Education Books for Sale

I have some second-hand books on education/youth for sale. These books are of varying conditions and ages (but generally good). Prices are best offer + shipping; I’ll ship internationally from Brisbane. I accept bank transfers (Australia only) or PayPal (you can pay by credit card using PayPal). I also have some other non-education books; contact me for more info.

Click “More” to see the books I have for sale:
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Win KaosPilot A-Z 2: Essays on social enterprise

KaosPilot A-Z 2

I am giving away a copy of the now-rare English edition of KaosPilot A-Z, which is filled with essays and stories about social entrepreneurship from KaosPilots board members and friends, such as the late Dame Anita Roddick and Alan Webber of Fast Company, as well as an alphabetical look into life as a KaosPilot.

This book can be bought for DKR 280,- or €40, which doesn’t include shipping and handling. I got mine from a second-hand dealer and it cost me AU$70 all up. And I’m going to give my copy away!

All you have to do is answer these simple questions. All the answers can be found on the KaosPilots.NL website. You’ll also need to describe the KaosPilots Netherlands in your own words. Don’t worry, we don’t need essays )

Anyone can enter! Just get all your entries in by 30th April 2008. The results will be posted here by the 3rd of May at the very latest, and I’ll get in touch with the winner to send the book over.

Don’t hesitate, it’s just a simple task.

Enter Now!

Some reviews of KaosPilot A-Z 2:

Fast Company
Pioneers of Change

Reviews of the original Danish edition, KaosPilot A-Z (the version I’m giving away is in English)

Take Back Your Education

I just finished reading The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins, where she chronicles the life of a few high school juniors and seniors in a top high school in the US (her former school) as they pile themselves up with activities and other things to keep themselves qualified for college. Like in Denise Clark Pope’s Doing School, these students are going through extraordinary stress and pressure to keep up with the rest. In both books, most of the students would rather concentrate on things they want to do, but they are constantly pressured (whether by parents, students, counselors, or themselves) to perform more than is necessary – or sane.

One of the students in The Overachievers is Frank (or AP Frank in the beginning), a half-Asian young man who is pressured by his Korean mother to go to Harvard to study medicine or law. He and his brother Richard are not allowed to have a social or otherwise non-academic life; instead, they have to study under their mother’s watchful eye, with only half an hour in between allowed for a quick dinner (something reheated) and television news (they are not allowed to watch anything else). His mother actually forced Frank to take all the AP subjects the school offered, and called up the school to ask why they didn’t have an AP for Physical Education. She pushed Frank into Harvard (even when he’d rather be elsewhere) and went through all the documentation, choosing his classes and dormitory for him. When Frank tries to stand up for himself, he is physically assaulted by his mother. This leads to a series of incidents where the social services are called in, his brother Richard is taken into foster care (and lives in what he describes as a “mansion” – the home of a schoolmate – which allows him greater freedom), and their parents are divorced (with Frank’s mother frantically calling Frank telling him to deny the abuse). Eventually Frank regains his strength and confidence, finds love, sheds the “AP” title, and goes into environmental science and public policy – something he’s more interested in than medicine. (Reading the updates, it seems that the relationship between him and his mum has improved, and the mother has relaxed considerably. yay!)

While Frank’s story is a bit extreme, it isn’t that unusual. Throughout Frank’s story, Robbins talks about the pressure Asian students face in school. Korean three-year-olds have to prove their proficiency in a musical instrument before being allowed into kindergarden. Your life and social status in Japan, even when you’re middle aged, is largely determined by how you scored in your exams when you were 15. There’s a whole breed of mothers – kyioku mama – who sit in their children’s classes and take notes for them when their kids are ill. Suicide rates amongst schoolkids are alarmingly high. And this is the system President Reagan wanted the US to emulate in the 1980s? No wonder American students are driving themselves insane!

And before you say “oh that’s a different country”…it happens in Malaysia too. We all know it. If you don’t take Science for your SPM, you’re stupid or wasting your intelligence. You have to get straight As at every level to get into a good institution. Medicine is the only university subject that matters. Even if you’re bright and knowledgeable, you have to take tuition classes to keep up. All the talks hosted by schools are “How To Answer XYZ Paper”. Let’s not even touch on this weird hysteria people have for overseas “top schools” – Harvard/Oxford/Cambridge, or nothing. (By the way, the whole ranking system? Complete bullocks. Many US colleges are opting out of it because they find it unfair and unrepresentative. Some of the “top” schools fudge their numbers to get high rankings. It’s a game.) No one ever cares about the suicides – they just take up a small column in Page 2 of the papers.

Why are we going through so much insanity? Apparently it’s because we have to “live up” to something – school standards, counselor standards, society standards. We allow ourselves/our children to be bullied, stressed, abused by the system, just so we could get in to something supposedly prestigious. Instead of schools and universities acknowledging students’ various talents and capabilities, they force the students to be someone they’re not, just to keep up an image.

