Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Frustration of Being That Unschooled Person

You know, sometimes I'm overwhelmed simply by how much my priorities, ways of relating to others, and just myself in general, has changed this past year.

One big shift in priorities being the decision to no longer be as involved, online or other places, in unschooling advocacy as I have been in the past, of course. Because at this point? I just get so damn frustrated all the time with the way people look at and treat me, with their swift and wildly inaccurate assumptions, rude queries, and possibly worst of all, simply how much of who I am and how I behave is attributed only and completely to the fact I was unschooled  (am? I'm uncertain what educational labels I currently want to identify with). Especially when it's people who I think are cool and want to get to know better, people I consider part of my community, who seem to be (most likely subconsciously) doing this. It can feel remarkably hurtful to be reduced to nothing more than That Unschooled Person, whether deliberately or not.

Luckily, most of the folks I consider cool to start with really are nice folk, so that phase passes, but it's still pretty frustrating when it feels like this has to happen with most (though not all) of the more traditionally educated people I meet and get to know.

And yes, I do recognize that this happens for many different reasons to many different people. I could just as easily be That Anarchist Person or That Queer Person, I guess.  But, that doesn't really happen to me personally. It's always about unschooling.

I am just so tired of dealing with all that shit.
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I was at a fundraising party for a cool art space last night, and the one unpleasant event to mar the evening was a person, upon finding out I'd never been to school, who somehow imagined it was appropriate to turn to me and ask me a math question. Everyone else at the table I was sitting at seemed as taken aback as I was! 

I got those types of very rude and condescending questions frequently while growing up, but this is the first time in several years that that's happened to me. I'm 21. You'd think that, even to the folks who justify being that rude to kids, that they'd realize that type of behavior SERIOUSLY crosses the bounds of politeness when dealing with adults.  I don't mean to imply that this type of behavior is more appropriate when it's aimed towards kids, and as an adult I certainly have a much easier time handling stuff like that. But it most definitely is more surprising and unpleasantly unexpected!

My response was simply and truthfully that I decided years ago not to answer any quiz questions people rudely asked me.

And hey, I gave them my blog address, so maybe they'll wander on over here and gain a better perspective on what unschooling is, and maybe even behave in a much more respectful manner to the next unschooler they meet.
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For those wondering, no, my new level of frustration with dealing with other people's shit does not mean I regret unschooling. It does mean that I just wish people would get over it already, though.  I thought by now I'd be done with all the annoying questions and reactions, and it's slightly depressing to realize otherwise. I find myself wondering if people will still be quizzing me on my math skills when I'm 40, or if by then they'll be too busy attempting to quiz my own kids, no matter how old they are, and scolding me for being so irresponsible as to unschool them.
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Believe it or not, to give a bit of a life update, I continue to be really happy.  Life is good.  But this blog keeps floating through my head, demanding some acknowledgement, and pouring out a few recent  frustrations felt, for better or for worse, like a cathartic thing to do! 

Me being happy. See, I told you I was!

For the last couple of months, I've been volunteering with what's essentially a catering kitchen, that works to support a really cool new art and community space called Le Milieu.  It's a great project and group of people, and I'm so happy to be involved!

I've also been thinking, recently, about maybe taking a university course or two. Thinking about how much easier my life would be if I could just go through the bit of bureaucracy needed to get into university, and then check "university" off in the next set of little education boxes I need to mark. No longer would I confuse any government or otherwise bureaucratic organization, seeing how I seem all "educated" and whatnot, but not having that piece of paper to prove I'm good at memorizing shit and am thus truly "educated."  It shouldn't matter, and almost always it doesn't end up mattering, but it does take longer and lead to more confusion than I like dealing with. I don't know if I will end up taking a couple of classes, but it definitely is something I'm considering.

