Barely out of her teens, Canadian Wendy Priesnitz realized the need to rethink work, play, and education methods in order to find social and ecological balance.
In 1969, while training to be a teacher, she rejected the processing model for educating children and decided to educate her two daughters at home. Ten years later, she founded the Canadian Alliance of Home Schoolers after having co-founded, with her husband Rolf, Life Media, an alternative multimedia business which publishes books, magazines and web sites. Author, journalist, business woman, and brief leader of the Green Party, she describes herself as an agent of change and devotes herself, among other things, to the defence of the environment and to alternative education in Canada.
One of Wendy Priesnitz’s preoccupations is the ‘de-institutionalization’ of learning as well as putting an end to forced constraints in children’s education. She advocates experience-based, self-taught learning, which she calls “life learning”. She refuses to use words such as unschooling, de-schooling, homeschooling, home education, autonomous learning – names that refer to a system that she denounced. According to her, the term homeschool fulfills relatively well the concept a few short decades ago because the majority of families who were homeschooling were trying to distance themselves as much as possible from the school model. Today, this is not always the case and it is why it is necessary, according to this author, to accurately name this style of interest-based learning; it is self-organizing and is enriched thanks to resources available and daily experience.
For Wendy Priesnitz, the term “learning” remains important: the majority of people think that an education is given at school and that non-schooling is synonymous with “without instruction”. She emphasizes that the simple fact of describing interactions with children at school contributes to giving education an important place in our lives. She insists that the necessity to define ourselves as a function of what we do, rather than a function of what we don’t do. Therefore, she suggests the phrase “life learning”. Essentially, to live and to learn are intimately connected: one cannot exist without the other. From birth children explore and learn without making a distinction of academic learning. And, the author adds that even she learns by doing.
To support her arguments, Wendy Priesnitz leans heavily on research linking biomimicry and lifelong learning. Firstly, she observes that humans are the only ones to send their descendants to school to learn to socialize. According to the author, schools only label, categorize and sort. Schools leave traces anchored even among those who reject them.
If we base ourselves on biomimicry, education should become decentralized, self-regulated, cooperative, and would quickly adapt to new conditions with feedback mechanisms. Secondly, the author emphasizes that biomimicry should also be used to design new organizational systems. Thanks to biomimicry, large organizations have already successfully worked on the elaboration of their structure. The author advocates a similar approach with students: an approach in which education would adapt to the changing society in which we live – both in terms of new technologies and social issues – and that would take into account the possibilities of collaboration while transforming the passive student to learning actively throughout life. As the author elaborates, it is now only a few clicks away for anyone who wants it to have access to a wealth of knowledge that allows them to bypass schools; the latter will have to adapt to this new reality.
As for critics of learning throughout a lifetime who often argue that young people derived from this model are ill-adapted, Wendy Priesnitz responds that on the contrary these children are accustomed to taking charge of their own learning and their life project. According to the author, they take advantage of all the tools they need to flourish and contribute to the societal evolution that will be necessary, exactly what the current school system does not prepare them for since it is still designed to “mold workers and obedient consumers”.
Wendy Priesnitz wants to promote different choices that people can benefit from while asking them to question the adequacy of these choices within themselves, their families and the planet. According to the author, the era in which we live should push us to rethink the way we live in our families, but also in our communities and on Earth. And, in her opinion, this implies a much more autonomous thought process, education and lifestyle.