The Internship is the Key

Firstly, in case you missed it, I was recently interviewed on The Sociable Homeschooler by the amazing Vivienne McNeny.  We talked about my new little book, “Dreaming YOUR Dream“, about my education growing up homeschoooled, and about my thoughts on college lately.  Check it out!

intern1-1024x645Some people think that internships are only for people in college. Those people are wrong. Internships are for whoever wants them badly enough. Sometimes internship-giving companies and organizations say they only want people who have or are pursuing a college degree. If this is the case, and you do not want to jump through such timely, expensive, and potentially boring hoops, then I have two other suggestions for you, which may spark other ideas.

But first, the general steps to acquiring The Internship:

  1. Find a company or organization – online, through word of mouth, etc.
  2. Research them, their purpose, and their mission thoroughly
  3. Arrange a tour and meeting with the company or organization (if this is somehow not feasible, perhaps you could find a Reliable Cohort to go in your place: though, if you are really serious about this internship, it’s best to find it within your own means)
  4. Take everything into consideration and apply with the company/organization’s best interests in mind, not yours. (i.e., what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.  See, “How NOT to Get Hired.”)
  5. They may want a resume, cover letter, letters of recommendation: unsure of how to get these together? E-mail me – I am working on a tutorial!

This is often enough for getting into the “entry-level” internships – the less picky ones.  Now we will cover what to do if the internship narrow-mindedly requires you to have sat in some relevant classes at some institution of higher education:

First of all, this is probably an “advanced internship”: prior experience required. A degree or degree-in-progress is the most recognizably concrete evidence of knowledge today.  However, it is not the only evidence.  What your future internship-givers really want is concrete evidence that you have a good amount of hands-on experience, relevant knowledge, and the drive and determination to be a great intern.

How do you get this?

  • “Entry-level” internships: 1-3 internships, ideally each building on one another in terms of duties, responsibility, learning experience, and skills developed.  Do not complete these internships without securing a letter of recommendation from at least one person overseeing your work – certificates of completion don’t hurt either.  Document your experience.
  • Volunteering – often volunteers have intern-like responsibilities. Always look for opportunities to volunteer, especially at relevant organizations.  Same goes for volunteering as does internships – try to leave with a voucher of how wonderful you are.  And don’t forget to document!
  • College students spend a lot of time in the books: it can’t hurt to do the same!  When you read a book (or article, or watch a movie, etc.) on your subject, write or film an essay or review on the book, and upload it to your blog or website. When you apply, you can send an e-mail with links to these reviews/essays.
  • Present your non-college case as earnestly and confidently as you possibly can when you apply. (If you are unsure of your speaking abilities, attend a local Toastmasters club for a bit; if your writing needs improving, a good word-wise friend can help).
  • In case I didn’t emphasize it enough before: document everything you do!  Pictures, blog posts, video, art, whatever!  Prove that you are learning and growing in these experiences – it is VITAL to showing you can be just as good as any old college student retaining what they learned in class just long enough to regurgitate it on the test the next day before moving on.

If you are dead gone on this particular Super Awesome Internship and want to go on and apply to them ASAP instead of in another year after building up your resume, keep in mind you may be aiming a bit to high just now. But if you’re going to do it anyway, please take heed to follow these steps:

  • Apply with the same amount of zeal and earnestness in both writing and speaking as I mentioned before, and present your less-experienced case as smartly as possible.  Perhaps spend a couple of nights studying salesmanship before filling out the application.
  • Emphasize and highlight any and all even moderately applicable experience, and please keep in mind what I said in the general guidelines: focus on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
  • Beseech them in the application to, if they cannot accept you as-is, at least oblige you with suggestions/leads for ways that you could gain the experience that they are looking for in an intern at their company.

As a reminder, do not put all your eggs in one basket: apply to more than just one or two internships, just as you would apply to more than just one or two colleges.  And don’t sit on your rump all day waiting for a response – pursue more experience and knowledge in the field(s) of your choice every day.  Your dream is out there just waiting for you to live it!


Organic Gen Ed

General education – may I ask what the point is?

In my short lifetime, I have taken gen ed classes. I enjoyed them, for the most part. But, if I were to go to college, would I particularly like to spend two of my four years studying requirements that 85% of the time have absolutely no relevancy to my chosen major? Not really.

