Is your child a good self-directed learner? Here’s a litmus test.

I can’t believe how many examples you send to me of parents and teachers talking about self-directed learning.

Here’s the issue: It is pretty much uncontested that the best type of learning for kids is self-directed learning. The problem with self-directed learning is that the more restricted the environment, the less self-directed a child is. Self-directed learning is possible, then, on a spectrum, defined not by the child but by the child’s environment.

So, for example, Angelina and Brad have seven kids with seven nannies who live in seven countries with the seven-figure budgets to accommodate their kids’ self-directed learning.

It’s pretty hard to top that.

Education outcomes are directly tied to parent income. And the self-directed learning kids do is always outside of the classroom. We each learn only when we are engaged and focused, but that doesn’t happen in school because the opportunities to learn are limited to what one teacher can teach 30 kids at the same time; if self-directed learning is evaluated on a spectrum, a classroom with one teacher and 30 kids is on the opposite end of the Jolie-Pitt kids.

Somewhere close to a claustrophobic classroom is Montessori that claims to be self-directed learning, but only for kids who would choose to do the specific “work” the teacher has provided at “stations”. And Montessori kids can’t do one thing all day long. You have to go outside. You have to have nature. You have to go to the water station or the sand station or whatever the Montessori czar decided is good learning for that day.

Somewhere close to the Jolie-Pitt model is this school that took eight kids aside and let them do anything they could think of while in the confines of the school grounds. Guess how many teachers were involved? Enough to make the ratio 1-to-1. Which shows you why there will not be self-directed learning of any significance in the schools: it’s way too expensive.

The only people who would be so extravagant in the education they provide would be parents providing it for their own kids. On top of that, the program was controversial because teachers thought the eight students were pretty much doing nothing the whole year and the teachers did not want to be a part of it.

Shya’s blog is The Flying Shetlands. It’s hard to figure out what it is when you first get there. It’s horses and Shya’s art. And other peoples’ art. About horses. And maybe it’s Shya’s next project that maybe is related to flying horses or shetlands or art. What this site is, very clearly, is something Shya is passionate about and works hard at. And, frankly, it’s fun to see the wide range of horse art she has collected. It’s weird. And weird is interesting if it’s extreme, which this site is.

It’s impossible to not like Shya when you look at this site because it’s a loud and clear expression of who she is.

That’s really what ends up happening with self-directed learning. It looks weird and unfocused, like Shya’s blog. It looks boring when you don’t get it. Like a kid playing video games all day. It looks petulant, like a kid who doesn’t like any of the choices in the Montessori classroom. It looks, often, like you’re pretty much doing nothing, which is why the high school that let eight kids loose in the school had to deal with lots of pushback from the teachers.

It’s very hard to watch kids do self-directed learning, because only rarely does it look phenomenal, like, setting up science projects to cure cancer. The photo up top looks like my son is reading. That’s because I saw him laying on my bed and I loved seeing him there. So peaceful. Just thinking. But I handed him a book and I said, “Look like you’re reading that for a picture.”

And he said, “Is this for your blog? This is so stupid.”

I took the picture. But he’s right. It’s so stupid that I can’t recognize laying on a bed in the middle of the day as self-directed learning. Or maybe I can recognize it but I’m not brave enough to flaunt it on my web site about education.

The thing about self-directed learning is that it is not supposed to look good to an outsider. The child is doing it for themselves. They don’t need to impress anyone or get anyone’s approval. Ironically, our idea of what productive learning looks like is (of course) traditional school! But we know school is actually the opposite of self-directed learning.

So even though it’s hard to watch your kids choose to do weird things all day, it’s a safe bet that if you let your child do whatever they want, and it doesn’t look like school, then they are a solid, productive, self-directed learner.

35 replies
  1. Suburban Homestead
    Suburban Homestead says:

    My father is very old school, yet he was thrilled when he heard we decided to homeschool. He has believed for decades that CA public schools are in a tailspin and I can only guess that he thought I would opt for a more rigorous learning plan than they’d get in the classroom. In the beginning, I probably thought the same. But very early one (VERY EARLY – like day 2) I realized my kids didn’t want that and instead, I let them loose. It was (and still is) a leap of faith. We are almost at the end of our second year and not a day goes by that I don’t look at the tree of them with beaming pride and gratitude for who they are, and who they are slowly morphing into as they self-direct. My father occasionally compliments me one how well they are doing and I just have to bite my lip and say ‘thank you’. He would be totally appalled if he saw what our days look like. ;-)

