The Life Learning Journey: Grown-Up Unschoolers
By Wendy Priesnitz
We never become totally educated any more than we ever completely grow up.
Many of the articles that we publish in Life Learning Magazine are by and about unschooled teens and our writers sometimes use the term “grown unschoolers” to describe people who have learned without school as children and teens and who are now adults. In the same way that I object to the term “unschooler,” I think the label “grown unschoolers” demonstrates a link to the school way of thinking, which says that learning stops and starts based on one’s proximity to school or on one’s age. Please let us not forget that we are always, by definition, life learners (or grown unschoolers, if you will).
That leads me to consider the term “grown up.” When has a person reached “up”? When they hit six feet tall? When they turn 20? Or 30? Or 50? When they can support themselves financially? Of course, those are all arbitrary criteria, set in relation to our cultural and family experiences. They are mere signposts along the road to a destination that we are not able to locate on anyone’s life map. Maybe, like Peter Pan, we never really grow up! Now there’s a thought that will probably upset some people, since growing up seems to be the paramount goal in our society.
Another important goal, it seems, is to become educated. But neither is an education a destination; it, too, is a journey. We commonly speak of the importance of “getting an education” and of “finishing” our education and we think of people as being educated or not, as if there were some finite place one reached when learning could stop. But we don’t become educated any more than we ever completely grow up. There is always something to learn. And, in fact, many important lessons are not learned until mid-life or older. An education is not a destination, but a journey – one that begins at birth and continues until we die (or even after, depending upon your spiritual/religious beliefs).
Of course, we all inevitably reflect our personal histories. Most of us who went to school for any length of time are victims of that sort of education; despite the unprecedented ease and importance of continuing to educate ourselves as adults (and the impossibility of not learning!), we still often to forget that learning never ends.
Fortunately, once we’ve truly deschooled ourselves, we take it for granted that an education is a naturally occurring, continuous process of taking in and processing information and ideas from our lives – and that we never grow out of learning. Even when someone who previously learned without school chooses to attend school, they retain the autodidactic mindset.
That’s why I think it is so important that we are building up a body of public knowledge – via articles like the ones we publish in Life Learning Magazine and other places, and the research done by those few academics who understand life learning – that demonstrates the ongoing benefits of living and learning without school or other artificial constructs that capitalism might create.
One of the important benefits is the fact that those who grow up having independence of thought and action have no need to rebel against their parents when they become adolescents. For the most part, and to some degree or other, life learners have been trusted with other life decisions beyond academic ones. Whatever terminology you use, as a parent, to identify your family as living school-free, once you have learned to respect and trust children and young people with their own educations, it just seems natural to expand that thinking to some other aspects of parenting. And because trust and respect have a hard time coexisting with the artificial separation of ages and stages that is so common in our society, these young people, as this article by a teenaged self-described “radical unschooler” puts it, are “not driven to radical behaviors for the sake of tasting freedom.” Or, as my eldest daughter and now one of those “grown unschoolers” remarked when she was seventeen and listening to her conventionally parented peers complain, “There’s nothing to rebel against in my family!”
I look forward to the day when respect for both children and self-education are the norm. Perhaps then there will no longer be a reason to label people as “grown unschoolers” any more than there is now to call someone a “grown public schooler.” As self-described grown unschooler Peter Kowalke has pointed out, labels can render us two-dimensional.
And, please, if your school-free child isn’t learning in lock-step with their schooled peers, just remember that they have a whole lifetime ahead of them to walk the life learning path…and that the life learning journey involves much more than they would ever be taught in school or than they can learn before they grow up (if they ever do!).
Wendy Priesnitz is the founder and editor of Life Learning Magazine. She is the mother of two adult daughters who learned without school in the 1970s and '80s, has been an advocate of home- and community-based self-directed education for over 45 years, and is the author of 13 books.
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