However, colleges, and many people who attend them, seem to consider gen eds worthwhile, correct? Why is this, I wonder?

Some of the justifications I hear most often:

1. Gen eds prepare you for the upper-level courses in your chosen major
2. Gen eds help you figure out what you might like to major in
3. Gen eds give you a well-rounded education by exposing you to subjects you might not have had an opportunity to learn about otherwise

I would like to take this blog entry to question these beliefs which are strongly held by a great number of people. And if, at the end of this entry, you have any more thoughts on Gen eds, please let me know what they are; and I would love to do a second post addressing these things.

Gen eds prepare you for the upper-level courses in your chosen major.

I can see one big flaw in this argument – shouldn’t the skills for your chosen major be known already at the beginning of college? Why must essential things like writing a paper or doing math be re-learned or learned at this great and elite “college level”, when the average person already spent 12 years and the majority of every day in an institution where such “special skills” could and should have already been taught?

(And, if a person was homeschooled: I do believe , if college was in the agenda, that person is equally capable of learning the skills necessary for writing a college paper and/or doing college math on their own, or with the guidance of outside classes.)

Gen eds help you figure out what you might like to major in.

Surely there is nothing wrong with this, right? Well…

This goes back to something I’ve said a number of times: why would a person go to college if he or she does not know what you want to major in? What is the point? They are doing nobody a favor by spending tons of their money (well, except those who receive the money, of course) while aimlessly meandering about the schoolwork, head down, not having enough time to even think about what they want out of life.

Need anything else be said on that?

Gen eds give you a well-rounded education by exposing you to subjects you might not have had an opportunity to learn about otherwise.

And why not?

For one, the most obvious cause – being stuck in college for four years. I apologize if I offend anyone with my frankness.

I would just like to ask: how does anybody know that a person would not be exposed or be self-motivated to study new and different subjects in-depth? I simply feel like this is a weak argument for gen ed. Life is full of inspiration for new interests, and tools and opportunities to pursue those interests. That is what is the primary function of an autodidact, and (I hope) of adults as they go through their normal lives… “real life.”

Being inspired and pursuing inspiration made up my “schooling” as a homeschooler. I really needed no such general education in order to broaden my horizons; in fact, now I get a little frustrated occasionally, as I feel my horizons are a little too broad at this point in my life!

Here are a few examples:

1. I was inspired to write because of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote the Little House books, incase anybody was a little clueless about that. :-) I wanted to be her – I wanted to write, and tell stories, and also have a record of my life that someone would find after I died and turn into a book series and a television show starring Melissa Gilbert. I’ve been writing ever since I was able to form words on the paper, and in my teenage years I have conducted numerous studies of writing and still continue to write (hence, largely, this blog).

2. I was inspired by coming across the television show “The Dog Whisperer” at one point, seeing how Cesar Millan formed a pack of dogs using his knowledge of the origins of canine behavior. At first I was just interested in dogs, but that branched off into a very large obsession with wolves. I have now read extensively about them, and have two internships planned for the near future at a couple of fantastic wolf refuges.

3. Probably the biggest jump I made from the point of being inspired till the peak of intense study is exercise science. It all started while watching the Winter Olympics in February 2006. Developing a slight crush on figure skater Johnny Weir, I watched all his events; and, after the Olympics, started to watch figure skating more. There were little blips on the skaters during these events, in which they often talked about the training and cross training they put into their sports. I had just started swimming a few months before, and I had a brainstorm that I could cross train myself to become a better swimmer. This grew into watching Fit TV very frequently, along with getting many exercise science, workout, nutrition, etc., books from the library. While I don’t study it as intensely as I did at that certain point of my life, the knowledge continues to carry over into whatever I am doing, and I have not completely ruled out becoming a personal trainer one of these days.

And those are just a few examples from my own short life so far.

Perhaps now I have you asking, “what IS the point of Gen eds?” along with me.

But, if I don’t, please tell me: why are Gen eds important? What purpose, in the long run, do they hold? Wouldn’t you rather have the extra time to “study” other interests on your own than be forced to take two years full of certain types of classes, taught in a certain kind of way? Why can’t I just go to a university, concentrate on my major, and come out with a piece of paper for that?


ADHD: A Gift?