  2. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Penelope, you always say what is rarely said out loud. This is by far my favorite post on your blog, possibly my favorite blog post ever. School is for underprivileged kids. Self-directed learning is the best type of learning and it often doesn’t look anything like traditional schooling. My boys have spent the last few weeks immersed in the home remodel HGTV show Flip or Flop. My oldest is interested in the business side of the show and says his favorite part is when the investors bid at the auction (he’s an ENTJ), while my youngest is an ESFP and loves the focus on designing the remodel (and at age 8 he’s been asking us about our own home finishes and if our countertops are in fact granite and suggesting we replace our stair railing with wrought iron). I’m going to save this post to refer to when I have my freak out moments and worry the kids aren’t learning history, science, or how to write an essay.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I love that show on HGTV!

      I agree that school is for people with no options, which is typically those that are in an underserved and poor population or those that need free babysitting.

  3. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    I love self directed learning and I think it goes hand in hand with exposing our children to information and experiences which is I think is what you are saying. My son at 14 (7 years ago didn’t know what blogging was). I was reading a book about it and I ws getting excited about starting a personal blog so I talked about it alot. This peaked his interest and he wanted to blog.

    Would he have figured out blogging eventually, probably but he was exposed to it sooner because I was there talking with him and learning too.

    Hi has been blogging ever since, and the point is not about success with blogging, but rather that self directed learning can still be nurtured by curious and present parenting. The success comes when they find out they really love something.

  4. jessica
    jessica says:

    I have a theory that successful self-directed learners have a better handle on time management. You look at successful people and they know how to manage their time, who to ignore, who to listen to, what to pursue, what to prioritize and what to build upon.

    As far as I’m aware we all found what we loved or were interested in or passionate about regardless of if we were schooled or not. Not being in the confines of a schooling system (seriously, it really bothers me how outdated the PS system is) is about being able to use our immediate resources to our advantage, such as income and time which compounds growth.

    • E
      E says:

      I really like this idea that self-directed learning teaches time management.

      I learned all my time management in school and at my job by doing what other people tell me to do, when they tell me to do it. Left to my own devices regarding Really Important Things, I am a complete disaster.

      I am super jealous of all these kids who have the opportunity to figure it out on their own – I definitely wish I had grown up that way. After 30+ years of structure, I have a hard time finding my own motivation to do things.

  5. Amy A
    Amy A says:

    Self-directed learning is in my nature. I don’t get a kick out of creating structured, controlled days or doing things which aren’t interesting.

    The dilemma for me then is carving out the time and generating the focus to study the basics which are on our law-required tests.

    Also, I really do believe in the importance of knowing things like how to write an essay or letter (for effective communication), how to do math (for purchases, bookkeeping and budgeting), and understanding the government, politics and history (in order to be able to stand up for and protect one’s rights, etc.).

    I even believe in learning cursive. At my part-time gig, we get volunteers to help with the old folks. An intelligent-seeming, expensive-private-schooled college student was helping me sort the incoming mail so she could deliver it to the old folks. She was unable to read the envelopes addressed in cursive writing. I was in disbelief. She said, “Oh, they don’t teach handwriting in school anymore.”

    She came back to me after delivering the mail. One old person who can’t see it very well asked the volunteer to read the letter she just received. The college student couldn’t read it because it was in cursive. My heart sank a bit. I think if she was a self-directed learner she might have gone home and learned cursive since it is one of the links between the generations. (I admire cultures which honor and learn from the wisdom of their elders.)

    My kids are very interested in learning all of the above because I share with them how knowing those things have been valuable in my own life.

    But to fit it all in, while still being free to do what we naturally enjoy (sometimes doing nothing at all), is something I haven’t figured out yet. And it is so important to start studying when they are eager to learn it, and drop it when that window-of-opportunity is over. Also crucial is knowing when they are developmentally ready to learn certain topics. I have to count on my kids studying on their own sometimes; but they really want my involvement because, for us, it is yet another bonding experience.

    Dr. Arthur Robinson’s wife was homeschooling their six kids when she died. They continued homeschooling, though the kids mostly schooled themselves while the dad kept his full-time job. Pretty amazing.

