My friend S. (she’s a little shy, so I’ll just use her first initial) and I talk a lot about our love of learning. We dream of taking classes, working toward a master’s degree or something (see Autodidact Ann, where someone struggles with these desires).
“How would I ever choose just one thing?” S. has moaned several times. “I’m interested in so many things!”
So it was fun to find yet another person who feels the same: An Ordinary Mom drew up a dream list of classes she’d love to take sometime. How inspiring!
With permission to totally copy her post, I decided to type up my own list. Even though I’ve become handy at research and self-study, I would really enjoy sitting in a class taught by an expert. Even an autodidact can dream about outside instruction, can’t she?
- French. So I can talk with the Belgian in-laws. Most of them are bilingual, but some of the nieces and nephews are bilingual in French and Flemish, instead of French and English, so I have to depend on a translator or gesture my meaning in an embarrassing attempt at cross-cultural guesswork. And I’m tired of speaking in short, choppy, infantile French and only understanding portions of the conversation around the dinner table when we’re visiting. I’d like to take a class from an expert, but until then I do recommend French in Action online as an excellent alternative (you can watch the Video on Demand of each class for free–I think it adds up to a year of college-level French, but don’t quote me on that). I wrote a review about French in Action on my old blog, if you want more details.
- Philosophy. I never took a philosophy course, so I feel ignorant in this area. I’m curious about it in part because my sister-in-law is just about to get her Ph.D. in philosophy. I’ve tried to get a few free mini-lessons by asking her stupid questions like “If a tree falls in a forest…” and “If some philosophers believe that reality is driven by our senses, then what would they say about the utterly virtual world we’re creating on the web? Is it real, when it exists primarily in our heads?” And other inane questions that don’t even make sense. I’m a distraction. She’s supposed to be finishing up her thesis, not writing long philosophical e-mail explanations to her goofy sister-in-law. But she is an expert. A bonafide professor. If only she didn’t live on the other side of the Atlantic….
- Physics. Okay, maybe not an entire semester of it. I’m just a little bit interested. My brain isn’t big enough to think quantum-sized thoughts for too long without shutting down.
- Photography. I love beautiful photography. I’d love to learn how to see with the eye of an artist and capture those moments. Heth posted some photos of her kids taken by a photography-student friend. My keyboard almost shorted out from all the drool dripping down into it as I clicked through them, jealously salivating. I wish I could take pictures like that. Jodie Coston is going to help me with her free online photography course sponsored by morguefile.com.
- Art appreciation. I love art, but I don’t know much about it. Julie at Mental Tesserae is helping me out, however, by providing a free art lesson in many of her blogs–it’s nothing formal; just a natural outflow of her life and mind. I don’t know how she does it, but she can make amazing connections between her everyday life as a mom and great works of art–teaching about symbolism, and making me laugh and think. All in one post. This one is a good example. (Sometimes it takes a moment to load in order to bring up all that lovely artwork, but believe me, fellow autodidacts, it’s worth the wait.) Also, last Friday Mental Multivitamin offered a great intro-to-art post. Read. Think. Learn about art.
- Sociology. Okay, I don’t even know what one learns in a sociology class, but I suppose I might get some understanding of how humans in societies evolve as a whole and how variables impact their future. And I do like thinking about that. Right now, for example, I wonder how the rapid and excessive use of technology will change us at a societal level. Would I learn how to analyze that in a sociology class? If so, I think I’d find it interesting.
- History. Just as I enjoy wondering about the future, I do enjoy looking back to consider the past. For some reason, however, history has never stuck with me. I can’t remember dates or critical events. I’d love to sign up for a course with an especially vibrant instructor who can bring it to life. If still subscribed to cable, I’d watch The History Channel. Since we don’t, I was happy to discover that they have a website, too.
- Literature. More, more, more! I was an English major because I loved to read and think and write. I still love to read, think, and write–even more! I think I’d appreciate classic stories and themes so much more now than I did at ages 18, 19, and 20. A quick search will bring up many sites where you can read books online for free–Project Gutenberg is a great resource for this. To significantly increase the nerd-factor, I can assign myself essays by visiting a blast from the past: remember Cliff’s Notes?
- Creative Writing. Yes, I’d love to hang out with like-minded writer-types a few times a week for a semester. Life as a writer-mom gets a little lonely sometimes. Wouldn’t it be nice to gather in a room and work together, comparing notes, learning from each other, sharpening our craft?
I discovered an excellent resource at my local library: The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series. This company has recorded the lectures of professors across the country who are considered some of the top in their field. An entire semester of material for numerous topics is available on several CDs. I decide on an area I want to study, check out the first few packs, and start listening to them on my drive to the kids’ school or on errands. Some lectures are 20-30 minutes long, some are 40. It varies.
It takes hours to work through a class, just as it would if I’d signed up for it and attended the lectures in person. It’s not absolutely perfect–I can’t take notes while I’m cruising along listening, for example, and the kids groan a little when I press play and they hear the introductory music (“it’s so boring, Mom!”). But it’s been a great way to satisfy Autodidact Ann at no financial cost and without having to make major logistical changes in my life (as I would to attend an actual university class). It’s a shame that all those hours of listening don’t get me any closer to a master’s degree, but they do satisfy my craving to learn.
The Teaching Company also offers video options–interestingly, I have one on quantum physics that I picked up at a used book sale one time, so I really can learn a little physics when I’m up for it–but they seem to focus a lot on the audio lectures because people can listen to them on commutes.