Nurturing Self-Responsible learning – Obviously Important

Under the theme ’Giving Students Ownership of Learning’ the November issue of ‘Educational Leadership’, a leading journal for educators and school administrators, serves up many profiles of innovative programs and approaches to nurturing self-responsible learning.

Self-responsible learning, according to the lead editorial, is one of the golden keys – post-high school – to college, citizenship and employment, i.e. future prosperity.

It’s clear that a lot of sweat and ink is being expended helping kids get a better grip on their own learning steering wheels and I commend the efforts going into this. But I found myself frequently putting the articles aside to ponder how we got to a place in this enterprise of schooling where kids – many of them older teens – have such little sense of self-responsibility that, for all intents and purposes, schools now need to offer remedial training in it.

It’s a regrettable situation that has arisen, IMO, because of practices that have effectively disenfranchised children and young people and stripped them of almost any sense of self-empowerment and autonomy in their learning/schooling lives. What makes this situation even more (sadly) ironic is that it has worsened during an era when the mantra of “child-centered learning” is recited by educators and administrators as often as attendance is taken. Evidently, talking about child-centered learning certainly hasn’t produced the result.

Rather, this situation is the result of years of programing kids in schools, for example, to raise a hand and ask a (strange) adult for permission to attend to personal body functions (“May I go to the bathroom?”), of imposing and prioritizing pre-packaged curricula divorced from any kind of authentic meaning for learners.

It doesn’t end there. Teachers and counselors also tell teens ad infinitum they are becoming adults and must soon face the music but then school strictures and authorities constantly deny teens opportunities to meaningfully share in the development and running of schools. Sorry, Johnny, that job’s for ‘real’ adults.

Talk about mixed messages. Is it any wonder young people are lacking in the skills of self-resonsibility when they have been programmed to shun self-responsibility for 12 years? Or that they develop a sense of deep frustration and paranoia about who they ‘really’ are in this world?

If we truly wish to inculcate self-responsibility in young people then we must begin providing children with opportunities for authentic self-responsibility, opportunities that continue and are strengthened each year hence. This will include allowing young people to choose their own learning paths and, with our assistance, explore the things they are most interested in learning about, be it gaming, history, sports, cooking, biology (of self, especially), and myriad other subjects happening now – today – in their families, communities and the world.

Let’s give young people every opportunity (and many more opportunities!) to prepare for and experience life and the full breadth of its challenges, on their terms. The young person emerging from this experience will face new learning challenges knowledgeably, he will know how to slant off in new directions with confidence when that is appropriate to do, and she will not be inclined to wait around for some external authority to monitor and permit their every step.

In young adults these outcomes represent full blossoming of the same “creative competence” that author Joseph Chilton Pearce ascribes to children who develop mastery of their environments through active, imaginative play (that is neither graded nor pre-determined).

Isnt’ that what we, as parents and educators, want for our children and future generations? I do.

One Response to “Nurturing Self-Responsible learning – Obviously Important”

  1. digimajou January 4, 2009 at 9:45 pm // Reply

    hi michael
    in my work with young women ages 11-22 who identify as racialized and indigenous in the Lower Mainland, we as adult allies are always trying to get them to tell us what they want to do. At the end of 2006, the Go Girls group told us they wanted to learn filmmaking. In Summer of 2007, myself and Andrea Canales found funding to run a filmmakers camp for them at Rolling Earth Centre ( Its difficult to find funds to support youth-driven creativity and activism but we found it with the Capable Kids Grant. 8 young women created 2 shorts to explore from their perspective the social, cultural, familial, and personal challenges of intoxicants – a journey every young person must encounter somewhere along the way. Some of these young women had experiences with film before but most of the group had never made a film before. In the shorts “My Oh My” and “I’m Living a Double Life” they all share the credits for acting, writing, directing, shooting, editing, and creating the soundtracks. See them at ….I’m in the process of uploading more vids so stay on my channel!


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