Caitlyn Scheel is an incoming Praxis participant.
My experience in becoming a self-directed learner has been one of the most ambitious and fulfilling projects I’ve ever taken on. And I decided to undertake it at fourteen.
There’s no “right” way to go about building your own curriculum but here’s what I did:
Getting started and deschooling
When I initially opted out of the public-school system two years ago I had only a vague idea about what I was going to do. As I still approached my education with a ‘schooled mindset’, I continued along roughly the same trajectory as during school. I followed a “schooled approach” to my learning.
Despite this, I was still much better off than before. I wasn’t wasting time on busy work or learning to pass a test. Being out of school I realized that there wasn’t any reason I should learn American history at a certain age, or follow an arbitrary list of approved subjects. This deschooling process allowed me to continue moving forward and learn for myself, rather than for others.
Shifting to self-directed learning
When I realized there wasn’t a right way to become educated, I did away with the notion that everyone should learn the same thing. It made more sense to direct my own learning.
For example, my interest in ancient Greece led to my taking a course over the history of western civilization, which I used as a springboard for a more through, personally tailored exploration of the topic. When a person or time period intrigued me, rather than moving on to the next video lecture, I’d start googling to learn more. This meant some days I’d watch three or four videos. Other times I’d go weeks without touching the official course as I dove deeper into the works of a philosopher or learned as much about the crusades as possible.
I was able to do all this because I wasn’t spending all of my time jumping from subject to subject to please my teachers and get good grades.
I learned to let my interests evolve or fall away.
In the beginning, I loved writing poetry so I wrote and published it online. My interests shifted more towards short stories so rather than continuing for the sake of not quitting I simply moved on. When my passion for short stories gave way to a love for novels, I embraced that. I didn’t feel the need to stick with something just because school required it.
The same principle applied to my interest in music. I already knew clarinet and started learning guitar before moving on to piano, which I still play to this day.
Exploring non-traditional subjects and learning styles
Austrian economics isn’t available in traditional high schools. I don’t let that stop me from dedicating as much (or more) time to it as I do history.
Nor do I think that the fact that I follow no official course makes my knowledge on the topic any less useful. In fact, nearly everything I know about it I’ve learned from listening to podcasts, reading books and blog posts, as well as attending events centered around it.
While I do keep up with the chemistry and biology courses on Khan Academy, the overwhelming majority of my time spent on science related topics is learning about specific niche subjects such as the human genome.
In short, I didn’t wait till I had a plan—I just stopped doing stuff I hated. I didn’t let stuff I used to love hold me back from enjoying new interests that I discovered, and I didn’t allow others to influence what I learned or when I learned it.