Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year in Posts

Tonight, we say goodbye to the old year, and welcome in a new one (that link will only make sense if you like Doctor Who)!  And because I like making lists, and all the cool kids are doing it anyway, I decided to do a year end roundup of posts from the past 12 months: one post from each month that I especially liked, or that was especially popular, or whatever other reason I come up with.  It's really interesting going through old posts on this blog, to me, as I'm reminded of good days and bad, and see how my writing has grown and improved.  I hope you enjoy this selection (which, let me tell you, was VERY hard for me to pick)! 


 January
The Worth of Mud
"The act of playing in mud is every bit as beautiful, in it's own way, as taking joy in a beautifully constructed story, or the flowing lines of a poem."

February
How I Learned to Read and Write (linked in Peter Gray's article Children Teach Themselves to Read)
"From the time I was tiny, the people around me, my parents, were regular readers.  And from the time I was tiny, they read aloud to me.  Poetry, the newspaper, picture books, you name it.  Words were something I appreciated from a young age."

March
My 19th Birthday...
"On my birthday, the 16th of March, I woke up to a truly glorious day!  Bright sunshine, and record breaking warm temperatures!  How could I not be cheerful?  I danced around the house with the sunlight streaming through the windows, and even when I woke my sister and we had a bit of a disagreement, it passed quickly and the day continued in it's joyous flow..."


April
Unschooling Gets Publicity...In a BIG way!
"Unschooling has been moving steadily into the mainstream awareness in the last few years.  I've seen a marked increase in people talking about unschooling since I started paying attention to that type of thing a few years ago.  But never have I seen this level of attention."

May
A Trip to Gaspe (One of my absolute favorite posts of the whole year, actually)

remembering a day
when the sky landed on the beach
to play in the waves
that stretched long fingers
over the sand
  
June
 Bare Feet and Learning Connections (published on Enjoy Life Unschooling, not this blog)
"Unschoolers are the barefooted folk of the educational world. We’re the ones removing the barriers between our minds and the incredible array of experiences around us, kicking off constraints so we can feel the world as it truly is, in all its varied glory!"

July
Rain: A Poem

August
Cheap, Non-Chemically, DIY Body Care (aka, Baking Soda is Magic)
"There are many reasons I don't like store-bought shampoos, deodorants, soaps, creams, and other bodycare products.  Even the "natural" ones, though mostly better than your average pharmacy brands, have chemicals I'd really rather not use, and also tend to be really pricey!  I decided a while ago that there must be better options, and I'm slowly but surely going DIY for all of the products I used to buy from the store."

September
Misconceptions About Unschooling
"There are so, so many misconceptions out there, and most of the time I just let it all slide, but today I felt inspired to address a few of them..."

October
The Need For Schooling
"There are so many children in our world that need love, and food and shelter, and acceptance, and support, and trust.  No one *needs* schooling!"

November
Storytelling: An Art With Many Forms, or Why TV Shows Are Cool
"There's a big difference between passive absorption and active engagement.  The first is what I think most people against television picture when they think of TV: blank faced zombies sitting in absolute stillness in front of a flickering screen, their brains passively absorbing whatever passes over said screen.  Yet in my house, that's not how watching TV works."

December
Unschooling is Not Relaxed Homeschooling (the only original post in December, actually, and also my most commented on post ever!)
"You cannot unschool part time: for two hours a day or every Friday or one week out of every month.  Unschooling is a whole lifestyle and radically different way of looking at learning and life.  It's not something you can just turn on and off!"

So there you have it!  A year in posts.  There is much more about the past year that could be said, but instead of continuing to sit in my room typing away on the computer, I'm going to go celebrate the beginning of a new year with my family.

So all that's really left for me to say is:

Happy New Year!!


