I'd be an ace mathematician by now if I'd stayed at the University of Waterloo. There are lots of reasons I quit. For one, I couldn't sit still. I also couldn't keep my mind or my glance off the girls. I couldn't concentrate.
Plus, most teachers bug me. We were expected to laugh at their feeble freeing-the-comic-within jokes and go along eagerly with their irrelevant "I'm quite a character aren't I" tangents. Ech. Eww!
Oh, and I have problems with authority... and with going into deep debt.
But most of all I left school because a different kind of tuition was calling to me intuition. I had begun to write in earnest, and there were clearly some teachings within me that wanted to get out and into ink.
I wrote poetry for the next 35 years. But while my intuition welled, I felt deep at the bottom of it a desire for some "out-tuition," too.
I tried a steady diet of books from that great open-source institution the public library, but my yearning for learning often went unsatisfied from sheer lack of time on my part.
Then came the Internet. Ahhh. Like a bison on a lush prairie, I grazed away on information stacked up like grass rustling to the horizon. But here I ultimately encountered not just the limitations of time but of my eyes. If you write all day and read all night, your eyes begin to break down.
Then came the MP3 player and the advent of open-source university courses on the Web.
If you see me on the street, you might think I'm just a pedestrian, but if you could hear what's in my ears, you'd know that I'm a student, too. Right now I'm taking a course through Stanford in the linguistic geography of the world. Martin Lewis, the teacher, as well as being an expert in the field, is a reasonably good speaker who brings very few of his personal needs to the class.
How nice to be strolling through sunlight getting some aerobic exercise while getting topped up on the diaspora of dialects stemming from the original now-vanished Indo-European tongue. I've already taken a course on the history of information through the University of California's Berkeley campus.
And whenever I have anything slightly boring to do like the dishes the earphones are in my earholes and I'm in school.
Granted, it won't get me a degree, and the technology isn't perfect. Sometimes the audio quality is substandard, and in the question-and-answer sessions you can often barely hear the students' questions but I've hung in and gotten the gist of it all anyway.
Over the past year, I've taken a lot of courses, but my favourite has been Thomas Sheehan's The Historical Jesus, also through Stanford.
It took me about a month of walks, dishes and vaccuuming to get through its 10 90-minute lectures. But it totally thrilled me and wound up entering my life and my work in a most unexpected and creative way.
I can just hear some of you responding to all of this with that hapless old refrain "I'm a bit of a Luddite."
No, you're not! If you were, you'd be smashing machines, not convincing yourself that you're too smart or too stupid to use them. If you're even minimally computer-literate (a term I learned from my course on information), you can easily locate, access and quickly download for free thousands of lectures and courses taught by experts at the most prestigious universities in the world.
The simplest way is through iTunes University. If you have the iTunes software, you can go to the iTunes store, click on the new University icon and begin to browse.
Or, if you have a specific subject in mind, enter it into the search panel and voilà up comes a list of related courses to pick from. Click "Get" to get, and then, when the files have arrived (with a high-speed Internet connection a one-hour lecture takes only a minute or two to download), simply connect your MP3 player, drop, drag, go for a walk and... get smart.
Those of you without iTunes can simply enter "open culture collection" into your search engine and click on "university and college podcasts." A long list of participating universities, from Cambridge to Yale, scrolls before you, their hypertexts just aching to be clicked.
The hard part is deciding which course to listen to first.