To Learn is not to be Taught
Compulsory attendance at an institution of learning is a relatively recent experiment that accompanied many other changes in society after the Industrial Revolution. The governments of the time had good reasons for enacting legislation that would ensure an education for all.
Unfortunately, the positive social innovation has, over the long haul, resulted in an nominate blurring of the distinction between learning and schooling. The educational system now reflects the mistaken (and, I feel, arrogant) notions that real learning is the result of being taught by a teacher in a formal setting designed for that activity and that what we learn for ourselves is not important.
According to the renowned American educational philosopher John Dewey, learning is a personal process of development which arises from personal experience. He described it as a "reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience and increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience" (2).
If learning is an internal process of understanding the world and of acquiring the confidence to explore its workings, then education is the deliberate influencing of the process, according to Dewey's way of thinking. The Latin root of the word education is "educare" (meaning, "to bring up") which suggests a process of helping the student develop her own natural ability to discover and understand the world. Schooling is merely an organized program devised by modern society to facilitate education. And curriculum is the means by which the school program is organized.
For me, the definition of learning implies that optimum learning occurs when an individual sets, and is able to pursue, her own personal curriculum.
Avoiding the Negative Messages
Whenever a group of adults attempts to organize the learning process for children, it is bound to be accompanied by the values and biases of that particular group of adults. In the school setting, this can result in the communication of a variety of both oven and subtle social messages, some of which can be destructive to the egalitarian development of students in spite of the best intentions of educators. Clumsy bureaucracies, declining budgets, large enrolments and resistance to change contribute to the fact that, more often than not, what occurs in schools on a daily basis does not reflect the goals that teachers and administrators say they are trying to achieve.
One of the main messages that I wanted to avoid on behalf of my own daughters was, of course, that there are different career paths open to girls and boys. Home-based learning provides a way to circumvent much of this gender-based socialization pressure. For Heidi and Melanie, it has provided a way of finding out who they are and what they want to achieve without suffering from the assumptions inherent in the educational system.