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Welcome to the World of Home Education and Learning Without School!

We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!

Self University

by Charles D. Hayes

Reviewed by Grace Chapman
Grace, homeschooling mother of three, edited and produced Stepping Stones for Home Educators, a national Australian homeschool newsletter, for over a decade.

"The price of tuition is the desire to learn. Your degree is a better life."

With our eldest child fast approaching adulthood our attention has naturally been drawn to more practical consideration of what to plan for her adult life. Natural learning, that is, following the children's and family's interests, has been our way of life. I don't see why anything should change. I think the children should continue following their interests. But our eldest child is not so sure! Now that her teenaged school friends are talking about choosing university courses and/or jobs in the pursuit of a career, she's wondering what she should be doing.

Thus I was drawn to this book written by American, Charles D. Hayes. By the way, this book is a result of the author's own self-education. He attended school but by the time he was seventeen and dropped out to join the Marines, he found school had not prepared him for the Marines or for work life afterward. He had left school with a strong dislike for formal learning.

In a sober, easy manner Hayes outlines, explains and supports his ideas simply, with the support of theories and real life practical examples. He closes each chapter with a brief summary of his main points. I appreciated following his train of thought, he is balanced in his reasoning and presentation of information.

The book is presented in four parts. Part One discusses why we are the way we are.

Part Two discusses the personal sciences and the people sciences, including theories of human behaviour, motivation, life stages, the search for meaning, sociology, politics, management and a range of topics associated with being human. Part Three looks deeply at credentialism: its effects on us personally and on our society. Part Four offers practical advice ranging from understanding personality theories and improving your memory to creating your own credentials and deciding whether or not you should go back to school.

The book doesn't have to be read from cover to cover. I still turn to it now, flicking through pages and settling in wherever the page opens. The book is not prescriptive nor is it flippant. Its underlying philosophy is that when self-knowledge is at the hub of our life's focus, anything is achievable and that is the style in which Hayes presents his ideas. He gives a broad base of information, encouraging us to make our own informed decisions about how to plan our lives through self-knowledge.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

"I am convinced that there is no greater way to learn than the process of self-directed inquiry." (Preface, page xiv)

"The great paradox of self-education is that when you think you know, you don't; when you know you don't, you do and the more you learn, the more comfortable you become with how little you know. Meanwhile you gain an extraordinary amount of intrinsic satisfaction with the whole process." (Preface, page xvi)

And this is one of my favourites; especially for the numerous people I meet who feel so inadequate because they didn't get a high school certificate.

" A person need not be apologetic about any lack of "formal" credential, because what's possible through self-education can be so much better." (Introduction, page xxi)

"It is my belief that self-education through self-directed inquiry is a natural way to gain control over your life. Self-education leads to self-empowerment. Self-empowerment is the ability to provide your own definition of success, thereby allowing you to know when you have reached your goal and have become a "graduate student" of Self-University." (Introduction, page xxiv)

".. learning in an authoritative environment taught us to be dependent upon that authority, but when we begin to search for knowledge for its own sake, we find ourselves immune to intimidation of those in authority. Learning for its own sake has a very natural reward - the thrill of understanding." (Page 45)

When reading through Part Two (The People Sciences), I was impressed to see that Hayes addressed the "should" issue that has driven our daughter to think she must conform after so many years of living freely. It's a life stage!

Hayes looks briefly at the major schools of psychology. It's good to see so many familiar names (Such as Freud, Adler, Jung, Watson, Skinner, Maslow) briefly condensed and compared with each other in order to relieve us of the confusions that come from so many different theories. On page 65 he reminds us that many of these theories underlie assumptions we make in our society. For example, Harry Chapin's song "Cat's in the Cradle" - the song of the father who is too busy for his growing son finds that in old age the roles are reversed and his son is too busy for the father - an example of the theory of behaviourism.

