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Natural Learning Environments

Tools for Student Responsibility

During the last hundred years, our society has moved away from natural learning environments to heavy dependence on classrooms. To further narrow learning opportunity, society is accepting the belief that the standardized test measures achievement potential. The production line mindset that Henry Ford started during the early 1900s, "repetitive action with limited skills and no responsibility," is now the mindset of our education system.

Natural learning is assuming responsibility, asking questions, seeking answers, analyzing information, which leads to more questions. The answer is never complete because there are always broader possibilities and/or better ways. Learning by asking questions is a treadmill that has no end. This method trains the mind to keep searching, even when a reasonable answer is found. This is the key to educating oneself without dependency on others.

Benjamin Franklin went to school for two years between the ages of 8 and 10, then was out. His continuing education was a life long process of creating challenging projects with familiar objects, asking, "There must be an alternative use?" Then he would seek answers and analyze them. Examples: Lighting has power that can be beneficial to man if harness or moving fire from the fireplace to a stove in the center of the room for greater efficiency.  He found answers to these familiar forces of nature by asking questions, then trial and error, then more questions.


Compare Mr. Franklin's achievements to people who spend many years in school, then stop developing their learning skills when they are out. Personal achievement is based on a learning attitude, not how many years spent in school.

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What are natural learning environments?

Natural learning is based on curiosity and projects where participants share knowledge to reach a goal. Knowledge that is useful for a project is customized to the project needs and personality of the participants. Knowledge is gained by tapping information sources through research, trial and error, networking, and intuitive forces. The ability to tap these resources and make sound judgments is the key to achieving the desired goal. As one goal is achieved, another is established. Each goal requires new knowledge and skills, and this is achieved through the ability to acquire knowledge from many sources.

Before compulsory classroom education, team environments were standard for educating the young. Typically, the team was made up of family members, who passed on their skills. Being inspired, by those who care, is a natural way to learn. The problem was that results varied widely and local governments saw the need for control. The efficient way for governments to educate large groups of students is in a controlled classroom by a qualified teacher. This is not man's natural way to learn, it is an efficient way. The price of efficiency is the acceptance that many students will fall through the cracks.

There are many natural ways to learn and scattered groups are reintroducing them to society. The winners of spelling bees, as I write this, came from home schooled students. Teachers unions and textbook industries are attacking these programs and are trying to get politicians to pass laws against there use.

As business and political monopolies increase their control over our education system, many parents are breaking away, taking on the task themselves to teach their children. In fact, a small portion of our society is going back to the days of parent-child relationship that was the norm before compulsory public education. Experiential education is man’s natural learning tool. When learning methods are in harmony with compatible learning environments, a love to learn develops.

Unschooled Education

The unschooled concept is where the teenager learns what they want, when they want, and at their own pace. Society says teenagers can't learn that way, they must be under the control of adults. This belief is based on man's desire for control. Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Wright Brothers' and Henry Ford, to name a few, were educated by the unschooled method. They used the tools of people who love to learn. (There are books on this subject.)

Mr. Henry Ford learned how to build affordable automobiles and became wealthy. He did not have an education as defined by some education leaders. Intellectuals took him to court to prove he was an ignorant man. In court, Mr. Ford was asked questions that high school students are supposed to know and he could not answer them. Mr. Ford’s reply was; "Why do I need to clutter my mind with information I don’t need? If I need information I know where to find it." His critics could not answer that question. Mr. Ford had an education that his accusers did not have, a vision and the ability to educate himself. He did not have an academic education that society says is needed for success.

One Room Schoolhouse

Where all grades are in one room, the teacher teaches to the oldest student, customizing a learning method that works. The older student then teaches the younger student. When students teach students, peer pressure motivates them to learn. A student teaching, what he has just been taught, increases interest and understanding. If there is a conflict, the teacher who acts as a coach, instructing students how to teach and learn at the same time. Students teaching students produce super benefits with super motivation. By combining teaching with learning, comprehension of all students increases. Understanding increases the love-to-learn. This is team education, the most powerful education system in the world.

Today’s teachers unions and politicians will not allow this type of education. Empowering students takes control away from authority. Education leaders consider control more important than efficiency. The powerful forces of nature are moving toward empowerment in education and the workplace. Organizations trying to stop it will be crushed.

