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Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will Paperback – March 5, 2013
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About the Author
Dale J. Stephens left school at twelve to become an unschooler, the self-directed branch of homeschoolers. He has appeared at TED 2012; on news outlets including CNN, ABC, and NPR; and in New York Magazine and Forbes. His writing has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Fast Company. Dale founded UnCollege.org.
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I felt that the information was somewhat useful, but didn't go that extra mile, in really impressing me as the reader. It was sprinkled with "Hacks of the Day", actionable tips on improving one's life. The quality of the writing felt average, at best, though this could be to make the book more approachable and understandable by the casual reader. The diction was lacking, so was the grammar. The book, as a whole, left me feeling that there was something I wasn't getting. One suggestion would have been to elaborate more on how someone with zero experience, zero accomplishments, zero community, can get off the ground. Dale constantly asserts his pathos(credibility), but doesn't explain how he was able to do so; he simply says that "I was born this way", or that he was "naturally talented" in certain areas that allowed him to succeed. That's great, but for someone who's looking to do this at the age of 18, 40, etc. Dale leaves no clues as to how he established himself, over the past 6 years.
If you haven't followed the whole UnCollege movement, it is a decent read, but as a whole, I felt that the Education of Millionaires was well written and taught me a lot more.
Anyhow, I wish Dale the best on his journey.
I knew that I wanted to be a writer by the age of nine, and when I turned eleven I told my mother that seeing as I had already learned the "three R's," I wished to leave school and pursue my education through self-direction, adventure and the guidance of a tutor / mentor. I wanted to learn along the lines of the bestselling author of (among many other hilarious writings) "My Family and Other Animals," Gerald Durrell. Mom sent me right back to school, where I proceeded to do the minimum necessary to achieve a first-class pass, (required for university entrance), just in case I ever decided to study at a university...
For the most part, I detested the classroom. I still think of it as a monumental waste of time and an horrific imposition on a naturally adventurous mind. So many hours that could have been spent in real learning: exploring, inventing, trying and failing - essentially in discovering and excelling in what I truly felt could be my meaningful contribution to the world, were wasted in meeting the agenda of a national education board. I resented the kind of thinking that imposes a "one size fits all" style of education delivery format on a child.
Having traveled a lot and tried out many pathways, I discovered that working toward Journeyman status in the electrical trade is opening up the opportunity to travel as I wish, and by keeping my hand in photo-journalism on a part-time basis, I am able to continue with my development as a writer. Much of my education is self-directed and experience based. I have never been more contented in my pathway!
I am thrilled that, due to electronic technologies, especially the Internet, the educational system is being forced to change and provide greater freedom for the autodidact to obtain information. It is high time.
Reading "Hacking Your Education" provides excellent encouragement, and resource / networking information as a starting point for the self-educator and anybody considering dropping out of the moneymaking racket that systematized education has become. I look forward to connecting with more autodidacts as I "follow the rabbit trail."
The personal relevance is that I have a son in high school who'll soon be making the decision of whether to go to college or to take a full time job to develop his life's passion then perhaps go to college later to complement it with a degree.
The first thing you'll want to know before reading this book is whether author Dale Stephens is a nut. Is he an embittered college drop-out bent on rationalizing his failure to graduate by convincing us that college is a waste of time and money for everybody? Mr. Stephens did write a piece in the Wall Street Journal this weekend titled "A Smart Investor would skip the MBA." Many WSJ readers who commented on the article judged it to be simple-minded. But his book is more practical-minded than the short WSJ article. It advises high school students to ask the questions that they must answer in order to prepare themselves for entry into the performance driven world of academia and career.
Some of Dale's sensible advice is:
Figure Out Why You're Here: 1. What are you on this planet to do? The answer is one word, and always a verb. Sandee's answer is to teach. Write down your verb....Write down your ten possible occupations:
Get Up at 6: 00 a.m. Every day for a week I challenge you to get up at 6: 00 and spend the first few hours of your day working. It may be painful, but I promise it will also be a rewarding experience. Here are some tips for getting up: As soon as you get out of bed, make yourself stand up and do ten squats. The blood will rush to your head, and you'll be awake.
