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Life Long Learning 'Why It Is Better Than Public Schools

What Life Long Learning is...
and What it is Not 'Copyright 2004 Patti Diamond

Many people have asked me this puzzling question...... 'Just what is Life Long Learning?' Many people think that they know Life Long Learning by its more widely recognized name 'Unschooling. To me, though, the simple word 'unschooling' seems to represent 'anti' learning, as if to be an act of defiance to learning. Learning is quite the contrary actually, and so is Life Long Learning.

While unschooling tends to lend itself to providing children with a nontraditional, noncompulsory 'schooling' environment or the simple act of not 'doing school at home', I believe this concept that John Holt pioneered, the essence of what is termed Unschooling, is really Life Long Learning. This reference to learning therefore, should be given a name that promotes a sense of freedom, serenity, and contentment. There is nothing 'anti' in the words Life Long Learning. In fact, Life Long Learning opens the door to the endless possibilities that life has to offer for learning and much more, which is what we all want for our children, for ourselves, is it not?
Life Long Learning is much more than just a concept pioneered by a man forty or so years ago though. It is a taking of his initial vision and expanding upon it to include much more. Life Long Learning, in its simplest of terms is ~ learning that is individual led, interest driven, natural, and self-directed. It is creative, it is spontaneous, and it is remarkable...very much unlike the structure of institutional learning. So, what does that mean, you might ask? In the context of our children's learning in life it means allowing your child the time, freedom, and space to learn what, when, how and where they choose to. It is a trusting of and in your child that he/she will learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it, and how they need to learn it ~ without having their learning dictated to them through curricular mandate to be done at a specific time and place.
Think back to the time when your child was first born - .. Did he/she have to be "taught" how to cry, how to wet a diaper, or how to breast/formula feed? No, rather than being 'taught', they simply learned on their own how to do these things. They may have needed to be "guided" to the breast/bottle initially, but the rest was done solely on their own. When it came time for your child to crawl, stand, walk, and talk - .did they need to be 'taught' this? Again, strikingly, the answer to this question is No. They may have needed your guidance ~ an environment rich with opportunity, encouragement, and love, which enabled them to learn and do these things, however, there was no formalized 'teaching' involved in it. None of us, as parents, propped our child up on the couch and said 'Ok, TALK'. Nor did we forcibly maneuver our child's legs into a walking motion. All we did was simply provide the environment necessary and then trusted in our children to learn what they needed to learn. The Life Long Learning concept, therefore, works this same way.
As humans, we are created with an innate sense of learning, a natural curiosity about the world around us and all that is within that world. It is instinctive. It is as innate to us as breathing. It need not be cajoled, or bribed, or forced in any way. To do so only stifles that learning and that love of learning. Meaningful knowledge and wisdom can only occur when a child wants to learn. The desire to learn must come from within. We all were born with this innate desire.

It is only when we are 'forced' into learning within a 'school' environment, that this innate sense of learning ultimately over time, is quelled. This why children struggle so and do so poorly within an institutional learning environment as they are "forced" to learn and to 'perform'. They are forced to acquire knowledge of certain number of 'facts' that have no meaning to them or to their lives, within a certain period of time. Children are then 'required to perform' such facts in a repetitious manner in the way of tests and rote memorizations ~ commonly known as 'school work', 'seat work', 'assignments', or 'homework' ~ rather than being given the time, opportunity, and space to accumulate knowledge on their own and in their own way.
One does not need a 'test' or 'rote memorization schoolwork and homework' to know that they have learned something and that they 'know' it. Once you have learned something, whatever it is, you have learned it. If, as you were 'taught' in school, you are made to just 'memorize' it, spit it out on a test, then forget it, it has not been truly learned, not even once, yet.
Just as when you first learned how to ride a bicycle. After many years of not implementing this action, it may take you a while to remember how, but you already acquired the knowledge of how at some point in your life, therefore, you do not need to be taught how to ride a bicycle again. You merely need to recall it from your memory to accomplish the task at hand. Therefore, learning stays with you permanently, it does not go away on a whim.
Observations Within the 'Institutional Learning Environment' ~ The Cost to Children
Have you ever been on a field trip to a museum with a school? Or have you ever been to a museum or a place where there are "schooled" children on a field trip? Have you ever watched the expressions on the children's faces and the expressions in their bodies? Even more interesting still, is to observe how children are treated and how they express themselves within the 'schooled environment'.
I spent many years as both a teacher working in both public/private schooling sector and as a parent volunteer observing this phenomenon. From all of those years of observation several things became all to clear to me. Children begin their 'schooling' endeavor with their minds free and full of a love of learning. They are like sponges with a willingness and readiness to absorb anything about life that they can. At first, when forced to learn what the teacher or school says they must learn, the child attempts to accomplish just that. They do so because, at this point, they love to learn and are eager to please their teachers and parents. The forced learning is in the disguise of fun, games, and activities that the children enjoy.

