Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grown Unschooler Vanessa Wilson: "As an unschooled kid, the world is full of so much that a school cannot give."

I invite you to participate in this project if you're a grown unschooler, and I invite everyone who's interested in reading more about grown unschoolers to check out this list of interviews.  Enjoy!

I am the self-designin', life-lovin', free mama to 3: Kassidy (5.1999), Noble (3.2007), and Najaia (9.2009). I have many interests that include personal growth, spirituality, beauty, simplicity, creative outlets, crafting, and other DIY projects. We are a whole-life unschooling family, and I walk a path toward gentle parenting while I undo the tangles of my past. We generally value natural and sustainable living, so this is very reflected in some areas of our life and in some areas or choices not so much -- without judgment. We are enjoying liberating ourselves from "villainous thinking" about all kinds of things that bring us joy. We are a very eclectic family, as we pick and chose what fits for each of us at any given moment. We strive to listen to our inner selves over outer "experts" -- some of us have an easier time of this, but it sure is fun peeling back the layers and resituating paradigms :) Community is very important to us and we look forward to living communally in a tight-knit tribe -- more than ever since gathering a couple times a week with our local radical unschooling group!

 
When did you become an unschooler?
Halfway through my freshmen year of high school, my mom took me and my brother out of school to homeschool on the road (we had homeschooled before), while she worked at super sales and state fairs. Our travels ended up being our curriculum.

How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
Ever since, even though I chose to do an adult high school program 3 years later and go on to college about 5 years after attaining my diploma.

How old are you now?
31

Do you have any siblings?  If so, did they/do they unschool as well?
I have a younger brother who lived and travelled with us and unschooled. He was 6 years younger than me, and he went back to public school seamlessly.

If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
Like I said, my mom just didn't do curriculum, mostly because we were so busy living. She had never heard of the term "unschooling" until I found it and started with my kids.

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
I attribute unschooling to my insatiable love of learning, both in life and in formal education. It was done for intrinsic reasons, totally self-guided.

What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
The hardest part for me was not feeling like it was "normal". I didn't know anyone else who did it, and I got the impression from society that mom was just irresponsible and crazy-unconventional.

Did you decide to go/are you going to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience?
I did decide to go to college. I LOVED the community college level (as was evident in my 3.79 gpa), but once I transferred to the university level, it became more about the degree than the wonderful stuff that it had been about before, and I slowly did worse and worse. I got accepted to a school for my master's degree and decided to not go and live some life. I'd like to go back to school someday, maybe. But I know I don't need it to be successful, to live a rich and fulfilling life, and I don't give my kid's these impressions either.

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
Absolutely! I can only work a job that is intrinsically rewarding, and I know that I will always be okay by following my passions. My idea of a "career" is combining as many of my interests into money-making forms, and is totally unconventional. But the best part is that I am comfortable with the fact that this will probably change over and over as I live.

What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
One of the biggest. I have already said that I attribute it to my insatiable love of learning, but it is also one of the most learning-filled times of my life. Those 3 years that we traveled were full of so much people-learning, as we visited a new state almost every week (or sometimes worked a state fair that lasted a month or so at a time). I spent so much time getting to learn about people and the different cultures of America. Because we were often at state fairs, we got to see the "best" of each culture. We traveled and got to see so many places and learned about the history of this country first-hand. It has impacted how I raise my children -- we unschool and are currently making plans to buy a home on wheels and travel until we decide not to, and see whatever our wheels will take us to see. 

If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change?
The only thing I might change (but I love my journey and wouldn't REALLY change anything) is I would have learned about the term unschooling sooner, and maybe been introduced to authors like John Holt.

If you have children, are they unschooled?  Alternately, if you were to have children, would you choose to unschool them?
I do have kids. I was a single mom with my oldest, so didn't think it was possible to homeschool her, until my son was born and I found a way to stay home, and I've found a way since :) We are going on 4 years :))

What advice would you give to teens looking to leave high school?
Just do it. Find support of some kind, and never look back :)) 

What advice would you give to someone looking to skip, or to drop out of, college or university?
Follow your heart. There are SO many other ways to learn (that are cheaper!) and to earn a living. You can go back if you REALLLLY want to.

