Alternative Learning and Back To Nature Press - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal
Oct. 7th, 2003
01:10 pm - Alternative Learning and Back To Nature Press
I am twenty years old and have been an autodidact all my life. I always found it amazing that every summer (every single day during the summer, in fact) I would learn more than I had during an entire year in school. I remember my teachers explaining the reasons why I had to go to school: to get ahead in the world, to get a good job, to make money, and to be successful. Even though I was very young, this explanation didn't make much sense to me, and I asked myself, "How exactly is school going to help us get 'ahead' when everyone is learning exactly the same thing?" I learned that it was futile to ask such questions so I kept them to myself and accepted them as mysteries of life. I had already learned many of the things that the schools had to teach, simply by being inquisitive in the real world, and so I often sat bored in class while everyone else was taught things I already knew. I was fed-up with this by high school and looked desparately for a way out but there was none to be seen. I was very close to leaving school and doing some kind of self-study (which, as I later learned, is called "unschooling"). However, when I was given the opportunity to attend the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science, a supposedly open-ended school for "gifted and talented" (I hate those words) students, I thought I had finally found a school that would cater to my needs. I learned a lot about myself at the Academy, met some great people, and grew a lot as a person, but I really didn't learn a thing about mathematics or science (with the exception of some senior year courses I took at the university)!
During my senior year, the Academy somehow got the innane idea of assigning us a year-long independent study project on any topic of interest, and at that point, I rebelled. I, at least, had my own interests, and I didn't need an "independent study" project to force me to pursue them! I loved music and guitar and thought about doing a study of music theory, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. We were asked to keep a log of every minute we spent working on the project until it added up to a hundred hours. After about ten minutes of that, I realized I was completely focused on my watch. My interest and passion for music theory had been replaced with a pedantic effort to log the hours spent doing something I loved to do! I suppose some people don't realize that, when you're doing something you truly love, you exist completely outside of space and time, and those are the most fruitful experiences in life. Many a time have I gotten lost in a book, but that could never be possible were I asked to track the hours I spent reading. I realized that the independent study project was ridiculous -- who could be so controlling as to force people to log an interest they freely chose to pursue! -- so I simply gave up. Many students including myself didn't really do the independent study project (we just pretended to do it).
Enraged, I spent the next few months (on my own time) writing seven critical essays on the philosophy of education. I wrote about my experiences, eventually came to the conclusion that there was something wrong with "curriculum-based education," and decided that the best education is based on innate motivation and inspiration. I knew vaguely of the "free school movement," as a friend of a friend had attended such a school, but I had at this time never heard of the concept known as "unschooling," and I had no idea how popular it was. The week of project presentations quickly approached, and the day before they was due, I decided to throw all of my essays into a folder, along with a certificate proclaiming that I was a supporter of the Separation of School and State alliance, make a phony log roughly logging a hundred hours, and told my advisor that there was a little "change of plans" regarding my senior project. Since the entire project was about self-learning and taking control of one's own education, it made sense that I had changed the project at the last minute. When I presented the "project", I made it clear that it made no difference to me whether I got an A or an F, that I disagreed with the premise of the independent study project in general, and that my "project" was actually a rebellion against it. I could have -- I should have -- been more radical in getting my point across. I was given a B (and was almost insulted that they hadn't honoured me with an F).
During my freshman year of college I found a copy of the Teenage Liberation Handbook at the public library. Finally I discovered the philosophy that I have been searching for my entire life, and found that non-curricular education is not nearly so obscure as I had once thought! I am currently attending university of my own free-will but soon after reading Llewellyn's book I changed my major from physics to the unprestigious and impractical but fascinating subject of philosophy. John Holt has said that he never offered information about his formal education because it's the education of real life that's important. In the same way, although I am attending university, usually the best learning opportunities are those I pursue on my own.
Since I left the Academy I have been volunteering all over the place. I volunteered at a summer camp for children in beautiful Vershire Vermont; at Hoetensleben Germany I worked to renovate a section of the former Berlin Wall as a memorial; in Oranienburg Germany I did archeological work for the former concentration camp Sachsenhausen; in Goslar Germany I worked at a retirement and nursing home; in Frankleben, a poor east German town I worked to renovate an old castle; most recently in Delton Michigan I worked at an alternative summer camp/co-op. I have also gotten many chances to travel (the US, France, Germany, Austria, Denmark) and study the German language and literature. In the spring I participated in the Worcester Lyceum and got to know many interesting people in the area (many of whom share my interest in philosophy). I have co-founded a non-profit organization called the "Alternative Learning and Back to Nature Press" with the hope that many of the problems in the world can be solved by helping people grow up and live with a sense of wonder and a love of knowledge. Our main goals are to inspire people to get excited about their lives; and to mesmerize people with the myriad of wonderful learning opportunities that are available to them around every corner; to provide a forum for ideas, resources, and discussion; and to slowly build a culture of autodidacts (self-learners) one person at a time. We are looking into a running a campaign to solarize universities. We are also working on a side-project, the Society Promoting Weirdness, intended to help people take pride in their personal quirks, to be themselves despite so much opposition, and to promote more than just superficial diversity in the world (in short we want to revel in our "weirdness" until being "weird" isn't so weird anymore). In my free time I enjoy reading, learning languages, traveling, distance walking and hiking, whitewater rafting, philosophy, attending folk festivals and renaissance faires, studying mathematics and physics, reading about current events and the Economist, learning in general, and learning about learning. I also write freelance articles. This spring I am considering beginning a farming internship in Vermont to learn about sustainable agriculture.