Musing On Self-Directed Higher Learning (and revisiting my Folk College)

Browsing some saved bookmarks I rediscovered Zero Tuition College. Basically this website presents the concept of pursuing the goals of a four-year college education via various carefully considered self-directed means.   I love the ideas here, plus the support here for students of “Zero Tuition College”.  I’m reminded of my own self-directed program of study, via my invented Forest Halls Folk College.   I think Zero Tuition College carries my concept further, presenting the idea of creating a portfolio of study as part of packaging one’s learning into “deliverables”–concrete examples of the work you’ve done, so that others (including potential employers or even graduate programs) can understand what you have accomplished.

I love higher learning, and I loved college, but I can’t justify its standing as a sacred cow in our culture.  You need a four-year-degree to get a good job … to be highly educated … to … whatever.   To be, these days, in incredible debt (and your parents too).    I believe that for the most part, you can obtain the same results (or better) using one’s own initiative.  And I’m delighted that there is some support for this kind of self-directed learning.  I’m absolutely sure that more support will emerge in the near future.

Don’t get me wrong–if you want to go to college, or your kids want to–that’s fine!  I just think it’s more than time to reevaluate one’s choices in the area of higher education.  Online- and other means of learning and apprenticeship (not to mention the learning that takes place when you start a small business or pursue some other big project) is changing the opportunity landscape.  A four-year-degree at an accredited college is one path, but many others also exist.  And certainly learning to value your own learning, “packaging” your accomplishments (i.e., such as creating a portfolio or shaping your accomplishments in another form) can stand you well.

For fun, here is a link to a post I wrote a couple of years ago that details my wandering through self-directed higher education, including my  folk college, Folk College Roots.

The post (near the end) also happens to  include the poem “Wage Peace” by Judyth Hill, in response to 9/11.  As 9/11 is tomorrow, and the ten year anniversary, I encourage you all to read it.

Decluttering and Preideu Annwn: The Spoils Of Annwfyn

Here in the “North” of the year (energetically speaking: the archetype of the elders, ancestors, stones, ancient wisdom, the big picture, stepping back and reflecting, winter, midnight ….), I find myself winnowing my possessions, clearing my clutter. This reflective time of year lends itself to this task, both by way of the baring of the world, and in the pathway to the dark and demons that stirring up your stuff always brings.

From recycling scads of paper, and selling or giving away boxes of books, and passing on many treasures that I’ve done several times in the past years I know that I can survive this excavation of self — and that I never regret (at least not horribly) that which I’ve released into the world. But, my! Such internal trauma and drama in the simple act of pulling a binder out of a box and thinking: no! this knowledge was so hard won–how can I recycle these papers? I really want to relearn this … someday!

A Welsh Wood

Such it is with my binders of notes and papers and resources from my postgraduate study in Medieval Welsh Language and Literature, and other early British studies. I love Medieval Welsh, but I’ve only dipped into these resources seriously about once or twice in more than 20 years. I’ve survived recycling my “Paris In The 20s” literature class notes, and my “Medieval Mind” college notes, and even a couple of my incomplete novels. Even more important, I’ve felt the weight lifted, the relief that I’ve at last declared those chapters in my life complete, and I’m not carrying around all those ideas any more. And I know that if ever I wish to seek out those ideas and play with them again, I can.

Blessings and immeasurable benefits, not to mention magic, come my way when I realize it’s time to release my grasping hold on stuff (in my case, knowledge and past personal successes) and just let them go. But this doesn’t make the process easier (though it is fascinating).

My latest “ah-ha” in wrestling with my knowledge-and-ideas beastie is that I don’t have to throw it all out. What I do is open my binder and set out the papers. Then I decide if I even want to keep the binder. I hold it in my hand and ask myself: “Body, do I love this binder?” This may seem a silly question but I do have binders I love, and some that are so worn or torn that I hate them, but don’t realize it until I make myself notice them (as in clearing my clutter). Then I go page by page, asking myself if I love that piece of paper and what’s on it.

The process starts slow, but when I’m in the groove, my hands just rapidly move things into piles, no thinking mind engaged. And, when I’ve been particularly daring, I find the shivers of rightness running through me as I carefully place things in the recycling or in the garbage.