What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
As an unschooled kid, the world is full of so much that a school cannot give -- depth and breadth barely recognized. As a fellow unschool parent, I would say research your doubts because you will probably find that those things aren't really a problem once you've heard some differing perspectives on it all. The Internet makes all things possible :))

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Unschooling is Learning From Everything

Unschoolers say all the time that we learn from everything.  Even if it doesn't look like learning, even if at first glance, some people would think it was a waste of time (if they were the type of people who think "education" is more important than enjoyment, anyway).

We really do learn from everything, but as unschoolers, even if the learners and their parents know that there's learning going on, it's often hard for outsiders to see, or it's something non-academic enough to not impress most school-minded people.  Sometimes, though, the learning that's happening looks enough like what learning is "supposed" to look like, that even the stodgiest person can see it.

I want to share some recent learning going on in this house of the latter sort.  Not because I think it's more valuable than the non-visible learning, but because I love when things people often scorn (like TV) lead to things people usually hold in high standing (like learning languages).

My sister and I are obsessed with the TV show Supernatural.  What's it about, you ask?  The short TvTropes description: "two hot, dysfunctional brothers drive around the country fighting monsters, later accompanied by a hot male angel, with a revolving door of hot recurring stars/guest stars. They Fight Monsters." (and I feel a strong urge right now to assure you that it's better than it sounds).  There's an overarching plot that stretches through the entire show, not just each individual season, which culminates in season 5 with the biblical apocalypse (that's the last season we've seen, since season 6 is currently airing and we don't have cable).  Watching the show, with all the angels and demons and omens and horsemen of the apocalypse, it seemed, from my knowledge, like they'd really done a lot of research into actual Christian mythology while putting the show together.  Emi confirmed this, having done a lot of research herself for last years NaNoWriMo novel (a story with the working title of Soul, about the fight between heaven and hell, though not between good and evil...).

Sam & Dean Winchester, heroes of Supernatural.

They even used a couple of quotes in the show that we were pretty sure were actually from Revelation.  So, our interest piqued by the show, we pulled out Emi's bible (the story of which is mentioned here), and started reading The Book of Revelation.  Man, is that one trippy story.  But very interesting (and Emi is very good at reading dramatically aloud)!  As well as being entertaining, it says a lot about the culture of the time. 

Going back to the show, in all that apocalypsey stuff found in Supernatural, there are a LOT of demons, and the Winchester boys (main characters) are busy exorcising them and throwing around holy water left right and center.

So Emi did the logical thing in this situation: she memorized the entire most commonly used Latin exorcism found on the show.  She also translated it, and we discovered that it definitely isn't bullshit Latin, but actually makes sense (there's lots about unclean spirits and Satan).  She also translated the exorcism used in an episode of Angel (another favorite show...  Are you sensing a theme here?).  And with all that translating and memorizing of Latin, my very good-with-languages sister started telling me how interesting the grammar structure is, and how there isn't any punctuation as we know it.  She recognizes multiple words already, and was talking about the various Latin roots of multiple English words.

Oh, and in our reading of Revelation, she also read the translation notes (because she's fascinated by translation), and was telling me a bit about how the Greek version differs from the English one...

All this from watching a TV show.

Not to mention the friend who I've been lending my Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD's to.  He's been going through it very fast, and recently while making his way through season 5, decided to carve some stakes  (woodworking FTW)!  He named the first one Mr. Pointy, but then his dog ate it.  Anyway, he has a small collection now, and gave one to both Emi and me.  He's also learning how to draw a Devil's Trap (used to trap and immobilize demons in Supernatural), and Emi's learning how to bless holy water (I think you're supposed to be a priest to do it *properly*, but I suppose it'll work for our purposes.  Besides, Sam and Dean do it all the time!).  So when the supernatural apocalypse comes, you definitely want to be hanging with us!

Any Buffy fan knows how authentic this looks!

I think it's easy for people to feel guilty about spending their time doing something as "useless" as watching TV, and forget not only that enjoyment is worthwhile simply for enjoyments sake, but also that we're constantly making connections, and learning is ever-present.

