas for a living if I didn't graduate high school. She was wrong about my future. Isn't it possible your students will surprise you, too? I think any of your students can do what I did in high tech, journalism, business, art, or any number of different fields. And they have a lifetime to develop their talents. What's the rush?"
"Yes they could be successful if they put in the work," she conceded. "But I don't think they heard that part of your message. I'm barely holding on to some of these kids as it is. I'm afraid you've made my job much harder, Mr. Bach. Some of them are going to take a 'what the hell' attitude instead of applying themselves."
"So what if they do?" I replied. "This is America. They probably won't starve. They probably won't be eaten by wolves. If they don't care about education, they may be forced to work at low-skilled jobs they won't enjoy, such as fast food or house cleaning. However bad those fates may sound, they are neither fatal nor permanent. Or perhaps they will accidentally educate themselves by starting a new business, building things, or doing theatre, music, or sports. Are you worried they'll turn to crime? Then show them more options, not fewer. They will learn and grow from anything that happens, unless they believe there is no hope. Your job is not to make them huddle quietly in a corral, but to help them get out there and seek their fortunes. Show them a way!"
I had to shrug about this as I drove back to work. I'm no political activist. I can never convince the bureaucrats to abandon their mythology of social order. I think very differently than most people about social order. I'm a buccaneer.
But I'm not talking to bureaucrats. I'm talking to you.
THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT SCHOOL
I don't care about school. I care about living and prospering as a free thinker. I want you to be free, too. In this book, I share stories about school in order to highlight the differences between self-education and institutional education. I will describe what we're up against and why I had to find another way.
I will share my own experiences. But none of this is about me alone. It's about an approach to intellectual life that is open to all of us. Join me in exploring it.
WHAT IS EDUCATION?
Education is not a heap of facts. It's not the hours we spend in classrooms, or the way we answer test questions. It's not indoctrination, nor worshipping the ancients, nor obedience to authority, not taking anyone's word for what is true, false, vital, banal.
Education is the "you" that emerges from the learning you do.
My education is the mind I have constructed and my process of constructing it.
Everyone in the world, then, is already educated in some way. We humans construct our minds, deconstruct them, then reconstruct them throughout our lives. You are doing it right now, as you read. You are wondering, "What does he mean when he says that?"; and perhaps when you read the words "construct" and "deconstruct" you saw images in your mind of lumber, steel beams, machinery, and chaos. Those pictures in your head are part of the puzzle-solving, model-making process that is self-construction. If there comes a moment when the pictures and ideas make sense to you and you feel "oh, that's how it works," a new addition to yourself has been constructed.
Knowledge is part of my education only if it changes me. Knowledge does not improve my education unless it changes me for the better. It might make me more powerful, more insightful, more engaged with life. But I must become more interesting or useful to myself in some way, or there's no improvement.
No one on earth has a choice about whether or not to be educated. But we do have a choice about what form that education will take. It's a life's work.
Other people may help me, even institutions. But my education belongs only to me, as yours belongs to you.
This book is about how I developed my own education on my own terms, how that unorthodox education brought me success, and how you, too, can do it your way.
Copyright © 2009 by James Bach