Sometimes I find myself totally mixed up–feeling tightness throughout my body, but unable to really decide what to do with my papers. Then I step away and journal about what I’m afraid will happen if I let this stuff go. I try and be gentle, and not force myself to let it go if I’m not ready. But I must admit that it tears at my mind until I finally make a decision.

In the case of my Medieval Welsh notes I know that I’ll never be the scholar of Medieval Welsh literature that I thought I might be at one point in my life. I love the tales, I love the myth, I love the language and poetry and poetic styles. I know now that I don’t need to be a scholar in the languages I love (Old English, Medieval Welsh and Middle English, Spanish ….), but I can play with the language in learning songs, or in naming things, inserting snippets of Old English poetry into my stories, or Medieval Welsh into the landscape of Forest Halls.

So, deep breath. I can save the glossaries I love, or the grammar (my Medieval Welsh teachers were passionate about laying out the material clearly and in a beautiful way). I may recycle the notes on the historical Taliesin’s elegaic poetry to Urien ap Rheged. Maybe I’ll keep only a few pages of things. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and decide that all of it is relevant to the me that lives and breathes and creates now in this jeweled time.

The invisible marten that just slinked up my arm whispers to me that all I need, maybe, is to learn (or relearn) a phrase or two from the old poetry, today, and maybe tomorrow too. The Red Fox grins, tongue dangling, reminding me that the Welsh landscape is not finished with me yet, even though my novel has migrated from Wales as its setting to the Pacific Northwest. I will need Wales sooner than I think. Though it may not be the Wales I’ve attempted to write about in the past. It might be some other kind of Wales, imagined or shapeshifted.

In the meantime, I offer you an experience of Medieval Welsh language and poetry with this video of Preideu AnnwnThe Spoils Of Annwfyn (the Otherworld). This poem may have been a prototype to the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail. Click here for the text and translation. I invite you to just absorb the language and the ancient words scrolling by. Let them speak to some forgotten place in your bones. What, if anything, sparks alive?

Another Poem For the Solstice

Were you able to view the eclipse last night? We passed a magical time in our front yard, watching the Moon move into the Umbra, the shadow of the earth, with the clouds from the coast moving in. The Moon was obscured and revealed by those dragon clouds. When the sky was clear, that blood rose Moon was a beauty, and all those winter stars — even light-obscured by the Bay Area — shone bright. Saw some shooting stars.

I can’t think of a more lovely way to have celebrated the Solstice than to have shared that time with my kids, the three of us lying down on the ground (!) in our front yard, and musing about this and that, and watching the magic of the Moon.

Here is another poem/lyric that I’ve set to music but have yet to record. I wrote it during the holidays of 1996, when Comet Hale-Bopp came through. The chorus was actually poetry my older daughter spoke and I notated (I often wrote down things she said as if they were poems — they sure sounded that way to me!).

I have memories of this House of Grace (as I call it), where I currently live from when I was a child, as it is the home my grandparents had built and lived in to near the end of their lives. These memories (chalk-drawings and gatherings) mingle with my grandparents’ ghosts, and my own astonishment at the Christmas season here in the Bay Area, where roses can bloom in the middle of winter ….


by Jane Valencia (c) 1996

Longest night
to shortest day
Deo gratias” in your gray-rose exhale
Far traveler,
you grace us
this day
this angel day

Mary, Moses, a winged griffin
heavenly guardians on Our Lady’s Way
you nod to us
yellow daisies
in your alabaster hands
bright as God’s eye

Are the butterflies
flying home
in their own little churches

There is the moon
growing through the trees

I’m looking at ancients
up in the sky at night
I wish I might
I wish —

Remembered voices of a midday meal
tasted on a sloping lawn
Chalk drawings reemerge
bright smudged, silver-tailed
And Grandma Bea, with her young girl’s smile
she hangs God’s clothes to dry

Enter the mist-garden
Grandpa Jay tends the newborn rose
winterfall petals float
into our celestial pond
One star, one eye
revealing the night sky
deepening the water-velvet dream.


We stroll the avenue
It’s Pleiades jeweled
constellations mirrored in the Christmas lights
There! Our messenger —
the blur takes form

She’s going to a place
where she’ll be happy this winter

Dear creature, we bid you farewell

You are a rush of light
after an age of ice and dust
We welcome a new night
after this shortest day
There was an ancient
up in the sky at night
Southward she flies
she flies —

Solor Earth — stamp art by Jane