    • Robin
      Robin says:

      Hi Amy,

      I’m with you on the need to help expose kids to things. My husband and I have realized that if we don’t let them know these things exist, they won’t have the opportunity to even WANT to learn about them! :-)

      I’m definitely teaching my kids cursive too…I write only in cursive unless I’m writing specifically for them so I’m guessing they’ll be motivated to learn to read it regardless. I am a meanie and make my son go through one handwriting workbook a year plus an occasional practice sheet if there’s a particular letter he’s messing up a lot.

      What we’ve finally settled on is that we do 1-2 hours a day of “school” as often as possible. This includes mostly fun stuff like Life of Fred and Write Shop and King of Math junior. I do use All About Spelling to teach spelling but we’ll work on it intensely for a few weeks and then not do it again for months. And then I make up our required 4 hours a day 176 days a year of homeschool with everything else the kids do. Gymnastics and music class are easy. But mostly I just watch for the learning in their lives and “improve the moment”. For instance, yesterday my 6 year old came up with the crazy idea of taking one of my husband’s tie downs (basically a rope with a hook on the end for tying down stuff in a pick up or trailer) and threading the rope through the metal rings for the swing on the swing set. He then hooked the hook through the back of his pants and pulled on the loose end to lift himself up. The whole extended family was at our house for supper and I couldn’t figure out why they were all standing around the back door laughing! My son commented on how he could pull down to go up and I gave a quick explanation of a pulley and how he had invented one. My husband pulled out a couple more actual pulleys and set up a block and tackle for him to play with and he figured out pretty quickly he could lift much heavier things that way (he asked my sister if she would let him lift her and she declined saying that her skirt wouldn’t hold up to it the way his jeans did!)

      “Hey!” my son said later. “We just did an experiment. I’m a scientist!”

      We’ve encouraged this way of thinking (“Every baby is born a scientist,” I tell my kids regularly.) And every time we have these kind of interactions, I jot it down as school time under whichever subject seems most appropriate. When the kids spend an hour playing with a tape measure and measuring everything, that’s math. When my son reads out loud to his sister, that’s language arts (so long as it’s at his reading level, I don’t count anything that’s too-easy). When we are discussing current events and get down the globe and explain the historical context for what’s going on, that’s social studies. When the neighbors discuss a volcano, we draws pictures of the layers of the earth and pull out a book about volcanos and that’s earth science.

      I personally adore science, so my kids are getting a lot of it. My mom loved literature and art so my own experience of learning from her involved things like her off-hand comment that according to Dante, in the lowest levels of hell, your tears freeze over your eyes and you have to ask someone to clean them off so you can have the relief of crying again. My mom knows almost no science or math and I was a whiz at both, but she taught me to love learning and thinking, which is more important than teaching a particular subject. She let the science nerds among us fill her life with dissections and experiments, listened to innumerable episodes of Bill Nye, and signed me up for classes at the local science museum. With my little brother, she learned to pin bugs! I’m a physician now and still think science is fun!

      I finally figured out how to document it all last fall using a chart. I’ve stuck with this method all year and I don’t think I’ll be changing because it works well for our purposes. Here’s an example from when I first started it (and at the beginning of the school year when I try to hit spelling and handwriting really hard while we’re still motivated…the chart has gotten simpler and I do a lot of notes about what we’re doing instead of just writing down the number of minutes on each subject):

      I like the flexibility of 1-2 hours a day of making sure the bases are covered and then letting the kids do their own learning with us around to “improve the moment”. And naturally, they do a lot of learning without our input too. I know that as my kids get older, they are going to stretch beyond what I can teach them in some areas, but hopefully by then I will have taught them how to find the resources to keep learning and they will have had the constant intellectual pursuits modeled enough that it’s just a way of life. :-)

  6. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Just wanted to let people know that in about 20 minutes from now (can also be viewed later) Sugata Mitra will be speaking with a panel (that includes one of my friends) about self-directed education. Here is the link, just add the www

    I also love this post.

    Self-directed learning in the digital age should be the standard. The radical choice is sending your kids to school.

  7. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    “The radical choice is sending your kids to school.” Yes, this! I wish more people thought this way. It is radical to hand over our kids to public institutions for 7+ hours per day plus homework 5 days per week for 12+ years when they are outdated and most of us have Internet-equipped homes and library access.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I agree. How we think is so much reflected in how we talk. I remember when I was reading Rape, by Adrienne Rich, in an english course in college, and the professor spent so much time explaining that if there is no word for sex that is violence then we have no way to talk about it, no way to make sense of it that way in our head.