However, what seems to happen with this forced learning over time is that the learning takes on a more demanding form. The children become increasingly aware that the 'fun and games' turns into drill and practice, and drill and practice some more. This drill and practice then becomes the child's way of life. Therefore, children are not only being told what to learn, but how, where, and when to learn. They are in essence being instructed, subtly, without ever being told that this is indeed what is transpiring, that they are incapable of learning unless a teacher teaches them.
Children are also 'taught' within the institutional setting that life, just as in school, must be divided into subjects ~ Math, Reading, Science, History, etc. And that learning must be 'done' within a certain time frame. Children are made to feel that unless they continue the drill and practice; that unless they 'perform' at a certain level, that they are not competent to move onto the next level of learning. Children are also led to believe that there is only one way to learn ~ the way the teacher says you should learn and you should never question that way of learning or the teacher. To do deviate from that learning that has been taught or to question the teacher's authority in any way, will only serve to place you under punishment in the form of a reprimand or 'poor grade - .

Children are also 'taught' segregation by age in the schooling environment. As an example, children are told that they may only play with '2nd graders' if they are a second grader on the playground, and anyone who comes into the '2nd grade' play area is immediately reprimanded. Thus, segregation by other means tends to ensue within the 'age groups'. This happens in the form of 'cliques' or groups of children who are only liked if they are or act a 'certain way'. These children must have the right hairstyle or the right clothes or have money or be popular in order to be liked. If this is not the case, then they are ostracized, teased, and ridiculed for being the unique individual that they are. The children whom do not fit in are also given labels for being who they are, such as 'geek' or 'ugly' or 'fat'.
Socializing is something that is taught to children as prohibited while in the schooling endeavor. Evidence of this is seen in the following statements that are uttered over and over again by teachers and school staff ~ 'Be quiet in class and do your work' and 'You may not talk to your friends during class time, this is not a social hour'. The oxymoron of this is that we are made to believe that one of the reasons we are to send our children to school are so that they may be properly 'socialized - .

What tends to happen then is by the time a child reaches about the age of 9 to 10 is that children will either attempt to rebel against this form of degradation or they will be quieted into submission. This is about the time that we start seeing the 'bad report cards', the 'notes home from the teacher' or the punitive punishments such as, detention, or having to stay in at recess and lunch.
Or we may see what is termed as the 'quiet good child', a child who has become quiet and withdrawn but for the most part to outward appearances 'seems' to be doing fine in school. For some children, they will continue to spend the rest of their 'schooling' career trying to break out of this mold, as if in a cry for help. For some, they will in essence continue to be 'quieted' into submission with constant disciplinary penalties if they should deviate from what is considered to be 'improper behavior'. Both avenues leave children feeling helpless and powerless in their world. Both avenues only serve to make life outside of institutional learning an unbearable one.

Thus, over time child soon grows to hate learning. The love of learning and the bright learning in their eyes, that once was there, turns into a child who is cold, distant and dislikes anything that even resembles learning. Worse still, is the loss of self worth and confidence by being made to feel 'less than' for not 'performing' to expectation.

Back to the Beginning Then -

Let us go back now, to the questions that I asked at the beginning of observations section, which was this... Have you ever been on a field trip to a museum with a school? Or have you ever been to a museum or a place where there are "schooled" children on a field trip? Have you ever watched the expressions on the children's faces and the expressions in their bodies?

