Ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceaum in Athens.

Educated: A Memoir is a current bestseller written by a young lady who broke away from her family’s systematic brainwashing, graduated from Harvard and Cambridge Universities, and gave the world of readers plenty to think about.

But being educated has much more to it than finding the right teachers and environment, as families are discovering in the present shut-in days of e-learning.  

A child learns to read, and then reads to learn.  A very simple statement, but it embodies the whole idea of independent education.  Teachers, mentors and coaches are needed for modeling, encouragement and advice.  It is important for them  to promote independent learning as much as they can.  Students will go much further than solely completing requirements of the best elementary schools, high schools, and universities.

The ancient Greeks are responsible for the finest education “best practices”  in history.  Socrates’ method was questioning, Plato had an academy in a garden next to a gymnasium, and one of the first think tanks.  His student, Aristotle, worked in a building called the Lyceaum (pictured above) in which he had a big library and regular “serious” morning classes, but also symposiums, or festive meals in the evening.  Nothing like food you get your protoges’ attention.  He emphasized the hands-on, including studying habits of insects and dissecting larger creatures.

Movers and shakers in our nation’s past were prime independent learners.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, spent his sickly childhood reading all the books in his father’s library; Theodore Roosevelt, also pretty much an invalid until he willed himself into better health, taught himself to be a naturalist with knowledge comparable to that of a supervisor in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

On the back cover of The Amazing Bird Collection of Young Mr. Roosevelt which I published in 2014, I listed some of his traits: curiosity, learning from playing and imitating animal sounds, making up his own games, taking risks, making observations in notebooks, sketching, and sharing the information he found with family and friends.  Sound familiar?  Your kids do the same.

If you look up characteristics of independent learners, you will find some of these —

  • Being  active instead of passive
  • Being ready to change rapidly and apply new skills
  • Structuring learning time themselves
  • Assessing themselves, focusing on process rather than product  

All right on.

In Indiana the Lilly Foundation provides teacher fellowships every summer for instructors’ and administrators’ independent study, but are not required to be  in the recipients’ field: just something they are curious about.  I can tell you from participating in two of these grants that the knowledge and experiences I gained go far beyond any course or plan of study.  And I have learned much from other fellows in all areas.

Emotion drives learning, as parents and caregivers are realizing with every day of current stay-at-home rules.  One source I looked at said that a drawback of independent study is cost, but that’s bunk.  Field trips to the back yard can be enlightening, and so many resources are available on the Internet. from Colonial Williamsburg has scads of things to offer about American History, as does The Library of Congress (  Book lists, especially those of Newbery Award winnners, are a good place to start for reading selections.  Babble Dabble Do on Facebook offers art, math and science activities which I would be using in the classroom if I were not retired.  I’ve seen many others shared by excellent teachers.

I do not suggest that the 20,000 hours children spend in the classroom from Kindergarten through Grade 12 are not needed.  However, kids require more exploring time rather than testing time.  They should be excited to experience more about anything which interests them.  Pedagogical terms and guidelines are OK, but the way to get a kid to learn is to inspire him to find out things on his own.

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Sources of information include,,,  I was disappointed to find I could not read articles from National Geographic and The Washington Post unless I subscribed.


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