      The language we use to talk about something means everything. Next time some parent asks me about homeschooling, I’m going to say, “Oh, you send your kids to school? How did you get the nerve to take such a big risk?”


      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Haha! That sounds awesome.

        I usually say that school is too great a risk to take on my kids. But I love yours!

  8. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I believe in self-directed learning. However I do not agree that school destroys a child’s ability to learn in a self-directed way, or that homeschooling is required for self-directed learning.

    My two kids (ages 11 and 13), as one small example, pursue many of their own interests while simultaneously going to public school. Sometimes this happens during the school’s free time (lunch, recess or on the bus), but mostly it happens at home. School is after all just 5 hours a day, 5 days a week – and not every week of the year, either.

    My daughter is fascinated with dragons and other mythical figures; as part of that fascination she’s read books, written stories, watched movies, made movies, played games, designed games, drawn literally thousands of pictures and participated in online communities — all in pursuit of this interest of hers. That’s self-directed learning — about dragons, but also about storytelling, writing, reading, etc. etc. My son’s the exact same way about Minecraft, skiing and the physics of the universe. (When he started telling me about gentle singularies, I knew some sort of Rubicon had been crossed!)

    It’s not possible to say that because my kids self-direct while in the hours outside public school, all kids will. And I’m not arguing that. But you should consider that self-directed “homeschooling” can also happen after school hours, from 3:30 – 9pm and on weekends. It’s a principle, a philosophy of parenting…

    As a side note, one summer my kids were in this science camp whose focus was, supposedly, innovation. After the first couple days they both hated it. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a person command you to be creative in one very narrow way, in 30 minute bursts! I do agree with that point, Penelope.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I think this comment is fascinating! I also think it shows that self-directed learning does not happen in schools. Everything mentioned here proves that self-direction happens outside the classroom, during lunch time and recess and after school.

      I really believe the future of learning will be entirely self-directed, with help from mentors, parents, and guides…even teachers. But it will not happen while one is in school.

      I totally agree with your last sentence. Forced creativity? Is that even a thing? Crazy.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        actually I think the comment says just the opposite – that even if you are attending school it is not the immediate death of independent, self directed learning. And, school is not the iron corset – it can be great to have a potpourri of different subjects to check out. Sure, some of them you might not like or enjoy and find useless, but some will inspire you and ignite some deeper interest. And there is only one teacher to 30 students, you can always duck and do your own thing when they are busy with the trouble makers.

  9. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    Mmmm…so I would like to try more self directed learning with my two homeschooled kids, but at the end of the year I have to show the state “progress” in math, literacy, science, social studies, art, phys ed, and health. Not so sure there will be measurable progress in all areas if I let my kids lead the way.

    • Em
      Em says:

      You might be overestimating what you need to show “progress”. You can show this using a portfolio – google “unschooling portfolio” for lots of info. Here are a few examples:

      Also look for local unschooling groups on facebook. They can give you info about how to meet your state requirements.

      • jessie
        jessie says:

        Em, I will check it out, thanks! I am a rural homeschooler and groups are few and far between. Unschoolers are either the minority, as I have only met one, or the silent majority.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I have read great blog posts over the years about parents doing absurd things — that take only a day — in order to meet state requirements. I wish I could think of some of those posts now. They were so meaningful to me because they made me believe that I could handle any legal barriers I came up against.

          That said, laws are state by state, so you could search for groups in a larger city in your state — I’m sure they’d be willing to help you.


  10. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    For some reason this article reminded me of a homeschooling family that I knew growing up with 3 sons. They spent their entire day at health and fitness club playing sports and watching TV (sometimes they read or messed around on their dad’s laptop, but he ran a business from the health club, so he needed it).

    After watching a hot dog eating competition, the youngest son proclaimed that he needed to start training for the hot dog competition. His dad told him that first he needed to prove that competitive eating is safe for children. He probably spent 3-4 hours on his dad’s laptop trying to prove it (I’m thinking to no avail, but I suppose I should start to watch competitive eating to make sure).

  11. Maya S
    Maya S says:

    I’m all for self-directed learning (spending my childhood reading novels in my room worked out well for me, career-wise), but watching it play out with my 8-year-old son is interesting.

    After his school day, he spends a couple hours in aftercare, and if you ask him “What happened at school today?,” he will refer exclusively to his Pokémon trades made during the last 2 hours. He has an enormous capacity to memorize, classify, and think about . . . imaginary worlds, I guess you’d say, and quite savvy about what constitutes a “fair” or “good” trade versus a shady trade. Socially it’s great, because he spends countless hours in high-level negotiations with other 8-year-old boys who know their stuff. It’s cute.

