Eileen is a highly curious individual. I have lived with her for almost 3 years (we are now in our 2nd apartment), and, throughout all of this, I have watched her skip from subject to subject with a voracious appetite for learning. When she watched the movie, “The Aviator”, the genius/insanity of Howard Hughes intrigued her so much that, after researching to satisfaction, she shared Hughes’ life story and weird anecdotes to whomever would listen.
Most recently, she took up an interest in Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters (after spending some time on the Beatniks) and, from that, she showed me this great Kickstarter project. She she does not “need” to learn — by which I mean, she’s not committed to any class, she’s not on deadline to research these topics — but she craves the information. Her desire to learn is natural, and so is her ability. She is capable of learning without walking into a classroom at 9:00 AM every Tuesday and Thursday.
As adults, we see this relationship with information often. When we are curious about something, we go after information without even really thinking about it. Maybe via asking a friend, googling a topic, or going so far as to sign up for a class. Children should be allowed to explore their interests just as adults do. Yes, sometimes they need help. That’s what teachers are for: to facilitate the learning process, not dominate over it. As Professor David Uttal says, referring to Rousseau’s educational philosophy, “Adults should set up the environment and stay out of the way.”
Self-directed learning works. During the public school years, we are shuffled through separated subjects. It’s apartheid learning, and it impedes engagement and connection. “Learning is living,” as John Holt says. In life, connections are made because learning is holistic. In school, we do not choose the books we read or the homework assigned. So the autonomy is stolen from the students. When you learn for yourself, you are fully engaged because the motivation is intrinsic.
Eileen’s interest in American culture is active not passive, and I think that her self-education in this area reflects the amazingly organic process that is learning. It also reflects how cool she is. “Learning is living,” and learning is also sharing. If it weren’t for living with Eileen, I would not know about all these different 90s game shows (Double Dare, Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Figure it Out). As an immigrant, watching 90s TV in my funky apartment with my roommate strengthened my identity as a die-hard New Yorker, and, for that, I am forever thankful.