A virtual toast to the health, happiness, and wellbeing of you and yours.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Grown Unschooler Cheyenne La Vallee: "Everyone has it in themselves to be passionate and motivated. "

Welcome to the latest interview with a grown unschooler!  If you'd like to participate in this project, go here, and if you'd like to read other interviews with grown unschoolers, go here.  And now, meet Cheyenne La Vallee:


I am a Skwxwú7mesh-Kwakwaka’wakw youth from British Columbia. I have been raised in the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) community of Xwmelch’stn (Capilano) in North Vancouver, but my ancestry also comes from the Kwakwaka’wakw nation on northern Vancouver Island. For the past year, I've been working with my brother, sister and other community members to revive our culture, our language and traditions. Specifically the work I've been doing involves urban agriculture, community gardens and traditional plant knowledge.

When did you become an unschooler?
I became an unschooler when I read Grace Llewelyn’s the Teenage Liberation Handbook at 13 years old and then left school shortly after. But honestly, everyone is born with the abilities an unschooler has, it just gets beaten out of us after a few years of schooling and consuming mainstream media. Everyone has it in themselves to be passionate and motivated.

How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
I’ve been unschooling for 4 years now.

How old are you now?
I’m seventeen years old.

If you chose to leave school, can you talk a bit about what led to that decision, and how the actual process of leaving went (how did your parents, friends, teachers, etc. react? What were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?).
Around the time I left school, my mother became an elected official in our community and I was beginning to pay attention to the conversations that were going on around me, as well as in the world. I began to become aware of the common ideas or notions I was being told throughout my life were not true at all, so when my brother handed me the Teenage Liberation Handbook one afternoon, it was like another piece of the puzzle. It was also the sanest idea I ever heard!

Not everyone agreed, especially not my mom. She gave me an ultimatum, back to school or get a job, which never came into effect. I faced a lot of resistance from older family members and friends’ parents. It was hectic in my relationships afterwards, which is understandable; it was incredibly abnormal. I was 13 years old and no one could persuade, threaten, or bribe to go back to school. I had a strong will and was choosing for myself what kind of life I wanted to live. In retrospect, I probably would have approached people differently.

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
To unschool is to live. That’s it plain and simple. It’s to feel the fire in the belly and your mind explode; it’s to sit in the living room on a snowy night with a cup of tea while reading your favourite book until wee hours in the morning. It’s to wake up at 5 am to watch the sun rise and then go back to bed. It’s having that stranger sitting beside you become your best friend for the next hour. It’s going on a crazy adventure to listen to your favourite author talk in the next city. It’s volunteering at the art gallery or anarchist bookstore. Its life: anything you want it to be.

The canoe races this summer and a part of my canoe family.

What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
In the beginning of my unschooling journey, I had many questions (what, where, how) and no tools to find the answers. I also had very little support or understanding from the people I needed it most from. Being shut down after trying to bring up the idea really makes one feel hopeless, especially when I was doing it mostly alone.

What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
My first job was an anti-oppression, arts-based employment-training program, being offered by this youth-run, arts/media centre. After that, I worked for a local community garden, mainly taking care of the garden, weeding and planting, but also asking questions whenever I could. The last job I had been with a non-profit, Environmental Youth Alliance, as an intern for six-months. It was such a rewarding job. There were roughly 12 interns, including myself, taking care of three community gardens E.Y.A. managed in the Downtown Eastside. I learned more about the city I live in, other ways of living and eating, gardening, and how valuable community places are.

Have you found work that's fulfilling and enjoyable?
I definitely have!

Have you found that unschooling has had an impact on how hard or easy it is to get jobs or earn money?
I think it has made finding work easier for me. I only apply for jobs that I have an interest in, or at least a reason for applying, like it helps me save up for a goal. My enthusiasm comes out and I find it increases my likelihood of getting the job.

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
The material I’ve read/found online, like Grace Llewelyn’s The Teenage Liberation handbook, Blake Bole’s College Without High School and his website, Zero Tuition College as well as other unschooling blogs has helped me figure out different ways of doing things in general. It also helped me understand getting a minimum wage job isn’t the only option I have. There are other ways of getting money to do cool things.

What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
It has been an extremely positive one. It has helped me cross that superficial realm in what it means to be an indigenous woman living in modern times. Before all I knew about who I was, where I come from, and what I wanted to be was driven by school and my peers, which is a pretty horrible place to figure out who you are. The main goal of school and mainstream media, especially for First Nations people, is to assimilate us into Western society. After leaving school, I started to become more involved in the community, participating in culture events, and taking an active step in learning my language, territory and politics.