Team Education

How can a group of teenage school dropouts establish the world's fastest growing company? Their education is limited, they have no experience, there are too many unknowns and they are not focused. It is assumed only adults with a proper education and years of experience have the ability to sort out advanced technology. But then, this is how teenager Bill Gates and his teenage friends started the Microsoft Corporation.

Team education is a group of people searching for ways to achieve a common goal. They do this by exchanging information, telling of their experience, consider the pros and cons of an idea. Everyone learns at their own pace while contributing expertise, based on their experience. Each person’s natural talents are different, technical, intellectual, introvert, extrovert, cautious, or risk taker. Each type looks at an idea from a different perspective. Team education joins the beginner and the experienced. The beginner may listen while the experienced does the talking, very often bragging. In time, the beginner is inspired, will try his ideas, will learn what works, and does not work. Team members, through peer pressure, inspire each other to perform at their best, as a result, everyone competes to be the best. Each suggestion builds on the previous suggestions, creating an ever-expanding knowledge base. The exchange of information stimulates new ideas. The discovery of possibilities, recognition from others stimulates inspiration and motivation that sends the knowledge level to greater heights. Team knowledge has always been the most powerful learning force in the world.

In the workplace, teams working as a unit find ways to do the unthinkable and impossible. Everyone from the lowest helper to the engineer sees problems and its solutions from different perspectives. When these people exchange information, knowledge is gained at all levels. The helper and engineer become more efficient because they understand problems from different perspectives. Who knows, the helper may be inspired to learn engineering skills and become the boss.

Managers have seen demonstrations on how successful teams get jobs done. All fired up, they try to install team systems in their company. Most attempts fail. In some cases, nothing changes except the name from "employees" to "teams." Managers fail to understand the difference between control and worker responsibility. Teams work when the team is delegated job ownership, responsibility, and accountability. Most managers will not give up this kind of authority. Control is slow to create efficiency, expand knowledge, or find a-better-way. For most leaders, control is more important than efficiency.

Teenagers Learning Responsibility - Tall Ships

I was captain of the Canal Zone training schooner during its dying days. The community lost interests it the ship and the money to keep it going dried up. The teenagers were eager to keep the ship going and I was the only adult willing to take them on weekend cruises. We would leave Friday night, sail around out of sight of land for two days and nights, and come back Sunday afternoon.

I told the teenagers they had to assume full responsibility, including getting the ship ready for sailing, which included supplies, and they must assume full responsibility for the ship at sea. I will not intervene with their decisions even if it was bad, they had to learn from their mistakes. I will only intervened if the decision is too risky, which turned out to be rare.

About 2AM one night I was at the stern watching the boys and girls, ages 14 to 17, reducing sail getting ready for an approaching squall. I did not have to give any orders other than to reduce sail; the teen crew leaders gave the orders and instructions. I was thinking, if the parents could see their children in the rigging and on deck, working the sails, with an approaching squall during the blackness of night, under the direction of other teens, they would have a fit.

These teens were learning to accept risk and the responsibility that goes with it. Our society wants youth to take responsibility, but they don't want them to be exposed to risk. Exposure to risk teaches the art of self-responsibility and the development of quality decisions. This is the first lesson aboard tall ships. The attitudes developed on weekend sails went back to the classroom.

Home Schooled

Home schooled students average 86% on standardized test while public school students average 40%. Home schooled students whose parents haven’t finished high school still average well above public school students. What is the secret? Parents teach to their child’s learning personality. They experiment with learning techniques, go with what works, and drop what doesn’t. They customize the learning process to the child. In return, the child maintains a desire-to-learn, if not a love-to-learn. This love is the source of motivation. Custom teaching programs are not possible in a classroom of twenty students.

In the corporate world, people who maintain a love-to-learn are the one’s that move ahead. A love for learning brings opportunity in the real world. The typical public school student is turned off to learning once they leave the system. They learned to hate the learning process.

Apprentice Programs

Apprentice programs are excellent examples of natural learning environments. Participants gain experience as they learn with journeymen while understanding the need for associated skills. Once basic knowledge is acquired, craftsmen depend on natural learning environments to develop their skills and expand their knowledge.

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