Declaration of Self-learning Version 2

For the newest version, read it here.

Here we want to recognize what we have achieved in our understanding of learning, and call for further actions to lead to future learning.

The current prevailing education model, e.g. the school classroom based education model, or so called Compulsory Schooling, has only been around for 150 years. Its design goal is to strip away human beings’ higher capacities and keep only the lowest ones, so people can work along the assembly line and be part of the assembly line. So in this education system, human beings are just a higher form of machine.(John Taylor Gatto, The Undergraduate History of American Education) But in the new era of economy, we need more people who are able to explore knowledge and think independently. The current increasingly severe crisis facing United States and other western countries lies in the fact that the far outdated education system cannot meet the needs of the new knowledge economy. So this is the era we are going to replace the old education model with the new one, one that brings out the true face of learning.

To do that, we have to think outside of the box of classroom, and think deeply what is learning and what is knowledge. We cannot turn to conventional educators for guidelines since lacking of learning experiences they only know of classrooms when it comes to learning and they tend to use all kinds of technologies to decorate their fancy classrooms. Without the concept of classroom, they are unable to think what is learning and what is knowledge. Fortunately, many years of practices and experiences from Sudbury Valley School, Summerhill and other democratic schools, from unschooling movement, and from many self-learners such as Mark Twain and Albert Einstein are the real rich nutrition we can turn to. Typically, we can learn from over 40 years of practices of Sudbury Valley School, a school that has no classroom, no homework and no exams and what kids there do all day is just playing:

  • Learning is always self-directed, and children (adults too, of course) can make decisions on their own learning;

  • Children can equally participate in school matters, and if given that equal chances they participate in school matters in a rational and responsible way. Such active participation in improving their surroundings is a big part of children’s learning and is what make them complete as human beings;

  • Children can learn everything by playing. (Why? The needs of learning come from being social and playing, and they gain feedback of their learning from playing as well. Children naturally will like one thing at a time. After they have fully played and fully learned, another thing will gradually draw their interests. So they get to learn everything by playing. If they happen to find what they love to play for their whole lives, either by then they probably have tried and played many other things or they love this thing so much that they will learn everything with this thing. So no need to worry about children playing. Before children grow to full adults, their playing time should be guaranteed since that is their learning time to prepare them to become fully responsible adultsand playing is the natural way of learning);

  • Children learn in their daily lives. They don’t need to be isolated from their daily lives in order to learn. They also don’t need to be isolated from larger society for the purpose of learning;

  • No external tests should be given to children. They can evaluate themselves according to their internal goals and from their playing. Children should feel of their own space instead of let that feeling being interrupted and damaged by external tests;

  • Sudbury staff do whatever they can to help protect children’s feeling of the space: space internally and space around. For example, children shouldn’t be timed with external clock. Children’s sense of themselves shouldn’t be interfered or driven by external tests. Children feel of their inner needs of learning. Children feel of their environments and make change to that environment, evaluate that change and make further improvement. Children participate in larger social life instead of being cut off and isolated from it;

  • In addition to protecting children’s feeling of the space, sudbury staff also help make (self-) learning a little easier once learning needs arise. In summary, sudbury staff made sudbury school a comprehensive supportive learning environment;

There are many other lessons from sudbury practices. But to keep the manifesto brief, we stop here. Sudbury book Free at Last is a good book for you to read further.

So let’s have our future learning built based on these practices and experiences. Let’s expand Sudbury Model to the whole society, including adults, and make the whole society a comprehensive supportive learning environment. First, let us summarize our understanding of learning on a deep level. Especially we will summarize it in a way that helps digitize learning :

  • Learning is to shape our internal brain structure to match external world. So of course, it is both social and internal. It is never separated from real life. Learning activities are external, and they are scattered and everywhere. People engage in various activities in their daily lives to accumulate drops of experiences in various domains of knowledge over a long period of time. But learning is also very internal. Learners need to feel the space of themselves and the outside world. One needs to feel where they are and where they need to go in their learning. Self-reflection is central to one’s learning. One needs to discern what they have experienced and reflect on their experiences over a period of time;

