- Rep Power
No More Prisons- William "Upski" Wimsatt
I'm not going to be subtle about it: BUY THIS BOOK! Chuck D called it the best hip-hop book of the year (whatever year it was published.) It a bunch of ideas on how to use hip-hop to organize for political change. Also, it's actually an enjoyable read, unlike a lot of bullshit actvist books. It's divided into five sections, each covering a unique topic (how rich people can help the poor, self-education, dealing with suburban/urban sprawl, philanthropy and hiphop leadership.)
Here's an excerpt:
When I was 14, my hero was a rapper named KRS-One who dropped out of eighth
grade and educated himself by reading and apprenticing in the music
business. I informed my parents that I intended to do the same, and they
told me it was illegal. Having spent all my life in schools where knowledge
is measured out in tiny spoonfuls, ! wasn't resourceful enough to figure out
they were wrong. And, in retrospect, I admit 1 was a little scared.
So I stayed in high school and then headed off to Oberlin College, but my
desire to pursue other avenues of education persisted. Then one summer day
three years ago, I visited Reading Frenzy, a little bookstore in Portland,
Oregon, and asked the owner what her favorite books were. "That one!" she
said without hesitation, pointing to The Teeneage Liberation Handbook: How
to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn. I'm not
a teenager, was my first thought, and I already have a real life, thanks
anyway. But ! ended up buying the book and was struck by Llewellyn's
argument that learning happens naturally and school mostly just gets in the
When I returned to Oberlin that fall, I realized that there were no courses
covering the things I most wanted to learn. No sex classes. No friendship
classes. No classes on how to build an organization, raise money, navigate a
bureaucracy, create a database, buy a house, love a child, spot a scam, ask
the right questions, talk someone out of suicide, or figure out what's
important. Those are the things that enhance or mess up people's lives, not
whether they know economic theory or can analyze literature.
So I quit college and enrolled as a student at the University of Planet
Earth, the world's oldest and largest educational institution. It has
billions of professors, tens of millions of books, and unlimited course
offerings. Tuition is free, and everybody designs his or her own major.
Here's my curriculum: Live in a different city every year. Attend a
different place of worship every week. Seek out hundreds of mentors to help
me find answers to my thousands of questions. Spend the rest of the time in
the library and on the Internet. Create lists, make charts, and undertake
the most ambitious projects I can think of. Create my own personal bible,
almanac, and telephone book. Live in the poorest neighborhoods in order to
learn how to get along in the world and to save money, so I can travel to a
different continent each year.
I'm doing this for five years as a freshman survey course. Then I'll have a
better idea of what to pursue as a sophomore.
Of course, my course of studies keeps changing as new opportunities arise. I
had to scale back on some of my goals because I need to make a living. My
parents wouldn't give me the money they would have spent on college to help
me educate myself. But self-education is mainly about solving problems, so I
keep looking for creative ways to learn what I want to know.
My only regret is that I didn't start earlier. My friend Anna Fritz read The
Teenage Liberation Handbook and quit Milwaukee High School of the Arts when
she was 15. Instead of taking music classes, she played professionally and
studied privately with a renowned cello teacher at the University of
Wisconsin. Instead of taking science, she apprenticed with a botanist at a
museum greenhouse. Instead of taking social studies, she worked as an
organizer for Peace Action Milwaukee and represented the organization at
national meetings in Washington, D,C.
Anna and I aren't alone, We're part of a self-schooling movement that
includes people of all ages who have taken their education into their own
hands. My friend John Payne was a barber in Detroit. He had faked his way
through high school without ever learning how to read, but he supplemented
his education by listening carefully to the men whose hair he cut. One of
them was a crackhead named Willie who knew how to fix up abandoned
houses. John asked Willie to teach him the trade, and now John owns 25
houses and two barbershops. And he has also taught himself how to read.
If it feels as if your education stopped after you left college, then a
self-schooling program might rekindle the fires of learning in your
soul. And if you're thinking about going back to school for an advanced
degree in something-or-other, let me save you $40,000 or so. Here are
strategies that l've found useful in pursuing an education on my own.
1. Recognize that you're self-motivated.
"But I'm not self-motivated," you say. Oh, really? Then why are you
reading this magazine? For fun? Exactly.
2. Enjoy yourself.
Give yourself permission to have fun while you're learning whatever you
damn well please from sex to the stock market, fixing your car to
fighting urban blight in whatever way you please. The point of
self-education is to abandon the feelings of inadequacy you picked up in
3. Team up with others.
Self-education doesn't mean learning by yourself. The most important
thing is to find teachers who will push you to learn what you need. A
book group might be a great place to start, but if it gets too
comfortably chatty, then challenge the group to broaden its horizons.
4. Scare away your shyness.
I was a painfully shy child. In sixth grade, I convinced my parents to
let me transfer to a tough Chicago public school which at the time seemed
terrifying to me. I'm not shy anymore.
5. Save all your ideas.
Don't assume that you will always remember all the best ones. I carry a
notebook with me and jot down every idea I get, putting a star next to
the ones I really want to pursue.
6. Act on what you learn.
If you don't change your life in some way every time you learn something,
then what did you really learn? And you need to set up routines that keep
offering you new challenges. One of my goals is to play a different sport
each day of the week with members of a different ethnic group: Martial
arts with East Asians. Capoeira with Brazilians. Soccer with Latino
immigrants. Basketball with African Americans in the ghetto. Tennis with
WASPs in the suburbs.
7. Attend conferences.
I love conferences. They're a great way to get inspired, immerse yourself
in new ideas, and meet amazing people nobody has heard of yet. Last year
I went to seven conferences in seven months: The Prairie Festival in
Kansas. An African American youth leadership summit at Vassar, The
Saguaro Seminar on civic engagement at Harvard, A philanthropy conference
in Seattle. A community-organizing retreat in Colorado. The Media and
Democracy Congress in New York City. And the Not Back to School Camp in
Oregon. All seven cost me less than $2,200, including travel and
meals. (I hitchhike, ride Greyhound buses, stay with friends, and
sometimes get my expenses paid for speaking at the conference.)
8. Feed and water your mentors.
Most people--even famous people--feel underappreciated. If you admire
someone for a specific reason, tell him or her. You'll be surprised to
learn ow few people do. Tell your mentors specifically what you want to
learn from them, at their convenience. I have more than three dozen
mentors on my "A" list, many of whom I've drafted at conferences.
9. Don't quit school if you like it.
But remember, good grades aren't the most important thing you'll take
away from college. Take time to make connections with your classmates,
the activist leaders and CEOs of tomorrow.
10. Recognize that friendship is learning.
This is especially true when you're building friendships with people you
find intimidating or awkward to deal with: your parents and siblings,
cold-faced men in suits, brassy women, angry teenagers, nerdy cousins,
bosses, New Agers, religious fundamentalists, self-righteous activists,
folks who have done time, foreigners, poor people, rich people, the
depressed, the egotistical. Learning to forge ties with all kinds of
people and bring out the best in each other is the core of any
11. Be prepared to be scared.
Learning sounds so nice and wholesome, doesn't it? Tell that to Adam and
Eve. Learning is scary and often risky because the more you learn, the
more you'll feel compelled to rearrange your basic assumptions about
everything. And that brings chaos as well as excitement into your life.
12. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
I'm starting a self-schooling foundation that will make it possible for
more young people, especially poor kids, to educate themselves outside
of school. I'm looking for highly successful dropouts as well as
enthusiastic volunteers and donors with an interest in
selfeducation. Please send names and contact info to me at:
Coorcircle@aol.com or William Upski Wimsatt, 5484 S. Everett Ay.,
Chicago, IL 60615.