My brother, sister and I.

If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change?
No, there isn’t anything I’d change, I don’t think I would have as much understanding of how life is without the mistakes and challenges I’ve faced. Even if I might have missed an opportunity because of not doing anything seemingly productive, there is and will always be millions more to come.

If you were to have children, would you choose to unschool them?
Without a doubt, I would never send my children to compulsory schools. It goes against my entire life!

What advice would you give to teens looking to leave high school?
Be gentle on yourself, but be courageous. Listen to the people who question whether you are doing something right or wrong and then move on. Only you can define your life.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unschooling is Not Relaxed Homeschooling

Sometimes, I wonder if I'm being rigid or judgmental somehow in my insistence that unschooling does have a somewhat agreed upon definition, and that it would be nice if people who choose to use the term unschooling agreed with the general understanding of the word.

Some would argue that there is no real consensus on what unschooling is, but I'd say that's not really true, because if you look at the main unschooling websites, the Wikipedia article on unschooling, and if you go to workshops at any unschooling conference or read any of the books out there on unschooling, you will find a definite consensus.

The consensus being that unschooling is student directed learning, which means the child or teen learns whatever they want, whenever they want. Learning is entirely interest driven, not dictated or directed by an external curriculum, by teachers, or by parents. For an unschooler, life is their classroom..  Parents give up their ideas of what their children MUST learn in favor of supporting their children in following a path of their own choosing.

There is even a general consensus on what radical unschooling is, and that is giving children the freedom over academic choices, plus extending that freedom of choice to all other aspects of life: food choices, bedtimes, TV and computer usage...

Why do I think it's important that people who embrace the label of unschooling do actually follow that model of trusting children with their own education?

There are a couple of reasons:
  1. Unschooling is not very well understood by the majority of people out there (if they've even heard of it), and it seems to me that when lots of relaxed homeschoolers (parents who allow their children some freedom in what they learn, but still ultimately dictate their children's learning) call themselves unschoolers, it further muddies the waters.  It also gives critics the least "radical" people out there calling themselves unschoolers to latch onto: "well, obviously some of these 'unschoolers' teach their children what they need to know, it's just the radical/extreme ones who let their children do what they want!" Thus all opportunity for an understanding of true unschooling (a child or teen directing their own education, with parents/other adults in their life, acting as facilitators) is lost.
  2. This false view of unschooling completely misses the point of unschooling, which is the realization that life and learning are inseparable, and trusting that children and teens who are trusted and respected in their learning will gain all of the skills needed to be happy, "successful" (whatever that means to the individual) people.
I obviously personally feel that unschooling is the best option out there, but I want to emphasize that this does not mean I don't respect choices other than unschooling.  While I pretty strongly disagree with the schooling model in all it's forms, including school-at-home, I can still respect the individuals themselves who choose (or have no other option but) those paths in education.  And when it comes to relaxed homeschooling, I think it's an amazing and radical act to give up the traditional model of schooling in any way, even when that doesn't mean unschooling.

All I'm saying is that there's already a term for relaxed homeschooling: unschooling is something different.

You cannot unschool part time: for two hours a day or every Friday or one week out of every month.  Unschooling is a whole lifestyle and radically different way of looking at learning and life.  It's not something you can just turn on and off!

You cannot unschool except for math and/or reading and/or science.  Unschooling is genuinely trusting children to learn what they need to know, when they need to know it.  It's not really unschooling if you only trust them to learn a couple of things on their own, but think you have to force them to learn other things.

You cannot unschool only until you disapprove of what your children choose to do.  If you're happily "unschooling" during a time when your children are willingly and by choice doing math workbooks and reading the classics daily, but quickly step in with enforced curricula when your children instead start choosing to play games and read back issues of People magazine for a while, you weren't unschooling in the first place.  If you don't plan on respecting your children's choices in learning even when you'd prefer they be doing something else, then you're not unschooling.