Let’s stop this madness.

You’re the one that’s going to school. It’s your money that’s being spent. It’s your time that’s being used. You’re the one that has to go through all this trouble. Stand up for yourselves.

Don’t buy into the trap of going to a “good school” or nothing. Choose the school you like based on your own factors. Do you prefer big schools or small schools? Local, regional, international? Academic, practical, both? Casual, business-like, formal?

Choose your own subjects. What to experiment with science, or create art? Curious about international economics, or want to debate literature and philosophy? My boyfriend’s brother is a sports buff, and had he been in a Malaysian school, he would be considered a “meathead”, someone not smart enough, just because he wasn’t very academic. Now he’s doing Sports Science in university, which includes Chemistry and Biology – subjects that wouldn’t be open to him if he was in Malaysia. He’s doing OK, because it’s what he’s interested in and he’s putting his energy into it. Why don’t we let other Malaysians have this chance? Why bind them to school grades, and assume that all straight A people are scientists and all straight Fs are artisans?

Don’t let grades tell you what to do. Don’t let anyone else make your decisions for you. Do what you want to do. Make your own choices.

Take back your education.

Young Malaysian Entrepreneurs WANTED for upcoming eBook

Daniel CerVentus, co-founder of Ideapreneur and myself are looking for 21 candidates to be featured in our upcoming eBook about young Malaysian entrepreneurs.

We are looking for the following:

  • Malaysian – doesn’t have to be a citizen, but has to be connected to Malaysia in some way
  • Age 30 and below by 31st Dec 2008
  • Self made or revolutionary in an an existing business/organization – for profit, non-profit, social enterprise
  • Highly respected in their industry
  • Have great passion for what they are doing.
  • A great example what Malaysia have to offer.

Please send all your suggestions to Daniel or myself before 14th February 2008. Thank you!

Gift Guide: Top 24++ Books for the Educated Deviant (or the Deviantly Educated)

Originally, while writing this post, I was going to make a Top 10 gift list that encompassed all sorts of different things for those who love learning differently. However, just the book list became a major list on their own. I may make the others into their own list, but let’s do it in chunks.

It is the holiday season after all, and there’s bound to be a few lifelong learners on your list. Educated deviants are voracious readers, and books make an excellent gift for any holiday or celebration. Here is our mixed bag of recommendations for:

EducateDeviate’s Top 24++ Books for the Educated Deviant

Delaying The Real World by Colleen Kinder and Lonely Planet Gap Year Book

Burnt out by years in school or work? Want a change? Both books provide plenty of resources, ideas, and personal anecdotes about taking time off to do something else. Whether it be interning at a newspaper in Cambodia, or scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, both books give you great ideas on how to get your gap year (or life!) on.

Anything by Free Spirit Publishing, New Society Publishers, or Princeton Architectural Press

Here’s where the “++” come in. These three publishers release plenty of excellent books about education (The Teenager’s Guide to School Outside the Box), activism (The Troublemaker’s Teaparty), and design (D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself). There’s surely something for everyone in their catalogues.

The Artist’s Way (and workbook) by Julia Cameron and The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (and workbook) by Betty Edwards

Everyone is creative, but once in a while we all need some support in rediscovering our creativity. The Artist’s Way is a 12-week course that takes you step by step to rediscovering yourself, your talents, and your passions. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, on the other hand, isn’t just a lesson in visual art: it also trains your brain to notice and think things differently. Besides, scribbling and painting are relaxing.

Be Bold

This new book by Echoing Green highlights the trials and achievements of a number of its Fellows in their quest to make a difference. From a former drug addict who started a recovery program for prisoners with addictions, to a human rights activist campaigning for the rights of people with mental illnesses, the twelve profiles are bound to inspire you to act. There is also a resource list as well as journal pages for you to reflect on how you too can be bold.

Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton and Banker for the Poor by Muhammad Yunus

In the past couple of years, innovative philanthropy has taken the world by storm, particularly with the Nobel win of Muhammad Yunus and Grameen, as well as the increase in micro-credit programs. Bill Clinton’s book suggests many different ways people can give back to society (not just financially), while Banker to the Poor chonicles Yunus’s life and his journey to developing Grameen to where it is today.

The Anti 9-to-5 Guide by Michelle Goodman and The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

Tired of the typical rat race? Want to define work your own way? Goodman’s and Ferriss’s books describe different options to have a life and make a living, from going freelance to setting up passive income. Both Goodman and Ferriss have blogs, so if you’re hungry for more, subscribe and keep up.

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto and Doing School by Denise Clark Pope

How could I have a list of books for the deviantly educated and not have any books on changing education? These two books, while written many years apart, show the dire need for change in today’s education system. Gatto discusses how schools are no more than just employee factories that don’t encourage creativity and innovation, while Pope follows five high-schoolers as they rush and stress in the race to get into top universities. These books will DEFINITELY make you rethink the school system.

