You’re never too old to (Free) Learn

In my adult years I have developed interests in a variety of topics. I generally focus on one thing, immerse myself in it for a while until I get that “filled up” feeling (i.e. I’m losing interest) and then after a while something new will come to me. 

I recall in my late teens developing an interest in World War II history, and reading several novels about that era and the history of the Third Reich. Later interests have included: the conquering of the New World, Greek history, quantum physics, paleoanthropology, and mythology. Recent newfound subjects include knitting, gardening, and Voluntary Simplicity. 

In each case, I stumbled upon a book or story that particularly moved me to want to learn more. I then sought out the information on my own, usually through books but sometimes through film or online courses. Most recently I have gotten to the end of a long period of focusing on issues relating to sustainable living (the Book List I keep on my other blog is testimony to the amount of reading I’ve done on the subject). I finally felt like I’d had enough of that, and after a break from reading for about a month I felt the urge last night to start reading something again. I perused our home library and came across a book I’d been wanting to read for a while: it’s called Vancouver Remembered by Michael Kluckner and it is a pictorial history of the city of my birth and my current home.

As I began reading I felt that old familiar pull. Tidbits of information piqued my curiosity and left me hungry for more. I recalled that this year, 2008, marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of my province, British Columbia. The CBC (our version of NPR) has a section of its website devoted to this subject and while I’ve heard about it on the radio I had not yet visited the site. The book I picked up last night also lists some good references for reading more on our city’s history, and I’m particularly interested in how the First Nations lived before European settlers came. I recalled reading in The 100 Mile Diet (part of my foray into the story of modern food production) how rich and plentiful the resources here were, which is why our First Nation’s people were able to develop such an impressive artistic talent. Apparently the Coast Salish lived in post-and-beam houses using the fantastic timber that grows in our area. So much for teepees and dirt huts. 

The point of my post is this: as adults, no longer in the Institutions of School, we still learn. We still develop passions about subjects, tending to focus on one or two at a time, that lead us to seek out more information. We know where to go: libraries, websites, etc. We may take classes on the subject (crafting, adult ed, music lessons). But really, in this Age of Information, one can pretty much learn about any subject without having to go to a learning institution. 

I don’t know very many adults who don’t do this at least once-in-a-while. So why can’t we wrap our heads around children doing this, too? Why are we so convinced as a society that only “teachers” can bring the gift of knowledge to our children in a meaningful (and useful) way? Why do we assume that, without school, children cannot learn? As adults, we do it all the time. And I see the same pattern in my kids. They stumble across an idea, a story, a concept and it lights a spark and they want to learn more. Of course they need help finding and accessing the resources, but when led to that pool of water they most certainly do drink without any coercion. 

So the next time someone asks you how your children learn things without being in school, just ask them to tell you about the last time they got interested in a subject and what they did to learn all they wanted to know about it.

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