And in the meantime, I'll continue to do what I've been doing: work in kitchens, experiment with fermenting various things, hang out with friends, read good books, spend way too much time shopping in thrift stores (though not too much money, since I am pro at this), play music, ponder moving closer to all the action (aka downtown Montreal instead of the outskirts), and generally enjoy life.  I think that's a very good plan.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making Transitions and Following Passions

The summer was just beginning when I last wrote here. The days were hot, and I was very happy for that heat. Summer is always a season with weather I very much enjoy. And now, the leaves are turning colour, the days are mostly cool, and the nights are downright cold. A whole season has passed, and I find myself thinking that it went both very quickly, and at the same time quite slowly.

Though it might be what you're hoping for, this post isn't about unschooling. Or, at least it isn't about the philosophy of unschooling, simply my own attempts to follow what I'm truly passionate about, and make my way in the world.

A whole season without posts, and somewhat sporadic ones before that. Quite a few people have expressed  disappointment at how little I've been writing here, and a very small part of me feels bad. I don't like disappointing people. But for the most part, I'm okay with it. Because honestly, I have to be open about how I'm just not that interested in  education/unschooling anymore. Not that I don't still care about it, just that I don't want it to be my main focus anymore.

This isn't a post to say this blog is ending, though. I would definitely like to keep writing here, when I feel moved to, and there are a handful of draft posts I really do plan on finishing. But I'm going to continue the recent trend of not writing here very often, for the simple reason that this isn't what's calling to me, my mind is mostly taken up with something else.

That something else being, as you might have guessed if you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, food. I love food. As in, really, really love it. Going to farmers markets is one of my favorite outings, lovely vegetables make me skip with joy, cooking something new makes me giddy with excitement. If I'm inside, there's probably at least one cookbook within arms reach. If I'm outside and not directly interacting with someone, I'm probably looking around spotting the edible plants I know, and wondering if the ones I don't recognize are edible. When I watch TV, it's mostly food shows, and if my family had cable, I would probably skip sleeping and just watch The Food Network all night, every night instead. I think you're probably getting the picture.

I like growing food to, because plants are awesome & I get food.

Lest this seem sudden, I've always really liked food, and enjoyed cooking for most of my teens years. And even this more intense passion for food has been around probably two years now. I guess what's mainly changed, as silly as it sounds, is that I've realized food can be my main focus. For some reason, that didn't occur to me at first.

It makes me a bit sad to see that alternative/freedom-based ed has gotten pushed to the side, becoming only one of many interests hanging around at the sidelines of my life, but at the same time, it feels good. What I really want to be focusing on right now, what I'm really interested in, is food firstly, and then radical sustainability, both of which overlap and fit together nicely. It's sad to realize that in many ways, an important phase in my life is over, but at the same time it feels so, so good to genuinely and truly know what I want to be doing. I don't feel like I'm floundering anymore. I might still not know how to go about getting what I want, but now I know what I want!

So right now, I'm trying to get the experience and knowledge necessary to cook professionally, since I really want to be doing that. I've looked into culinary schools, but most aren't really what I'm looking for, and the couple that look interesting are very pricey. Besides, I'm not even really sure that route feels like the one I'd like to take. What I'd really love to do is find some type of apprenticeship or internship type situation, with someone/some restaurant into vegetarian or local/sustainable food. Or possibly bread baking. Though I'm pretty flexible: as long as it's high quality cooking being done, and I don't have to personally do butchering or deal with raw meat, I'm good. An apprenticeship to me would be ideal! So, you know, if any readers have any ideas on how to pursue that, I would be very, very grateful if you'd share them!

When it comes to simply writing online, I think what feels best for me right now is to remain fairly quiet other than occasional posts on this blog. I have considered starting a food themed blog, but I've started so many failed blogs, I don't just want to add another to the list, since I'm really not sure I'd keep it up. I am trying to write down recipes, and write about cool food related experiences, so maybe if I collect enough of those I'll decide a blog might be in order. We'll see. Until then, I still post frequently, though now mostly about food, on Twitter, and if enough people are interested in reading short food-related updates, recipes, and food links, I could always start a Facebook page devoted to that (since I prefer to keep my private Facebook page, where I do a fair bit of that, private)!

