Lifelong Learning: Thoughts on the Journey vs. End Results

by Jennifer Hartley

This is the third essay in a series on the topic of why our family is homeschooling (Part I is here and Part II is here).

Focusing on the journey, rather than any final achievements, seems to be part of my rationale for homeschooling — counteracting the cultural impetus towards “progress,” particularly destructive progress, by focusing on the path rather than the destination. When you suspect that humanity is headed for near-term extinction, is there a sane alternative?

Conventional schooling focuses on grades and tests. Even when lofty ideals are presented such as nurturing lifelong learning and respecting the individual process of each child, when grades and testing are present, there is invariably a sense that those are the paramount “achievements” rather than merely markers of achievement. (Dubious markers though they are — I seriously question what they’re actually measuring.) And if one questions the usefulness of grades and testing, one is countered with, “What about getting into a good college?” And if one questions the usefulness of college, one is faced with, “How do you expect your child to get a decent job?”

I’m here questioning all of that. I don’t believe that our current regime of conventional schooling, college, and “decent” jobs is producing a culture that we can live with and thrive in. I believe that it’s perpetuating the conditions that are killing us and thousands of other (blameless) species.

I also believe that it’s likely too late to reverse the murderous effects of a greedy, competitive culture. Even if we had a mass consensus to drop out of society and operate on radically different principles, we have initiated dangerous feedback loops that can’t be undone.

How can one face into this reality as a parent, or as any person with a conscience? I’m trying, hard, and with considerable anguish, to let go of attachment to final outcomes. To let go of “achievement.” To let go of “measuring up” or “being good enough.” To let go of “fixing” or “saving the world.” To let go of others’ approval, others’ definitions of success. There is no winning this mirage of a game. This is why I’m focusing on the path rather than the end results. We know the end results already, for all of us: death. We have not found a solution for death.

Our path seems to be about learning for its own sake; learning things that are useful and beautiful; and minimizing suffering.

With an overlay of pressure, tests, and grades, it can be difficult to appreciate the intrinsic value of learning. It can also be difficult to retain knowledge beyond its application to completing tests. Who are we without external assessment? Is the value in the grades, or the knowledge? The excitement and interest of the learner? Who gets to decide? As homeschoolers, we get to decide. I have heard that in democratic schools, such as Free Schools or Sudbury Schools, there is also such freedom to decide on the part of all involved.

I am a bit of a sentimental fool about scholarship. My heart remains wedded to the idea of passionate learning and research in a community of scholars. I was continually disappointed in academia in this regard; I thought if I could just jump through all the requisite hoops of school and college and grad school and the job market, that there could be a golden land of true scholarship, driven purely by intellectual passion, somehow beyond the reach of “the economy,” or competition or one-ups-manship or having to bend to hierarchy and domination. How wrong I was. But on the other side of that disappointment, I’ve come to realize that true scholarship can be achieved by anyone who seeks it, no matter one’s age or markers of supposed success. It’s possible to find mentors, inspiration, and fellow scholars in both obvious and unlikely places. As long as we love to learn, as long as that love is not extinguished, we can employ strategies for true scholarship.

I had a role model in this regard. My late grandfather, Luigi (“Gigi”) Foschi, was my prototype of a true scholar. He was born in 1912 into a working-class family and lived in Bologna, Italy, where he was a colonel in the Italian army. He did not go to college. (My parents were the first in their families to go to college.) Gigi was not enamored of the institutional structures of life; he was in the army because it was a job, not a calling. He held the Catholic Church at arm’s length, and had a particular disdain for priests. He had the same sort of fundamental distrust of Italian government that most Italians have. His true path, however, was that of intense, devoted, self-initiated scholarship.

What Gigi loved most were history, art, and architecture, particularly that of Bologna, but extending to most of Europe. He taught himself Spanish and French and also learned a decent chunk of English once my mother met my American father. He eagerly recited poetry from memory and wrote poems of his own, particularly in honor of family events. Gigi traveled, photographed, and wrote essay after essay in longhand with titles such as “The Bells of Europe” or “Sundials of Europe.” He did a great deal of independent research. He spent many hours guiding me and my sister around Bologna, giving us animated, in-depth disquisitions on the history and grandeur of sites both noted and obscure; occasionally passers-by would stop and listen as well to our own personal Cicerone. He would also regularly frequent the large Gothic basilica of San Petronio and meet people from around the world and offer to show them around, for free. (If they offered to pay him, he said he would only accept a postcard from their home country. He had a box full of these postcards.)