The Tipping Point and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, and The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida

The past couple of years has seen a massive rise in nonfiction books that tackle certain topics in innovative ways. Not quite history, not quite politics, not quite philosophy, not quite academic; one bookstore I’ve seen denotes that section as “learn something new every day”. These four books, in my view, started this genre off. Gladwell reexamines how decisions can be made and how they’re influenced, while the Freakonomics duo proposes clever economic causes and effects for seemingly unrelated phenomena. Meanwhile, Florida studies how increasing numbers of people involved in the creative industries can really make an impact in business, communities, and the world.

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was and Refuse to Choose! by Barbara Sher

Interested in a hundred things at once? Don’t worry, that makes you a typical educated deviant. Barbara Sher calls people like us “Scanners”, and she says that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t be passionate about many different things and explore all those passions. Her books provide a plan for working out those passions, and then arranging time for them effectively. She also has a lot of other books about achieving your goals and passions.

What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson and Roadtrip Nation

Along similar lines as Barbara Sher’s books, both Bronson and the Roadtrip Nation crew went out to interview people from all walks of life about their passions and how they got into the path they’re in. The Roadtrip Nation interviews, originally a TV series are a little more career-focused, but they do show how anyone can succeed from any starting point no matter what. Bronson’s interviews, on the other hand, are more heartfelt, and not everyone in his book has necessarily achieved grand success with their passions or even found their passion – but are learning a lot from the process.

Girlosophy: Real Girls’ Stories by Anthea Paul

The female educated deviants in your life will certainly be inspired by the girls profiled in Paul’s book. From a British girl who works as a faerie, to a pair of Sri Lankans facing the prospect of civil strife, and a lot of surfers (Paul supports organizations for young women surfers), each girl tells first-hand her story, her opinions, and her dreams for life. The innovative use of layout for each story is also a great draw. This book is part of the Girlosophy series, which encourages and supports young women to be themselves and live their best lives.

Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson

The version I’m promoting here is actually retitled, in some places, Let’s Not Screw It, Let’s Just Do It, which contains updated information and an entire chapter on climate change. Branson has built his entire life (since he was a teenager) on just acting on ideas instead of waiting for permission. While not all of his ideas worked, most have been great successes, mainly because Branson is willing to take risks and do what it takes to stand out. Here he outlines his basic principles for success (including many stories about balloon rides) and, in the final chapter, urges corporations to take climate change into account.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I find it harder to recommend fiction because tastes tend to be more subjective. However, I found The Alchemist absolutely inspiring to those who dream of exploring and learning more about the world. This tale of a young boy driven to adventure by his (literal) dreams beautifully depicts the importance of paying attention and of following our heart no matter what. It’s a magical fable that will definitely charm any deviant.

Whew! That was a long list. More gift guides might come soon, if I have enough energy to do them. In the meantime, if you have any more recommendations for books, please feel free to share in the comments.

Happy Holidays!

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Want Alternative Education Books in Malaysia? Head to Borders

I am currently wandering around KL to meet friends, and I’ve been carrying my bulky laptop all day (I’m in the midst of changing accommodation). I’m actually in the top floor of Sungei Wang, loud pop music blasting from one side, and I took out my laptop just to write this:

If you’re in Malaysia and want books about alternative education or school reform, your best bet is Borders in Berjaya Times Square, Imbi.

It’s not very easy to find non-mainstream or non-trendy books in Malaysian bookstores, particularly in regional cities. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor are fortunate in that they have the bigger branches of the major bookstore chains and can afford to carry a wider selection. Still, books on alternative education and school reform are hard to find. The Education section tends to carry books on teaching, revision, or tips on succeeding in school; there aren’t many books questioning the notion of school.

However, Borders in Berjaya Times Square has an EXCELLENT selection of books on alternative education and school reform. I finally managed to snag a copy of Denise Clark Pope’s Doing School, after searching it high and low in other bookstores in Malaysia and Australia and even considering buying it from overseas. They also have books from major alternative education thinkers John Taylor Gatto, John Dewey, and John Holt – basically the “it” people of alternative education. (I’m sure them all being named John is a coincidence.) Among the other books in their in-store collection are:

  • The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins, about students who strive to achieve as much as possible in academics and extra-curriculars (which Pope also tackles)
  • The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel, about the culture of admissions standards in Ivy League universities
  • and SO MUCH MORE on teaching at-risk children, class and culture issues, school reform, unschooling, homeschooling, and so much more.

I am in a rush, and my battery is dying, so I will come back to add links and a book list to this post or a later post. I will also post a review of Doing School once I’ve read it. You can find some related books in Times, Kinokuniya, and MPH – Kinokuniya in particular has good books on career choices (including Delaying The Real World, which I reviewed here and bought from there) and activism. But for education in particular, Borders can’t be beat.