When you let go of your preconceived ideas of what learning is and where learning comes from, a whole world opens up to you, a world in which anything can spark an interest, and where learning is truly exciting and just plain fun!

Which is why I try to keep the guilt away while happily watching, discussing, laughing over, learning from, and enjoying my favorite TV shows.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

School-Free Learning and Religion

One of the first things people think when they hear you don't, or didn't, go to school, is "oh, you must be religious."  And by religious, what they really mean is that we must be either fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. 

I think that the image that instantly comes to most peoples minds when they think of homeschoolers (since most people think that all school-free learners are Christian) is a very specific one: it involves girls in long skirts or dresses, boys in dress shirts, and mothers in denim jumpers.  Families with (often many) more than 2.5 children, who do their schoolwork at the kitchen table and have daily Bible study. The stereotype goes that they may also hate gay people and have a problem with the theory of evolution. 

The Duggar family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. (Source)

And, well, that stereotype is actually based in something.  Growing up, many of the homeschoolers I knew fit it almost exactly!  It's probably not surprising to discover my family felt pretty out-of-place at certain homeschooling gatherings.

Because my family?  Well, school-free learning definitely wasn't a choice made for religious reasons of any kind, Christian or otherwise.

My father seems pretty atheistic, but I don't think cares enough about religion either way to even bother labeling himself.  My mother is a rather spiritual person, with her own personal beliefs and a definite attitude of live and let live.  My sister once referred to herself as a "superstitious agnostic", which I loved, but she doesn't feel the label of agnostic fits any more, and hasn't replaced it with any other labels.  And me?  Well, I usually simply refer to myself as an animist, and I also throw a little goddess/earth worship into the mix.

I got a necklace much like this for Christmas. (Source)

The difference in outlook can be seen clearly in this story: I remember a homeschoolers group activity my sister and I were part of one summer.  They gave us each a small New Testament bible, and we memorized a small passage each meeting.  Actually, I think it might have specifically been a bible club thing, that my sister and I decided to go to simply because we had friends there.  But either way, I remember that Emi loved that little bible.  It had a faux-leather cover and gold writing.  Emi thought it looked like a spell book, and used it as such in her regular play.  

It might start to sound at this point like I'm not all that fond of Christianity, and that would be accurate.  To be honest, I'm not all that fond of any organized religion.  But as with everything I'm less than fond of, I try to keep things pointed squarely at the big guys: I have a problem with schools, not those who attend them.  Similarly, I don't like the institution of religion, but that doesn't mean I dislike the followers of a religion.

What I do dislike is the politics and opinions that frequently go along with fundamentalist Christianity, though.  The hatred of GLBTQ folk, the idea of "purity" and repression of sexuality, the belief that physically punishing children is okay, the overall sexism.  When I was young, I didn't notice all that stuff, despite the fact it was very evident at times.  I think kids often don't!  But once I was older, those types of attitudes definitely started making me uncomfortable.

So do I think choosing not to send kids to school for religious reasons is bad?  No, I don't.  I think it's important that children are loved, treated kindly and respectfully, and given the freedom they deserve.  The families who strive for this are the ones I personally agree with most, and I don't really think whether those choices are made with religion in mind or not matters at all.  I consider myself a very spiritual person, and I don't really separate the various part of me into different categories.  Everything I think and feel has an effect on everything else I think and feel, thus my own decision to never send my (unwilling to go) future children to school is as much a spiritual choice as anything else.

And really, it would be very nice if people started realizing that the school-free community is a vast one, and one that encompasses a wide variety of people who don't send their kids to school for a wide variety of reasons.  School free learners are Christians, Pagans, Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion you can think of.  They're conservatives, liberals, republicans, anarchists, supporters of the green party, and libertarians.  There are a LOT of school-free people out there, and thus you find a lot of variety.  Some of them I personally agree with, some not so much.  Yes, I think I've probably come across more Christian homeschoolers than anything else, but there are enough home learners who are other than Christian that automatically assuming they are is not really a good idea!

