Adam’s Note: I originally wrote this in 2008. Still fits, so I’m going to share it with you!
When I was young I thought education was an A + B = C journey. As an adult I have found there is more than one way to learn what I need to know in order to make a difference. Powerful experiences as a youth activist led me to want to earn a bachelor’s degree in community development. That should have changed when I was thrown out of college at the age of 19.
Fortunately, it did not.
Going to college wasn’t an easy thing for me in the first place. As a child my family moved constantly, and when we eventually settled down I found myself growing up as a low-income white kid in an African American neighborhood. After becoming the only one of my siblings to graduate from high school on time, I knew I had to go to college. Nobody taught me about financial aid, and after a semester I was not allowed back because I didn’t know how to pay the bill.
Luckily, I had enough gravitas not to let that stop me from continuing on my education – only now I had to get paid for learning. A nonprofit in my neighborhood hired me to run after school activities and a late-night basketball program. Then there were jobs at a nature center, a drug treatment center, as a living skills instructor for high-risk youth, and as a challenge course facilitator. I served two terms in AmeriCorps with Kurdish and Iraqi refugee children in the Midwest and as a challenge course director for high-risk youth in the Pacific Northwest. The federal government hired me to promote service-learning in northern New Mexico, and when I was hired as the youth ambassador for Washington State’s education agency I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree, eight years after I had started it. I went on to start a national nonprofit organization, and today I am a successful consultant and freelance writer focused on youth engagement for schools, nonprofits and government agencies across the country.
What I know now that I didn’t know when I was younger is that there is no linear path in learning: you don’t just start here and go there. Instead of doing what television shows told me to do, I had to figure out what matters to me, and when I did that I discovered why there is an book about education called, We Make the Road by Walking. That title best describes my education: I only learn what I need to know by actually doing what I want to do.
If you want to learn about changing the world, that is what I want you to do: Go volunteer or get a job, and by doing it you will discover what you need to learn next. We make the road by walking – so please, get walking! The world can’t wait any longer.