BORDERS, if you are reading this – please contact me!

Nominate Young Malaysians – AYA Dream Malaysia Awards & 50 Years, 50 Heroes

UPDATE: The folks at theCICAK are now offering up to RM5000 in prizes!

Do you know a young Malaysian who has done great things in their life? One that has touched others by their actions and deeds? One who is inspiring, heroic, or simply awesome? Give them the recognition they deserve by nominating them for an award or writing about them for an upcoming compilation.

1. The AYA Dream Malaysia Awards aim to encourage individuals and organizations to pursue their dreams despite hurdles and obstacles. Nominees are honoured in the AYA Dream Malaysia Awards Night, with the winners receiving the Durian – a symbol of cracking the hard shell to get to the fruit of your efforts!

Previous nominees and winners include Yvonne Foong, survivor of neurofibromatosis and advocate for awareness about the disease; Suzanne Lee, intrepid explorer and photographer whom I’ve featured here before as a local example of youth initiative; and IDP Education Malaysia, which helps prospective students going to Australia to study.

Nominations are now open for two categories: Most Outstanding Youth and Youth Friendly Company. Youth nominees must be Malaysians aged between 18 – 33, while companies must be incorporated in Malaysia. Shortlisted nominees (chosen by AYA) will be video-interviewed and be up for public voting. Nominations close 12 August 2007.

2. Online Malaysian youth magazine theCICAK is looking for entries for upcoming publication 50 Years, 50 Heroes: Young Malaysians You Need To Know. Like the AYA Dream Malaysia Awards, theCICAK is after stories of young people that have persevered through personal challenges to achieve their dreams, or have helped other people in doing so. These write-ups aim to document young Malaysians who do not normally get press attention, as well as highlight important issues that affect Malaysian youth and society, while inspiring readers to face challenges head-on and live their own lives.

The top three entries will earn their writers up to RM5000 in cash, while the Most Outstanding Hero (chosen by theCICAK readers) will win RM200. The top 50 stories will also be published in a book, with the First Place article being published in The Star. Entries will be judged by well-known Malaysian blogger Jeff Ooi; activist and columnist Marina Mahathir; poet and editor of online Malaysian literary magazine InkyHands, Nicholas Wong; and theCICAK co-founder and director Poh Si Teng.

Writers must be Malaysians aged 15 – 25 while their subjects must be Malaysians aged 12 – 29. Each piece must include at least one photograph of the subject as well as interviews with two other sources (to be collated into a source list with names and contact information). Entries can be in English or Malay and should not exceed 1000 words. Send all entries to with “Heroes” as the subject. Entries close 15 July 2007.

Show your young hero your appreciation – you may get lucky too.

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Review: Delaying The Real World by Colleen Kinder

So you’re in your twenties, done with college or university, and thinking of your next step. How to apply for a job, how to take out a mortgage to buy a house, how to choose a car, how to decorate your cubicle…

Or would you rather think about how to get good plane tickets to get you to South America to volunteer with a small village? Or how to get swimming lessons in preparation for your job as a performer on board a cruise ship in the Caribbean? Or how to make good lesson plans for the group of inner-city high school students for your year as a city teacher?

Colleen Kinder’s Delaying The Real World argues that youths do not have to immediately enter the typical workforce – bosses, cubicles, menial tasks. Instead, she advocates a fuller lifestyle involving adventure, social development, and creativity.

The book is filled with plenty of ideas and tips for those seeking something else to do with their lives. It is divided into a few sections: looking for your dream city, working abroad, outdoor jobs, travel jobs, social change work, arts & entertainment, and doing all of the above in your own “backyard” (or hometown). In each section there are general tips, testimonials and anecdotes, and links to specific programs. There are also tips and ideas on issues such as saving money, looking for legitimate and affordable programs, and even mentally preparing yourself, as well as plenty of resources.

The people profiled in this book have taken on all sorts of opportunities – from bartending in the summer in Alaska, to interning in a Cambodian newspaper, to being a professional “ski bum” by teaching skiing in Colorado. It’s really inspiring to hear from young people of all temperaments and backgrounds who have taken that bold leap to do something different with their lives.

There is also an accompanying website if you would like more ideas or discussion of your options. The website also offered a fellowship for youths who want funding for their “real-world-delaying” ideas; however, it’s not clear whether the fellowship program is still on.

While most of the programs, resources, and tips are US-centric (and not all are open to those outside the USA), and the book is mainly geared towards twenty-somethings fresh out of tertiary study, there is still plenty of useful inspiration and incentive for everyone to explore their options and think of life beyond an office, regardless of age or location. Indeed, instead of “delaying” the real world, this may actually encourage you to explore the real world for what it is – away from the confines of those cubicle walls.

Delaying The Real World is available online and in most bookstores.

