Book Review: I Learn Better By Teaching Myself and Still Teaching Ourselves by Agnes Leistico

In 1990 Agnes Leistico published a book called I Learn Better By Teaching Myself. In 1996 she published a second book, Still Teaching Ourselves. In that second book she relates the following story from a Michigan mother who had ordered Agnes’s first book:

“After I opened the package, the book (I Learn Better By Teaching Myself) sat on the couch. When my 7 year old homeschooled son noticed it, he read the title and said, “Hey, Mom! You see this? This is what I am trying to tell you!”

I love that story.

Agnes Leistico homeschooled her three children in California in the 1980’s and 90’s. One by one she and her husband made the decision to pull each of their children out of school due to various problems, beginning with her oldest, Jim, who went to public school until the 6th grade, and then later bringing home their two younger daughters, Laurie and Susan. Eventually, each child chose to go back to public school in high school.

Agnes began her career life as a teacher, but she quickly found that the children she worked with resisted her efforts to make them learn what she was teaching them. She also worked in adult education and she found that, because adults were coming to her classes of their own choice, working with them was enjoyable. She quit teaching children but continued in adult education and the experiences she gained there greatly influenced how she eventually came to view her own children’s education. She came to realize that it was possible to allow children the same freedom to acquire knowledge as we allow adults.

Agnes embraced what she refers to as ‘interest initiated learning’ as her style of homeschooling her children. She defines interest initiated learning as “…that learning which the learner herself controls and initiates according to her own interests. Learning is guided by internal personal priorities, not imposed from the outside. The learner herself chooses when and how to learn about a given topic or skill. The teacher only enters into the learning process when invited to do so.”

Agnes wrote her first book because she had not heard of any books which addressed how parents can implement interest initiated learning. “I wrote I Learn Better By Teaching Myself because I saw the need for a book that encourages parents to follow their own instincts and to trust their children…. Still Teaching Ourselves reaffirms my strong belief that parents need to follow their personal parenting instincts and to trust their students to know what is best for them.”

Agnes’s writing alternates between very detailed descriptions of learning experiences with each of her children and more general, reflective thoughts about parenting and learning. I cannot possibly do justice to the combined 330 pages of her books. By the time I had finished re-reading them both for this review, I had 35 passages marked that I felt were so helpful, clear, intelligent and succinct that I wanted to quote each of them here.

There is so much wisdom in these books. I would like to devote my next post to sharing some of Agnes’s messages about education and learning, families and relationships, children and trust. If you would like to read her books yourself, they are out of print but can easily be found for a reasonable cost at online used booksellers or, if you live in Wisconsin, through WisCat.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: I Learn Better By Teaching Myself and Still Teaching Ourselves by Agnes Leistico

  1. These sound really interesting, sort of John Holt-ish? I love John Holt and brought a copy of “Learning All The Time” with me. I’d like to hear the perspective of a parent who raised children letting them learn what they want when they want. Could I borrow a copy this summer?

    • You can absolutely borrow these when you get back from Greece! I had these books checked out from the library for so long that I finally purchased them to keep. I love to loan out books! I have read bits of John Holt’s writing here and there but have not read any of his books from cover to cover. He has so many that I don’t know where to start. He was an interesting man and his books are on my long list of reading. If you are interested, when you finish Learning All The Time you could write a bit about it on my blog for me. Thanks so much for writing Angie – comments from readers are so encouraging!

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