It would also be nice if people would move away from the idea that Christian=X type of home learning, and Atheist=other X type of homeschooling.  That's slotting followers of a specific religion (or holders of a specific label) into a box, and not taking into account the complexities of each individual, why they decided not to send their children to school (or not to go to school themselves), their relationships with each other, etc.  There are radically unschooling Christians, and there are rigidly classically homeschooling Pagans.  I'd personally like the focus to stay firmly on the important things: are they happy?  Are families living together with love and respect?  Or, are they striving to live that way (since it can be pretty hard to actually achieve at times, as I well know)?  Because isn't that what's important?

Why I'm such a strong supporter of unschooling is because I believe everyone has the right to free choice, and because I believe that free choice leads to happy, connected, caring people.  Ultimately, if people are happy, I don't think it matters what type of education they're following.

So.  I've tackled religion, something I've never really written about before on this blog.  Hopefully I've done so respectfully!  And I'd be interested to hear your perspective.  Do you feel religion had any impact on your educational choices (either to have more or less religion in your environment)?  What's been your experience with the school-free community and religion?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Grown Unschooler Jasmine Carlson: "You don't feel pressured to 'be' something, you are allowed the space and time to create."

This continues to be an exciting project to me, and I'd love to keep it going for as long as possible!  So if you're a grown unschooler, think about joining in.  You also might want to read more interviews with grown unschoolers.  Now, meet Jasmine Carlson:

I now live in a co-housing community with my family. We take others into our community to teach them how to unschool their lives. I have traveled all over the place and feel that unschooling made it so that I was not just a visitor, but I was able to learn from people and the cultures that I was around.  I can honestly say that they have become a part of me. Unschooling made it so that I birthed my son at home, rejecting yet again another institution. Of course I blog both my rants (www.herscreed.blogspot.com), and on fitness (www.fitmama.blogspot.com), which is one of my passions.


When did you become an unschooler? 
I have been an unschooler all of my life.
 
How long have you unschooled/did you unschool? 
Pretty much what what most people would call the 12 years of required schooling but I would say that I am still an unschooler.

How old are you now? 
25

Do you have any siblings?  If so, did they/do they unschool as well? 
I have a brother and two sisters and yes, they were also unschooled.

If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision? 
My parents have never been very conventional. Unschooling just "fit" us. I am not sure when the decision was actually made, it was just part of the natural process. We didn't even know what it was called until my mom read a book years later that detailed exactly what we had been doing for years. 

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is? 
You have the ability to learn what you want to learn when you want to learn it. You can move at your own pace. You don't feel pressured to "be" something, you are allowed the space and time to create things.
  



What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is? 
It can be lonely. Like every other controversial or little understood way of doing things you find that people can be very critical.

Did you decide to go/are you going to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience? 
I went to a language school. It was quite structured but it did focus just on the language I was learning, which in some ways made it feel like my type of schooling, because I wasn't learning a bunch of random things that I wasn't there to learn. 

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? 
Like I stated above, I went to language school and I continue to educate myself by reading extensively and learning from people in specific fields. I may "go to school" online at some point just because I enjoy learning so much. If I do it will be for a focused area of study.

Are you currently earning money in any way? 
No, not really. Working on starting a business right now and I am a full time stay at home mom to a 2 1/2 year old boy. 

What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had? 
I have played music, done TONS of volunteer work, worked at a bank, worked for a coffee shop, worked for a non-profit, worked for a greenhouse... 

Have you found work that's fulfilling and enjoyable? 
Yes. 

Have you found that unschooling has had an impact on how hard or easy it is to get jobs or earn money?  
Yes. It is fairly easy. I am good with people and am able to learn things quickly.

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
Oh yeah. No question about it. I am drawn to things that draw on creativity. I also love a challenge and get bored easily.

What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life? 
I am not afraid to try new things or meet new people. I enjoy a challenge and am never afraid to learn something new. Learning comes fairly easily. I am bored easily with the conventional. I expect people to be more open and honest than most people are able to be. 


If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change? 
No. I don't think so. 

If you have children, do you unschool them? 
I do have a son and yes I am unschooling him.

What advice would you give to teens looking to leave high school? 
Go for it! Give it a try. Honestly you have nothing to lose. You will be stepping in to the best type of education that you can give yourself.  

