Learning as a Commons

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* Article: Learning as an Open Road, Learning as a Commons. By Claudia Gómez-Portugal M. In: Patterns of Commoning.

URL = http://patternsofcommoning.org/learning-as-an-open-road-learning-as-a-commons/



"All these questions made us want to reinvent learning as something deeply connected with the joy of life and something that requires care. They strengthened our desire to ensure that we could connect life and learning in our children’s lives, and also in other people’s lives, and especially in our own. We wanted to open up a path that everyone could take, a path through which we would reinvent ourselves and define what to do, a path on which we would expand our means, opportunities, and skills to learn and take action, and together with other people experience and bring about the vitality that lies in learning itself.

That is how we came to establish Camino Abierto, the Open Road, a space for pursuing alternative forms of learning and living on this planet. The name refers to the poem “Song of the Open Road,” written by Walt Whitman in 1856. Camino Abierto sees itself as a community for self-directed learning. This is where we try to integrate learning and living, and in the process, build community ties. Our group includes families whose children go to schools and others whose children do not. We meet on a regular basis to exchange views, and we organize common activities, tours and outings as well as workshops that everyone can participate in.

Our starting point is our own interests, creativity and skills. Every month we compile a calendar with all activities that we want to do. For example, we learn about the balance of life in the orchard and in the biology of the region, about the natural world with expert talks and hiking. We are developing a new global consciousness through our film club. We get to know ourselves through contact with nature, exploring our comfort zones and our boundaries. We learn to reinvent ourselves in the meeting with others, and we learn about the power of the word in reading groups where we grapple our feelings towards others. We work on social integration, occupying the public space where we use bicycles, tricycles and roller skates2 – which requires redesigning the public space – and we create communal spaces, designing projects for community parks and orchards. In short: We shape and live learning as commons!

Building and revitalizing our community are the most meaningful, essential and useful learning of our time. It takes place from a local initiative in a small and human scale. People assume that learning happens naturally; they integrate it into their family lives and in a natural way, and it leads to actions. Thus the very process of creating networks for mutual support results in more resources and relationships becoming available – and over time, this brings about a learning-friendly context and spaces of communality."


"“Learning as a commons” is a challenge because it always has to be rethought and re-enacted with others. Also, in contrast to homeschooling, it must take place within the community itself. The challenge lies in developing unique living environments in which children and youth can take courses, work on projects, solve problems, or simply play. Learning as commoning must create an ambiance that is embedded in active life, and in which there is no room for coercion, pressure, manipulation, threats and anxiety. Such “learning communities” do not seek to imitate school, but rather to create environments in which the people involved do things, and in which they do better and better at what they are doing, not least because they themselves benefit from it. Learning in this way is encouraged. Girls, boys, youths, men and women all have the capacity to learn for themselves, provided they are interested, are offered a suitable context, and have the resources and the liberty to do so.

Real learning empowers us to decide how we spend our time and how we give the world meaning – from our identities and relationships with others. That is how learning sticks; people understand and remember it, and it is useful for taking care of ourselves, others and nature. Curiosity and creativity are at the center of attention – and they can unfold in horizontal networks among similarly minded people, supporting solidarity and exchange. At the same time, such a process opens up substantial individual potential for development. All this creates the conditions for people to shape their lives themselves and to live life to the fullest. In other words: learning is living. Learning as commoning has an impact beyond the learning itself. It affects family life in different convivial forms, gender relations, and the organization of work, time and good living. It is a process for building another basis of understanding.

Instead of education what we really need, in the words of Gustavo Esteva, the founder of the Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca, is “to find ways to regenerate community in the city, to create a social fabric in which we all, at any age, would be able to learn and in which every kind of apprenticeship might flourish.…When we all request education and institutions where our children and young people can stay and learn, we close our eyes to the tragic social desert in which we live.”

It is hard for us at Camino Abierto to imagine approaching learning from a culture of individualism, yet at the same time, most of us are not deeply embedded in communities. The reality of our lives does not correspond to the commons."