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Blogathon: #36 – Review: Secrets of the Young & Successful

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The tagline for Jennifer Kushell’s and Scott M. Kaufman’s Secrets Of The Young & Successful is “How to Get Everything You Want Without Waiting a Lifetime”. In this case – fame and fortune and money.

Both Kushell and Kaufman found success as young entrepeneurs and this is the angle they take this book in. They first encourage you to find out more about yourself – what is your “story”, what is your ideal life. Then comes tips for planning, and executing that plan – through “tasting” (trying out a job path for a while), networking, and other skills.

Some might feel that this book is focused more on materialism and financial gain. That may be the case; however, some of the ideas here are great for figuring out your life in general and what you want to do with it. Even if you’re not in a hurry, this book still can help quite a bit.

Secrets of the Young & Sucessful by Jennifer Kushell and Scott M. Kaufman (ISBN: 0743227581) can be found in stores and on Amazon.

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Blogathon: #26 – Review: What Should I Do With My Life?

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The first time I read Po Bronson’s What Should I Do With My Life?, I didn’t quite like it. I liked the Oprah special, such stories interest me, and thought the book would just be as interesting. However, I got fed up with Bronson continually inserting himself in the story and put the book away in the bookstore aisle where I found it.

About a year later I see the book again in Los Angeles airport, just before my flight back to Malaysia (from Denver). Somehow the book attracted me again. I picked it up, read a few pages…then bought it and read it all the way through the waiting time and through the flight. And read it again and again.

Why the sudden change in opinion? Did I change that much in that year? Was it because I was going through a strong case of figuring out what to do with my own life? Was it a sign? Was it just a different perspective?

I don’t know. What I do know is, this book takes a different perspective on how people tackle that question. Most other books dealing with the same topic (life changes) make it sound fairy tale like; they had a downtrodden life, suddenly their fairy godmother appears to make a change, and they live happily ever after.

The stories in this book, however, aren’t always ended with happiness. Many are struggling with the choices they have made. Some are still looking for their life calling. Some know their life calling but are afraid to pursue it. Some taint their life calling with the desire o prove yourself to somebody, to be better than someone else, to do it for someone else’s standards rather than yours. All the stories are lessons of learning; of learning from your circumstances, learning how to make the best of it, learning how to adapt, learning how to make your own opportunity.

Bronson’s self-insertions can be slightly annoying; sometimes you’re wondering whose story is he actually telling. It’s great when he’s relating a personal experience, not so much when it’s someone else’s story he’s telling. The ironic thing is, in the book he makes a point of not wanting to interfere with anyone’s decision. Besides that, though, the stories are thought-provoking; they make you reconsider your own life, and ultimately answer the question:

What should you do with your life?

What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson (ISBN: 0375758984) is available in stores and on Amazon.

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Blogathon: #18 – From The Librarian

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A while ago I came across the website for the New York Public Library, which had an Ask The Librarian section. I asked the librarian for resources on alternative education and she gave me the following titles:

The Parents’ Guide to Alternatives in Education by Ronald Koeztsch Ph.D.

But What If I Don’t Want To Go To College?: A Guide To Success Through Alternative Education by Harlow Unger

Guerrilla Learning : How To Give Your Kids A Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn

The Teenagers’ Guide to School Outside the Box by Rebecca Greene

Alternative Schooling for African American Youth : Does Anyone Know We’re Here? by Christopher Dunbar

We just reviewed one of the books, but what about the others? Have you read them? What do you think? What other books would you recommend about alternative education?

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Blogathon: #15 – Review: Real Girls’ Stories

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At first glance, Girlosophy’s Real Girls’ Stories doesn’t seem to be relevant to alternative education. What connection does a group of autobiographies have to learning outside the box?

These biographies aren’t like the usual ones though. Anthea Paul – famous for her Girlosophy series of spiritual self-help books geared towards young women – collects the fascinating life stories of various young women from around the world – mainly Oceania, but there are girls from the US, UK, Japan, and Sri Lanka here too. Each story starts off with an introduction by Paul (usually about how they met), then the girl herself takes over, telling her story her own way. Each entry is accompanied by vivid visual art – photographs, captions, colour and graphic effects.

The girls here come from all sorts of backgrounds. There are a few surfer girls (to reflect Paul’s involvement with supporting young surfers in Australia and Hawaii), but there are also people like:

  • Michelle, one-time Miss Black California and former fashion merchandising student, now volunteering for at-risk youth in the US
  • Radha, who grew up in the Hare Krishna movement
  • See Dewi, a batik factory manager from Sri Lanka
  • Vithya and Welesta, medical students in Jaffna (Sri Lanka) caught in the Tamil Tigers onflict
  • Dalia, also known as DJ Groovy D
  • Romy, who once owned a bunch of camels for hire
  • Petrina, who gained fame as The Mole on the TV show of the same name
  • Sam, a professional faerie in the UK (yes, her job is to be a faerie – usually for children’s parties)

and so much more.