They don’t call it a “learning disability” exactly; they call it an “other health impairment” (Understanding ADHD). But it’s just a bunch of labeling-words, so it doesn’t matter. They put you on mind-altering drugs and/or stick you in a “special” classroom with other “disabled” children. Nobody even considers that, perhaps, not everyone’s brain is supposed to work the same way.

I was incredibly blessed to have been born to parents who did not put me in an institution where this would have been the case. But imagine if I had. What if I had grown up being told I was wrongly different and that I must shape up or take a pill to shape me up? I don’t even want to think how drastic of a contrast that would be to my life.

But I would have been categorized and medicated. I was that (all so very typical) kind of kid: hyper, silly, flippant, not very attentive, etc. I know I drove a lot of people crazy because my youngest brother is the same way and sometimes I want to sit on him until he calms down. (I don’t.)

I was talking with one of my gardening clients one morning and she was telling me about her ADHD (adult) son and how he was incredibly active all the time, always doing something… rafting, building stuff, biking, swing dancing, etc.  Her other son is very not-ADHD, and is quite the workaholic, working 12-hour days, never really seeing anybody or doing anything he cares about.  Who do you think enjoys life more?

That conversation with my client sparked somewhat of a hypothesis in my mind: what if ADHD wasn’t a curse, but actually an advantageous personality trait?

Thusly prompted, I set out the next morning to do research. I didn’t have to look far. Almost immediately I found two articles by the same name: “ADHD as a Gift.” The first one was more anecdotal, someone writing about their own child: The second one was more scientific, and thus hugely informative, realistic, and even encouraging:

So what’s the matter with being ADHD? I think, if you feel like you have some “ADHD symptoms”, then take it as a sign – you’d do better, or are doing better, finding your own way in the world of higher education. The way things are typically taught are just not the best for your highly-concentrated learning style. But also, don’t let the illusion of it being a disorder keep you from pursuing an education via college. It may mean you have to bend your ways a little to meet what needs to be done, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

On that note, a few days ago, I wrote a small article on how to test out whether college classes work for you for The Unschooler Experiment. Here it is: Crashing College Classes.

It’s so important to be aware of how we learn and work best. I work best alone, switching between activities often, usually moving around a lot if possible. I also like to write and read, but I usually mix these things in with bike-riding or gardening, that kind of thing. However, if the activity itself requires movement, I can concentrate on it for hours.

How do you learn best?

Learning How to Ask Questions Again

asking questions

It was a bright and sunny day at the Youth Jamboree. Boyscouts and Girlscouts flocked the place: riding horses, walking over small challenge courses, learning broadsword sparring, eating, and more. There we were, four ladies manning the booth for the wildlife center, letting kids pet snakes and lizards, showing them a screech owl up close, and making sure nobody walked out without some brochures and hand sanitizer.

Out of the three other volunteers, I had only met one before. So I struck up a conversation with another one of the girls when the crowd had gotten smaller on the account of lunch. Abby (whose name has been changed) was a student at a local college, finishing up her Freshman year. Of course, she asked me where I went to college. Something in the air that day was making me extra confident and sure of myself, so it simply rolled off my tongue that “I am doing my own college – participating in a lot of internships and volunteerships like this one…”, which was excellent, considering I had not done so well in that area with the dental hygienist a few days prior.

I then asked Abby what she was majoring in. “I haven’t declared a major, yet,” she shrugged. That led me to ask what she was thinking about. “I don’t know, maybe English or something,” she shrugged again, seeming rather like she didn’t want to talk about it. I told her that English was a great idea right before we were mobbed with more people.

When I work events, I like to hold the animal in such a way that it catches the public eye and leads them into our booth. Kids and sometimes adults immediately start asking questions… how I love it when the kids question everything! They are so fascinated by animals they don’t normally get to see and pet, and they want to know all they can about them. I eventually find that a good way to segue into, “We have our own festival coming up soon!” and “if you want to come hang out with us and the animals more, we actually have a whole bunch of animal camps!”

Abby, on the other hand, had a surprisingly different approach.

“These are our non-releasable program animals,” she would tell people as soon as they came into the booth. She went on to educate them on what “non-releasable” meant, why our animals were non-releasable, and shoved some brochures in their hands.