If you ever have been in the presence of a group of children on a field trip, you will notice that their love of learning, their awe of the world is drained right out of their faces. You have the majority of the class just walking around aimlessly with the teacher and the tour guide. You can observe tell from the expressions on their faces and in their body language that they do not want to be there. One could almost read their minds to hear the children say statements like ~ "This is so boring", "I wish my mom/dad were here", "I wish could go play and explore the museum place myself", or "Why do we have to look at this exhibit now, I would find this other one over here more interesting now, 'I wish I could go see this interesting thing over there, instead of having to just "follow" the group".

Most children therefore, are in a place they do not choose to be in, with individuals they do not necessarily wish to be with, and not able to explore and learn in a manner in which they want to or to take the time longer at one place to explore than another. An example of this could be that maybe they are not interested in dinosaurs, but they do like rocks and crystals. However, in a schooling environment, "the group is moving right along - ; therefore, that child cannot stay to absorb the enjoyment of the rocks and crystals.
Life After the 'Schooling' Experience

Under the current conditions in which we as a societal whole, force children to learn in an institutional setting, that environment takes on the look and feel of a negative experience for children. If you are to take a look at the surroundings of a school, you will find that it is set up very much like a prison. Not only the surroundings, but the overall atmosphere of a school is conducive to that of a prison - like feel. Our children (that of my husband Aaron and me) own children came up with this analogy of their own volition. They could see how the fences that are erected in an attempt to keep children safe really make them feel like they are prisoners. Also too, our children surmised, that being that children do not have the freedom to leave at any given time and that the learning becomes stagnant or not geared to what their interests are, this too lends itself to a prison-like atmosphere.
Conversely, if a child is given the opportunity to choose their form of learning and is then there within the schooling environment by choice, then school therefore is not all of those afore mentioned things. In other words, school can only be a positive learning environment if children are allowed to learn freely what they want when they want to, without learning being forced. Therefore, if a child chooses to go to school and they are not forced to go by societal, parental, or family influences, and the child can be free to leave when the learning is not of their interest and come back when it is, then the schooling environment can be a positive experience.
Unfortunately, for most children today, however, school is not of choice, it is of by demand. It is by the force of societal pressures to conform, that we attempt to make our children comply with what is told that they have to learn. If most children were given the choice to be apart of or not be apart of the institutional setting, most would choose not to be. Most would choose to learn in a modality that is of their own choosing. Therefore, if we allow our children to choose school as their form of learning and they choose not to, then why should we force them to attend school? If we are truly to give children back their own personal power, then why force learning? Simply because children are smaller and we feel somehow that they would appear to be more helpless than us as adults? Does this make their choices any less valid than ours?
I believe that size, nor age, should not be a factor in the path of life we choose, which includes that of learning. In fact, we all have since birth instinctively made choices in our lives without ever giving much consideration to the fact that this was indeed what we were doing. As infants even, we chose to crawl, here or there. We choose to eat when we are hungry. As an infant, our way of choosing would be to cry to let our mother know we were hungry. As toddlers, we chose to walk here or there. And so the process continues throughout life, thereby showing that as humans, we are indeed capable of making choices. There may be times in one's life where we may need direction and focus in order to make our choices in life, but whether it is deemed by the rest of the world as good or bad, right or wrong, we all have the capacity to make our own choices in life.

The lack of choice within compulsory education then brings to mind, what does life look like for these children, now adults, after being subjected to the inability to choose for themselves for twelve plus years within the institutional setting? What has happened is we have all of these adults who go out into what is termed by society as the 'real world', as if we have not been in the real world all these years. In fact, we have not been in the 'real world' all of these years. Using the previously mentioned analogy, we can see how we have been 'locked away' as it were within the 'schooling environment' being told how, what, when, and where to learn, obtain friendships, live, and the like.