    What concerns me is how much he’s being marketed to, while being “self-directed.” YouTube is full of videos about Pokémon, Legos, Skylanders, Hero Factory, etc., etc., geared to boys who will spend hours obsessing over these things, the natural culmination of which is a trip to the store or

    So he’s not exactly reading the Hardy Boys or building model airplanes. I can only hope that the sheer will and ability to study the minutiae of Pokémon, etc., will serve him well as he gets older. Thoughts?

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Maya, everyone self-directs throughout life in one capacity or another. You can be marketed to and not act on it. That’s what a parent demonstrates- the ability to filter.

      You’re son likes Pokemon, not unlike most 8 year old boys out there.

      Why is he in school?

      • Maya S
        Maya S says:

        Jessica – Sorry for the delay in response time while I was at work. I’m divorced, so homeschooling isn’t an option. I’m lucky in that my job has very reasonable hours and my kids have adjusted well to school.

        You make a good point that I hadn’t considered: For a kid to be subjected to a daily firehouse-blast of toy marketing, and not need to act on it, is educational in itself.

    • Terese Hilliard
      Terese Hilliard says:


      My oldest son was very much like this! He spent countless hours with baseball cards – trading, looking up value, hunting bargins, planning trades. He would sell single sticks of gum at school broken out from 20 packs. He was into all kinds of stuff like that. He graduated high school, joined the Air Force – they sent him to officer’s training and in 20 years retired (before me) as a Captain in the AF. He now has a civilian job doing the same job for twice the pay! Yes, boys like this can turn out just fine!

      • Maya S
        Maya S says:

        Your son sounds awesome! Yes, it’s a lot like the baseball-card trading of yore.

        I’m not worried how mine will “turn out,” per se. I just feel weird providing a portal into our home for a bunch of YouTube nerds discussing the fine points of [pricey toy collection]. Oh well! If that’s my biggest problem . .

  12. Linda
    Linda says:

    Self-directed learner seems like an oxymoron to me. We all learn what we have directed ourselves to learn. Each one of us decides what to take in and process from any situation at any time. Even kids in schools are self-directed in their learning. They’re learning all the time–though usually not what the teachers think/hope they’re learning (that’s why they’re tested.) The fallacy is the ’empty vessel’ theory–that we can dump information into someone who is not receptive to what’s being taught.

    We don’t need a specific environment to be self-directed. What home can offer that school usually can’t, is freedom. In the name of structure and teaching, schools ironically distract children from many things we, as parents, would like them to know about the world. At home, in a less restrictive, less stressful atmosphere, kids can pursue their interests more easily and directly.

    Perhaps if we could peek into our minds, they would all look like a variation of Shya’s blog–full of quirky interests and rich connections–no matter our environment. When our kids are allowed to decide not to attend school–not to have their self-directed learning interrupted by well-meaning (yet controlling) adults and arbitrary curriculum–their minds have an even greater opportunity to flourish. What’s so difficult to accept is that we really cannot do much to shape our children’s minds, only provide an enriching or not so enriching atmosphere. And ultimately, if we could look inside their minds, they might not look anything like our own minds or our own fantasies of ‘good’ minds.

    If we could get to the place that we saw all knowledge as equally valuable, we wouldn’t feel the need to force any curriculum on our children. But, as shown by some of the responses to this post, most people do not deem all knowledge as equally valuable, and cannot trust children to learn for themselves all that they’ll need to know. Possibly, the best workable solution for us and our kids is to combine a good balance of suggested ideas with plenty of time for unconditional learning in a stimulating environment. This will always frustrate us as the facilitators because (just like with all parenting) we’ll never know if we’re getting it ‘right’–especially if we are raising a child whose interests, personality, or style are very different from our own. Also, we’ll have to step away from our expectations. If we accept that we’re all self-directed learners, there can be no judgments about the outcomes.

    We can’t ‘not control’ the process and think we can control the outcome any more than we can control the process and control the outcome.

    • bea
      bea says:

      I agree with a lot of this comment. I like this comment a lot, in fact.

      “We don’t need a specific environment to be self-directed.”


      “What’s so difficult to accept is that we really cannot do much to shape our children’s minds, only provide an enriching or not so enriching atmosphere.”