When there was another lull in the crowd, she said to me: “I hate it when there are kids that come in and start asking questions! They never give me time to talk!”

The comment caught me completely off-guard. All I ended up saying was: “Um, yeah.”

What could I have said??

The point of this is not to make myself look good or Abby look bad. She was a very sweet girl with many good qualities. It was simply these couple of interactions which stood out to me and led me to start thinking – are both the urge to ask questions and the willingness to answer them eventually squashed by compulsory schooling?

Regardless of whether this is caused by mainstream education, I have realized that I’ve almost completely ceased asking questions. Or, if I do ask them, I do not actually knowledge that I ask them: I dream up a solution so I don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable state of uncertainty.

This is unfortunate.

My 12-year-old brother Robert has really been an inspiration to me lately. He has absolutely no qualms about asking questions – he is constantly inquiring about many things which have never crossed my mind to question before. Here are just a few examples:

“Why are water towers so high up?”
“In clay animation, how do they make things fly through the air?”
“Why are tires rubber?”
“Why aren’t roads rubber, so we can have metal tires?”
“Do British people not have coffee tables, since they drink tea?”
“Why are ant traps called roach motels? The roaches don’t even fit in there.”
“If we play ‘Uno,’ do Mexicans play ‘One’?”

One very simple question in particular stood out to me: “How do they make cheese?”

I said, being a know-it-all: “Come on, Robert, we know how they make cheese. It’s…. they…. I …. um…. oh. How do they make cheese??”

This led us on a long trail discovering how cheese is curdled (with Rennet), what Rennet is (an enzyme from the 4th stomach of an unweaned calf), and if cheese can be made in a way a little more cow-friendly (it can, with juices from a few plants, often thistles). I relayed all of this to my friend Liam, who then asked yet another question I hadn’t even thought of: “How did people discover that an enzyme from a calf’s 4th stomach curdled milk anyway?”

That still remains to be answered. If you know anyone who might know, please refer me to them.

So, these past couple of days I have been wondering, how does a person learn to ask questions again? Fortunately, asking a question about asking questions is a start.

I think the first place to start is not to take anything for granted. Yes, flamingos are pink, but why are they pink? Why is a corn snake called a corn snake? How come earth worms are so hard to pull out of the ground? What makes the wind blow, and why does it blow in different directions? Why is the sea salty? What causes cats to purr? Who invented all these grammar rules we are supposed to follow? Why is Facebook called Facebook? What is the point of bumble bees?

I know the answer to about half of those questions; the others I had to contemplate before they came to mind. I have to stop and force myself not to take elements of my daily life for granted. Younger people seem to do this naturally; every time I work with kids, I always hear at least one or two questions I had never thought about. Sadly, I have to answer “I don’t know.” To those questions.

However, I found comfort in a small section about saying “I don’t know” in Anna Botsford Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study: “…any teacher can with honor say, ‘I do not know’; for perhaps the question asked is as yet unanswered by the great scientists. But she should not let lack of knowledge be a wet blanket thrown over her pupils’ interest. She should say frankly, ‘I do not know; let us see if we cannot together find out this mysterious thing. Maybe no one knows it as yet, and I wonder if you will discover it before I do.’ She thus conveys the right impression, that only a little about the intricate life of plants and animals is yet known; and at the same time she makes her pupils feel the thrill and zest of investigation.”

Feeling “the thrill and zest of investigation.” Oh, how lovely it sounds!

Refusing to Get Stuck

Sadly, a lot of people think that once you have left school, and/or once you reach a certain age, you can’t learn anymore. Nobody is teaching you. You are too old to learn.

Really? Is that really all there is?

Of course, if you believe all this B.S. you will turn into a person who can never learn another thing and will be stuck in the minimum wage job pool for the rest of your existence.

This is what people everywhere are afraid of. That is why everyone is telling you that you must go to college.

It never seems to cross anyone’s mind that you might actually “turn into” an awesome self-directed person: a person who seizes the day and finds their own path that gets them what they want, regardless if they are getting paid two dollars an hour or are salaried at 100,000 dollars a year.

So do it: rebel against what people think will become of you.

Universities are great learning institutions and are awesome for that purpose. But people get stuck in college. And often get stuck after college, too.

What we are doing is refusing to get stuck.

That’s why we are college rebels.