Sean Deakins is an 8th Grader in the Aurora Waldorf School in Anchorage, Alaska. I wondered how a young man sees his own learning. At 13, his experience is filled with intense learning. McLuhan said, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.” I was curious to see if, like a fish, Sean was unable to see the ‘water’ he was swimming in.
Sean’s very first answer said that he was ahead of me. When I asked if he were able to keep his knowledge fresh, what would he see that would tell him so. He replied, “I’m not sure about that. There are so many things that I could see. If I was able to do so, I may not see anything because I would think it is normal.”
When asked about lessons he had learned well, Sean was quick to answer as he described his earlier love of knights and castles. “I read books – lots of books, I asked my parents to tell me about Europe, I built dioramas of battles, I spent time on the computer, and I used my own imagination.” I loved that last point. How often we forget that learning is about integrating it all through our imagination. And just look at the passion that drove him beyond anything from school or anything that would be directed by an adult. He wanted to learn about knights and castles.
Sean was also aware of learning by just looking. “When I was 5, I went to Pacific City [Oregon] and discovered spiders who lived in the sea. I was searching in one of the pools on the beach and saw a shell, and when I picked it up, it had 8 legs! I still go to the ocean and just look – under rocks, pieces of coral, whatever.”
This was a very different conversation about keeping fresh knowledge flowing into your life. Here was a person who was in the midst of a torrent of fresh knowledge pouring in practically every moment. His perceptions and stories might appear trivial until you look beneath and see that the learning was happening as if on steroids.
Claudia L’Amoreaux, one of the people featured in Riding the Current, once told me that children are learning machines. “You can’t stop them from learning,” she said. I remember when Sean encountered Second Life the first time. (Second Life is a virtual world on the Internet where you visit with your own avatar.) After two hours, he had figured out more things to do there than I had in weeks of exposure. She was right. Children are learning machines.