I want to make it really clear that I'm not at all trying to diss parents on a difficult journey who sometimes panic and try to teach their uninterested 9 year old to read: what I'm saying is that there's a fundamental difference between families who believe in the principles of unschooling--in trusting children, and trusting the learning process, and who endeavor to follow these principles, even though they sometimes do panic--and families who stick the term unschooling on themselves without really trusting their children to learn at all.

My frustration, which I'm sure is apparent in this post, comes because as an unschooling advocate, I deal with people's lack of understanding about unschooling all the time, and that lack of understanding is exacerbated by the sheer amount of people using the unschooling term without really embracing the principles of unschooling.

Being the polite plus people loving person that I am, I'm not exactly going around telling people they're not really unschooling to their faces, but after reading through the comments on this post, the exasperation built to a level that just needed to be let out in a blog post.  (It's also important to note that the comments on this post are far more respectful than are often seen on unschooling articles: I wasn't angered by the comments, simply frustrated by the lack of understanding shown by many.)

I have no control over what terms people choose to use, and in the grand scheme of things it's not overly important.  But in my own work and from personal experience, I find it important to make a few distinctions.  And one that I see as being pretty important?  That unschooling is NOT the same as relaxed homeschooling.

Unschooling is Forever talk now available for download!

Remember the talk I did at the Toronto Unschooling Conference?  It's posted in written format on this blog already (see part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4), and the recording of the talk is now available for download (it costs $5).


You can buy it at either The Unschoolers Emporium or through Lulu.  It feels pretty cool though definitely weird that I talk I gave is for sale!  Anyway, just thought I'd let you guys know.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Grown Unschooler Anna J. Cook: "The experience of unschooling helped me to remain confident in myself."

I'm happy to present another interview with a grown unschooler!  To see all interviews with grown unschoolers on this blog, go here.  And now, I hand the reins over to Anna:

Anna is a thirty-year-old queer feminist librarian, historian, and blogger who lives with her partner, Hanna, and their cat, Geraldine, in Allston, Massachusetts (a neighborhood of Boston). She grew up in West Michigan and before moving to Boston in 2007 spent time living in Indiana, Missouri, Oregon, and Scotland. Her hopes for the future include returning to the British Isles, conducting an oral history project on the topic of comparative US-UK unschooling, living in a lighthouse, marrying her girlfriend, and making headway on her "books to read" list.  Interested in more? See all the words posted over at the Future Feminist Librarian-Activist.



When did you become an unschooler?
Birth (1981) and/or first year I was school age (1987)

How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
Difficult question! I still think of myself as practicing the values of unschooling, even though I have had interactions with formal education and its institutions. I did not attend grade or secondary school at all (though my siblings did to varying degrees).  I began taking courses at the college where my father worked when I was seventeen and continued there part time through 2005; until 2002 I was not a degree-seeking student, though I did take the courses for credit. During the seven years I pursued undergraduate coursework, I did lots of other things too, like work and travel. Since completing my B.A. I've moved on to graduate school (more below). However, I still feel very much an unschooler at heart.

How old are you now?
29, nearly 30.

If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
My mother was, I think, the initiator of home-based education, since she was the primary at-home parent and also very interested in child development and early childhood education. She always preferred non-interventionist approaches, and when it came time to think about schooling for us kids she felt we were doing really well in our current environment -- and that the schooling opportunities in our area were too conventional for our family's needs. My father was completely on board with it, even though he usually took a back seat with the home-life arranging, given he was the parent with a full-time job.

My parents are not categorically opposed to working with formal institutions of learning. My father works at Hope College (where I eventually attended classes) and my siblings both expressed a desire to do some measure of formal schooling during their teen years. My brother attended some courses at the local public school, although he never enrolled as a degree-seeking student, and my sister went full-time to public high school. But the focus throughout was what worked best for our family as a whole and for each of us kids individually.

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
Speaking from the point of view of a unschooled child (rather than an unschooling parent), I would say that the experience of unschooling helped me to remain confident in myself: confident that I had the ability to learn new ideas and skills when I need them, confident I could find meaningful ways to occupy myself without a strict schedule, confident that I could navigate the world and find help when I needed it from people with particular expertise, or whom I had caring relationships with.

