Introduction from Peter
About five years ago, when Gina Riley and I were considering where to publish our survey of unschooling families, we were delighted to discover the Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, which has the wonderful acronym JUAL (pronounced jewel). For those of us conducting formal research on informal education JUAL is a jewel of a journal.
Recently, JUAL reached the 10th anniversary of its founding, and, in honor of that, we at Tipping Points, decided to interview JUAL’s founder and editor-in-chief, Carlo Ricci, a professor of education at Nipissing University, in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. I believe that all people interested in Self-Directed Education, both inside and outside of academia, would do well to familiarize themselves with the content of this free, open sourcereadily accessible, highly readable academic journal.
Carlo, congratulations on 10 years of JUAL! Can you tell our readers something about why you founded JUAL? What need were you trying to fill? What expectations did you have for this new journal?
It must have been 2005 or 2006 when I started to think seriously about founding such a journal. I remember thinking that there is a need for an academic, peer-reviewed journal that focused primarily on what I now think of as willed learning. I wanted to provide an outlet for the wonderful research that people were already doing in this area and a stimulant for more such research. Ten years later, I am thrilled that the thought of starting the journal entered my being, that I was excited enough about the idea to act on it, and that I had a supportive community that made it possible.
From the beginning I wanted JUAL to be accessible and to bring people with related interests together. It was also important to me that it be an academic, peer-reviewed journal. [Editor’s note: Peer-reviewed means that articles undergo the critical scrutiny of other researchers and scholars, who raise questions about methodology and interpretations and make suggestions for revision, before acceptance for publication.] There were already a number of magazines dedicated to this type of learning, but none that were peer-reviewed and oriented primarily toward scholarly research. My thinking was that if academics had a respected place to publish their research in this area, then more of them might choose to do such research. Career advancement in academia–in gaining tenure, promotion, and recognition–is largely contingent on peer-reviewed publications. I saw it as a win-win situation, where the academics would benefit from within the institution and the rest of us would benefit from their insights. A person in academia can do wonderful research, but if that work is not published in a peer-reviewed journal they may fail to gain tenure and thereby lose their career.
It was important to me that JUAL be available, free of charge, to anyone with an Internet connection, whether or not they are associated with a university. I also wanted to make sure that those who contributed to the Journal would not have to pay a fee to have their papers published, as is the case with a growing number of other academic peer-reviewed journals. Some journals charge thousands of dollars to contributors, something that you can pay if you have a large grant, but is prohibitive to most new researchers.
Has your ten years of experience with JUAL met your initial expectations? Have there been any big surprises? What impact would you say the existence of the journal has had on the development of research, scholarship, or practice in the realm of Self-Directed Education and on your own career?
To date, JUAL has exceeded all of my expectations. I am especially thankful that I insisted that JUAL be open source and free. Without that, JUAL would not have benefited the large number of wonderful people that is has.
Many of the articles published in JUAL have had significant impacts. For example, one JUAL article won an international essay prize, and other articles have provided the foundation for subsequent books or book chapters. I have received countless emails from all over the world–from parents, young people, and unschoolers as well as academics–all sharing their stories, thoughts, and experiences and letting me know how JUAL has helped them in their own personal or professional ventures. I’ve also received many requests for permission to republish or link to JUAL articles.
The following list is a very small sample of the kind words people used to describe their feelings after reading JUAL: insightful, stimulating, expand my thinking, encouraged, great desire, passion, thrilled to discover JUAL, fan of the Journal, very excited, honored to be published in JUAL, esteemed journal, and so on. Contributors have shared that they are thankful that they have a friendly space to publish, and academics who have served as peer reviewers have commented that this has helped them make valuable connections with other researchers, with similar interests.
Over the years the Directory of Open Access Journals, and EBSCO approached me, and JUAL has become a part of both of those databases. I have also received and turned down several offers to have JUAL be exclusively part of a private for profit database. My intention has always been and still remains to make JUAL accessible to as many people as possible.
At one point, for just two days in 2009, we had a counter on the Journal site that counted the number times the Journal was accessed. During just those two days it was accessed 200 times, which is a very high rate of access for an academic Journal. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, the counter was subsequently taken down, so I don’t have further data on access rate.
