Summer is probably the most dreamed about, written about, and longed for season in America.
For most of America’s children and young adults, summertime means freedom. The school year schedule fades away and the longer, warmer days are replaced with uninterrupted sleep, exploration, visiting with family and friends, vacationing, and learning new information simply because of a desire and curiosity to know, not in order to pass a test or check a box.
The alarm bells cease and desist.
Stress subsides and growing minds are happily given more time to wander and wonder.
There seems to be a universal respect of the unscheduled, free flowing days of summer and a recognition that it really needs to be a time when kids can just exist without adult meddling, over planning, and directing their every move.
But why just summer?
Can’t this, or more importantly, shouldn’t this be the reality for children all year long?
I believe we collectively accept that learning is essential to our society and knowledge sharing is what helps us advance as a society, even prevents us from making terrible, or deadly mistakes. But isn’t it possible that we have gone about knowledge sharing the wrong way?
The current traditional system creates an us (educators) versus them (children) mentality in that educators are on a pedestal and children are essentially required to bow down to educators’ wishes and whims. The freedom to learn and interact with information is rarely an option.
The idea that children can direct their own learning is brushed aside in favor of boxed curriculum, standardization, and academic benchmarks which are sold as the only way to obtain the dangling carrot of K-12 education, the high school diploma.
Here’s the rub.
We know that a high school diploma isn’t enough anymore to secure a well paying job in our current economy. Not to mention the rules for receiving one changes from state to state, in essence making the diploma difficult to valuate and certainly gives us no clear understanding of the possible skill set an individual has. So, you go to school for 13 years, spend over 14,000 hours under the direction of educators, add in homework, projects, and other required school related activities and you can’t get a well paying job?
Feels like a huge rip off to me.
What we do know, and what has been consistently the case since the beginning of time, is that learning is as natural of an activity as eating, sleeping, and procreating, all of which are extremely unique to the individual.
Children are by far the most unique in regards to learning because their brains take in information at break neck speed. They don’t miss anything!
“So if you want to expand your consciousness, you can try psychedelic drugs, mysticism or meditation. Or you can just go for a walk with a 4-year-old.” –Alison Gopnik
Do kids truly need adults to manage/control their learning? I don’t think so. Do children need supportive, loving, resourceful adults in their lives who understand the value of creating an enriching environment and opportunities? Absolutely.
In this case, you could not stop learning even if you tried. When our brains are excited, interested, and engaged we learn without any lesson plans or worksheets needed. On the flip side, we know humans do not learn well under duress. Stress affects how our brains process information and basically shuts down learning.
We have all heard countless stories of the stress our children face daily in the traditional schooling world. It is absolutely out of hand. Just do a Google search for “is school causing stress” and you will get way more stories, studies, and reports then you will ever have time to read.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
We can and should support and embrace knowledge autonomy in our society.
When individuals are allowed to gather information in a way that is unique and personal to them learning is richer, deeper, and more meaningful. Will they have piles of worksheets or tests in folders to prove their knowledge? Not likely, but that isn’t necessary.
Schooling isn’t necessary either to create learners.
What they need is time, space, and the flexibility to interact with a variety of interests without feeling pressured to do so adhering to an arbitrary timeline.
We seek freedom, summertime type freedom, by living the self-directed life.
Sure there are challenges and sometimes we fail, but we pick ourselves back up and try again. We live life as the trial and error it is without worrying so much about meeting academic standards OVER raising fully intact humans. Add in exploration, relationship building, testing and challenging ourselves daily and you have the basic recipe for self-directed education. Oh and TRUST.
Taking the leap to live a less constrained life can be scary, make your heart race, and your palms sweaty, but the exhilaration that washes over you when you realize the jump wasn’t as intense as you perceived it to be is well worth it. Will you leap?