What advice would you give to someone looking to skip, or to drop out of, college or university? 
Once again I say, go for it! Give it a try even if it is just for a year. You will come back knowing what you want to do and how you want to go about learning it. In the meantime you won't be wasting any time if you choose to use the time intentionally. 

What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)? 
It will probably scare you at first. You will wondering if you are "ruining" your children. Create opportunities. Be open and honest with your children. Unschooling will be just as much a learning adventure for you as it will be for your children. Look at it as continuing education for yourself!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Unschooling Publicity in Montreal

A few months ago, my mother and I were interviewed, in person, by a journalist from La Presse, the largest (or one of the two largest: not quite sure) daily French language newspaper in Montreal.  She was writing an article, not just about homeschooling, but specifically about unschooling.  How exciting is that?

In Quebec, alternatives to traditional schooling are even less well known than in the rest of North America.  I've even heard one friend suggest something along the lines that when the Catholic church lost control of the hearts and minds of Quebecers a few decades ago, school stepped in to fill that space!

Saint Joseph's Oratory. (Source)

At least churches are prettier. (Source)

But regardless of whether or not that holds true, the fact remains that homeschooling, and especially unschooling, can be difficult here in Quebec.  The law is ambiguous at best, having one line mentioning home education, and saying only that students must receive an education "equivalent to that received in school."  What exactly "equivalent" means is left open to interpretation, and basically means that the school boards interpret it to mean they have full oversight of all home educators, and home educators interpret it to mean they can do quite well without any school board involvement, thank you very much.  Because of the many troubles school boards can cause, at least half the home learners in Quebec are "under the radar": not registered with any school board.  School board policy states home learners must be registered, but since the actual law says nothing of the kind, it falls into a legal grey area of a kind.  Freeschooling seems to be even less legal, from what I've heard and seen (not that that stops people from starting a freeschool, which is awesome, in my opinion!).  Which is all just to say that educational alternatives in Quebec are very, very far from the mainstream.

But back to the article.  I was excited to know that someone was interested in sharing unschooling with such a wide audience in Quebec, but also rather leery, considering how badly slanted media pieces have been in the past, when talking about unschooling.  We (my mother and I, since the interview request was for me and any/all of my family members if they were interested) came very close to turning down the interview request.  But I discussed it a bunch with my family, since really it would be putting a spotlight on all of us, no matter which one of us was being interviewed, talked a bit to Wendy, who'd already been interviewed over phone with the reporter, and her positive experience talking to the journalist in question was enough to finalize our decision.

So my mother and I met the reporter and photographer at one of my favorite places to sit down and have tea, a co-op health food store and cafe.  And, you know, we talked about unschooling!  And also had a lengthy photo shoot.  Both the photographer and the journalist were very nice, and though as soon as we left I started thinking of things I wish I'd said, or said differently, I was still happy with how it went.

Cooperative du Grand Orme.  Isn't it cute?
But of course, how an interview goes says nothing about how the final article will turn out!

Last Friday, part one of a three part series on unschooling came out in La Presse.  Now all three parts have been published, and you know what?  They're pretty good!  I mean, there's the usual experts-who've-never-heard-of-unschooling-before-but-hate-it included, but the series of articles overall is one of the least blatantly biased against unschooling ones I've seen.  Part three is the one that talks about my family.  And the photos included of me (there are three, spread out over the three installments, though only one is online) are even good, which made me happy!  I mean really, who wants to be in the newspaper looking bad?  At the bottom of any of the articles linked is a list of links to the other parts in the series.

Photo credit: Robert Skinner, of La Presse.
The articles are, of course, in French, but I include them for both my French speaking readers and anyone who feels like using Google translate to get a (very) rough idea of what the article says.

You aren't able to post comments on the articles, but I stumbled across a blog post by the author (in French), and there are most certainly comments there!  And they're basically what you see every time unschooling gets some new publicity, minus all the positive comments by unschoolers jumping in to tell people how wrong they are (there just aren't enough unschoolers in Montreal).  And no, I didn't look at the comments to aggravate myself (though I must admit it does feel weird to have such venom directed specifically at us. It doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would, but it is weird...).  I looked at the comments because I was curious if the reactions would be different than what I've seen in the past, since Quebec itself is pretty different from the rest of North America.  For the most part, the reactions are the same, though there is a much stronger current of "these people will always be on the margins of society and will also be, *gasp*, RADICAL!"  Evidenced by the fact I'm a radical anarchist hippie, because obviously one unschooler represents all unschoolers...

