We Are All Self-Educated Despite Those Years Of Schooling



When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder I can think at all.
And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall.  
                                         ~Paul Simon, Kodachrome

The first thing I do upon awakening in the morning is to go to the bathroom, something I learned how to do alongside my mother. She didn't teach me, exactly, but I have memories of her being there, conversing with me as I sat on the little varnished pine potty seat with a blue and yellow figure of some sort painted on it. It was an intimate moment, the two of us in that little room, me on the seat and mom knelling beside me. I do remember standing up, then looking back down to see the yellow liquid I'd made in the white bowl. 

Next I go to the kitchen where I make a cup of coffee. I distinctly remember learning to make my first cup of coffee. I was a freshman in college, living in the dorms. Several of the guys swore by it as a late night or early morning study aid, so I went to the supermarket, purchased a jar of Folger's instant, then followed the instructions on the side of the jar. Since then, I've learned to make coffee in every way imaginable, sometimes by following the instructions and other times by watching someone else then imitating them.

I take my cup of coffee to the chair by the window where I fire up my computer. Dad bought the family an Apple II Plus computer in 1979, the year they were released. He spent a week or so learning to code a simple game that involved a crude monster that ate floating letters of the alphabet. I liked playing the game, but it wasn't until the mid-80's that I had a computer screen of my own, a device connected to a Wang brand mainframe that needed a room all for itself. Yes, this was about the time that Microsoft's PC was beginning to populate every desk top, but our office manager placed his bet on Wang. There were no instructions or training for using the computer terminals on our desks: we were expected to figure it out and we all did, mainly by goofing around on it, asking each other questions, and sending massive numbers of messages, then learning around the corner to ask, "Did you get it?" before shaking our heads in disbelief at this modern age in which we lived.

It's at this point in my typical morning that I begin writing a blog post that will appear right here. It's hard to pin down when I learned to write, although it logically came along with learning to read, which happened for me over the course of my first grade year. I know that I didn't think I read at all when I arrived in elementary school, but on my first day in class Miss McCutcheon had placed on our desks a construction paper cut out of the character Ted (a stuffed bear) from the Dick and Jane readers. She had written T-E-D across his belly and I knew without being told that it said "Ted." Mom had read to me at home from picture books and I guess I'd just picked some of it up because as it turned out I could read anything Miss McCutcheon put in front of me over the course of the year. I often think that I didn't learn to read as much as discovered that I could.

As for being a writer, as opposed to being merely literate, that has been a process of unlearning most of what my teachers ever taught me about composition and re-learning by reading and writing nearly every day over the course of decades, a process that is ongoing.

I write about all sorts of things, but what I mostly write about is early childhood. I took a couple relevant university courses back in my early 20's and then a couple more 15 years later. But almost everything I've learned about ECE has been on the job, first as a children's baseball coach, then as a parent in with a child enrolled in a cooperative preschool, and finally as a classroom teacher myself, a journey that I've been documenting here since 2009. I've learned from books, blogs, conferences, mentors, colleagues, and mostly from the children themselves. This too is an ongoing process.

My point is that here I sit, a man who holds a high school diploma and university degree, the definition of an educated man, but most of the learning I actually use in my day-to-day life came from life itself, not any sort of curriculum. I was an engaged student, one who did all the assignments and received mostly good grades, but the only aspects of my nearly two decades of schooling upon which I regularly rely are the proposal writing vocational skills I learned as a college senior and the memories that guide me in what not to do as an educator.

When I would complain about the irrelevancy of my schools' curricula as a student, adults would assure me that it was all necessary foundational learning, but looking back on all those tedious writing exercises, those worksheets, those nights of grinding through mathematical equations, I see little connection to the educated man I am today. I don't think those adults were lying to me, I believe that they believed the myth of foundational learning, just as most adults continue to believe it today. It would be a horrible thing to finally admit that all those years, over all those generations, have been wasted, so we cling to these unproven ideas of how learning happens because to admit otherwise would send shock waves though society.

Most of the important learning I've done has been decidedly extra-curricular, which, I would assert, is true of all of us. We are all self-educated despite those years of schooling. We learn in the company of other humans, both children and adults. We learn from having the time, space, and autonomy to question, explore, and experiment. We learn when we find ourselves in stimulating environments, especially those we are free to manipulate. We learn when the adults in our life love us and have our best interests at heart. When these conditions are met, the curriculum emerges, unique for every one of us, and that curriculum is life itself.


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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