The worldview of unschoolers draws (in my opinion) on a specific understanding of human nature that is at odds with the beliefs of the dominant culture. In order to really practice unschooling, you have to trust in the human being to be interested in the world, to seek situations (physical, social, intellectual) in which that being will thrive in community with other beings. You have to trust that the being themselves -- not external authorities -- are the best source of information about what the being needs to thrive. Not to say that external feedback and expertise isn't helpful -- it's often crucial. But at the end of the day, the individual themselves is the best authority on, well, themselves. And on what they need to feel nourished.

In society as a whole, children aren't trusted to have that kind of knowledge about themselves. In part because children do often think and communicate in different ways than adults, given their stage of development, so children's self-knowledge is often difficult for adults to access. But it's there if we know how and where to look! And unschooling teaches us to cultivate that awareness in ourselves and others.

What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
The most stressful thing about practicing unschooling in our culture is that it really is fundamentally counter-cultural. It challenges many of the hidden assumptions of our society about human nature, the nature of children, the purpose of education, the meaning of the "good life," and so forth. I, personally, think people who unschool are on a much healthier track (by and large) than people who do not, because of their values and their orientation toward the world and the rest of humanity. But there's definitely a cultural dissonance between the life we wish to lead as unschoolers, and the world in which we have to carve a space for ourselves beyond our families. It requires constant negotiation and compromise.

Did you decide to go/are you going to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience?
I did go to college, both undergraduate and (currently) a graduate program. It's always difficult to talk "a bit" about the experience, since my interest as an historian in counter-cultural education means I spent a lot of my waking moments thinking about the culture of institutional schooling, of teaching and learning, and about how "education" is framed in our contemporary cultural debates.

Casting my mind back to age seventeen, when I enrolled in my first college course -- a first-year writing course -- I remember how thrilling it was to be engaged in writing and thinking about ideas. At that point I wanted to be a creative writer and developed an enormous crush on my professor, a poet and photographer who had that rare ability to read one's writing and discern what you meant to say, even if your early drafts were hopelessly muddled. At the same time, I felt like a foreign exchange student, struggling to assimilate to the academic culture that was invisible to most of my classmates. It could be exhausting and isolating. The fact I was a politically and culturally progressive-radical student on a campus dominated by politically and culturally conservative students didn't help to bridge the gap between me and conventionally-schooled peers. Nor did the fact I was a part-time, commuter student on a campus dominated by full-time, resident students. 

I did not struggle with the coursework much at all. In the early years, I took courses that interested me without a thought toward graduation. Later on, when I was fulfilling requirements, I did take classes that were in subjects not of my instinctive interest (I wept through a one-month class in statistics, for example... But by conventional measures (i.e., grades) I succeeded in conventional education despite my lack of formal training up to that point. And undergraduate college unquestionably opened doors for me -- intellectually, socially, geographically -- that might have been more difficult to open otherwise. I had access to off-campus programs and study abroad opportunities; I had faculty-student research opportunities and professors who I connected with and library resources, etc. The same can be said, to some extent, for my graduate work. The classes themselves have often been frustrating, inefficient, etc. But given the organization of our culture's learning resources at institutions of education, it's difficult to piece together a similar experience without being an enrolled student. 

Difficult, but not impossible. 

I never completely made peace with the structured nature of academic semesters, graded projects, competitive learning, being judged by external rather than internal expectations. It stressed me out on a pretty deep level; makes me feel like I'm complicit in a system that rewards some at the expense of the rest. Which is something I have problems with, even if (especially if??) I'm one of those who gets rewarded. It's complicated. I'm definitely looking forward to being done with formal academics for a while after I complete my current program (a dual-degree in library science and history).

Are you currently earning money in any way?
Yes.

What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
Oh, gosh. I've been earning money since I was about nine. I started working seasonally for my father at the college bookstore he manages for pocket money and stayed there on and off throughout college. I also worked at a local children's bookstore and a branch of Barnes & Noble. I did childcare as a teenager and worked one year as a nanny. I've served as teaching and research assistants for a number of college faculty. I spent a semester working as an office assistant for a study abroad program. I've also done a number of work-for-food-and-lodging type situations, sometimes in combination with other paid work and sometimes for short stints alone... Like the month I spent at a women's land trust in Missouri the summer after graduating from college.

