Monday, October 30, 2017

What I Learn: Unschooling as an Adult

I talk a lot about learning in a general sense, but sometimes people want to know a bit more about my learning, my experience as an adult unschooler, and how that works. How do I decide what to learn next? How do I find the information that I need? How do I learn? I addressed the question somewhat in a recent patreon post, but as was pointed out by someone, if your background is one where learning is something divorced from your own interests and daily life, it might not be as obvious as my suggestion that “learning is as simple as living life while curious.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that, and so I figured maybe I could try to use some actual examples from my own life to illustrate the various ways I learn about the things I care about most. While the more conventional understanding might be that a curriculum comes first and then it’s followed in order for learning to happen, that’s obviously not how I approach things. So instead, I thought I’d look back on the past year or so, and try to condense it into something like a portfolio: this is what I’ve been doing, and these have been some of the helpful resources I’ve used. Makes sense? Okay, time to dive in!

Media studies aka I watch a lot of TV shows and documentaries
TV watching might have a bad rap (documentaries not so much), but as I’ve discussed in other posts, I actually interact with the shows I watch (as do many people!): I watch them with others, and I look at the content critically (not in an I Only Watch Good shows way, because some of my faves are trash, but with an eye for what is well and badly done story-wise, what biases or unspoken assumptions are at play, etc.). And on the flip side, I watch documentaries not only to learn about their topics, but for the beauty, the experimentation, and the art inherent in a good doc.
The how: watch lots of things, read reviews and discussions online, watch video reviews and deconstructions, talk about TV and documentaries with others.

This is an art and form of self-expression that I cherish, and I’ve been learning more about it, building skills, and amassing my own personal product hoard over the last couple of years. I admired others for a while before I took the plunge myself, and it can admittedly be overwhelming. There has been lots of Googling, reading of reviews, Instagram inspiration, and trial and error along the way… But mainly? There’s been YouTube!
The how: YouTube tutorials, product reviews, hauls, lots of experimentation and practice.

White supremacist hate groups and ideology
With the belief in the old adage that it’s important to understand your enemies, current events should provide a pretty clear picture of why I started digging deeper. White supremacist hate groups have been around for a long time, but greater exposure in recent times has lead to a resurgence, and understanding what’s behind it has seemed deeply relevant.
The how: News articles, short form journalism, documentaries, long-form journalism, conversations with others.

Starting in the winter, I made the huge stride (for me) of actually exercising regularly! Yay phys ed I guess?? It involves working through some anxiety (not about the swimming itself, more about being alone with my own thoughts being difficult), building up stamina after not being physically active for a long time, and finding the meditative moments in leisurely treading water, the swirl between my fingers, and the sound of my own breathing as I float on my back…
The how: Buy pool membership, go to pool, swim.

Cat behaviour
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty obsessed with cats. It started when I was a toddler, and I really never grew out of it! But instead of being content simply with cuddling and fussing over the three cats I share my home with, I wanted to understand more about their behaviour and motivations, the ways I can better communicate with and train them, what research is saying about feline cognition, and just generally how to be a better cat guardian and friend to cat kind.
The how: reading and watching anything I can find by cat behaviorists, keeping up to date on new research, spending lots of time observing and interacting with cats. 

Literature appreciation aka I read a lot of novels
Since I first picked up a novel as I was learning to read, I never really stopped reading. I am very much in love with the science fiction and fantasy genres, and I’m usually in the middle of one novel or another. Over the past couple of years I’ve even set myself yearly reading goals through the book social media site GoodReads: in 2016 I read 50 books, and my goal for this year is 60 (I’m a little behind right now, but still well on track to make it).
The how: Get a library membership and go there regularly, request they purchase new books in my preferred genre that are getting a lot of buzz, read books, read book reviews, write book reviews, talk about books with people.

Self-directed education
The obvious one, really, so much so that it seems a bit superfluous to go into it more than this…
The how: Read articles and essays on unschooling/self-directed education and current events that influence both mainstream and alternative education, watch education documentaries, maintain a Facebook page on the topic, write my own posts and essays on my blog and other places, talk about education.

This collection of interests is not an exhaustive one: there have been plenty of other spurts of curiosity and research and dabbling… But it is a good overview of the things I’ve been most focused on in recent months. The more you do things and learn things just because you’re interested, you’re curious, you care, the easier it becomes. A habit formed of questions and Google searches, a process of letting go of the need to prove the worthiness of a task in favor of just enjoying it. Self-directed education might start out feeling complicated (and it can certainly be difficult, as many things can be, even when we love them), but it doesn’t have to be that way. Learning can be reclaimed, and enjoyed on its own merits, free from unnecessary complication and curriculum. It can be simple.