LearningCommunties as the Foundation of a Cooperative Commonwealth (2003)

The heart of the continuing project to promote non school learning is the Internet. The Coalition’s own web page is only a piece of the growing interest in using the Internet for learning. Brain research has shown that learning is not only different for each individual but also it is a continual non-linear process. That is, that we do not learn and store one set of facts or a discipline in one part of the brain. But that new knowledge if being taken in all the time and being harmonized within the existing single holistic neural network of each person’s brain. This individualized non-linear learning cannot be efficiently forced on a group of students at the same time in the same place by the same technique. Learning is a unique experience for each person.

The Internet provides a radically different mode of learning. One can transfer quickly among areas of knowledge as needed and desired by the individual. To emphasize non-linear learning the Coalition’s web page is designed as a mandala. That is, its cover page presents a number of options for the reader, not a linear index. A reader may start with the philosophy, practical examples, resources, general discussion, or other entry points. Internal links will lead the reader to other areas inside the Coalition’s web site or to other websites without a break in continuity. Claudia L’Amoreux and Ib Bang are coordinating the efforts to make the web site a model of what the Internet may become in providing learning experiences.

Communal Learning

But we recognize that the Internet can not be a substitute for parents, family, friends, teachers, community or other means of learning and of social intercourse. So a strong emphasis of the web site is on collaborative learning and the development of local learning communities. A special section is devoted to “New Chapters” that provide how to guidance to self-learners and their families. Subsections will be on How to form local communities, How to organize cooperatives, How to become a Self-Learner, Social Transformation, Learning Libraries, and other topics required for collaborative learning programs. Merrill Tew, a PhD student in education, and Laddie Lushin, a lawyer with 25 years experience with food cooperatives have provided “New Chapters” and are leading the development of these concepts.

From Teachers to Mentors

Equally important, we feel, is the role of mentors, learning coaches, counselors, and learning guides. “Morphing ‘school teachers’ into ‘community mentors'” is a topic of particular interest we are discussing on the listserv We plan to develop “New Chapters” on the future learning profession for the web site. As the efficiency of self-learning or child-centered-learning becomes better recognized a new profession for teachers may emerge. Mentors will be called on to help individuals of all ages to plan their own learning programs. This will require not only a professional understanding of how an individual learns, but also an understanding of how to provide learning opportunities within the community. Libraries and museums will play an increasingly important role in future learning. But so will factories, farms, businesses, the streets, and nature.

The future community learning professionals cannot remain isolated in schools any more than the future citizens can be so isolated. As learning become more lifelong and centered in the individual and experienced in the community the learning professionals will have an increasingly important role to play in the life of the community. Libraries may be a better model for future learning centers than are today’s schools. Member, Charles Willets, editor of Counterpoise, is facilitating cooperation between this Coalition and progressive librarians.

Cultural Transition

Community, not education, is the central interest of many members of this Coalition. We see the global and local social problems facing humanity as inherent in the social structure, and in the educational system that forms the citizen of the future. The diminishing concern for family values and community solidarity leaves citizens old and young with no sense of belonging. “Belonging” is a most, if not the most, fundamental need of humans. If healthy outlets for this need are not provided by the family, neighborhood, and community, individuals will satisfy that need by joining cults, gangs, secret societies and other forms of antisocial organizations. Violence, such as that at Columbine, as well as the general alienation of youth is a clear indication that schools do not meet that social need.

Many members of ‘A Coalition for Self-Learning’ see the strengthening of communities as the the Coalition’s purpose for being. One of our core members, Bill Wetzel, on graduation from high school two years ago took a year off to bike the country visiting other schools to talk to other young people. He found that like himself youth was generally bored and alienated by schools. He has now organized “Power to Youth” to help highschool students and others young people to organize and to take control of their own learning.

Another member of the Coalition, Rick Smyre, consultant and President of CCOF (Center of Communities of the Future) recognizes the crucial impact that the education system has in community development. His programs to develop the capacity of local citizens to prepare for the future emphasizes the need to involve young people throughout their lives in community activities and community governance.

The sense of community and belonging is also the topic by Michael Cohen in his “New Chapter” in the online book, “Educating and Counseling with Nature: A Natural Systems Thinking Process produces ecopsychology courses and degrees that enable students to increase academic skills, resiliency and responsible relationships.” Cohen has been leading non-school wilderness learning sessions for a number of decades. His Natural Systems Thinking Process is based on developing a practical understanding of the critical place cooperation has in nature. Nothing can exist without a extensive system of others to maintian it. Communities are a crucial part of the life support systems required by humanity.

This same theme is echoed by the theoretical studies of Kathia and Alexander Laszlo in the field of The Theory of General Evolution. Their Evolutionary Learning Centers (ELCs) are based on ideas similar of Paulo Friere’s that learning should be a preparation and participation in the continuality of change. The new theories of chaos, complexity and gaia show the interconnectedness of all life. They imply that learning communities must become the basis for a sustainable future. Kathia and Alexander are now leading a task force to coordinate an internet conference, with other leaders of community development, on the internet and plan for a broader future international conference on creating learning communities.

Collaborative Homeschooling

The proof that schools are unnecessary is perhaps best witnessed by the success of homeschooling. Average SAT scores, the success of homeschoolers in the best of our universities, the long history of leaders like Margaret Mead, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln and other self-learners, as well as the learning systems of many other cultures is proof being touted in a growing number of publications. Many homeschool advocates including Ann Lahrson Fisher, Patrick Farenga, Jerry Mintz, Katharine Houk, Linda Dobson, Mary Leue, and others are active participants in the Coalition. Long before the Coalition formed they were recognizing the emergence of “homeschool support groups” and other forms of collaborative learning.

The concern that the abandonment of schools by homeschoolers will be a detriment to public education is a legitimate concern of many educators. Others critics have suggested that homeschooling is an element of the “bowling alone” trend of individuals abandoning community in their own individual self-interest. Some see the charter school movement as a solution to providing more popular input and flexibility to the current educational system.

All of these concerns and happenings are being taken into account in the Coalition’s programs. We recognize that not all parents are capable, willing or want to homeschool. We see homeschooling as a most successful experiment on the way toward a more open, progressive, flexible. life long learning system. Our experiments aim at using the best of these practices, and overcoming the worst of the faults of the current system. Our goal is to move beyond schooling and beyond homeschooling to a learning system and a society that values the individual, the community, society, and nature in new ways.

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© Copyright 2000. William N. Ellis – All Rights Reserved.
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