Alternative Education

New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks has written a really wonderful essay called The Other Education. Although I often disagree with Mr. Brooks on politics, I couldn’t agree with him more on the ideas he writes about here.

The alternative education in my title is not charter schools or learning online; it is what Brooks calls “our emotional educations, which are unsupervised and haphazard.”  That sounds like unschooling to me.

While Brooks devotes his essay to the effect that Bruce Springsteen has had on his emotional education, the article made me think about how unschoolers learn: via connections, via random introductions to works of art that sometimes lead to in-depth, self-directed study that is intensely personal.

When I was about twelve years old, I had a friend named Leah, who lived in the charmingly named section of town called Strawberry Hill. I assume her neighborhood was once a field of wild strawberries, since, according to my mother, every part of the area I grew up in used to be a field of something or other:

Me: What was here when you were a little girl?
Mommy: (as if it was unimaginable that I did not know this) Oh, it was just a field. A big field.

But getting back to Leah, I loved going to her house because there was a record player,

1960s record player, for those unfamiliar with the object

and there were lots of 45’s.

This is a 45 record, which one played on a record player.









The 45 that caught my attention was I Am a Rock, a song written by Paul Simon and performed by Simon and Garfunkel.

I Am a Rock opened up a new “curriculum” for me, one that combined psychology, such elements of  poetry as alliteration, and the angst of young adulthood. The last thing in particular was a subject I would “study” throughout my teen years, using a “syllabus” of popular singer-songwriters.

I don’t  know if Leah ever knew it, but it got to the point where I accepted invitations to her house almost solely to listen to I Am a Rock. There was nothing wrong with Leah; she had just become the gateway to my “classroom.” And the benefits of my “class” had superseded whatever I was getting out of playing board games with her.

As Mr. Brooks writes, our alternative, unscholarly, serendipitous education–our unschooling–often comes as “a byproduct of the search for pleasure.” He also states that such learning is “indirect and unconscious.”

My goodness, lots of people, including Mr. Brooks, really do get the concept of unschooling, whether they realize it or not. Now if only they could un-get the school-y part and acknowledge that everything necessary can be learned in a personal way.

One last thing: if you read this post and didn’t know what a 45 was, you now owe it to yourself to learn that this thingie is what enabled one to play a 45 on a record player. (It was very upsetting when you couldn’t find a thingie because that meant you couldn’t listen to the 45.)

You press the yellow plastic thing into the center hole of the 45 before placing the 45 onto the record player.


5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Frank said,

    To quote Springsteen – We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.

    I still listen to 45s and 33s on my turntable. This is *my* 45:

    • 2

      sgaissert said,

      Thanks so much for commenting, Frank! I wish I’d thought of that Springsteen quote. It’s from “No Surrender,” right? So true . . . my “close-and-play” is long gone, and I miss it. Susan

  2. 3

    Katie said,

    It’s possible to get record players again. We have an heirloomrecord collection & the player for them.

  3. 5

    […] Alternative Education. Take a look at emotional education and how people learn with the thoughts here. […]

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