Declaration of Self-learning, the long version

For the short version, read 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 Underground 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 The current increasingly severe crisis facing United States and other western countries lies in the fact that the far outdated education system cannot meet the needs of the new knowledge economy.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:

  1. Learning is always self-directed, and children (adults too, of course) can make decisions on their own learning;
  2. Children can learn everything by playing. In sudbury schools, children play whatever they feel like playing;
  3. Children can equally participate in school matters, and if given that equal chances they participate in school matters in a rational and responsible way. Feeling and improving one’s surroundings is essential to the wholeness of a human being, and should never be taken away from one;
  4. 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;
  5. 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 constantly interrupted and damaged by external tests;
  6. 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. In sudbury schools, children can be with themselves. 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. So you can see in sudbury schools, children feel fully of the space;
  7. Although children direct their own learning, sudbury staff also play an active role. They help make learning a little easier once learning needs arise. Sudbury staff made sudbury school a comprehensive supportive learning environment. They build a safe playground for children to play together.

So you can see sudubury experiences are simply about playing and feeling. No. 1 is the prerequisite of playing. No. 2 to No.4 are the content of playing. No. 5 and No. 6 are about feeling. No. 7 is about making learning easier and building a playground. I have to add it here that this playground very much mimics the playground the open source movement has built up for software programmers. It is all about making learning curve flatter and making things play with each other.

For those who still have doubts, it is not playing that distracts them from learning. It is external tests, meaningless homework and subjects they are not ready to learn that distract them. Actually playing provides all the context, drive, feedback and goals for their learning. They learn by playing. Please don’t ask me why playing. Playing is the primary activity. Learning is the secondary activity. Don’t sacrifice playing for learning.

Thus it is not school time that we have to guarantee our children. It is the play time that we have to guarantee them. People never became illiterate because they played too much. People became illiterate because they had to work day and night from a young age and had no time to play. Especially in the modern world where there are bookstores and internet anywhere, people don’t become illiterate because of playing.

Not only do we need to guarantee our children the time to play, we also need to guarantee them the time to pause and feel. We need to protect children’s time to be with themselves and feel of themselves. Children in sudbury are given time to be with themselves, to feel their internal clocks. And their feeling of the space is protected from external tests, meaningless homework and forced upon subjects, which are designed to destroy their sense of space and thus to make them unable to learn.

Trust us, play while equipped with strong feel is the most efficient way of learning. It may seem chaotic to the outsiders, but for the people doing it, they are following their own hearts and it is by all means following the natural order!

But this learning revolution is not just about children. It is actually more about us adults because it is us adults who already forgot what is learning and constantly interfered with children’s learning in a violent way.

We have put our minds into a cage called classroom. And without a classroom, either a physical one or a virtual one, we are unable to learn. Yes, we still learn intuitively and slowly little by little. But that speed of learning cannot catch up with the needs of the new era of economy and an increasingly sophisticated society. We need to learn a lot more. We need to learn big! We need to understand multiple domains of knowledge and understand the whole world. We need to be entrepreneurs and explore the world. People need to understand the sophisticated society and don’t get fooled by politicians and corporations. We need to build many things to make this world better. We need to empower ourselves by real learning! As the society gets more complicated and the world gets smaller, it is dangerous if we don’t upgrade our education system.

So let’s expand Sudbury School Model to the whole society including adults. Sudbury school is a safe playground for children to play together. For the adults, let’s turn the whole society into a better playground! Let’s make the whole society a comprehensive supportive learning environment!

We hereby call for actions:

  1. Call for the declaration of 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;
  2. 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 has proven to be very effective in turning people who have been accustomed to school-way of learning (e.g. fixed, instigated) into a self-driven and self-initiated real life learning, and 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!
  3. Call for people of all ages, in school or out of school already, to engage in self-learning and learning in real life, to use self-reflection tools to help capture their learning every day and build up rich and well-structured knowledge, and to share that rich knowledge with others and guide others in their learning. The more people can learn out of school and in real life, the less significant school will be. When I was in college, only 5 to 10% of my knowledge was learned in school. As we build up strong self-learning communities and show people the power and richness of self-learning, we can make the old classroom based education model obsolete and replace it with this new one;
  4. 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 kinds of open labs and hacker space where people can learn and build stuff;
  5. 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.

We strongly believe that the future learning will be all about learn while play. People fully engage in playing, which means several things including improving their environment and participating in larger society. The learning part can be done by strong feeling. For that we can have meditation sessions that help people feel of themselves and things around (feel of space) with great clarity. We can also have software that help people capture their experiences and do self-reflection, at the same time build up well-structured knowledge and share that knowledge. Everyone can become a teacher, and they can teach in their spare time. Especially the barrier for teaching effectively will be extremely low for those who excel at their professions and do really possess the knowledge. We believe the future learning and teaching will be in this way. People don’t have to lock themselves up in an isolated environment for so long just for the purpose of learning. That is too industrial age. People can learn continuously and naturally in the same way they learn when they are very little: learn by play. The whole society will be the supportive comprehensive learning environment. That is our vision of future learning!

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 is 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. It is the age about our happiness!

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

Let’s end with this from Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”:

“Self-taught, are you?” Julian Castle asked Newt.

“Isn’t everybody?” Newt inquired.

“Very good answer.”  



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