Availing Yourself of Free Education

To me, a lady is someone who must be interesting. Gossip and conversation about television shows is not interesting.

My mother went to college with a woman who was a real Renaissance woman. She had multiple degrees in a variety of subjects, and seemed to like taking college courses just for fun. When she heard that a private individual was going to be teaching a workshop on woodcarving, she thought it sounded interesting, so she took it and produced the tiger on the Chattanooga carousel.

I don’t think I will ever bethat interesting (or effortlessly creative), but I have had a number of people express amazement at my ability to talk about a little bit of everything. I especially excel at odd subjects like medieval history, the evolution of clothing, and theology.

But anyone can make interesting conversation. All you need to do is input some interesting things into your brain so that you can output them at the appropriate time.

Here are places where you can gain fascinating–and sometimes arcane–information to make you a more interesting person:

Smithsonian.com – My mother-in-law buys us a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine every year. It contains a variety of interesting articles, including the natural world, science, art, and literature. It will certainly increase your breadth of knowledge. And even if you can’t afford a subscription (or can’t get to the library to read it), there are plenty of free articles and pictures online.

LearnOutLoud.com – For some people, reading just isn’t their thing, and even passionate readers can find their book-time reduced by activities like commuting or a serious exercise program. That’s why free audio books and lectures are a God-send. I have listened to more than a hundred hours of theology lectures while commuting, exercising, cleaning house, and crafting–and I’ve not even listened to a fraction of what’s available online. So load up your MP3 player and get more interesting while doing the dishes, folding laundry, or sitting in rush-hour.

Open Culture – Not everyone was lucky enough to go to college when they were young, and maybe family commitments, employment, or fear of math, science, or computer classes are keeping you from doing it now. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t self-educate. After getting inspired by Scott H. Young (who is blogging about taking a free, online computer course from MIT), I did a search for free college courses online and came up with Open Culture. I can’t wait to spend some time perusing their selection and listening to some of the lectures on history.

Google Books – This link will take you to Google’s database of free books in .pdf and/or .epub form. Download the classics of literature, or curious tomes on early 20th century etiquette and housekeeping.

There you have it: access to free books, free magazine articles, free audio books, and free video lectures. The next time a conversational opportunity comes along, you’ll have no excuse to be stuck talking about last night’s sitcom.

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