Mastering My Education
By Zoë Dalton
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, 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
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