When I moved to Boston, I was hired as a library assistant at the Massachusetts Historical Society, an independent research library in Boston that holds rare books and manuscript materials. It's a wonderful way of being connected to a scholarly community without being tied to a college or university setting. For the past three years, I've worked there part time along with other part-time employment (in the field) and internships. I was just recently offered a promotion to full-time with enough wages and benefits to support remaining in Boston for the next few years, as my partner and I would like to do. It pays modestly well, and is definitely the type of work I was hoping to find when I began graduate school in library science.

Have you found work that's fulfilling and enjoyable?
I won't pretend that my partner and I don't struggle with the question of balancing the need to earn wages to support ourselves in the short and long term. My partner, who also learned outside of school for much of her life (until going to public high school) resists, as do I, a culture that equates paid employment with identity and fulfillment. On the one hand, I do believe in seeking out ways to earn a living doing what you love... But I also resist creating a situation in which my life is defined by the work I do, or dictated by it. So that's an ongoing balancing act. Even without children to care for, I find myself more and more appalled at how little flexibility our modern workplaces have for the rhythms of personal and family life.


Have you found that unschooling has had an impact on how hard or easy it is to get jobs or earn money?
This is a tricky question. I was very privileged in that I had a chance to work in the "family business" as a child and teenager prior to getting other jobs.  Not being in school meant, too, that I could work in positions that school schedules could not accommodate easily, and gain really good work experience even before I started college. I had extensive volunteer experience, too, that filled out my resume. Another privilege was the fact that my father's job at the college meant I got tuition benefits and could take classes without applying for a degree. By the time I petitioned to be a degree-seeking student I had a strong enough academic record they waived the requirements of national test scores or a high school diploma (a stumbling block for some unschoolers seeking to enter higher education).  I have not felt limited by my lack of formal schooling pre-college. I do wish, sometimes, I had been braver about seeking alternatives to college and post-graduate schooling. I was tired of the effort it takes to take the nonconventional path. And there are days when I'm not proud of that.

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
In a word: yes. In a few more words, I would argue that the worldview lying behind (my understanding of) unschooling supports de-emphasizing wage-work as either the primary mode of self-identification or as a measure of self-worth. Since unschooling encourages self-reliance and independence, being able to support myself -- or, now, to contribute to the financial security of my newly-formed family -- is a part of how I measure my success. However, it is one small part of my self-evaluation, all of which comes down to challenging myself to live in accordance with my values. Which would take a lot more than this questionnaire to explicate in depth! But in short, they can be summed up with the belief that all that 1) all life is of value, and 2) all that is required of humanity is "to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly."  (The original quote comes from the Christian Old Testament, Micah 6:8, and reads "walk humbly with God," but I prefer leaving the question of whom or what one walks with up to the listener!).


What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
The experience of growing up outside of the mainstream educational system colors virtually everything I do and the way I understand the world. I think it particularly shapes how I understand myself in relation to the mainstream culture and ways of thinking and being in the world. My family didn't opt out of the mainstream to the extent that some unschooling families do: we had a television, we lived in an urban environment, we had friends who were schooled and so forth. We weren't insulated from the mainstream and from the outside -- except for the fact that we didn't attend school -- our family didn't look that radical.  But we were pretty damn radical anyway!  So what I learned, growing up, was that individuals and families have choices. We can stand apart from some of the mainstream "common sense" beliefs about how people should grow and learn, what it means to be a functioning adult, what it means to be a family -- but we don't have to seek "purity" in pursuit of that. We can pick and choose, appropriate, make our own meanings of things, piecing together a life out of what we find to be beautiful and useful. It's sort of a steampunk ethos, I guess.

If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change?
I really wish I had been able to find practical alternatives to graduate school that gave me the same opportunities in the library/scholarly fields I'm interested in. Unfortunately library and archives training in the US takes place in the context of higher education, and most living-wage positions with opportunities for professional growth require an MLS.