Thus, upon entering the 'real world', we are hit with a major culture shock when embarking into the world as an adult outside of the 'schooled' environment. Much like that of a prisoner, whom has just been released back into mainstream society after a prolonged stay in prison, many are hit with a dose of big time culture shock, due to the fact they soon discover that life is not divided into subjects, as they had been 'taught' for all of those years. They soon start to feel even more helpless because they do not feel that they can learn anything on their own, without being 'taught' how.

As adults then, we wander helplessly through society, trying to 'make it' in the world, without any real life skills to conjure a worthwhile life for ourselves and our future generation. We are left with that age old question they ask you from the time you are little - .'What do you want to be when you grow up?' For most of us, we just settle for what we can make out of life ~ we get a 'job', we fall in love, get married, and have families of our own. For most of us, we just live out our lives never realizing the full potential of our possibilities for life.

Now, for some, we are happy with that. We are content with just living our lives until we die with what we have and how we have come to exist in this world and do not question what more there is. But there are some of us, myself included, who have always seen a vision ~ who have always known that there is something out there that is better than just living our lives this way. For us, we know that there is an endless stream of possibilities of what life is and can be. We long to bring this infinite source of possibilities into our lives, the lives of our children and of their children's children. This, is where Life Long Learning begins!

What Life Long Learning Looks Like

With Life Long Learning, there is no end. It is a continuous circle of learning and connections to learning, as there is no "timetable" to learning. For those of us for whom compulsory education was a way of life and we knew no better, did we at the end of our 'schooling', then all of the sudden because we completed high school or college, stop learning? No! We did not say to ourselves, "Ok, I have "graduated" now; I think I will stop learning!' The truth is that we learn our whole lives, not just when we were 'in school', because life in of itself is a learning process. We will continue to learn until we take our very last breath. Even death is a learning process. A friend of mine, who was considering Life Long Learning, stated to me that she was afraid to start Life Long Learning at that point in her daughter's life. She made the statement that she thought it too late to be 'messing around with her learning'. My response to her was the following - ..

- Why is it too late to be messing around with her learning? Too late for what? Your daughter's life has only just begun! So, she is a teenager, and? If you figure that the average life expectancy of a human being is approximately 80 years of age, I think, that leaves her ALOT of learning and growing ahead of her! She has her whole life ahead of her to view and experience the world around her! -

None of us, child or adult alike, learn exactly the same way. There is no such thing as only one or just a few types of 'learning styles' for everyone, as compulsory education has lead us to believe. Much debate and 'categorizing' of learning into styles and subjects has surfaced over the years. However, the fact remains that multiple learning styles within one person is inherently possible and is what makes each person an individual, is what makes each person unique. Therefore ~ how, when, and in what time frame our learning is to occur ~ should be as individual and unique as we are and should be left only up to us.
Remember, as I spoke of before, that in school, we are taught that individuals need to learn in 'subjects' ~ Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and History etc. ~ that these 'subjects' need to be taught in a certain order and within a certain time frame. Also, compulsory education has taught us that you must learn one set of concepts first before going onto the next set of concepts. The truth is though; life is not divided into subjects. Nor do we necessarily need to learn adding of 2 or 3 digits before being able to learn multiplication. As an example, it is just as logical to see that a child can go from learning basic addition facts, to learning multiplication in the natural progression of life. When you learn that 2 + 2 = 4, it is then quite easy to make the leap to seeing that 2 x 2 =4 because there are two sets of two. Therefore, one does not have to learn one first before the other, despite what we are told we have to in school.
What Do I Need to 'Do - ?

One of the main objectives of Life Long Learning is that of choice. As noted earlier, freedom of a child to choose what, when, how and where he/she wishes to learn is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring gifts that a parent can ever give to a child, or to themselves for that matter. It really does not require you to 'do' anything, as you do not 'do' Life Long Learning. Life Long Learning is just what it says it is'. learning your whole life long 'living, learning, and growing together.

One of the many advantages of this is that you, the parent, are not required to become someone else, i.e. a professional teacher pouring knowledge at and into child-vessels on a planned basis. You do not need to provide 'curriculum' or make your child sit down and do worksheets and tests. Should your child want to or choose to do these things, than they may, but it is not compulsory.