On a personal level, I had not anticipated the number of warm and stimulating connections I have made with people throughout the world through JUAL. In preparing for this interview I reviewed the thousands of emails that I have received over the years and that exercise has been most gratifying and humbling. Some of these relationships developed into close friendships, and in some cases I stayed at their place when travelling with my family, and they stayed at ours when travelling with theirs. I also made connections through JUAL that resulted in the co-authoring of several books. One example is my friendship with Conrad Pritscher, who, unfortunately passed away before our book titled Holistic Pedagogy: The Self and Quality Willed Learning (2015) was published by Springer. I miss him dearly. Another example is the book titled Homeschooling in New View: A Reader (2016), which I co-edited with Bruce Cooper and Frances Spielhagen, published by Information Age Publishing.
My work with JUAL has also given me the chance to help mentor and guide up-and-coming scholars and gain insights from my relationship with them. Through JUAL, I have met students from other universities and even pre-university students who have contacted me asking for guidance regarding their research.
As you know, Tipping Points is the online magazine of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE). We have many hundreds of readers, most of whom are involved in one way or another with Self-Directed Education (SDE), whether through home education (unschooling) or through a school or learning center designed for SDE. In what ways might familiarity with the contents of JUAL be helpful to our readers? What would be the most direct way to gain that familiarity?
I believe that Tipping Points and JUAL are working to accomplish similar ends: A more personal, peaceful, loving, trusting, respectful, caring, and compassionate world for all learners. I believe that readers of Tipping Points would find great interest in the peer-reviewed articles in JUAL. The articles are academic, but they are very accessible and clear. Methodologically, some of the pieces are quantitative and some are qualitative. Over the years, I have had correspondences with young people, academics, parents, professionals, and novices who have found JUAL useful to them. The most direct way for people to gain that familiarity with JUAL is to visit the site. It is free and open access to everyone who has access to the Internet: http://jual.nipissingu.ca
What is required in order to publish in JUAL? Must authors be affiliated with a university? When someone submits a manuscript to the Journal, what is the process in deciding whether or not to publish it? Are there particular topics or methodologies that you are especially looking for at this point in the Journal’s existence?
Authors do not have to be affiliated with a university. Manuscripts are evaluated for their quality, irrespective of from whom they are submitted. We are open to all methodologies, whether qualitative or quantitative. In addition to publishing original research, the Journal also publishes review articles, thought-provoking essays, and book reviews. We are particularly interested in articles that focus on unschooling or life learning (for any age group, not just school aged children), learner centered democratic education, and limitations of the mainstream educational system. For more specific information, anyone thinking of submitting an article should read about the submissions process at the JUAL website, at: http://jual.nipissingu.ca/submissions/.
At this point, I want to thank all of the volunteers—the editorial board, peer reviewers, proofreaders, and other volunteers who have made and continue to make JUAL possible.
I sometimes receive emails from people who are interested in going to graduate school to conduct research on Self-Directed Education (or what you so aptly refer to as “willed learning”). They are wondering how to best pursue that interest. I’m never quite sure what to tell them. I wonder if your experiences with JUAL have led you to have any general words of advice for such people. For example, in your experience what sorts of academic departments are most open to such research–e.g. departments of psychology, education, sociology, anthropology? How might a person seek out a mentor in the academic world who would be most open to working with a graduate student in this area? Along the same line, what might the job market be for someone who completes, say, a Ph.D. in this realm?
I often get the same question and what I tell people is to seek out good, kind, compassionate, and supportive mentors. I believe they are out there in large numbers and that they are not exclusively located within particular departments. Navigating any faculty department is a political process and new scholars need to be aware going in that this is the case. It is always best for them to decide where they would like to study and then for them to begin reaching out, connecting, talking, and being blunt about what their objectives are.
I tell people outright that the most important decision they will make in a graduate program is whom they pick as their dissertation/thesis supervisor. They need to be prepared to ask tough questions around how the supervisor plans to bring together a committee that understands and supports the type of research the student is planning to conduct. It’s best to be proactive and to enter any scenario fully prepared, mindful, and aware.
In terms of job market, I was hired because the Dean at the time and the hiring committee were looking for someone who could challenge the students to think about things in different ways. They were looking for someone to provoke, someone who would share different ideas and perspectives. I like to believe that, in institutions of higher education, many faculties that are looking for good, compassionate, caring, loving people who are prepared to gently and humbly challenge the status quo and offer alternatives. I like to think of higher education as a place where we create new knowledge and visions, rather than simply train people in currently accepted standard practices.
Carlo, thank you so much for your time and valuable insights in this interview. And thank you, even more, for the wonderful service that you and JUAL are performing for all of us who are interested in Self-Directed Education. Long live JUAL!