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Life Learning in the Internet
|“Last year, in the process of doing a science fair project, my son accessed Al Jazeera and used their Arabic homepage as an example in his presentation. In her science fair project, my daughter corresponded with a chemist who designs pH paper. As a family, we not only get to read and share ideas we are attracted to, we can hear ideas that we disagree with directly from the source and discuss them. Our lives are richer for it.”|
In fact, the Internet allows us to find our communities so easily that we are more connected with people who share our interests than we would have been in the past. My daughter took an online Greek Mythology course that wouldn’t have had enough enrollment if it were an in-person class. My son and I are starting an online literature circle for teens, which will be so much easier to get going given that none of us has to drive to get there.
In-person community is important, too and, once again, I find that the Internet age facilitates rather than hinders. I attend a popular homeschooling support group that would have a hard time finding attendees without Facebook and our e-mail list. In the book club I run for my daughter’s cohorts, I can dash off an e-mail asking for someone to pick up an item I forgot and fully expect that it will happen. My son is studying history with a group that meets physically once a week and online anytime they want to.
My childhood experience was defined by borders: Unless my parents chose to go somewhere, which didn’t happen very often, I was stuck going only as far as my bike would take me. As soon as I could, I up and moved to a place where I felt like I’d meet a wider variety of people with a wider variety of viewpoints.
My children’s experiences are completely different. They “know” people online who share their interests, and don’t feel a burning need to get away from this place because of its isolation.
YouTube, the great cultural (and anti-cultural!) mishmash, brings anyone’s experiences and viewpoints right into our home. My kids have seen street children in India, have shared impassioned speeches about violence in video gaming, and have seen the results of people’s diverse pursuits, from creating Heavy Metal soundwaves with burning gas to balancing rocks in a mountain stream.
Last year, in the process of doing a science fair project, my son accessed Al Jazeera and used their Arabic homepage as an example in his presentation. In her science fair project, my daughter corresponded with a chemist who designs pH paper. As a family, we not only get to read and share ideas we are attracted to, we can hear ideas that we disagree with directly from the source and discuss them. Our lives are richer for it.
I already see a great opening up of experience due to the Internet, and life learners are at the forefront of it. The family you are born into, the place you happen to live, and the people you happen to get to know in your daily life no longer form the limits of your experience.
But I think we’re only just starting to figure out what all this connectivity is good for. I’d love to see more online learning experiences, not just formal classes but meeting places for like-minded kids who don’t live near to each other. As my son enters traditional “high school” age, I’d like to see him connecting with adults who have skills to share and other kids he can exchange ideas with.
I’m sure that I am seeing only a tiny fraction of the possibilities that will open up, things that will start as weird ideas and quickly become accepted as inevitable.
Can you imagine trying to explain a Facebook group to a 1980s homeschooling family who are living off the land and learning algebra by correspondence course? Can you imagine telling those parents that their homeschooled grandchildren would be able to have friends that they chat with daily all over the world?
I am sure we will look just as quaint to the homeschoolers of the future. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
Suki Wessling write about parenting, homeschooling, and gifted children and is the homeschooling mom of two. Her book, “From School to Homeschool,” helps parents leave the world of school physically and mentally as they start their homeschooling journey. Learn more on her website.
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