September. Back to school. This time of year finds me yearning to learn something, to sharpen some pencils to fine points, to crack open some new notebooks with all those blank pages bursting with possibility. The steam rising from lake in the cool mornings mixed with the scent of steam rising from my coffee cup catapults me into autumn. Once September arrives, the season turns, and I find myself casting about for continuing education.
I compulsively peruse college websites and contemplate returning to school for an advanced degree in . . . something. A MFA in creative writing? A master’s in New England studies? Paralegal courses? Business? Or maybe I should take some adult ed classes. I look and dream and try to project myself into the future, trying to spy out the terrain. Will I actually use the costly investment of time and money to make a decent return on investment? Will jobs even be available in my fields of interest? Do I really want a career, or am I simply wanting to learn something?
Until I figure out what I where and what I want to study, I will try to teach myself. Truth is, we’re all lifelong learners whether we want to be or not. Some of us chose to direct our learning in specific directions, and some of us learn by default when we pick up a magazine or click the television remote. Either way, we learn.
For instance, today I could be learning where the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills get their nails done. Or “What Not to Wear.” Or how to make Martha Stewart’s Halloween punch. Instead, I chose something different. I chose economics.
Economics is one of those subjects I missed along the way to high school diploma and college degree. Like a teenager who feels that if she only had that one magical pair of perfect jeans she’d suddenly become skinny, de-pimpled, and popular, there’s one side of me (call her Side A) that has this sneaky suspicion that if only she understood how the economy works, everything about this world that seems illogical and murky would suddenly be made clear. Of course, the other side of me (Side B) knows that is ridiculous, that there is no magic theory on this earth strong enough to provide a lucid organizing principle for everything.
Side A argues, “Yeah, but would it hurt to try? What else are we gonna do all day?”
Side B shakes her head, disgusted and cynical but eventually agrees, grudgingly, to go along with Side A’s latest folly. “As long as it doesn’t cost us anything but time.”
Side A waves a hand dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go find me a highlighter already. And some skinny jeans.”
Anyway, since I wasn’t going to allow myself to take expensive college courses simply for the fun of it, I needed to find a cheap alternative. Lucky for me, someone dropped off an introductory college textbook at the swap shop at the transfer station, and I snagged it up last spring. The book is called THE ECONOMIC WAY OF THINKING by Paul Heyne. Two chapters in, and I’ve already found at least ten gems. Here are a couple.
From page 4: The theories of economics, with surprisingly few exceptions, are simple extensions of the assumption that individuals take those actions they think will yield them the largest net advantage.
Heynes goes on to explain that “advantage” doesn’t always mean money. There are always other advantages besides greater monetary wealth.
From page 16: (1) Most goods are not free but can be obtained only by sacrificing something else that is also good. (2)There are substitutes for anything. (3) Intelligent choice among substitutes requires a balancing of additional costs against additional benefits.
So (1)Education isn’t free. You have to sacrifice good money and/or time in order to gain education. (2)A substitute for expensive college tuition is homeschooling myself. (3)Balancing additional costs (money) against additional benefits (maybe a paying job, maybe not), means the intelligent choice for me was picking up that used textbook at the dump.
From page 12: The primary goal of this book is to start you thinking the way economists think, in the belief that once you start, you will never stop. Economic thinking is addictive. Once you get inside some principle of economic reasoning and make it your own, opportunities to use it pop up everywhere. You begin to notice that much of what is said or written about economic and social issues is a mixture of sense and nonsense.
Yeah, this is no surprise to me. Once I get into any sort of reasoning, I begin to apply it to everything around me. My hope is that economics will bring into focus the slightly blurred edges of current events, history, politics, and social issues so that I can get a clearer picture of the world around me.
So far so good. I am devoting my early morning coffee/reading time to economics this fall. You, dear reader, will probably have to suffer through commentary about current events both personal and public as seen through the lens of economic theory.
But who knows. It might even be more entertaining than watching reality tv.
Question for you, my dear reader: What sorts of continuing education opportunities have you found since graduating from high school or college? What interests have you pursued? Do you feel you can learn on your own as effectively as you can learn from a teacher or a school? Are there any glaring gaps in your education? Drop me a line and let me know what you think of continuing education . . . Outside the Box.