His enthusiasm for lifelong learning affected me deeply. His example enabled me to claim my own passion for learning, and to seek to nurture this quality in my child. As we stare down the abyss, I want to make every day of being alive count. I don’t want us to waste time trying to impress others or bow to their expectations or jump through their hoops. I want us to revel in the greatest joys—immersion in the beauty of the natural world, freedom to learn what is most useful and beautiful, the ability to fulfill our need for integrity as human beings.

I wonder what Gigi would have thought of homeschooling. I’m fairly certain it would have been a distinctly foreign concept to him, but I think he would have been interested. And I wonder what he would make of the disasters that lie at our feet. He endured the horrors of World War II; he described to me how awful war is, and how fortunate we were to be living in a time and place of relative peace (he said this to me in the 1980s). His vivid stories remain an anchor in my consciousness, grounding me in the reality of both suffering and joy.


Jennifer Hartley is a homeschooling mother, radical homemaker, permaculturally inspired gardener, and local food activist. She was a founding board member of the non-profit Grow Food Northampton, and lives on a budding, quarter-acre homestead with her family in western Massachusetts. She is also a former reference librarian and still gets excited about connecting people with resources and ideas, helping people evaluate information, and collecting scads of books. These days she and her daughter can be found reading books, making art, singing a lot, harvesting and preserving food, playing with numbers, and having deep conversations. Jennifer loves sharp hand tools, mows with a scythe, and splits wood with an axe.

Comments 121

  • And here comes the clowns…errr.. I mean the culling begins.

    ‘WHO warns Ebola out of control in Democratic Republic of Congo: deaths rise to 31’

    Just wait and see how it goes…

  • No wisdom in parroting others?

  • And on the USA police state scenario some gains for you guys…

    ‘US Totalitarianism Loses Major Battle As Judge Permanently Blocks NDAA’s Military Detention Provision’

    From the article:

    “Back in January, Pulitzer winning journalist Chris Hedges sued President Obama and the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, specifically challenging the legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force or, the provision that authorizes military detention for people deemed to have “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.” Hedges called the president’s action allowing indefinite detention, which was signed into law with little opposition fromeither party “unforgivable, unconstitutional and exceedingly dangerous.” He attacked point blank the civil rights farce that is the neverending “war on terror” conducted by both parties, targetting whom exactly is unclear, but certainly attaining ever more intense retaliation from foreigners such as the furious attacks against the US consulates in Egypt and Libya…

    From Reuters:

    The permanent injunction prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a portion of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions.

    The opinion stems from a January lawsuit filed by former New York Times war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and others. The plaintiffs said they had no assurance that their writing and advocacy activities would not fall under the scope of the provision.

    Government attorneys argued that the executive branch is entitled to latitude when it comes to cases of national security and that the law is neither too broad nor overly vague.

    “This court does not disagree with the principle that the president has primacy in foreign affairs,” the judge said, but that she was not convinced by government arguments.

    “The government has not stated that such conduct – which, by analogy, covers any writing, journalistic and associational activities that involve al Qaeda, the Taliban or whomever is deemed “associated forces” – does not fall within § 1021(b)(2).”…”

    One step forward, one step sideways…

  • Jennifer

    I remember when my son, then about five years old, said to me out of the blue “Daddy, I don’t want to die”. My answer was a lot like yours, except I said he had a long time to live yet and not to worry about dying. He obviously took note of the time aspect, because the next time he mentioned death it was “Daddy, I don’t want you and Mummy to die”.

    I miss so much the time when the children were very young and could make statements like that. So enjoy your daughter being young while you can. Now he is nine, my son spends every weekend at the local computer shop (internet cafe) playing multi-player online games with his friends and would much rather do that than spend time with his family. My daughter, being less sensitive, has never mentioned death and being female is, thankfully, unlikely ever to get into computer games.


    If you can really read your mail whilst asleep I think you should contact James Randi. Until it’s proven, I’ll remain sceptical.

