Whaddya mean, “don’t go back to school”?!

It may seem odd for a university professor to be recommending a book whose title and content are all about not going back to school. But I’ve had Kio Stark’s Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything (2013) on my bookshelf for some time now, and I finally took a good look at it over the weekend. I like it!

Don’t Go Back to School is a terrific collection of essays by individuals who opted out or dropped out of degree programs (both undergraduate and graduate) to plot their own learning paths and achieved creative and vocational successes. It’s also a helpful resource guide for folks who want to explore ways to apply these lessons to their own learning and work.

Kio Stark is a writer and self-described “independent learning activist” who describes the book this way on her website:

Here is a radical truth: school doesn’t have a monopoly on learning. More and more people are declining traditional education and college degrees. Instead they’re getting the knowledge, training, and inspiration they need outside of the classroom. Drawing on extensive research and over 100 interviews with independent learners, Kio Stark offers the ultimate guide to learning without school. Don’t Go Back to School provides models and methods for taking a new kind of path through learning, and transforming that alternative education into an exciting career path. This inspiring, practical guide provides concrete strategies and resources for getting started as an independent learner. If you’re debating whether college, trade school, or independent learning will get you where you want to be, Don’t Go Back to School is essential reading.

I’m all for enrolling in degree programs that meet an individual’s needs and interests. A formal degree program with quality instruction, mentoring, and networking opportunities can be a powerful and useful experience. In today’s workplace, a bachelor’s degree, while falling short of being an absolutely essential credential, is nevertheless an important door opener for entering many fields. In vocational areas requiring some type of licensure, completion of formal degree or learning programs may be a necessity.

However, I’m also a big fan of independent, self-directed learning, as these previous posts attest:


Beyond graduation: On becoming a lifelong learner (2015) — “In addition, two guides to lifelong learning by one of my favorite authors, Ronald Gross, are also worth picking up: The first is Peak Learning (1999), which incorporates advice and insights in Ron’s friendly, encouraging writing voice. The second is Socrates’ Way: Seven Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost (2002), which draws on the life and lessons of the Greek philosopher to teach us how to enrich our lives and enhance our thinking. In terms of references to computer technology, both books are slightly dated, but the content remains extremely useful and inspiring.”

What is a “Ulyssean adult,” and how can you become one? (2012) — “What kind of life do you want to live? And as age creeps up on you, how do you want to spend the rest of your life? I recently discovered an intriguing book about adult development, The Ulyssean Adult: Creativity in the Middle & Later Years (1976), by the late John A.B. McLeish, a Canadian education professor. Unfortunately it’s out of print, but if you’re interested in this topic, it’s worth hunting down a copy. Judging from The Ulyssean Adult, McLeish was not a warm and fuzzy self-help writer. His observations can be sharp-edged and may cause discomfort, as he was not one to pull punches.”

To find resources, become a “buccaneer scholar” and a relentless scout (2010)– “One of my favorite books about self-education and lifelong learning is James Marcus Bach’s Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar (2009). Bach is a high school dropout who taught himself computer programming, got in early at Apple Computer, and has become a leading software testing expert. His book is all about the philosophy and practice of being a self-directed, independent learner.”


Don’t Go Back to School is a worthy addition to the body of literature on lifelong learning. The individual essays are instructive and inspiring, and the resource listings are practical and helpful. For those who are weighing options and changes, this is a good read. It also might open up some exciting possibilities.

2 responses

  1. And for those who do want to return to school but do so in a careful, thought-out manner check out “Back to School for Grownups – How to Not Get Run Over by the Schoolbus” ☺


  2. I think I would like that book too.

    i have dabbled with both sides of the equation. My undergraduate degree (English) was frustrating and I wasn’t really ready for it at 18, I wish I’d dropped out. After I graduated, I felt like i could finally read what I wanted to, and after a few years, felt compelled to start my own study of sociology, looking at reading lists to get inspiration. Eventually, that winding path led me to learning about I-O psychology, and then I was back in school studying it at Salem State for an MS. Now I’m in an HR role, and pointing to that degree did help me at least prove I was interested in crafting better workplaces.

    Since then, I would say I’m equal parts for both practice and theories – but if theory is someone’s interest – the formal program does make it easier to “prove” you’ve learned something.

    One depressing thing I did read earlier this year was a post on Gallup’s website that said earning a bachelor’s degree doesn’t point to any higher lifelong learning. I suppose this supports the premise of the book highlighted: http://www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/184373/no-evidence-college-degrees-lead-lifelong-learning.aspx?utm_source=WWWV7HP&utm_medium=topic&utm_campaign=tiles

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