  • Associated with the understanding above is that knowledge is flowing everywhere and has many layers. Knowledge at the bottom layer connects knowledge at the top together. People are sensing knowledge in different domains on different layers in their various activities. And once deeper knowledge is formed, it helps recall knowledge at the top when faced with new situations. Trying to make connections and forming deeper knowledge is “understanding”of knowledge;

  • Thus the basic skills of learning are breaking down (analyzing) and putting together (comprehending). Learners need to break down knowledge into various parts and sense them in various activities. Learners then need to put their drops of experiences in various activities together to achieve an understanding of the knowledge on the whole. Self-reflection is the way you practice these two basic learning skills, and through self-reflection you get to pull all the experiences in various activities together to form meaningful learning;

  • Since learning is never separated from real life, learning surely can be and should be driven by curiosity. Thus people can learn everything by playing. Thus we want people to have as much time as possible to engage in playing, and only spend the necessary time on reviewing their drops of experiences gained in playing to achieve the whole and deeper knowledge in order to play better;

  • Since real life learning is the main way of learning, the so called “informal” learning is actually the formal learning. Real life learning is the formal learning.

And we call for actions:

  • Call for Freedom of Learning: individuals should have the right to decide for themselves what to learn, how to learn, from who to learn, when to learn and where to learn;

  • Call for people who can truly bring technology and understanding of learning together. For that, software programmers need to turn to practices and experiences from Sudbury, Summerhill, and other democratic schools, and from the unschooling movement. They also need to be lifelong self-learners themselves and learn several big things in their lives and have very rich learning experiences. Only so, can we see how technology is really applied to learning and truly make the revolution happen. Especially we need to pay attention to various institutions that started to center learning around self-reflection, which is probably the major area that learning software will come from. With email, webpage, google, facebook, even with mobile internet and cloud computing, we are still at the beginning of this software revolution, which is a process of digitization of human world. We have been lingering around long enough not entering the core of that digitization. Now let’s march into the core! Let’s usher the era of consciousness software! We are all self-learners. Let’s make self-learning easier!

  • Call for people of all ages, in school or out of school already, to engage in self-learning and learning in real life. The more you can learn out of school and in real life, the less significant school will be. That is the way we make the old classroom based education model obsolete and replace it with the new one;

  • Call for all organizations to participate in making the whole society a comprehensive supportive learning environment. We need various organizations to carry out their own education responsibility for the community. For example, hospitals should be the place for people to learn about health knowledge and law firms should be the place for people to learn of knowledge related to law. We need various organizations to open up their office space for young people (or not that young people) to tour during certain hours or over the weekends for learning purpose, or set up internship and programs for young people (or not that young people). We need various open labs where people can practice and learn;

  • Call for more comprehensive evaluation of people’s skills and capacities. For example, ability to explore and think independently is definitely an important skill. Devise tools or methodologies to make that evaluation easier for employers. The whole society needs to be more mature in how to comprehensively evaluate people’s working skills and capacities. And the internship we mentioned above is a key part of it. It would be the best if we programmers can build up some kind of crowdsourcing task distribution system and badge system that can rank people’s skills in different categories and levels according to the tasks they accomplished. At least, in some industry, that is possible.

Self-learning was the reality from day one of human history, and has always been there throughout our history, even in the dark age of Compulsory Schooling. In term of accomplishing its design goal, Compulsory Schooling can be called a success. But as we enter the era of economy that calls for more explorers of knowledge and independent thinkers, we have to say to Compulsory Schooling:”Mission over. You are now dismissed!” Now it is time to bring forward the real learning. Now it time to make human beings complete and return human beings to their full potential. In our time, instead of being choice of a few, self-learning is going to scale up to a massive level and become the mainstream way of learning. As the Compulsory Schooling was designed to prevent people from understanding the whole and thus being entrepreneurs, in this new age of economy, we need more people to be whole and be entrepreneurs. We need more people to explore social knowledge, build social products and solve social problems, for example, how music should be shared and how artists can better support themselves, how seniors can live better lives, healthcare… It is the age about our happiness!

So together let’s bring out the true face of learning!

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