In my 2014 memoir It Hasn’t Shut Me Up, I wrote how, all my life, I’ve operated along the borders of things…at the edges. When I was a child, it was called the sidelines by those – like my mother – who wanted me to be more participatory and less thoughtful, when quiet meant getting into trouble. I remember as a young child being scooted back to bed when I was discovered perched just out of sight in the darkened kitchen listening to the adult conversation. I remember as a young teen that sitting along the wall at dances was where I met the most interesting people…those who were happier to chat than to stumble over each others’ feet in the middle of the floor. Sometimes, I was called “snooty” and thought to be standoffish. So I went through a phase of trying to be in the middle of the action, forcing myself to do things designed make me popular. But at some point, I realized that I was more comfortable (and still had friends) at the edges. My view of edge-sitting continued to evolve when I met and married a man who also inhabits the edges, who, in fact, is often at the leading edge, and doesn’t care if it’s lonely or even premature.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the edges are a good place from which to observe, and observation is one of the things that journalists and writers like me do. But I’ve also learned that borders are lively places, where some of the most interesting stuff happens, because change is part of their definition. In the course of editing Natural Life Magazine, which my husband and I launched in 1976, I discovered Permaculture, the sustainable systems design practice where edge habitats – borders or transition areas between ecosystems, such as forests and grasslands, for instance – are recognized as the places where there is the most diversity. Edge species are often more flexible, resilient pioneer species, and sometimes even so hardy as to be unruly and invasive. This 1994 Natural Life Magazine article describes the Permaculture edges concept well, I think.
The author of that article even suggests that humans are an edge species. That got me thinking that our family, which “radically unschooled” in the 1970s, when it was just called “homeschooling,” was an edge-dwelling family. We were pioneers, seemingly unruly to many, flexible by need, and helping lead major change on a number of fronts. Sometimes we were so far to the edges as to seem marginalized from mainstream society. And, looking back on those forty years, I see that our whole life, along with our business, was radical.
So I was struck by this quote that I saw recently on Facebook, posted by writer Laura Grace Weldon of Free Range Learning: “Most revolutions begin in the margins. We can see this in many famous people for whom school never worked. Everybody from Einstein to George Lucas to Jack Horner, the paleontologist, are people for whom school was too narrow. They were marginalized. Students in the margins, as in any revolution, are pointing at the way towards the future.” ~David Rose, Founder and Chief Education Officer, Harvard School of Education.
Those are the Permaculture edges to which Rose is referring. And he’s highlighted my conclusion that unschoolers / life learners are an edge species. We mark the transition between school thinking and living as if school doesn’t exist. That puts us at the lively, leading edge, crossing the border between old ways of thinking and new ways of dealing with a changing world. Edges are not for the faint of heart, but, as neither my mother nor I understood when I was a kid, they can be productive and exciting.
P.S. If you are interested in pursuing the comparison between Permaculture and unschooling, here is an article from Life Learning Magazine about that.