    Kathy C

    My thoughts on life and death are so similar to yours. I’m very anti religion whether Eastern or Western; it’s all nonsense to me. However, given that when it comes down to it we know so little about why the universe came into being and why it is like it is (science can only every model and never say why) I do retain (slim) hope of an after life. If there isn’t one, I’ll never know.

    Morocco Bama

    I have loved movies about dreams ever since I saw Dreamscape. I’ll comment more on this thread once a new essay has been posted. Only film I can think of that I’ve seen recently and liked and you may not have seen is “Hesher”.

  • ulvfugl I do not split mind and matter at all. The mind is part of my body, arising as my body grew from one cell to many and disappearing when my body parts return to the earth.

    Yorchichan why hope for an afterlife when you have no way of knowing what it might be like?

    “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

    ― Mark Twain

  • Meanwhile
    Arctic sea ice decline continues
    The image below, from The Cryosphere Today, shows that Arctic sea ice has shrunk in area by 11.44645 million square km from March 28, 2012, to September 12, 2012, a fall of about 83½ percent in 166 days.

  • And at
    A more detailed explanation on how they think HAARP might be used to prevent methane build up in the Atmosphere. Interesting analogy he makes to the Alamo -does he not know that Col. Travis lost the Alamo, does he think this Alamo can be won, or does his subconscious know we have already lost.
    He writes in summary of his call to action re the Arctic
    We need to act
    We are facing impossible odds with regard to the Arctic ocean methane release and in the same way that Colonel Travis drew a line at the Alamo to ask for volunteers to help him defend the mission against Santa Ana’s massive Mexican army, I am drawing a virtual line through the snow on the top of the Arctic ice pack to ask for volunteers to defend the American people from the fast-gathering Arctic methane global firestorm.

    We desperately need dedicated scientists and engineers to volunteer to develop an effective ‘action at a distance’ method of destroying the Arctic oceanic methane clouds as they are erupting from the sea surface and entering the stratosphere and mesosphere. If the United States can land giant rovers on the mars with a skycrane, surely American engineers and scientists are up to this challenge. We need to get rid of as much of this atmospheric methane as we can, to drop the polar temperatures to reasonable levels. This will of course have to go hand in hand with a massive cut back in carbon dioxide emissions from all developed and developing countries.

  • “If you can really read your mail whilst asleep I think you should contact James Randi. Until it’s proven, I’ll remain sceptical.”

    Randi is a proven fraud and liar himself, a disreputable, self-serving charlatan, for whom I have nothing but contempt. Why would i want to have anything to do with him ? I’m not the slightest bit interested in his million dollars or his self-publicizing ego games.

    Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as ‘proven’ in science, it’s a mathematical and philosophical concept. Modern science talks only of probabilities. For those who are open-minded, there’s mountains of evidence for psi phenomena, or what Robin termed siddhis.

    I didn’t say I read the mail. I could see what lay on the floor, and know what was there.
    Am I supposed to believe your uninformed scepticism, or my own lying eyes, when I go down the stairs and find what I already knew to be there, every day for years ?

    You, and others, can remain sceptical and believe whatever you wish, I’m not trying to evangelize or convert people. The CIA and US DOD and other covert agencies have spent billions of dollars researching this stuff. There’s enormous quantities of experimental data available, quite apart from anecdotal evidence from diverse cultures all around the world.

  • “..I do not split mind and matter at all. The mind is part of my body, arising as my body grew from one cell to many and disappearing when my body parts return to the earth.”

    No, Kathy, you don’t understand. It’s not what ‘you do’, it’s the belief system that you espouse, which originates from Descartes ( although traces back to Aristotle ).

    When you say that ‘mind arises when one cell grows to many’, this is not your personal original idea that you initiated independently of your cultural background. Ideas have histories, genealogies, archaeologies, lineages. There was a time when nobody would have spoken in terms of cells and embryology. Those concepts come from science, from biology, from medicine. Their history is well-recorded.

    Understand, I’m not saying that you are wrong, or that those ideas are wrong. But they are not the only way of looking at the phenomena, there are many other alternative views which also make claims to truth and accuracy and have histories, for example, Robin’s mention of siddhis, which dates back far longer to Vedic India.

    An alternative to your view, that life/mind/consciousness arises when sperm fertilises egg and ends when the body dies and returns to the earth, might be that mind is always everywhere, in all things, and not dependent upon attachment to some separate physical form.