      I’ve seen my daughter go from 0% interest in “insert activity or subject matter here” to 100% interest in the same activity or subject matter in the right environment. Or sometimes it depends on her mood, or the context, or maybe both have to align perfectly. And it can change when the wind blows.

      Sometimes I think what we are really talking about is a structured “learning environment,” where there are discernible educational objectives (learn this skill, acquire that knowledge) versus an unstructured, enriching environment (explore anything and everything and see where the day takes you).

      I don’t necessarily see “self-directed” as belonging exclusively to one end of the spectrum or another.

      Here’s something that may seem completely counter-intuitive: I don’t send my daughter to school to learn stuff. I send her to school because it is just a magical, beautiful environment, with lots of quirky kids who look incredibly delighted. It’s the community, really, that is important to us. I don’t really expect anybody to “educate” her. I expect she’ll do that for herself whenever and where ever the right opportunity arises.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Excellent comment! I like using the term autodidact, personally. But self-directed I think still works, like self-directed meaning one is in charge of their own learning, verses teacher-directed where one is required to retain certain facts in order to pass testing or other forms of measurement.

  13. Heather A
    Heather A says:

    Love this. This post is definitely worth saving for those rainy days of unschooling self-doubt.

    Peter Gray’s book, “Free to Learn” had a bunch of great examples out of Sudbury Valley School (which is self-directed…students aren’t even required to stay on the property). All of these amazing stories of what the students did with their “school days” and then where they ended up as adults. Just beautiful stories like “I used to make paper boats and sail them on the pond…all day…for 9 years….and now I’m the captain of a cruise ship. Or “I used to make little villages out of modeling clay all day, and then smash them with my buddies…now I’m a tenured professor at MIT”

  14. Floral
    Floral says:

    This is so encouraging to read! First of all, I want to say thank you for sharing these thoughts with the world!

    I am lucky to have a daughter who naturally gravitates toward STEM. We have been through a variety of schools and homeschooling, and it has been interesting to see what she likes or dislikes about each situation. One thing that has remained consistent – she will fight you to avoid writing. Whether it is writing down stories, paragraphs, or journal prompts, she does not want to do it. But, when left to her own devices, she will write down all sorts of recipes made up in her head or design experiments. It is a short jump to ask her to make a grocery list for the supplies, to ask her to type it up if she wants to make a blog entry, to put together her own recipe book. She will also come up with a million different uses for one nondescript item and designs experiments regularly. At 6, she even has her own lab notebook!

    Recipes require math to measure, reflection and critical analysis to interpret results and suggest future changes, writing and communication skills to tell others (and herself) how to make it in the future, technology when she wants to type it up and post it on a blog… and a host of other skills that would fall under math, science, and language arts. I like to call it “disguised learning” but my main goal is to capitalize on the interconnection of subjects.

    You have mentioned this in other entries, but I think the key is learning to recognize the opportunities that your child presents to you. This isn’t possible in public school and it is sad to see my daughter’s natural tendencies undervalued.

  15. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Great article and comments except I have to strongly disagree with your concept of a Montessori classroom. Having had three kids in Montessori that has not been my experience at all. The title Montessori is not trademark however so anyone can open a school and slap that on the door but may not be following the true Montessori method. My knowledge on the subject (many years as parents, read many books on the subject and sub in the classroom) is kids are given lessons in subject areas as the are able or show interest then on their own they choose what material to work on when they want to and for however long they wish. There is nothing forced about their day except that they must attend occasional lessons (one or less each day) which take 5-15 min. If that was not what you saw you may not have been at a certified Montessori school

  16. Don Berg
    Don Berg says:

    As Heather A. pointed out there are schools in which self-direction is the norm, not the exception. It is not surprising that you may never have heard of them before because they serve less than 1% of the student population in the United States. Many identify as democratic schools, but many also operate under a variety of other names. The crucial point is that self-directed learning is NOT expensive. Sudbury Valley School and many other democratic schools that actively support self-directed learning spend less than their public school counterparts each year. And Sudbury was founded in 1968 and followed up on their alumni several times since. They find that they are all basically normal for the community they come from. They seem to be slightly happier with their lives and more entrepreneurial. There is a school that has been running almost as long that serves an inner city neighborhood in Brooklyn. There is no evidence that their former students fare any worse.

    The challenge is not funding, its recognizing that self-direction, or in psychological terms, autonomy is crucial to education, not optional. The habit of controlling children “for their own good” is going to be a hard one to break at the systems level.

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