Education is scarce, but learning is abundant

The paradox in the headline is one that is made by humans, not nature. Education—namely, what goes on in schools and is certified by them—is made scarce by defining only those who have school degrees as being educated; this means the more degrees one has the more educated you are supposed to be. Those who can pay for the most expensive (scarcest) degrees—or if they are poor receive an even scarcer scholarship—are thought to be more educated than those who attend schools in less tony zip codes. This mentality leads most parents to fret that their schools are shortchanging their children, and the current call for teacher accountability to be tied to student achievement is one example. Costly studies, programs, and additional teacher certifications are all being done to make sure that if a teacher teaches, the student will learn it and prove it by getting a higher score on a test than they did before the teacher taught the material.

Since homeschooling throws this paradigm out the window it is ignored by policy makers, educators, and most parents who feel their children won’t learn anything worthwhile on their own or from their community. However, homeschooling has much to add to this discussion, particularly in times of economic contraction and tuition increases. Homeschoolers have been finding people and places for their children to learn with and from for decades, but they are not necessarily certified teachers, though some are. Indeed, many of them are local businesspeople, other homeschoolers, and people who are willing to share their interests with others.

The fact is, if you know how to do something you can help someone else learn it. You may not be a good teacher at first, but it is possible to learn how to be a good teacher on the job, especially if you are able to get honest feedback from your students. Most important, learning is a journey and you don’t need to have a master teacher who holds your hand every step of the way. Teachers, like guides, change depending where you are in your journey. Few people are exploring where and how teachers and learners can find one another since it is assumed this process can, or should, only happen in school according to bureaucratic formulas. However, John McKnight and his colleagues have been learning otherwise for many years.

John McKnight is a pioneer for encouraging people to get more involved in their local communities and develop local resources that aren’t controlled by distant institutions, and his work has inspired me over the years. His website,, is a great place to learn about his work. This blog entry was particularly striking because it deals directly with low-cost ways to learn. He writes: 

Throughout the United States, local school districts are cutting back on teachers and curriculum while increasing class size.  With our current economy, it doesn’t appear that this trend will soon be reversed.

This grim prospect depends upon whether we have the novel belief that it takes a school to educate a child. Historically, the primary source of education was the knowledge and wisdom of the villagers. However, as the power of schooling grew, the neighborhood knowledge got devalued and unused. And so it is that local people often feel cornered as schooling recedes.

In one African-American, working-class neighborhood in Chicago, they’re finding out what their neighbors believe they know well enough to teach the local young people. When they interviewed 19 adults living on 3 blocks, they found that they were prepared to teach 37 different topics.

To see the list of topics and learn more about this, read John’s essay “It Takes A Village to Educate a Child.”