I feel a need to thank all you readers for all the encouragement and support and enthusiasm you've shared with me over the years. I'm deeply, profoundly grateful for you all! And I hope, as I make transitions in my life and follow new passions, that you'll choose to stick around so we can continue to connect with each other, share experiences, and all that other stuff that's made me so highly value blogging, and the other online communities I'm a part of!

With best wishes,
Idzie

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Occupy Education Conference Talk

I wrote a fairly short introductory talk on unschooling for an event that happened last weekend, the Occupy Education conference. The attendees were a mix of homeschooling and unschooling parents, striking university students (there's a pretty incredible social movement going on here in Quebec. Google "Quebec student strike" and you'll find lots of info!), and educators. It went really well. Lots of interesting group and one-on-one discussions! And since most readers couldn't be there, I wanted to at least share the talk I wrote. It's nothing I haven't said before, but I hope you'll enjoy reading it nonetheless.

My name is Idzie, and I'm a kindergarten drop-out.

The early years

When my parents first took me out of school, they had the idea that they'd homeschool me. And most people have at least a vague idea of what homeschooling is (though they usually also have a whole bunch of misconceptions). Instead of being taught by teachers, kids are taught by their parents. Usually at least some curriculum, bought or put together by the parents, is used, and, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the family, you do school at home. That's the idea that we started with. But my mother always trusted a lot in the innate ability of children to learn, so from the beginning we were very relaxed homeschoolers, and by that I mean that there wasn't a curriculum that my sister (who also didn't go to school) and I were expected to, but my parents still expected us to work on certain "school" subjects, namely math.

As we grew older, those expectations started to dissapear, and I finally said no, I'm no longer going to use those math textbooks, which is when I'd say we truly became unschoolers. I was probably around 10 or 11.

What is unschooling?

Unschooling, on the other hand, is something that people know less about.  It can be described in several different ways, all accurate, just different. I've decided to share this passage from my blog, slightly changed from the original, because I think it's the most thorough description of unschooling that I've ever written.

Version #1: Unschooling, which is considered a type of homeschooling, 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.

Version #2: Unschooling requires a paradigm shift, one in which you must stop looking at the world as a series of occurrences/resources/experiences etc. that can be learned from, and a series that can’t.  The world doesn’t divide neatly into different subjects, and you can’t tell right from the outset what a seemingly unimportant question, interest, or TV show obsession will lead to.  I learn from every aspect of my life, every activity I do, be it discussing politics with a friend, gardening, reading a novel, or simply daydreaming. Unschooling, at its heart, is nothing more complicated or simple than the realization that life and learning are not two separate things.  And when you realize that living and learning are inseparable, it all starts to truly make sense.

A rise in popularity

Unschooling, or life learning, as some prefer to call it, is the oldest type of learning there is. It existed long before anyone came up with the idea of putting everyone under a certain age into a single building, deciding that they'd best learn how to function in the rest of the world by staying in that building for a number of years. Even the modern unschooling movement has been around since the 70s (when the term "unschooling" was coined by John Holt), yet I've seen a marked increase in interest in this philosophy in my lifetime, and especially in the last few years. There's been a lot more media attention, with a myriad of TV spots and articles from sources across North America. More unschooling conferences are popping up, and people are even starting to recognize the term, even if they're still not sure what it means! I feel this increased interest is a very positive thing, and shows how dissatisfied so many people are with the current system.

Misconceptions and important questions

With the added exposure to unschooling--usually exposure that's presented in a very misleading and sensationalized way--comes a lot of misconceptions about the concept, and it gives rise to a ton of different questions. I'd like to address a few of the ones I've encountered most frequently, just to get them out of the way right from the beginning!

Many people think because unschooling parents or caregivers don't enforce an educational structure on their children, that unschooling automatically means there is no structure, which isn't true at all. Since unschooling puts learning into the hands of the learners themselves, they can and do choose as much or as little structure as they personally want. Thus, from the outside, it might even look like what some unschoolers are doing is school: with a curriculum, a schedule, and classes they take through their homeschool co-op. The difference is that that structure is freely chosen by the learner. They've decided that's the way they learn best, and the way they feel happiest learning. By the same token, unschooling parents may suggest various classes or structured activities, and the learner is free to say yes or no. Unschooling doesn't mean no textbooks or classes, it just means no textbooks or classes unless you want them!