These stories provide a fascinating insight into the lives of young women around the world through a first-hand perspective – how they live, how they think, what they believe. Their stories are full of inspiration: persevering, following your passion, being true to yourself, seeking the magic within. All traits that go together well with the aims of alternative education.

After reading these stories, you feel like finding these young women and befriending them; they are certainly very fascinating people. Will there be a Real Girls’ Stories 2 on the horizon?

Anthea Paul’s Girlosophy: Real Girls’ Stories (ISBN: 1865089060) is available in bookstores and on Amazon.

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Blogathon: #14 – Review: The Teenager’s Guide to School Outside the Box

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The past few posts delved into my charity’s history – heavy subject matter. Let’s go into something different for a while.

Rebecca Greene’s The Teenagers’ Guide to School Outside the Box is a great primer for those who want to explore alternative education but don’t want to (or can’t) do something completely radical like unschooling or homeschooling. Grenne provides plenty of ideas on various options to complement your education while in high school or just of high school:

  • Volunteering
  • Taking college classes – dual enrollment, distance learning, summer school, early admission, etc
  • Mentoring – being one and getting one
  • Job shadowing (following someone around for a day to see their job first hand)
  • Interships
  • Apprenticeships
  • Camps and overseas travel
  • Study abroad

Contained in every chapter are first-person testimonials from youths who have done such programs, plenty of resources (print, Internet, actual organizations), tips and tricks, quotations, and so much more. It provides great information on alternative forms of learning in a way that’s easy to digest; instead of saying “oh, this is out of my league”, readers can now feel “oh, I can do this!”.

While the book is aimed at teenagers (specifically Americans), I find this book to be very useful for anyone interested in alternative education, regardless of age. Some of the options can apply to any age and type of person, whether in school or out of school or somewhere in between. Parents, teachers, and mentors would find this book especially useful for their children and charges; they can motivate their kids to find various options for obtaining a whole, rich, holistic education from many sources.

Rebecca Greene’s The Teenagers’ Guide to School Outside the Box (ISBN: 1575420872) is published by Free Spirit Publishing and can be bought in stores, on the Free Spirit website, or on

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Gap Years: Taking Time off Study to Learn

A desire to travel, escape boredom, and take a much-needed break from studies. Do they sound like good reasons to take a year off from university? How about wanting an education that extends beyond the confines of the classroom, and craving for a taste of independence?

– Tan Shiow Chin, Gap Year Allure, The Star (Malaysia) Sunday 4th June 2006

Those words head off an article in The Star’s recent Education pullout about five British girls – Rachel Baum, Victoria Young, Emily Wemily-Whitefield, Lisa-Ann Goodman, and Claris Davison – who are all here in Malaysia travelling and working on various projects (working at the Taiping Zoo and doing community outreach, amongst others) as part of their gap year.

Some may wonder, what exactly is this “gap year” we speak of? Here’s a guide:

So what exactly is a gap year?
A gap year is pretty much what the name implies – a break between periods of study. Basically, gappers (a common nickname for those who take gap years) take time off between periods of schooling to do something else for a while.

When are gap years often taken?
Gap years are most commonly taken between secondary education (O-Levels/SPM or A-Levels/STPM) and tertiary education (college and university), between undergraduate and graduate/postgraduate work, or between graduation and work – though there are some that take gap years during secondary or tertiary education itself.

Where are gap years popular?
Gap years are very common in the United Kingdom (one very famous example being Prince William, who took time out after Eton to work with Raleigh International) and are gaining popularity in the United States, Europe, and Oceania, but they haven’t been quite as popular in Asia, including Malaysia.

And why is that?
There are a few prevalent beliefs amongst Asian cultures – including Malaysian ones – that discourage youths from taking gap years. Amongst them:

  • You must go straight to university from secondary school, and complete it entirely; if you take time off, you won’t be able to reenter
  • If you reenter university after taking time off, you’ll be older than the rest of your classmates, you’ll be old when you graduate, and you’ll be old amongst your colleagues
  • You must enter the workforce right after graduation, or else you will miss out on climbing career ladders and be dommed to low-level jobs for a long time, losing out on money and prosperity
  • Gap years only encourage you to loiter around and waste time; nothing is gained
  • Gap years are expensive and not worth the expense
  • Gap years are a “Western” thing

Let’s tackle these beliefs one by one.

Belief 1: “You must go straight to university from secondary school, and complete it entirely; if you take time off, you won’t be able to reenter”
There is no law that states required age for university entry. You will not miss out on admissions chances if you take time off after your exams. Indeed, for many students in Malaysia, they won’t be able to enrol immediately anyway since they would most likely be called up for National Service, which already takes a chunk of time away.

