Initially I observed that children learned naturally through modeling and curiosity. I also noticed other kinds of learning, including project based learning when individuals or groups decided to accomplish something and organized themselves until they accomplished the task. One of the initial discoveries in SelfDesign was how much learning was introspective, was focused really on interacting with the world to discover who we are as individuals. I found that children always want to be acknowledged and to find out about who they are and how they work. The most important subject of all is one’s self, and the most important question is who and what am I and how do I work. This art and science of introspection was certainly an ongoing and underlying theme to everything we did in our various SelfDesign programs.
When Michael Maser and I started our high school project based on the learning insights gained from Wondertree, we thought that we could develop some skills in entrepreneurship and technological expertise. Every learner had a laptop, and we encouraged all of our learners to consider ways to discover what they might engage in as careers. However, the learners, fresh out of high school, seemed to have had no clue who they were as human beings. They had never had the opportunity in their homes or in their schools to really develop a deep sense of and awareness of what it is to be a human being. Experiences had been shallow and outward focused, as is the norm in our society.
SelfDesign is about self-awareness and focusing on what is going on inside a person. Michael and I, as learning consultants, were constantly engaged in conversations with the teens, and in doing so we were using intervention strategies to help the learners become aware of their own processes. For example, one of the first simple things we did was to invite the teens to try an experiment: to start using the word and instead of the word but. For some this was easy, for others it seemed impossible, and eventually everyone became aware of what this was about because the most argumentative and stubborn people were the last ones to give up the use of the word but. When someone uses the word but, they are engaging in “either/or” and “right and wrong” thinking. But means that your statement is wrong, listen to mine, as it is right. However, if someone uses the word and in response to your statement, then they are introducing a new dimension of “win/win” or “both are right” kind of thinking. The word and lets the first speaker’s statement stand as true from their perspective and the second speaker is introducing another perspective with the word and that is equally true from another perspective. These and many other languaging insights empowered the learners to understand the deeper psychological insights available from observing their own language patterns.
The youth in the program shifted the focus of the program from learning entrepreneurship and technology to learning about themselves and discovering what it is to be an optimum human being. The teen learners wanted to know who they were, they wanted deep connection and acknowledgement from others and they wanted to learn how we work as human beings.