When my partner Rolf and I were designing Life Learning Magazine back in 2001 (the first issue was published in March of 2002), we didn’t intend it to be totally dedicated to homeschooling (or unschooling or its various refinements, for that matter). Our vision included adults as well as children.
The about us section on its website describes its mission as helping readers to “discover how to employ self-directed, life-based learning in your own life and/or that of your child.”
In fact, I think adults have the more difficult task in terms of employing interest-based, learner-directed education – i.e. learning from the real world – because most of us were limited by our schooling and continue to be limited by a society that still believes in standardized, classroom-based education. On the other hand, children who have never been to school don’t have to deschool themselves or be taught how to learn – they just do it naturally…with a little bit of assistance from adults (which can sometimes include keeping out of the way).
But not everyone sees it that way, as I was reminded recently in an exchange I had with one of our readers. Life Learning Magazine was spun off from Natural Life Magazine, which has included articles about life learning since we founded it in 1976 (partly as a way of staying at home with our school-free daughters). Nevertheless, a Natural Life Magazine reader informed us that she was mystified as to why we cover education there. That subject, she declared, has absolutely nothing to do with gardening, sustainable housing and green living, and we are duping our readers by including education in the magazine.
Actually, those topics have everything to do with each other. I see no contradiction between growing one’s own food, building or upgrading one’s own house to be energy-efficient, and being self-reliant in terms of one’s own education.
But beyond that self-reliance, I think there are two issues behind her comment, which reflects a common viewpoint. Firstly, for some reason that I think has to do with ageism, we view children’s learning differently than that of adults. We think that kids must be coerced to go to school and to be taught a certain and ordered menu of subjects. Once they finish secondary school, they’re allowed more input into and ownership of their education. And then we typically treat education as over and done with (although in the current economy, many adults are being forced to re-educate themselves for second careers).
Secondly, we separate so-called “academic” subjects from life skills. When we publish articles in Natural Life Magazine about how to build a worm composter, or ways to eliminate plastic in our lives, or the culinary and health benefits of garlic, we are encouraging people of all ages to learn by doing. As Matthew B. Crawford writes in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft, the way we come to know a tool is by using it, and the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world “depends on our doing stuff in it.”
That’s exactly how and why we hope the readers of all our magazines and books, and their children, will learn both academic material and more practical stuff. As I wrote in an article for the upcoming September/October issue of Life Learning Magazine, self-directed learning is not just for kids – especially if we adults can get back in touch with our childlike curiosity, trust our ability to learn by doing, and stop separating the world’s store of knowledge into silos.
Studying alongside our children makes us good role models for independent learning. Remembering that we’re always learning from life can help us deschool ourselves and move beyond the limits of formal education.