Universities and colleges will always be around; they will wait. It is possible to get accepted and then apply for a deferment, which allows you to enrol later. In some countries (especially the United States), taking gap years may actually boost admissions chances, as it shows initiative, independance, and other skills and abilities, making you more of a complete package and an asset to the university community. Harvard University, most people’s idea of a “top university”, even encourages recent accepted students to take a gap year before enrolling.

Gap years also allow you to really reflect on your chosen path, and it’s a great opportunity to see whether the course you want to take is the one for you – better to find out that you don’t really want to be a dentist after spending a few months working in a dental clinic, than to find this out after spending at least 4 years (and thousands of dollars) in dental school!

Not everyone does return to university life after a gap year. Some just seem to take on “gap lives”. This isn’t lways a bad thing; university isn’t for everybody, and for some people, being a free spirit is better for their souls. Everyone has their own path, after all.

Belief 2: “If you reenter university after taking time off, you’ll be older than the rest of your classmates, you’ll be old when you graduate, and you’ll be old amongst your colleagues”
Here’s where the old adage “Time waits for no man” doesn’t quite apply. Life isn’t exactly age-dependent. You DON’T HAVE to graduate by 21; you DON’T HAVE to earn a million by 30; you DON’T HAVE to be married with kids by 35. Everyone has their own pace in life and you’re allowed to live by your own pace. Age doesn’t necessarily determine your success; what determines it is your dedication, passion, and determination to make it happen. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it and work for it.

There are people who graduate college in their 70s and 80s. Presidents and Prime Ministers are typically in their 60 to 80s. One of my university classmates was nearly 30; she was the oldest in a group of 18-20-year-olds.

Heck, I’ve taken plenty of time off here and there (I’ll share my story soon), and if I do graduate by the projected time (2009; I’d be about 24) I’d still be very young for a lot of things. Life is short, yes; that doesn’t always mean we have to rush. Age is but a number; it’s all in how you make of your situation.

Belief 3: “You must enter the workforce right after graduation, or else you will miss out on climbing career ladders and be dommed to low-level jobs for a long time, losing out on money and prosperity”
Again, you don’t have to rush. There’s plenty of time for work. Employment rates change, and there are always job openings – you can even create your own job! Even fresh graduates who have never taken some time off aren’t always guaranteed a job, so there’s no real way to say whether having a gap year is necessarily a detriment to employability.

Gap years can also be a great resume booster. In the same way that they help university admissions, employers would be very impressed with people who have taken the initiative to explore various options and gain experience. Based on your varied skills and experiences, you would stand out over other competitors vying for the same job whose resumes are more conventional but less unique.

I personally feel that we’re focusing too much on materialistic gains. “If you don’t get a good, high-paying job, you’re a failure” – this mindset is a corollary to “If I don’t get straight As/admission into top universities/a scholarship/a degree, I’m a failure”, and is extremely destructive. Success shouldn’t be on just how much you earn or what you own; it should be about your satisfaction with life. What makes you happy? Many people take gap years just to answer that question; it’s definitely something we should think about.

Belief 4: “Gap years only encourage you to loiter around and waste time; nothing is gained”
Here’s where I share my story.

I was severly burnt out after my SPM exams in 2002. I had struggled through that year with stress, unpredicted and unfortunate circumstances (including the disappearance of a few dear friends), as well as panic disorder and depression. The school environment had become highly toxic for me, and I knew I couldn’t continue in similar environments – at least not immediately.

Right after the exams, I vowed to take time off for myself. I used that time to really delve myself into things I was interested in. The first couple of things I did was a radio book review show, as well as applying for a job with Xfresh. (I almost got the job; however, I lived out-of-state, which was a problem.)

2003 was a flurry of activity. I was reunited with one of my best friends, Asha Gill, after 9 months of no contact and got to meet her for the first time later that year. (She was based in Hong Kong previously.) I took hip-hop dance classes for a few months – finally, some exercise! I gained an interest in American Idol, and in the middle of the year my mum and I flew up to Washington DC, USA, to see Clay Aiken (whom I’m a big fan of) and the other contestants on their American Idol roadshow. (My aunt – my mum’s sister – lives in Virginia, which is nearby, so it was good for my mum to come along too.) That was an experience in itself – Clay Aiken’s fans are a community of their own, and we had plenty of parties and meetups; I even got filmed for the news!

I also became part of The Star’s BRATs – going to my first workshop in Lumut, Perak; writing a front-page interview (with Asha!); participating in their End-Year trip to Mabul, Sabah to work on marine conservation by making artificial reef balls. I also took part in the National Novel Writing Month, an international challenge to write 50,000 words or more of a novel in the month of November. Together with the BRATs’ End-Year trip, I closed off the year by participating in Power 98 FM Singapore‘s Radio DJ workshop, and on New Years 2004 I launched Asha’s official website AshaGill.Com, which I had been working on for much of the year before.