Be You...Part of maintaining your individuality is developing self-confidence. And part of developing self-confidence is accepting that you're not going to be nice to everyone all the time. The biggest roadblock holding most of us back from the life we want is entirely self-created: It's that we care what other people think.
This is practical advice for any person, but especially for young people who need to start their academic and working lives with productive habits. Young people must anticipate that soon they will no longer be the centers of attention they were in their families. In the "real world" the only criteria they'll be measured by is whether they perform.
Thus, this book is useful in girding high schoolers for what will be demanded of them in the more competitive worlds of university and work.
Now, there IS a caveat to this book, and that is that Dale Stephens exhibits that very rare personality type known as the "polymath." These are intensely creative-minded people who thrive on their ability to become self-taught in many subjects. They're people like Bruce Dickenson, lead singer of the heavy metal group Iron Maiden, who flies airline passengers to holiday destinations as captain of a Boeing 737 when he isn't busy with rock stardom.
The positive trait of these people is that they can teach themselves virtually any subject. As students they can often out-think their university professors. They tend to find structured university curriculums stultifying. They often flunk out of university because they're bored with it. Instead of structured learning, these people pride themselves on their ability to "hack" concepts by intuitively grasping the whole from studying specific parts.
Polymaths tend to be social-minded "bull session" artists who can converse with anybody about anything. They can cold call a CEO they never met before, request a lunch date, and ask the CEO to hire them on the spot. The downside is that there may be a lack of substance behind their polished spiels. The ethically challenged among them thrive as con artists who misrepresent their abilities, frequently to the point of scamming their victims. But most are honest, success-driven people who thrive on creative challenges, especially in proving wrong those conformist-minded people who tell them that something they desire to accomplish "can't be done."
Needless to say, there aren't many people who fit this personality type. Those who try to fake it often come off as clownish "shoot-from-the-hip" types. Nor is this personality type widely accepted in most corporations, which are bureaucratic, hierarchical, conformist, and ego-driven from the top down. Try pulling some of this "hacking a job" stuff in most corporations and you'll be thrown out on your ear. But there are a few corporations, many small businesses, and a lot of individual consultants who thrive on it.
Thus, the reader must be aware that the "hacking" methods talked up in this book don't work for all types of people and aren't appropriate to all business cultures.
And some of Stephens' specific notions, such as that employers will pay self-taught writers and computer "coders" starting salaries of $120,000 to $140,000 are delusional. Computer coding is a commoditized profession, paying an average of $70K a year for programmers with a college degree and 10 years of experience, and maybe $40K to beginners with a college degree. The abysmal low quality of computer systems developed by self-taught programmers is one reason companies don't hire them anymore, preferring instead to buy off-the-shelf software that most likely was coded in India or China. And I've never encountered any company that thought that writing was a skill worth paying premium dollars for. The pay for technical writers and writers of corporate proposals and brochures is around $20 to $30 an hour.
It is a salient fact of life that companies aren't going to pay big bucks for informally trained people in any field, except maybe commission-only sales jobs, and even in commissioned sales relatively few people ever earn more than $50K a year. Thus, Stephens is trying to paint a picture of a plethora of glittering gold mines awaiting the informally educated, whereas in reality these employment "goldmines" are as rare as real ones.* (*see Comment(1) for detailed explanation).
Also be aware that Stephens admits that he enrolled in college without having any good reason for being there:
Any idealism I had about university was quickly squashed. For the most part, people weren't there to learn; they were there to party for four years and, if they rolled into class without a hangover, to learn something along the way....I went to college because I assumed I needed a college degree to get a job.