It's also common to believe that, because unschooling parents don't usually "teach" their children (though they may if their children ask them to), that they're uninvolved in their lives and in their learning, which couldn't be further from the truth! Unschooling parents are generally extremely involved, helping their children navigate the world, exposing them to interesting things, helping them access various resources from books to classes to mentors, and in many cases simply sharing in the discovery and wonder their children experience in their daily lives.

And sometimes, people like to say that unschooling would only work with motivated individuals. That only a few especially intelligent or special people could "succeed" with unschooling. And I really couldn't disagree more! I'm not especially motivated or especially special (though I suppose it's flattering that so many people seem to think so). What people fail to realize is that, if nothing gets in the way of the joy, people really love learning. Humans are good at learning, and, empowered by how trusted they are with their own education, unschoolers are motivated to learn. So it's not that motivated people are particularly suited to unschooling, but that unschooling creates motivated people. That learning may not always, or even often, look like the education you'd find in school, but it's most definitely learning.

"If kids get to choose what they do, all they'll ever do is play video games and read comics!", people say, which doesn't take several things into account. First, that those activities have worth, and much can be learned from them. I've heard of some kids who learned to read by reading video game manuals, and my sister has spent quite a bit of time in the past studying Japanese, thanks to an interest in Japanese culture sparked by Manga (so, basically, comic books). The second is that no one wants to do only one thing forever. Unschoolers may go through stages where it seems ALL that they're doing is one thing and one thing only. For a couple of years most of what I did was read novels. Eventually, I started wanting to do other things as well, and, in large part, I credit that time of intense and voracious devouring of books with the skills in writing I have now. It was all-consuming, but it was okay. It was good. Sometimes, people learn best by focusing on one thing for a while.

People also sometimes tell me that learning is hard, and kids don't like to do hard things. Yet babies learn to walk and talk without any forcing, something I'm sure is incredibly difficult. We're driven to be part of the world we find ourselves in, and are drawn to learning the skills we need to function in it. Sometimes learning feels easy, and sometimes it feels hard. Sometimes learning, whether it's harder or easier, is fun, and sometimes it's less fun. But if it seems important and relevant in our lives, and if we have the confidence and support needed to do so, we will learn what we need to learn. Though, again, it may not be on the timeline expected from those in school. I learned to read at age 8 or 9, "late" by many peoples' count, but it hasn't harmed my ability to read or write at all.

Where I am now

Now, as a grown unschooler, freedom-based education and unschooling in particular has become quite important to me. I write a blog about unschooling, I speak at conferences and similar events, and I try to share what knowledge I have on the subject in hopes it'll help others searching for an entirely different way of looking at learning and education. I'm also extremely passionate about food, growing it and cooking it and sharing it with others. Next year I plan to leave home and spend the year living in various rural areas, and working on organic farms. Eventually, I want to be involved in building a radically sustainable intentional community. I'm interested in feminism, non-hierarchal organizing and collective decision making, travel, and writing. There's still a fairly big gap between where I am now in my life and where I want to be, but I feel I'm heading in the right direction. Contrary to what some believe when they hear of unschooling, I do not and never have hated my parents for not sending me to school, or not "making" me learn. Instead, I'm incredibly grateful to them for the freedom I was given, and feel that because of that freedom, I had the time and space to figure out a lot of important things about myself, about the world, and about where I fit (and want to fit) in that world. And that's an important thing to know!