Ironically, I was meant to be enrolled in Limkokwing University College by mid-2003, which wasn’t really to my liking but at the time wasn’t much of a choice; other circumstances delayed this to February 2004, which really gave me my “gap year”.

I have since taken another gap year. After one and a half years in college (much of it spent on other things such as volunteering with Amnesty International, writing for BRATs, and participating in the Project-Blog Blogathon), I travelled with Up With People from August till December 2005, and (besides having the time of my life) had a major reevaluation of wht I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t return to college; instead, I visited my relatives for a while, and then worked with Channel [V] International for a few months to gain experience and save up for my trip to Denver, Colorado, for the Up With People Premiere. I also got involved with the All Women’s Action Society through a few projects and workshops. I will soon reenter university life by entering Queensland University of Technology for three years; who knows how long it really will be or what else I’ll be up to!

Those two years I spent doing out-of-the-box things (2003 and 2005-2006) were the biggest learning experiences of my life. I learnt more from all the activities I did during those times than I ever did at school. It built up my confidence, taught me so many things about myself and the world, connected me to all sorts of people, and gave me exposure to things that I would NEVER get in a school environment. Many gappers have reported that they felt the exact same way. And besides, we were too busy to loiter!

Belief 5: “Gap years are expensive and not worth the expense”
That really depends on what you aim to do in your gap year; not all gap years are the same.

There are plenty of organized programs that market themselves for gap years – from specific gap-year programs such as LeapNow and Where There Be Dragons, to programs organized by the likes of AFS, Up With People, Raleigh International, The Peace Boat, semester At Sea, and The Scholar Ship, and much much more. Prices of these programs differ; some offer financial help, some are self-funded.

Gap years need not always be organized programs. Plenty of people design their own gap years. Backpacking is especially popular, particularly with people who want to travel on a low budget. (The Art Of Travel provides excellent advice for backpacking on the cheap.) Some people take up jobs or start their own businesses, helping them earn money instead of spending it. Internships, volunteering, and job shadowing barely cost anything but can help you earn good money in the future by gaining experience. There are also people who are more spontaneous about their gap years – instead of planning in advance, they just take whatever comes their way.

Gap years can also help you save money. Many people enter university not really knowing what they want to study or do with their lives. While not everyone is going to know their life purpose in their 20s, gap years offer a great opportunity to explore interests and see what sort of things you like. You could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in university fees by enrolling to a course or university that fits your ideals more, rather than something chosen in an undetermined haze.

Belief 6: “Gap years are a “Western” thing”
While they are more common in Western parts of the world, due to their more liberal attitude on education and youths, there are plenty of people in other parts of the world that take gap years. I’m one such example. Young Singaporean men are automatically enlisted for their own National Service, which is in a way a form of a gap year (albeit a government-mandated one). Gap years are even gaining popularity in countries with traditional expectations of education, such as Japan and Korea.

Another perfect example of local people taking gap years is Suzanne Lee, who has taken time off from studying to explore and photograph the world. She has just been selected as one of the top 10 finalists for the KLue Blue Chilli Awards, which is a great way to recognize her efforts. Congrats Suzanne!

Gap years are flexible, open to possibility, and full of potential for growth, exploration, and innovation. Here are some resources:

GapYear.Com is widely regarded as the definitive guide for gap years in the UK. Transitions Abroad and GoAbroad offer plenty of ideas and articles on studying, working, travelling, and volunteering abroad. SolBeam is a young woman who took time off from her work to travel to Costa Rica – and has never stopped travelling since. Her blog contains wonderful stories about her trips and explorations, as well as some tips on travelling. Also check out the links in the “Links In Post” section below.

The Teenager’s Guide To School Outside The Box (ISBN: 0613938860) by Rebecca Greene contains plenty of ideas for those still in secondary school (and who just left), while Delaying The Real World (ISBN: 0762421894) by Colleen Kinder is geared towards college students and college graduates. Also check out Michael Landes’s The Back Door Guide To Short-Term Job Adventures: Internships, Extraordinary Experiences, Seasonal Jobs, Volunteering, Working Abroad (ISBN: 1580084494).

Whether travelling, volunteering, learning something new, or just doing something different, gap years are a great way to decompress from the pressures of school and still get amazing learning experiences. If you’re stressing over where to go to university, or what to do after graduation, take a gap year – it’ll help you clear your mind and explore your choices.

If you have any gap-year stories of your own, please feel free to share in the comments. Also feel free to ask questions, and share opinions. Discussion is fun!

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Resources Wanted!

I've applied for a booth for Levi's 501 Day on the 28th of May about alternative education, and I'm on the lookout for resources to promote during the day.

I am looking for materials for the following:

If you have any idea of resources I should look for, or how to get all of them before May 27th 2006, please email me ASAP! Also please pass the word to anyone and everyone that can help.

You're also welcome to help me out during the day itself – email me for details.

Thank you ever so much!

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