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Mastering My Education: Graduate Studies after Home-Based Learning

Mastering My Education
By Zoë Dalton

Once Self-Taught, Always Self-Taught

Writing from my office in my new digs, I am surrounded by texts and course work from my graduate program. It’s been a long time since I sat through math sessions in the family kitchen, or heard tales of atoms and nuclei on those evening rides to the city. But somehow, my educational path has not veered far from where I began as a homeschooled child a couple of decades ago.

I have my parents, and their decision to home educate my siblings and me, to thank for instilling in me the love of learning, the joy in discovery that has led me to pursue my education, and pursue it and pursue it.

Once self-taught, always self-taught, I am bound to believe. Those first 13 years of free exploration of the world left me with a feeling of independence, a sense that learning was my own, was to be my creation. This sense has colored my experience of all subsequent learning, and has led me to pursue a type of education that will allow me to direct my own quest for knowledge.

My alternative high school education didn’t impinge much on my desire for educational freedom, as I was encouraged to follow my own interests, to attend when I considered attendance necessary, and to question educational techniques that I saw as oppressive. My concept of a free education was confined a bit during my undergraduate years, in which I was told what to learn, how to learn it, and when to produce proof of having grasped the subject matter. While I loved what I was learning, I felt that the means of imparting this knowledge on the students were very restrictive. The focus seemed so strongly on absorption of information rather than involvement in and active participation with it.

It took a while to adjust and recover from the rigid structure of my science degree; after four years, a learning pattern can come to feel ingrained, and somehow right.

It’s easy to forget the many places from which a learning adventure can stem, and the endless directions in which it can lead. However, with my discovery last year of a “homeschool conducive” master’s degree, I now seem to have come full circle: My graduate degree is an individualized, self-directed, and self-designed distance education program. I have been able to move from city to city, bringing my courses along with me; I have designed a program of studies that embodies my personal learning goals, and I am able to dig in depth into the exact subject that I so love.

I can’t look back on my self-directed childhood without thinking of the experience as a gift. I was able to explore what childhood can be; I was given the time to learn about who I was and who I wanted to become, and to discover that doing things differently can be both exciting and empowering. As an adult now pursuing higher education, I know that these ideas have never left me. Home-based learning gave me the freedom to build a relationship with my education. My learning and I are a happy couple.

Zoë Dalton is a graduate of York University’s environmental science program in Toronto, Canada, and studied for a Master of Arts in Integrated Studies with Athabasca University.

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