But despite the pesky comments, I'm most definitely more excited about this than anything else.  So many people who never knew there were any options other than traditional institutionalized schooling now know there are vastly different ways to "get an education."  My blog, since it was mentioned in the article, has been getting a lot more hits from Montreal, so people are actually looking up this unschooling thing for themselves. 

I get all excited whenever some new radical education project starts in Montreal, or there's an alternative ed workshop that gets a big turnout, or there's some new unschooling publicity.  I feel like interest in alternatives has been growing by leaps and bounds here in the last few years, and there really is a small but growing revolution in education happening here!

So while I'm on the topic of freedom based education in Montreal, I want to throw in some links to cool projects and similar things happening in the area:

There's the Montreal Rad School, a freeschool being started up by some really great people, who want to make freedom based education available to all, not just those able to unschool.  This is a bilingual project.

The web-series La Déséducation has been airing since November, and focuses first on what's wrong with education in Quebec (the first eight webisodes), and starting up once again in February, will focus on alternatives to the existing model, including homeschooling, freeschooling, and unschooling (my mother and I were interviewed, and will be included in one of the webisodes).  Sadly, this series is currently only available in French.

The first webisode in the series:


There's also the long neglected (I feel a bit guilty about that) yet hopefully starting up soon once again support group, Unschooling Montreal.  And remember the Summer Montreal Unschoolers Gathering that my mother and I organized last year?  Well, it's happening again this summer (though the location may be changing...  Join the Yahoo group or Facebook group to get all the updates!).

So there you have it!  Montreal.  Unschooling.  Cool stuff.  I'm looking forward to seeing how things progress in our ongoing education revolution!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Growing Up Unschooled...With Siblings

I read this post recently over at Un-Schooled, and all I could think as I read it was how very much I related to it.  Not the great-musicians-touring-Europe bit (I wish), but the relationship, the closeness, described between siblings.  And I just had to share my own relationship with my sister, and how I feel that relationship has been affected by unschooling.

Emilie (most often referred to as Em or Emi, if I'm the one doing the referring) is hands down my best friend in the entire world.

Emi, in summer '09.

She's 2 1/2 years younger than me (the half especially mattered when we were younger: doesn't a bigger sibling always want to claim as much of an older-and-thus-obviously-more-mature advantage as they can?), so when I first started going to kindergarten (which I continued to do for half a year) she was still too young for school (this was long enough ago that three was still considered too young for school!).  Every day when the bus came to pick me up, my mother would walk me the short distance to the end of our street, while Emi would stay by the window watching until I was picked up.  I think she was envious of me: that I got to go somewhere that seemed, at the time, exciting (though I was personally pretty ambivalent about my kindergarten experience, even at the time).  More than that, I think she just missed me.  We were used to spending all of our time together.

Me and Emi, circa '96 or '97
Once I left school, we fell back into a more familiar rhythm.   We spent our days playing, creating art, and going to various group activities.  When Emi reached school-age, there was never any suggestions of her going to school.

So we grew up together.  We played, learned, squabbled, and everything else siblings are supposed to do.

We liked baking... Circa 2000.

I mean, we certainly fought, and continue to fight, at times. When she was just a toddler I bit her on the face, and just a couple of years ago I gashed her arm open with my nails (then felt extremely bad about it for weeks, long after it had healed), among hundreds of other small fights that resulted in less spectacular displays of physical violence.  For a few years, when I was in my preteen to very early teenage years, we lost a lot of closeness, as I had definitely hit a new developmental stage, felt a lot older, and Emi was still a little kid.  But once she reached the preteen stage, we regained that closeness once more.

Me and Emi, with our dog, Flora, in '02.

