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Magazine / ECONOMY

'Just Read, Read, Read'

Charlie Lavender of Arkansas believes that education can open doors.

July 25, 2009

Charlie Lavender, 61, is skeptical of instant gratification and believes that education can open doors. His hours are getting cut at the Arkansas paper mill where he works, because the demand for newsprint is declining. So he's educating himself. He avidly reads sciencenews.org and is teaching himself computer programming. When Lavender couldn't afford a violin, he taught himself how to build one. When he has extra time, he studies astrobiology in free Massachusetts Institute of Technology courses online. "They don't cost you a thing. You sit and watch the lectures one at a time, and in a lot of them you can download the course notes," he said.

"Instead of buying some expensive thing, go buy a book on the subject you want to get you a job in," he said. "And start reading, or use your money to take a night course to get you some extra credits and degrees. Just read, read, read. And be patient."

When his two sons were young, he "scrimped and saved" to send them to private school because "the rural school system was not adequate." Each day, his wife drove them 75 miles to school in a Nissan Century that racked up 300,000 miles. "I'm not an evangelist, but I do promote education," he said. "We told our boys to love to learn. And apparently they took us literally because they stayed in school a long time." One is a professor and the other is a computer systems expert. "And they've got a daddy and mamma who both only have a high school education. I can't be much prouder than that."

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