If you were to have children, would you choose to unschool them?
I just recently read a blog post by Molly @ first the egg called parenting as holding the space in which she talks about how she and her husband don't practice according to any particular parenting philosophy but that she's come to realize that the way they parent is akin to the way in which doulas are trained to "hold the space" for women in labor. She writes, "the basic idea is that a calm, focused, loving person can protect a space in which the laboring/birthing person can do what she needs to do." I think this is a really nice one-line description of what parents can and should provide their children -- regardless of whether the decide they want (or are practically able) to unschool their children.

My partner and I are pretty sure we are not going to be parents, for a complex constellation of reasons. I won't speak for her in this instance, but in my case I don't want to have children unless I am able to unschool them -- in spirit if not by actually keeping them out of institutional education altogether. I don't want to take on a responsibility that I don't have the resources -- emotional, logistical, financial -- to really follow through on according to my values. And my values would demand giving that small person in my care as much calm, focused loving as I could -- and trying to surround them with adults and other young people who could support me, my partner, and our child(ren) in that endeavor. And right now we aren't in a place to do that.

What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
In addition to what I wrote above about "holding the space," I think it's important -- with all childcare, but particularly with unschooling -- to emphasize that the choices you make about family life effect outcomes. That may sound elementary, but I've seen a lot of nominally "unschooling" or homeschooling families where the parents really, really want their kids to look and act like, and hold the same values, as their conventionally-schooled peers.  Or even worse, they expect them to be conventional-PLUS: they think that unschooling their kids are going to make them even more successful than their peers by all the mainstream cultural standards.

It's not an impossible goal... And it's not that I think having goals and accomplishing them is a bad thing. But the "conventional-plus" approach to unschooling is, to my mind, a really impoverished approach ... Because it leaves behind the really radical aspect of unschooling, which is to question the foundational values of American culture concerning human nature, what it means to be a successful human being, what you need to thrive in the world, and how human relationships facilitate that process. If I had to offer advice in a nutshell to unschooling parents, it would be: Expect different outcomes -- and try not to be afraid of them. Be clear about what your own values for "the good life" are and share them with your children, and then let your kids develop their own values from that foundation.

Also, don't encourage your kids to see mainstream culture or conventional schooling as evil. There are good people who teach in schools, there are good people who send their children there, and there are children who thrive despite the many problems of institutional schooling.  I've seen too many unschooling families turn their personal and familial choices into an "us vs. them" negativity that doesn't encourage building alliances, accessing resources, and remembering to seek out support and learning in even the most unexpected places. Encourage your kids to remain open-minded about the mainstream, even as you challenge them to engage with it critically.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Grown Unschooler Hannah Thompson: "My unschooling experience has taught me to follow my passion without restraint."

I'm happy to present the first, in what will hopefully be a long series, of interviews with grown unschoolers.  If you're a grown unschooler who'd like to participate, please go here.

And now, meet Hannah Thompson, world traveler and aspiring medical doctor.

When did you become an unschooler
I think at birth, but more seriously about 12 or 13 I was conscious of it.

How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
All of my life

How old are you now?  
17

If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
The quality of education was going down at my older brothers private school, and because my mother wanted to spend more time with us. 

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is? 
It’s limitless possibilities

What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
Getting the rest of the world to accept that the work done as an unschooler is just as valuable if not more so than those raised in a brick and mortar system. 

Did you decide to go/are you going to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience?
I did, I want to pursue a career as an M.D and to do so I have found that a college education is a must. I have applied to UT at Austin and am awaiting reply. There is a lot of administrative work involved as an unschooler, trying to appear credible to a university, but not so much that it’s impossible. 

Are you currently earning money in any way? 
Yes

What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
I work as a home health aid for an elderly man and as a nighttime nanny.

Have you found work that's fulfilling and enjoyable?
Yes, and applicable to my future career.

Have you found that unschooling has had an impact on how hard or easy it is to get jobs or earn money?
It’s much easier being unschooled to find a job than if I was attending school. One reason is that with unschooling you actually have time to have a job, and I’ve found that my interpersonal skills which I attribute to unschooling, have made me very marketable in the jobs that I’m working.