    But that is only one alternative, there are plenty of others, both traditional and novel contemporary speculations.

    I presume you want a belief system to be established according to the scientific evidence, I think you said that a few weeks ago. So do I. There lies the problem. Current mainstream scientific paradigms, re consciousness and reality, do not match up to nor explain the evidence adequately. It’s a contested area. IMO, the cartesian paradigm is obsolete and must be discarded.

  • Yorchichan, your reply to Kathy C. : My thoughts on life and death are so similar to yours. I’m very anti religion whether Eastern or Western; it’s all nonsense to me. However, given that when it comes down to it we know so little about why the universe came into being and why it is like it is (science can only every model and never say why) I do retain (slim) hope of an after life. If there isn’t one, I’ll never know.

    Makes no sense. You hold a belief. You just stated it. You reject other beliefs, as nonsense. You just stated that too. I reject your non-belief as nonsense.

    As Kathy said to you, why would you hope for an afterlife, slim or otherwise ? That makes even less sense.

  • (Btw, thanks for posting video, Robin, much appreciated.)

    How meditation can re-shape your brain

  • WE’RE SAVED!!!

    I just an article in our monthly electric cooperative magazine about how wonderful, reliable, and cheap our electricity is going to be once the grid is magically rebuilt.

    No mention of how this is going to be accomplished, nor who will pay for it, nor what we do in the meantime when things start to fail, but it’s coming – perhaps as soon as 2030 – and it’s going to be wonderful!

  • With thanks to Jennifer for her fine essay, and also to Robin Datta, I’ve posted a new essay by the latter. It’s here.

  • ulvfugl Wrong – I reject Descartes. My husband has his PhD in Philosophy had a good laugh when I told him what you wrote about me. I asked him if I had ever expressed any view that agreed with Descartes – he said absolutely not. I think you misunderstand something – either what I am saying or more likely what Descartes was saying. I will go with the professional philospher’s opinion of my beliefs and trust me he has heard them all :)

  • Regarding remote viewing, (as mentioned in my reply to Yorchichan above ) for anyone sceptical but open minded, you can read here how seriously it had been taken by people with a lot of money and power, e.g CIA

  • Kathy C. I have read Descartes, and many commentaries upon what he said, I don’t accept I misunderstand what Descartes said.

    Quite possible that I misunderstand what YOU think, indeed highly likely seeing as all I have to go one is comments on this blog, :-) but that was NEVER the point was it, or at least, not the point I was trying to convey.

    It’s about the cultural paradigm, the belief system, the context within which the ideas that you expressed are embedded.

    Regardless of the profession of your husband, all ideas have histories, originators, and they come with all the paraphernalia of someone’s worldview attached to them.

    Descartes ( an extremely peculiar individual ! ) had to operate within his social and cultural circumstances, and if he wanted to pursue his speculations, he risked upsetting the powers of the day ( the Catholic Church ) so he came up with the formulation which gave scientists the rights to explore the material, the physical, but kept science well away from the spiritual and immaterial.

    That was a pragmatic political expediency, but it has continued, in science, ever since, and become an unconscious dogma among scientists. It has NO scientific justification. There’s no empirical or philosophical basis for that dualism, it was arbitrary.

    You make the statement that life originates with sperm and egg. But there’s no experimental evidence to support that claim, if what you mean by life is the conscious awareness of existence, mind, the being we experience. The relationship between biochemical life and consciousness remains utterly obscure and enigmatic. I mean, you’re perfectly entitled to hold a view, as am I, and anyone else, but it’s not more than a belief, it’s faith, not science.

    How do molecules, biochemistry, become consciousness ? The answer is NOBODY knows. What is the ultimate nature, the locality, the beginning and end, of this consciousness ? The answer is NOBODY knows. Sure, there’s myriad opinions, but that’s not science, is it.

  • Kathy and ulvfugl

    I hope for an afterlife because I don’t want to die. Isn’t it true that nobody wants to die apart from a few who are in great physical or mental pain? In particular I don’t like the thought of never seeing those I love again. I don’t find it contradictory to believe religion is nonsense and yet hope for an afterlife. It’s simply a belief that nobody else has any more knowledge of whether or not there is an afterlife than I do.


