Great Thinkers on Self-Education: Grace Llewellyn

Written by on April 7, 2009 in Great Thinkers on Self-Ed - No comments

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“In the end, the secret to learning is so simple: forget about it. Think only about whatever you love. Follow it, do it, dream it. One day, you will glance up at your collection of Japanese literature, or trip over the solar oven you built, and it will hit you: learning was there all the time, happening by itself.”

Who is Grace Llewellyn?

Grace Llewellyn is one of the pioneers of the teenage unschooling movement. As a middle school English teacher, she felt torn between her desire to help students learn and the repressive tendencies of institutional schooling. Llewellyn later resigned from her position and wrote a book with a radical approach to learning, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life.

Since then, she’s gone on to write additional books helping teens take responsibility for their own education. She also directs the Not Back to School Camp, an annual event for unschoolers.

Although much of her work is aimed at teenagers, readers of every age can rekindle their love of learning by studying Llewellyn’s writings.

Grace Llewellyn’s Educational Philosophy

Llewellyn’s books focus on several themes:

  • Compulsory schooling harms students.
  • A time of rejuvenation is needed to recover from traditional schooling.
  • Teens should be able to learn through following their passions (i.e. unschooling).

Llewellyn doesn’t just believe in reforming education – she actually encourages teenagers to quit high school and pursue their passions. Instead of homeschooling (doing school at home), she urges students to embrace unschooling (learning naturally through life).

Ultimately, Llewellyn believes that learning is a personal responsibility, not something that can be left to schools:

“Your teacher cannot bridge the gap between what you know and what you want to know. For his words to ‘educate’ you, you must welcome them, think about them, find somewhere for your mind to organize them, and remember them. Your learning is your job, not your teacher’s job. And all you need to start with is desire. You don’t need a schoolteacher to get knowledge – you can get it from looking at the world, from watching films, from conversations, from reading, from asking questions, from experience.”

While quitting school may seem like outrageous advice, Llewellyn backs up her position by giving example after example of teens that gave up school and ended up with some amazing experiences and accomplishments.

Students who do quit school are urged to relax and take time to recover. Llewellyn suggests that instead of putting together a demanding schedule of activities, teens take time to unlearn some of the negative lessons they picked up through school.

“Another enemy is the guilt that blocks your natural curiosity. People who have never gone to school have never developed negative attitudes toward exploring their world. Unfortunately, you probably have. It’s not your fault if you don’t immediately want to run out and watch ladybugs with a magnifying glass. It might take time before your desire to learn surfaces from beneath the layers of guilt – the voices insisting I should learn this, I have to learn that. Give yourself time. Don’t push. You’ll recover.”

There’s no need to worry, Llewellyn explains. Everyone can eliminate guilt, follow their passions, and become a natural learner without stressing or haggling over grades.

How Grace Llewellyn Has Made a Difference

Since the publication of her first book, many high schoolers have embraced Llewellyn’s advice to quit school in favor of learning on their own. In a follow up publication, Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don’t Go to School Tell Their Own Stories, she dispels the myth that “dropping-out” is necessarily the road to failure. The book features the stories of teens that volunteer, travel abroad, work, participate in politics, develop careers, and basically just learn through real-life experiences. As they grow into adults, some of the teens choose to attend college (and, yes, they are accepted).

While Llewellyn’s suggestion to “quit school” may seem like a nightmare for many parents, this advice has made a huge difference in the lives of these teens. Even adults feel encouraged by her enthusiasm about embracing life and learning through the experiences we choose.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Serdal

Further Reading – Llewellyn’s personal homepage.

Home Education Magazine Interview – Home Education Magazine’s 1998 interview with Llewellyn.

Free-Range Education – A 2002 Oregonian article about Llewellyn and the Not Back to School Summer Camp.

Guerrilla Unschooling – Grace Llewellyn on Why School Can Damage Kids – A brief interview on Llwellyn’s beliefs that first appeared in Reason Magazine.

Guerilla Learning with Grace Llewellyn – A downloadable audio interview from Radio Free School.

Not Back to School Camp Website – Llewellyn is the director of this camp for unschooling teens.

Books by Grace Llewellyn

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