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
In a way. The nanny job not so much, but as a health aid I am following my chosen field of medicine and getting a lot of on the job experience that is invaluable. I suppose it’s made me think outside of flipping burgers to make money.

What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
My unschooling experience has taught me to follow my passion without restraint. The freedom of this type of education has given me the time to explore interests and form concrete ideas about what I want to achieve.

If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change? 
I would have recorded more of the things I did over the years, so creating a transcript would have been a bit easier.

If you were to have children, would you choose to unschool them?  
Absolutely!

What advice would you give to teens looking to leave high school? 
 Consider your options, carefully think of the reasons why you want to leave, and then break into a fast run.

What advice would you give to someone looking to skip, or to drop out of, college or university?
Not everyone or career is suited for college, if what you want can be achieved without it, and you think you can handle that on your own, then of course do what you want.

What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
Unschooling is about helping your child grow and expand their horizons, institutionalized schooling is about prolonging childhood indefinitely, so be your child’s facilitator, get involved with them, find opportunities for them, and let them pursue their own. Just let them grow. 

Is there anything else you'd like to talk about or add?
I have traveled to foreign countries, gained language skills, studied a wide range of material, held a job, created opportunities for myself, and pursued knowledge for the sake of knowledge. All these things and more were my high school curriculum, they helped shape who I am, what I believe, and demonstrate my abilities and intelligence. I may not have a 4.0 average on a ready-made high school transcript, but I also haven’t been practicing for the real world, I’ve been living it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Questionnaire for Grown Unschoolers

There are a handful of interviews with grown unschoolers to be found online, but in my mind, not enough.  So I've decided to have a permanent (as in, the link to it will live on the sidebar) grown unschoolers questionnaire on my blog, that I'm going to invite any and all grown unschoolers to fill out!  If I get filled out questionnaires regularly, they will be posted regularly on this blog.  If I get them occasionally, they will be posted occasionally.  Point being, there will (unless no one at all is interested) be a series of interviews with grown unschoolers coming up.

So, are you a grown unschooler (I'm going to say 17 and up.  Younger unschoolers have just as wonderful things to say, but I'd like this particular series of interviews to focus on older unschoolers)?  Would you mind answering a few questions?  Well, here are said questions!  This is NOT an all or nothing deal: feel free to ignore some questions if they don't apply, or if you're simply not interested in answering.  All I ask is that you please answer all three of The Basics questions, and at least five questions beyond that.

The Basics
  1. When did you become an unschooler?
  2. How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
  3. How old are you now?
  4. Do you have any siblings?  If so, did they/do they unschool as well?
The Decision to Unschool
  1. If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
  2. If you chose to leave school, can you talk a bit about what led to that decision, and how the actual process of leaving went (how did your parents, friends, teachers, etc. react?  What were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?).
The Best and Worst
  1. What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
  2. What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
Beyond High School
  1. Did you decide to go/are you going to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience?
  2. Did you decide not to go to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience, and what (if anything) you decided to do differently instead of college?
Money Earning and Work
  1. Are you currently earning money in any way?
  2. What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
  3. Have you found work that's fulfilling and enjoyable?
  4. Have you found that unschooling has had an impact on how hard or easy it is to get jobs or earn money?
  5. Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
General
  1. What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
  2. If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change?
  3. If you have children, are they unschooled?  Alternately, if you were to have children, would you choose to unschool them?
Advice
  1. What advice would you give to teens looking to leave high school?
  2. What advice would you give to someone looking to skip, or to drop out of, college or university?
  3. What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
Is there anything else you'd like to talk about or add?

Remember, I'm not asking you to answer every single question (unless of course you want to).  If you decide to fill it out, please email it to me at idziedesmarais@gmail.com.  I'll edit for basic spelling and grammar mistakes, but nothing beyond that.  I'd also ask that you please specify what name you'd like to be used when the interview is posted (first and last, just first, nickname, pseudonym, whatever).  It would also be great if you could include both a bio (including website/blog, if applicable), and between 1-5 photos (you doing cool stuff, just a portrait, whatever).  Please also feel free to share this widely.  I feel like this could be a great resource, and I want to thank everyone in advance for your participation and/or support!
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