    When I was a child I was lying in bed one night when I had an image in my mind of my maternal grandfather and I knew he had died. When there was a knock on the door half an hour later I knew it was my grandmother come to tell my mother that my grandfather had died. Turned out I was correct on both counts. Do I take this as evidence of anything supernatural? I’m afraid not! The memory plays tricks and it could be that things did not happen exactly as I remember now. So, if I don’t believe your story of being able to identify the type of mail delivered (or could it be bills make a different sound to personal letters and you could detect this in your sleep?), don’t be offended because I don’t even believe my own stories! I’d like to believe the both of us, because this would provide possible evidence of existence outside of the body and hence hint at the possibility of an afterlife, but I don’t.

    Also when I was a child I sometimes had terrifying experiences where I would be lying in bed and feel an evil presence in the room and I would want so badly to scream out to fetch my parents but I was unable to because the presence prevented me from doing so. Now I know that this was sleep paralysis, but not knowing any better at the time I did put it down to evil spirits.

    Why’s James Randi a fraud anyway? Did he refuse to pay out when somebody produced evidence of the paranormal? I knew already you would not be motivated by the money from what you have written here. I was only a tiny bit serious about you contacting him.

    I agree totally about science being about probabilities rather than proof. It’s essentially the same as saying that science only models reality and the models can only ever be approximations.

    Morocco Bama

    Strangely, I’ve never seen Inception although I know I’d like it. My favourite movie of all time is Mulholland Drive which is about dreams in at least two ways. This was the only movie that changed my mood for days afterwards the first time I watched it; others have done so for a few hours, but never for days. Jacob’s Ladder is another of my favourites and similar to Mulholland Drive.

  • Btw, I don’t think there is anything especially controversial in what I just said above, afaik, it reflects the mainstream consensus amongst cultural historians, philosophers of science, and the like. I do have my own personal views which some people would indeed consider far-fetched and cranky, but that’s not them… ;-)

  • Yorchichan, I think it is really, really sad that you doubted what your own being was telling you, re your grandfather. I think that is how modern soceity corrupts, damages and poisons us all, so we become alienated from our true selves.

    I have also been through that stage of doubting, but eventually things happened that cannot be denied or conveniently explained away, where all my doubts fell away.

    That said, this is difficult territory. There are countless lunatics and charlatans who exploit gullible people, knowing full well what they are doing is dishonest. I suppose my position is in support of the scientific investigation of mysticism, so I have to fight off the New Age woowoo peddlers who have no scepticism about anything, on one side, and the hardline rationalist, materialist idealogues who don’t believe anything that wasn’t in their college text books, on the other side.

    I can’t be bothered to explain re Randi, yuck !

  • Look, Yorchichan, when you say, re the letters, and your grandfather, that the mind plays tricks, or there could be subliminal clues, whatever, what you are attempting, is to fit the facts into your preconceived theory of reality, the one that has been taught to you by the culture you grew up in.

    What I’m saying, is that that does not work. It’s the fundamental cultural paradigm that is wrong. ( Of course, it’s not just wrong re these extraordinary phenomena, it’s wrong because its destroying the planet, the only place where we can live, which is even more serious . But to stick to this particular issue). People will argue against odd psychic phenomena, because they cannot be explained by the model they have been taught.

    But that model itself is wrong ! We KNOW it’s wrong, because it cannot be reconciled with the quantum mechanics which we know is right, because its the understanding of quantum physics which permits this computer, this communication, this internet.

    I maintain that the old understanding of ‘reality’, a mechanistic physicalism, deriving from Newton, Descartes, Leibniz, Bacon, etc, (which produced modern science, but which has been obsolete for a century), needs to be updated, in all our minds. The mental models have to be revised and brought into line with the actual evidence. That’s a hard thing to do. Kuhnian paradigm shifts and all that. You have to wait for the old professors to die, because they’d rather die than change their beliefs :-)

  • “This is one of the most fascinating and amazing things that I have ever personally experienced. Neil and I spent a couple months learning remote viewing with ex-government remote viewers as research for an article/book. This is the real deal, not new age bullshit. Paul Smith is not a sensationalist or fringe crank. This is hard science, not flim flam. He will speak on remote viewing and give a training session to those in attendance. This is not to be missed!”