By Brent Cameron
Learning that is initiated and generated by a learner is uniquely different than learning that is expected and directed from the outside. I have consistently observed over many years with many learners that learning that is self-initiated is not entangled with learning difficulties or learning disorders. I have observed that if children are not neurologically or developmentally ready to read or engage in some specific learning task, then they demonstrate neurological deficiencies. It has been astounding to watch many learners achieve results on their own when experts could not help them.
For example, a twelve-year old, who left school in grade three because no one could help him learn to read, was left alone to do what he loved until one day he decided that he needed to read in order to do more of the things that he loved. He became a avid reader and read most of the National Geographics in our library. Fifteen years later, he now writes technical manuals for the rest of the company he works with. With focused, self- motivated, and self-managed effort, learner after learner has accomplished learning tasks with excellence when the learning is selfdesigned and on their own terms.
Self-motivated learning to read
My daughter, Ilana, was ten before she decided that she wanted to learn to read. Most of the other children who joined us at Wondertree had been to one or two grades of school before they switched to working with me, and they had already learned to read. In those first few years, several children could read, but there were a few who had not learned to read yet. Therefore I was able to observe their self-initiated and self-sustained efforts to read. For example, upon deciding to learn to read, my daughter invested one month of effort, about an hour or so a day in reading. After a month of self-initiated and self-creative exploration of the reading process, she picked up a grade seven novel that her mother had just recently read to her, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, and began reading it.
She became an avid reader from that moment on to the extent that two years later at the age of 12 she enrolled in a second year university English history course. Because she had not been taught to read by a teacher, she developed a natural strategy, which she described to me as transposing the visual external data on the page into internal images and movies, totally bypassing any auditory intermediate step. Reading, as taught in most schools, translates external visual data to sounded out words, then to internal images. For example, Ilana explained that when she saw the sentence, “The cat ran into the house”, she would not read the words as in talking, but she reported that she would see a movie of a cat running into a house.
Natural “speed reading”
I remember in university, I was suffering from being a slow reader and took speed reading courses. They attempted to break me from the habit of reading words to adopt the practice of making movies and pictures directly from the text. I could not do it, yet recognized the strategy again when my daughter explained it to me. From the age of 10 to the age of 30 Ilana has read an amazing number of books. She is a natural speed reader; she is an enthusiastic reader of science and philosophy, history and biographies, and she has a comprehensive understanding of many subjects through her extensive and varied reading praxis. She has mentioned to me that she has noticed that most of her adult friends who went to school are no longer enthusiastic life long learners, certainly not to the extent that she is.
The heart of SelfDesign
The heart of the SelfDesign program is to work with a child’s natural enthusiasm and to support it so that it becomes a way of living in a deep and meaningful manner, lifelong. If I had created a program on the assumptions of teaching, I would have supposed that my daughter couldn’t or wouldn’t learn to read without me teaching her. Based on good intentions I would have taken charge of her experience and she would have been put in the position of responding to my direction rather than to her own sensibilities and enthusiasm to understand. My daughter, by her elegant display of integrity as a natural learner, was the one who convinced me that my educational experience and training were inappropriate and destructive of natural self-initiated and self-motivated learning.
Learning as opportunity and choice
SelfDesign focuses on learning as opportunity and choice. The behavior of our learners is not in response to our expectations but is expressive to their innate curiosity. This is an extension of the difference between extrinsic motivation, the expectations of others, and intrinsic motivation, the personal desire and interest in learning and understanding. In terms of the politics of relationships, relationships can either have a controlling and managing dynamic or a nurturing and allowing dynamic. These two dynamics are artifacts of how our left and right brain hemispheres function and see the world in unique and opposite ways.
SelfDesign supports self-determined learners in pursuing their interests and dreams, creating an environment for learners to find their voice and tell their stories within a caring community. Learning is a fundamental aspect of being human. Given the opportunity to learn about that which is truly of interest to someone, learning is most often an invitation, which unleashes passion, creativity, and motivation not typically seen in people who are expected to adjust to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to education.