Hayes points out that "An understanding of the personal sciences, their limitations and their truths, significantly reduces our vulnerability to the various forms of mysticism. A major thesis of this book is that belief must be based on good reasons. It does not mean we can never trust authority, but simply that we should not do so blindly. It is neither practical nor desirable to think we must go through life having to prove everything to ourselves, or that we can never place our trust in others. But it is equally impractical to assume that we will not often require proof or that we should not question the authority in which we have placed our trust. The object is not to weaken belief, but to discover and strengthen it through the maturation of conviction ." (page 77) and

"When we examine our cultural conditioning, the theories we hold about human nature, and our personal experience, and then consider their effects, we are able to see more clearly and objectively in our search for meaning. When we try to understand psychology, the process inevitably leads to philosophical questions which in turn leaf to the development of a constructive philosophy of life." (page 82)

Part Three discusses credentialism, particularly relevant to us as home educators is Haye's discussion of tests. (page 150) "Tests can be a valuable aid in determining what remains to be taught or what may have been misunderstood, but they are inadequate as an indicator of the student's future ability." He points out that "The process of self-education is free of grades and tests. It is based on cooperation. But we are still faced with offering proof of our competence if we expect to use the knowledge we have acquired in the workplace."

"To be dealt with effectively, the problem of credentials must be understood. Today many people pursue credentials that make little economic sense. The pursuit of the credential often costs more that can be recovered, and in some cases will not even produce a job. The fast times we live in are full of brick walls, though some have large windows of opportunity. Before you can recognize opportunity, you must understand yourself well enough to know what it is you want to do. Not knowing what we really want to do exacts a penalty. Unless we discover our right livelihood by accident, we are condemned to engage in work activities for which we continually run out of enthusiasm. People who approach employers with little idea of what they are looking for have little hope of being perceived as a valuable addition to the staff. Experienced employers know that credentials are not always a reliable indicator of future performance ."( page 209)

Practical advice on how to document your credentials, looking at personality theories, tips for improving your memory, learning through our environment, books and resource directories are included in Part Four.

As homeschoolers we talk about documenting our children's studies. Hayes recommends that adults who need to prove themselves (for promotion or application for university or a job, etc) attend a course on Portfolio Development. Once again he reinforces that one of the most powerful gains from conducting such an exercise is that you acknowledge who you are through your goals and your achievements. A brief outline of the steps he took through a course:

Portfolio Development

In my opinion, the best way to prove your competence to gain employment or a promotion is to follow a method like the one used in pursuing non-traditional degrees: simply identify and then document your experiential learning.

  • Formulate a goal statement
  • Prepare a chronological resume
  • Write an autobiography
  • A worksheet
  • A reading list
  • A competency statement
  • Submit a request for college credit in recognition of the experiential learning that you have documented.

Your goal statement would simply be an effort to clarify your intentions by describing specifically what it is you want to accomplish. If you have difficulty beginning, start by eliminating what you know that you don't want to do.

The next step is a chronological resume that is a complete history of your work life. This is for you, not an employer. List each job that you have ever held and what you did specifically. It doesn't matter how many pages it takes.

The next step is to write an autobiography. I thought this was silly and almost talked myself out of doing it, but I am glad that I went ahead. Writing your own autobiography in ten to thirty pages is an exercise that takes a lot of discipline, at least it did for me. It is, however, an extremely valuable experience to help clarify your basic orientation to the future by putting the past in better perspective. After you write your autobiography you may have to go back and adjust your goal statement because of the insight you received from your experience.

Whether or not you intend to follow such a plan, I highly recommend three books. Two are by Richard Bolles: What Color Is Your Parachute? and The Three Boxes of Life. The third is Self-Directed Learning by Malcolm Knowles. There is no need to try to repeat the advice that they have already given so clearly. Besides, it would take three more books. These guides will be invaluable to you in making career decisions."

So, what did I gain from reading Charles D Hayes book? A healthy respect for living intelligently. I have naturally chosen to learn through Self-University. His words reminded me to always maintain a balance between using my head and my heart to make decisions. First and foremost is the importance of self-knowledge. I think he reinforced this on every page in one way or another. It's the foundation of living a full life. Know who you are, know how you think, know what drives you, know everything about yourself, then you will understand others and you will be able to act with conviction.

In closing, as a further example of how open minded this writer is and winding us back to my original concerns when I began reading his book, "With all the negative effects that I have attributed to pedagogy you might expect me to denounce traditional colleges and universities and advise you to avoid them, but I will not. On the contrary, I believe that for today's adults, colleges and universities become treasure houses filled with never-ending rewards." (page 133)

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