In conclusion   

If there's something from the philosophy of unschooling that I most want people to get, it's a realization of how capable humans are: children of learning, and parents and caregivers of assisting their children in learning. We don't need large institutions to teach us, or corporations to sell us "educational material," or governments, institutions, or corporations to tell us what we need to be learning. We're capable, as individuals, as families, and as communities, of controlling our own learning and our own lives. In empowering us with this knowledge, I truly believe unschooling as a philosophy has great potential in helping us to really change the world and how we live in it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teens, Control, and the Nature of Love

Possibly the article I've received the most angry and condescending reactions to, of anything I've ever written, is my post on teenage rebellion (especially when it was posted, with heavy edits that I did not approve prior to posting, on the supposedly alternative parenting site Offbeat Mama).  And several months ago when that same article was published on Scarleteen, another comment (which we chose to delete because of it's condescending tone and the perspective it seemed to be coming from) got me thinking about the most common (and often very angry) criticism of the respectful parenting of teens: the idea of boundaries.

I feel like the way people talk about boundaries is the same way they talk about structure: as if both are these external things that are very important in creating "Disciplined," "Educated," and otherwise useful (aka "Productive") human beings. Things that the good and responsible adults (parents, teachers, etc.) are supposed to construct and enforce.

But, the same way that structure, when it comes to unschooling, is a mix of the natural rhythms found in the home and community and whatever the unschooler themselves chooses to consciously build in their life, I think boundaries are often similar. There are boundaries, both natural and constructed, in all aspects of life. I feel like everything from physical space limitations and physical abilities to laws, rules, and money could all be considered "boundaries" of a sort. Many of these boundaries should be challenged and pushed, in my opinion, but currently they all do exist, to some extent, for everyone.

Yet when I most often see and hear people talking about boundaries, it's very specifically the rules parents construct and enforce on their children. It's most often in the context of "I can really tell your parents never properly enforced any boundaries for you!" Once, on the aforementioned Offbeat Mama publishing of my rebellion article, someone even said that "Kids need, and deep down WANT, limits and boundaries," which is one of those things that, when writing about it, I need to first take a deep breath before I can go on to calmly discuss and dispute it, since my first instinct is just to say "fuck you," which isn't very helpful. But the incredible superiority and condescension contained in such statements takes my breath away, and brings home to me in a very profound way how terribly teenagers are looked at and treated in this culture.

Every pro-enforced-boundaries discussion comes back to the idea that teens are not full and complete human beings capable of making their own decisions and living their own lives. They're irresponsible, "unfinished," untrustworthy, and otherwise faulty.  I have very little patience for the condescension, rigid attemtps at control, and outright disgust and mockery that teens regularly have to deal with, because ultimately, all of this is sending some very harmful messages: there's something wrong with you. You're not good enough. Because of your age, you don't deserve to be treated well and fairly.

There are plenty of rationalizations made for the treatment teens receive, of course. From the scientific there's-something-wrong-with-their-brains (instead of celebrating the difference as just another stage of life), to "they secretly like being controlled", also known as control as a sign of love. There was recently a discussion on Facebook about teens and access to the internet, with much discussion by some parents in the thread about spying on their children (literally going into their email and Facebook accounts, and looking at their web history), and informing their children they were spying because they love them. Now, I can respect that those parents really do love their children, and that their actions are driven by fear which is driven by love, but I don't think these parents realize just how differently their teens most likely see things. What I posted on that thread was:
Snooping on a teen's internet activities is every bit as bad as reading their diary, as far as I'm concerned. Both are WRONG and a major violation of trust. It's horrifying for me to even think of the betrayal I would have felt had my parents hacked into any of my online accounts, checked history on my computer, or anything else. Good relationships and open communication are what's needed to help keep teens safe, NOT creepy things like reading their email (and Facebook messages, etc.)!
The idea that control shows love makes sense if you're used to there only being two options when it comes to parenting teens: pay lots of attention to your kids by placing lots of rules and restrictions on them, or ignore them entirely and neglect their needs. But once you realize that there are more options than that, you can see that control as love is far from the best way things can be. And in a very personal way, if control equaled teens feeling loved, and a lack of control equaled teens feeling unloved, I, and all my unschooling friends whose parents didn't/don't parent in a controlling and authoritarian way, should feel resentful and unloved. Which is very, very far from the case, as most of the unschoolers I know have really wonderful relationships with their parents. If you have a relationship that includes good communication, which is pretty essential for good relationships of any sort, then the love will be obvious. The idea that control equals love is really just a botched version of attention equals love, and parents can be and are attentive, caring, and loving without being controlling.