People used to do that all the time back when jobs were plentiful and college tuition wasn't extortionate. In those days any college degree was the ticket to middle class jobs. Obviously the economics have changed. For a variety of reasons middle class jobs are scarce and college IS extortionate. The cost/benefit ratio of obtaining a college degree has gone from one extreme to another.
Thus, the most pragmatic route to a fulfilling career may be to gain sufficient work experience to decide what you want to do, then decide whether or not to go on to college. The dilemma is that the "real world" work experience obtainable without college is most likely to be manual labor. Still, it might be worthwhile to wash dishes and wait tables in a restaurant to gain an understanding of whether or not one has an affinity for that kind of business before borrowing $50,000 to go to school to become a certified chef or to get a degree in hospitality management. Do the work first. Decide if it's what you want to do for the rest of your life. THEN decide if college will enhance your career.
This is the decision tree that Dale Stephens is popularizing:
1) Understand yourself to the point of knowing whether you thrive as a self taught polymath or whether structured university education is the optimal learning venue for you. If you are a "polymath" you may still want to go to college, but understand that its structured curriculum will be frustrating. Understand that this is normal for people of your temperament, and try to augment the structured curriculum by self-taught activities.
2) If you do decide to go to college have a clear idea of what you want to learn before going there. In this jobs-scarce economy a college degree probably won't guarantee you a job. Having developed a passion and some on-the-job expertise in a particular field augmented by a college degree probably will.
I've rated this book three stars because Mr. Stephens assumes that his "hacking" methods that work for him will work for everybody. Obviously they won't. But there IS enough practical advice in this book to make it a worthwhile read for young people. Just don't read more into it than is appropriate for your particular personality.
Btw. as an afterthought, I'd like to comment on the one subject that Dale says nothing about, and that's his politics. Dale's obviously a committed capitalist because the theme of achieving success through creating business ventures is central to the book. At the same time his advocacy of volunteering one's time and money for social causes shows his highly developed social consciousness. He doesn't seem to view making money as an end in itself in the way the obscenely greedy, status-seeking, in-your-face, amoral capitalists of the passing generation who trashed the economy with crazy speculations saw it. Rather, he sees money in the RIGHT way --- as a natural by-product that comes as a reward for improving other people's lives with the new and improved goods and services that an entrepreneur brings to market.
The politically inclined among us are wondering where business and politics will be headed now that the post-2008 generation is coming of age. If Dale is representative of his generation, and I think he probably is, then both the capitalist system and the political system will be passing into excellent hands....
....and this leads to one final speculation: Although Dale overstates the obtainability of high-paying jobs for the "unschooled" NOW, that may not be the case in the future when his generation rises to leadership of business, academia, and government.
The old leadership of business reached a degenerative stage in 2008 when they wrecked the economy with bogus financial scams and anti-social "cost-cutting" by eliminating their employees' jobs and pensions. That generation of corporate leadership was ossified, exclusive, over-credentialed, hostile to innovation, and did not know how to grow a business the RIGHT way, by making new and improved products that consumers want to buy.
Instead of growing wealth and sharing it they relied on paper credentials like university degrees and MBA's to channel wealth into a select few. This was the "winner take all" economy where the few at the top garnered the lion's share of the wealth, while the rank-and-file whose work and innovation built the business were oppressed with layoffs, pay cuts, work force reductions, and early retirements. University degrees and MBA's were too often used as litmus tests to separate the 1% of winners from the 99% of also-rans.
In a sick economy with zero growth and scarce job opportunities credentials become WHITE COLLAR UNION CARDS. Companies value them more as vehicles for denying employment opportunities to the masses than as certifications of competence to preform a job. As the economy improves and the ratio of job applicants to open job positions gets back in balance it is likely that employers will be forced by economic realities to get back to the right reason for hiring people, which is because they can do the jobs that need to be filled.
Thus, the true value of this book may not be in how it relates to today's world of credentialed and pigeonholed employment, but as a heads-up on how Dale's generation will CHANGE the employment dynamics to suit THEIR non-credentialed, innovation-centric values.
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