Notes to Students

Notes to Students

Here are some things I wish I had known as a teenager, more or less related to education. If you can benefit from it as a teenager, congratulations. You don’t have to believe it all, or to read it all at once.

Being YoungEducational GoalsLong-term planningSpecialization
People are DifferentSelf-Management
Stages of LearningHow to LearnMemorization

Being Young

Experience is the best teacher. No matter how smart or hard-working you are, it takes years to get the experience you need to become an expert at anything. Some things take years of experience just to become competent. As a teenager, you are just beginning your adult life, and in most things you have zero adult experience. Think how that compares with people who are 30 years old who have 10 years of experience, or 50 years old and have 30 years of experience. It’s night and day. So if adults treat you like you don’t know anything, maybe they have good reason for that.

Also, adults know that they did all kinds of foolish things when they were young, so they expect you to do the same, and they feel like it’s hopeless to try to stop you. They just hope and pray that whatever foolish things you do won’t be too damaging to yourself or others.

As a teenager or young adult (under 30), you can benefit hugely from an older adult mentor, if both parties know how to make it work. Your job is to put in a lot of effort to build your knowledge and skills. If you don’t make the effort, older adults are not going to waste their time and energy on you. Come up with good questions to ask based on your own work, and the older adult will be happy to answer them because your questions show that you’re worth helping. The older adult’s job is to let you lead your own learning, and to figure out how to help you take the next steps forward from where you are now, along the path that you are traveling. In other words, to let the learner do most of the work, and to be guided and motivated by his own interest, which is by far the most effective learning process. The opposite is for the older adult to set a rigid curriculum, to demand that something be done his way when other ways work fine, and to do a lot of talking and not much answering questions. You can learn from people who act like that, and if that’s the best you can find then you should get all the benefit you can from them, but it’s far from ideal.

Good adult mentors get satisfaction from seeing you succeed, and from helping a young person to become a competent adult. They want you to be your own person, and they enjoy the fact that people are different. They don’t want to make young people into carbon copies of themselves. They respect you as an independent adult, but they don’t pretend that you are their equal in their area of expertise. They treat it as a known fact that you have a lot to learn, and they expect you to do the same, but this is not demeaning or insulting; it’s just a fact. Young people who act like they have nothing to learn are un-mentorable; don’t be like that.

The typical young person has far more physical vigor and resilience than a middle-aged or older adult. Adults are jealous of that; they think it is wasted on young people. Most people don’t realize how valuable their youthful vigor is until it is fading away.

Educational Goals

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