Interview with Lainie Liberti and Miro Siegel – The world is our classroom

By Maylis Buonomo - Mar 15th, 2016

When they started what was supposed to be a one-year mother-and-son trip in 2009, Lainie and Miro never expected to create a community sharing experiences about ‘world schooling’ and certainly no intention of leaving their ‘normal lives’ for so long. Seven years later and still traveling, they describe themselves as ‘unschoolers’ - natural lifelong learners - and like to see the world as their classroom. We discussed their learning processes, their expectations for the day of the talk and the message they would like to share about education.

What does #BorntoLearn mean to you?

Miro: Humans are born to learn, people learn their entire lives, inside of school and outside of school. We have this hunger for learning, for knowledge; and I believe that true and lasting learning is mostly found outside of school.

Lainie: My answer would be similar to Miro’s. When my son and I first started traveling together in 2009, I realized that learning was a natural process, and my son would learn naturally from all around us. Together we quite intentionally transformed the world into our classroom. Initially, I believed my role would be that of my son's facilitator, being there to encourage his learning, prompting him to go deeper when his interests were stirred and researching in many directions inspired through our experiences. I did all that, but what happened as a result, I could have never imagined. Through my role as my son's learning partner I too became a ‘learner’. Seven years and still traveling with Miro, I have shifted my opinion about what learning actually is and realize that we are all learning throughout our lives and that indeed we were born to learn.

What motivated you to get involved in education/learning?

L: Wow, I never had an intention to become involved in ‘education’ in any way. I often say we became accidental unschoolers (also known as ‘natural learners’) as a result of our traveling. We noticed that through travel we couldn't help but to learn.

Initially, Miro and I set out for what was to be a one-year mother-and-son backpacking trip throughout the Americas. I knew intuitively that my son would learn more on the road than he would ever learn in a conventional school classroom, which proved to be the case. When we realized that neither of us were 'trying' to learn, we were simply learning through experience, interest, play and freedom, I became more interested in researching about the topic of education and learning. After I discovered there was a name for what we were doing (unschooling) we decided to continue this learning-travel-adventure and became learning partners to amazing results!

What’s the last thing you’ve learnt?

M: I would say the Mayan culture, mythology and philosophy, here in Mexico.

L: We have just spent the last 4 months in Mexico and it gave us the chance to dive deep into the culture, history, anthropology, archaeology, traditions and rituals. It’s an actual living experience of learning. Miro wrote a poem about Mayan history inspired by our experiences and his personal research. I think it’s a great example of what we do: transform the content of our leaning into personal expressions. I paint and draw, and Miro is passionate about literature, prose and poetry, so writing becomes his platform for expression. We take what is outside and process it through our own talents, so the experiences become meaningful and result in deep learning. For us, our motivation to learn is intrinsic and travel experiences prompt the inspiration. Maybe Miro could share his poem.

M: Sure. The poem is called The Fall of Maya –

The Fall of Maya

The stones still stand,

but the culture is dead,

time the vessel withstands,

but its lifeblood has been bled.

The metropolis lies in ruins

for me they have forgotten,

but it was the Spaniard’s doing,

promoting blind doctrine.

I have watched from their birth,

enlightening in ages dark,

guiding Maya’s earth,

from within Ceiba’s bark.

Yet now they worship oligarchs,

forgetting origins rooting spark,

for catastrophe they embark,

doomed by the material mark.

They have lost the mystic,

choosing the divine,

a turn most pessimistic,

choosing sky over vine.

And now I fade away,

my people’s beliefs astray,

forgotten, a dying ray,

begotten, I dismiss the day.

What do you hope to learn on the day of the event and from being part of TEDxAmsterdamED?

L: I am truly fascinated by education and learning. I can’t wait to learn about the ways others define the question, ‘what is education?’ and how some may look at learning outside of the conventional walls of a school classroom. I am interested in learning what motivates people to reframe the question, ‘what is learning’.

M: And I’m interested in seeing how other people’s learning processes are different from ours.

If you had to sum up the message of your TEDxAmsterdamED Talk in one sentence, what would it be?

L: I think our message is based on redefining the answer to the question, ‘what is education?’ For us, it is no longer about exams; it’s about experiential learning, stepping outside of our comfort zone, learning in community, trusting the process and reframing the question altogether.

M: I would say, ‘The world is our classroom’. After all, education is not result-based, it’s human based.

Can you share a quote or a person that has inspired you in the field of education?

L: It’s not a proper education quote, but it can apply to it: ‘One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’ - Henry Miller

M: I was actually just reading some Euripides as I'm doing some research on Greek culture. I thought this might be an appropriate quote: ‘Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.’ – Euripides

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