Of course, virtually all siblings--be they unschoolers, homeschoolers, public and private schoolers, or freeschoolers--love their siblings.  Many, no matter what type of education they have, are even close to their siblings.  But sadly, there are also many who are not.

 To me, one of the greatest benefits of unschooling is the relationships I've developed with my family, which I definitely attribute at least in part to unschooling.  When in school, siblings spend every day appart from each other, in separate grades, classrooms, and even schools (though seeing as you're not supposed to be socializing in class, I suppose it wouldn't make much of a difference if siblings where in the same class, anyway).  Evenings are usually spent doing homework, or spending time with other friends.  There's a stigma attached to hanging out with people of different ages, and I've definitely also encountered a stigma to liking family members.  To many young people, actually liking a sibling enough to spend time with them just isn't cool.

So as unschoolers, we missed out on internalizing any siblings-are-uncool-and-so-is-anyone-younger-than-me messages.  But far more than that, we simply had the time to become such good friends!

Because that's what we are now: best friends.  Emi is now 17, and I'll be turning 20 in March.  Though we no longer share the same activities, we still share a fair amount of friends.  We hang out together.  We giggle and squee over sexy guys, watch shows and movies together, and endlessly discuss the plot, characters, and where it all might be heading.  We also discuss a huge array of other things: like sexism and anarchy, oppression and media and racism and gender and how we want to live our lives.  Problems with friends and things people said and how we can make a difference.  Sometimes we curl up together and talk until 4:00 am or later. 

Laughing at who knows what. Taken in 2007.

We've been known to laugh in synchronization, and even to burst out singing the exact same song at the exact same time, completely out of the blue.  We make comments and references that cause us both to burst into laughter, when no one else has a clue what we're talking about.  We exchange plenty of secrets that never go further than the two of us, and we almost always know what the other is getting at, even if we're exhausted and making no sense (which, being the very late night people we are, is a fairly frequent occurrence).
 
At a dance, in 2008.
Perhaps we would have been just as close had we gone to school.  But I'm oh so glad that our relationship was never put under the strain of the both of us growing up separately in school, so glad that our friendship could grow unhindered as we ourselves grew up!

Both of us looking kinda silly, but happy! June, '10.

Yeah, okay, I'm feeling kind of sappy now.  But, well, she's my sister.  I could go on so much longer: I could talk about how we've always looked out for and defended each other.  I could talk about how awesome (and witty, intelligent, hilarious, social, thoughtful, compassionate...) my sister is, and about all the cool things she does (like play snare drum in a Highland band, and be a Ninja--really, she takes Ninjitsu--and write novels, and sew plushies...), and all that jazz.  But I think I'm going to stop here, and finish instead with this quote from Kate, of Un-Schooled, who says it all so much better than I've managed to in this post:
"Going to school doesn’t mean not getting to know your own family. It doesn’t mean not becoming good friends with your siblings. But being unschooled means getting the chance to hang out with them all the time. To learn with them the way kids in school learn with their classmates. To learn with them in ways that classrooms can’t really ever encompass. Being unschooled means living together during the day as well as the evening and the winter as well as the summer. Not knowing that you’re supposed to be divided up into grade levels and younger kids are supposed to be boring and older kids are supposed to be off limits. Being unschooled means being in it together. Every day.
And I am so thankful that I got the chance to be with my brothers like that."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Grown Unschooler Jaclyn Dolamore: "Art and stories are woven through the fabric of every subject."

I'm happy to present the first grown unschooler interview of the new year!  I invite you to read more interviews with grown unschoolers, and if you're a grown unschooler yourself, I invite you to participate in this project.

Jaclyn Dolamore has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, drawing, and organic food. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her partner Dade and two black tabbies who have ruined her carpeting (the cats, that is, not the boyfriend). Magic Under Glass is her first novel, a YA fantasy about a dancing girl who falls in love with the spirit of a fairy gentleman trapped in a clockwork automaton. Romance between a mermaid and a winged boy will follow in 2011 with Between the Sea and Sky, as well as a short story about conjoined twins on an airship in Corsets and Clockwork: 13 Steampunk Romances. Find her at http://www.jaclyndolamore.com.


When did you become an unschooler?
I've been unschooled from the beginning of my school years (with a few interruptions--explained in my next answer).

