Its not something thats too important now days, but a lot of people don’t know this about me. I never finished high school. At the end of my 6th form year I’d basically had such a horrible year with the school that I was extremely dejected and feeling pretty crap about the whole situation.
My chemistry and physics teacher and I clashed pretty severely. To the point where I spent the last half of the year for both of her classes in he dean’s office (who happened to be my math teacher) basically having to teach myself those lessons. What pissed them all off significantly was that even sitting in the dean’s office with no assistance, I still aced all the exams and tests. But because I had done none of the course work over that period I failed those classes regardless. There was a similar issue the year prior where I had the highest exam marks of the whole 5th form physics, but because I hadn’t turned in all the papers required, they refused to acknowledge the grade, despite the exam proving that I knew the material. I would read the entire course material for the whole year at the beginning of the year and then just do nothing the rest of the year and still pass the exams and tests throughout the year.
That had always been the way I worked. Don’t make me fit in with some schedule. If I know, don’t make me go over it ad nauseum because you’re not doing anything except boring me. Give me a challenge and we’re on good terms. Its the way I work now. Give me a challenge about a problem I don’t know, then give me the time and resources to figure it out on my own.
Anyway… at the end of 6th form I’d basically had enough of being bullied by my teachers in the science department and decided that I’d rather go spend time doing whatever I wanted for a while. I basically went off the rails and spent the next few years doing SFA instead of actually making an effort to be useful. Not an excuse, just the way it happened.
Looking back now, as much as I hated the school and the teachers and the fact that I was bored the majority of the year, I really do feel like I missed out on a lot by not seeing through the last year of high school. Most notably, that was when the subjects that I was good at got interesting. Math (algebra and its friends) turned into Calculus and Statistics. Physics built upon that math and you got into some real theory beyond just Ohms law and the charge of an electron and all the other boring crap that most people seem to instinctively know. You started dealing with real topics such as the various Newtonian Laws and beyond.
Its difficult for me though. Because these subjects are boring for so many people, its hard to express why those sorts of things actually excite me. In the same way that economics excites a lot of my friends today. But where I’m different from many people is that I will never persue these as a career. That opportunity left me the moment I walked away from high school and turned my back on university. Today I do not remember much of what I learned in school and so I doubt I could cope with these subjects at a university level unless I had the ability to do them at my own pace, in my own time. Worse still, today I struggle to do even the most basic of math without pen and paper or a calculator of some kind. Simple things that I used to do in my head with ease are now pretty difficult for me.
So my first thought is that maybe I need to change that.
Browsing around on Youtube as one does, looking for lectures about Astronomy and the like (yes, my head is often in the stars, but I do still manage to think about them too) I stumbled upon Yale University’s Open Courses for their many departments. Entire years worth of lecture series about all sorts of subjects. And to my delight, PHYS 200: Fundamentals of Physics is in there! Thats basically the lowest level of physics I can find that actually makes any sense to me.
So I’ve started working my way through those lectures. Taking notes, working out the problems myself in my own head and generally trying to keep up. I have to say that the best thing about those courses on Youtube verses downloading them directly is the closed captions. The ability to pause the lecture at any time I like is also a huge benefit for a guy like me. Trying to keep up and take notes if I were actually in that lecture would be a nightmare for me today. I’m definitely not as mentally agile as I once was. Being able to pause the lecture and work stuff out for myself as we go is an amazing way to learn.
The down side is that a lot of what is covered in that course requires some understanding of calculus. Problem. I left school before learning calculus and I have never knowingly used it in my life. So next task, figure out how the hell to learn calculus. And what do you know, MIT comes to the party with the MIT OpenCourseWare program. By making quite a few of their courses available online, and under a Creative Commons License no less, I have a new place to go looking. And they do not disappoint.
MIT has a massive number of their courses available online. And the MIT mathematics department has a very large selection available as part of the OCW program too. Including several calculus courses. Perfect! Even better, they too put the lectures on Youtube. So I can get the closed captions I don’t get when downloading direct from MIT’s servers.
So now I can learn the physics I missed out on because I made the stupid decision to leave school. And I can learn the calculus I need to know for the physics to make sense. All for free, at my own pace, in my own time. I can make sure I learn it and understand it and I can do most of the course work because its all available. The only difficulty will be getting the books the courses use, but I am sure I’ll find a way around that too without spending a fortune.
Hopefully this will help my brain start working properly again and I can start to get some of that mental agility back that over 15 years of avoiding thinking has squandered away.