Instead, you live and learn with your child, together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise. 'Leading by example', as the old adage goes, is an extremely powerful way to provide a rich Life Long Learning environment. This adage is often used to imply that parents must show a good or proper example of behavior in order for children to follow, however, this same adage can also apply to learning throughout life. If you as a parent develop an active interest in learning in the world, in viewing things from a new perspective, in a new light, modeling this then will bring about what I call 'contagious learning - .

It is then the utilizing of a 'world of unlimitless possibilities for learning' ~ along with, yours and their own passions/interests, which is what gives birth to Life Long Learning. It is the shifting of perspectives, from textbooks to the real world that we learn best. Choosing to build a Lego village will invite the opportunity to learn much about math, geometry, culture, maybe even history depending on the type of village. Therefore, the variety of 'subjects' that compulsory education wishes to instill upon children can be easily learned in a non-subject like manner, but rather in an open learning manner in the way the child chooses.

Children grow to hate the very 'subjects' that are taught in school simply because they are not given the opportunity to 'experience' them. History, for example, is often dislike so strongly mainly because a child is told 'Sit, read these chapters, answer these questions, and when you are finished, there will be a test next week to see if you 'learned' it or not' ~ rather than being given the opportunity to experience what I call 'Living History', History in a hands-on manner.

A wonderful example of 'Living History' is when a friend of mine took her four children on a trip along the Oregon Trail from start to finish. Her children actually experienced first hand, what life was like during the 1840's to 1850's and can easily share with anyone all that they learned from their journey. My own children have experienced the westward movement of the pioneers, while visiting Pioneer Arizona.
You do not need to 'know everything'' in order to provide a Life Long Learning environment for your children or your family. Sometimes, all your children will want and/or need is conversation with you. My children and I will sit and talk for hours about anything that interests them, and often times one conversation about one thing, will lead into another conversation completely about something else. Sometimes, I will know the information they are seeking, and they will listen intently to my vast knowledge and wisdom. Other times, I do not have any idea what the answer is. My job, as their parent, then is to provide them with the resources and a way to find those resources. Children, given the freedom to do so and by their very own innate nature, when not knowing the answer to a certain question or a particular interest they have that they do not have the knowledge on, become quite capable of seeking out a person to assist them in finding the answers they seek. That person the majority of the time will be you, their parent, but, this is not always the case.

The information and knowledge that our children seek, need not be expensive to obtain either. We live in an 'information-rich' society, and there is a vast amount of information to buy, to seek, to view, or to obtain for free ~ libraries, television, museums and historic buildings are available to all ~ all you need is to investigate what is around you and seize every opportunity to collect 'information ' on whatever interests your child. In every local community there will be enthusiasts in many hobbies or professions who are usually more than willing to share their expertise; sometimes friends or neighbors may happily offer special knowledge and resources as well.

In these next chapters, I will bring to life examples to show to you Life Long Learning in action. Life Long Learning in action is to do simply just, what the words say and mean 'Live you Life and Learn all day, everyday. Life Long Learning provides the concepts and practical use on a daily basis of ever-important skills such as ~ how to learn, how to think, how to find information, and where to look. Your whole family then is likely to become more resourceful, use more initiative; often you will learn alongside each other, enjoying each other's curiosity and the thrill of discovery.

About the Author: Patti Diamond is a Life Long Learning mom 'living and discovering life's possibilities along side her husband Aaron, and her three beautiful boys 'ages 14, 8, and 7. Utilizing her vast amount of knowledge and research on homelearning, Patti has been able to transform her life, her children's lives, and the lives of those around her into what she has termed as Life Long Learning. Patti's vision is to make a difference in people's lives within the home learning community and beyond - By being a voice of experience and encouragement; by giving back to the community the inspiration and information that she has acquired on the path she has taken, so as to support others in their own journey of discovery. Patti's ultimate dream is creating the ability for everyone to discover the infinite possibilities that are available through Life Long Learning. This article is an excerpt taken from her book entitled Life Long Learning - Transforming Learning; Discovering Learning Through Living Life In Unlimitless Possibilities.

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