How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
We had a little bit of curriculum/structure near the beginning and end of my school experience, and I went to 2nd grade because my mom was getting a massage therapy license, and gifted class one day a week for the rest of elementary school.

How old are you now?
28.

Do you have any siblings?  If so, did they/do they unschool as well?
I have two sisters, Kate and Ivy, and they were also both mostly unschooled.

If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
My mom decided to unschool us; I'm sure she could articulate her specific reasons better than I could, and I don't want to put words in her mouth, but she's always been interested in alternative education (and is really a free-thinking person in many areas of life). And I have to get serious credit to my dad, too, for supporting it and being the breadwinner so my mom could stay at home with us. 

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
The time and space to be myself, pursue my passions, make my own choices. I have always been passionate about storytelling, in some form or another, and spent the majority of my childhood hours creating stories, comics and art, and playing complicated pretend games with ongoing plot lines with my sister. I felt like I was really hitting my creative stride in my teen years, when my peers were buried with homework and school and were "too old" for a lot of that stuff. I think they were missing out. I would still play "pretend games" if I could! But my writing now pays the bills, and I have loads of stories from my teen years that I still pluck ideas from to rework. To say nothing of the time to learn the things I wanted to learn. Whatever I was interested in, I could study to my heart's content, immersing myself in one or two subjects at a time, and I think it really helped me retain the things I learned. When I was in the early days of my anime/manga phase at 14, I learned to read and write the Japanese syllabary in one intensive day of study. In school, you'd just get a little time for this and a little time for that, whether you liked it or not.

What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
I think it really depends on the individual situation. But I did lack friends. The friends I did have were mostly the children of my mom's friends, which meant I didn't really get to choose them from a classroom pool, and even then I didn't see them often. The internet was a wonderful thing when that came along, but it still sucked having all my friends in other states! However...while people worry about homeschooled kids not having enough friends, I also skipped the negative side of being around a million other kids, like bullying or peer pressure.

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?
I did skip college. At first it wasn't really intended to be forever, I just didn't know what to do with myself, but I did know I did NOT WANT LOANS unless I had a purpose for them. I felt like I needed some time to work, get out into the world, and figure out what I wanted to do. So I did. In my early twenties I visited a friend who was attending the University of Toronto, stayed in her dorm, sat in on some classes--got some serious college lust. Plus I'd hit upon the idea of getting a degree to become a librarian. So I started looking into schools and finances. As I was doing this, though, I was thinking about how what I really wanted to be was a writer. And I'd never really tried. So I dropped the college idea for the time being and gave myself a new goal: sell a book in four years, or go to college. I was 23 at the time, and it took me three years to hit the goal.

Are you currently earning money in any way?
Yes, I have now been a full-time writer for two years. It's not the most financially stable work, at least for a debut author, but so far so good, and it is my dream job. I have one novel on the shelves and two more done and sold.

What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
Prior to selling a book, I worked at a health food store, and before that, at Sears. (First job and all. Whee.)

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
I think unschooling helped me know that I didn't have to settle for less than joy in my working life. 

What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
It is honestly as hard for me to imagine what my life would be like going to school as it would be to imagine being born in some far-off country. It's had a huge impact and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
Don't be afraid if your kids seem to be playing all day. I incorporated all kinds of things into my play: Math! History! Music! But most importantly, I used stories and art to puzzle out the world around me as I grew, the big questions in life--love, death, war, religion, sex, gender...the list goes on. Taking in art, through books or movies or comic books or music or even video games, and making art through whatever medium(s) one prefers, is as necessary as breathing to being human. Art and stories are woven through the fabric of every subject, but I think sometimes school sucks things dry.

Don't be afraid if kids are bored sometimes. There is something on the other side of bored, and it's a wellspring of creativity and ambition that is all the better for a kid having to find it for themselves.

Don't be afraid if your kids don't seem to get as much social interaction as other kids. Contrary to current belief, children don't need to be around a group of children of their exact age all day every day to learn how to interact with other humans. In fact, I might argue that it's detrimental and artificial to do so, because the "real world" certainly isn't like that.
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