People seem to envision a state of utter chaos if teens are allowed freedom in the choices they make and the lives they lead, and while I find that an unlikely outcome to say the least, I do think there's some kernel of truth to the fear. Teens are more likely to be risk-takers. Teens are change-makers. And I imagine an entire population of trusted, respected, empowered teenagers participating actively in the communities around them would really shake things up. There's a lot of adults who really wouldn't like that! But I think it would do the world a great deal of good to embrace the strengths and unique viewpoint that teens bring to the table. Teenagers are important. And their voices and experiences need to be acknowledged as such.

What are or were your experiences, as a teen or as the parent of a teen, with discussions around "boundaries," control, privacy, and similar things? How did the way your parents parented effect you, and what things do you consider positive or negative about the decisions they made? Leave a comment and join the discussion!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Critiquing the Radical Unschooling Critique: Real Negatives or Gross Generalizations?

I came across a post a couple weeks back that I'm sure many readers will react quite strongly to. For once, it's not from some big mainstream media source dissing unschooling, but instead from a member of the unschooling community who left school in his teens, and has spoken at a couple of unschooling conferences. In it, the author discusses radical unschooling, and all the faults he sees in it. You can go read it over here before continuing, if you want.

Done reading (or not)? Okay, let me continue.

I want to start by saying that I appreciate Eli's honestly, and had many interesting discussions with him several years back when we both attended the same conference. To some extent, I agree with some of his points. To some (larger) extent, I disagree. But I'd like to take things bit by bit, and break down just what I like and dislike about his post.

"My parents made me do it, and I'm GLAD they did!"

I find it odd that the first and main example given is that of an always schooled individual, the moral of the anecdote seemingly being that it's often good when parents make there kids do things (or so it seems to me). But one story of someone schooled who was grateful to her parents for making a large decision for her, doesn't really make sense to me when discussing unschooling. There's such a different framework of living, and most often such a different style of parenting, between unschooling and regular schooling families, that it really does feel like the author is comparing apples to oranges (not that I like calling anyone fruits, but it seemed the most apt expression to use!). Yeah, okay, this person was happy with that, but how does that have any real impact on the topic at hand? Where's the story of a grown unschooler wishing their parent had made different choices, or being grateful for a time their parents had pushed them into something? I know there are at least a few cases of that, and that would present a far more compelling argument for increased parental control, to me (not that I'd ultimately necessarily agree: just that I'd find it made a stronger case).

And that mention of "bad crowds"... Well, that just doesn't sit right with me at all. I don't believe in bad crowds as they're usually defined and discussed, though I do believe in teens who are really struggling, and coping with their struggles as best they can. Sometimes a teen (or a person of any age, really) is in a group with people who treat them really badly. That's wrong, and no one should have to put up with that. But at the same time, I still wouldn't say the hypothetical group in question is bad, it's just unhealthy, and filled with people who would greatly benefit from being given safe spaces to spend time in, and supportive older people to spend time with. "Bad crowd" is too often just a vicious value judgement that makes it even harder to live as a teen in this culture.

Continuing with the story of the schooled individual whose parents saved her from "bad crowds," Eli says: "Maybe some radical unschoolers would acknowledge this case of parents sending their child to a school of their choosing as an exception where the radical unschooling approach was not the best thing. Of course, they might insist the parents should have taken her out of school altogether (and I might disagree because maybe she’d still run with the same crowd in town)." And here... Well, here I come to something that frustrates me a lot: when people decide that some decision made, no matter who made it, was the only course of action that could have resulted in good outcomes. When really, we don't know. You don't know. I don't know. I genuinely think I'd be in a worse place had I been to school. But I'm not actually certain, because how can I be? Maybe the woman in question is better off because of the decision her parents made. But maybe she would be even better off now if she'd worked through the troubles she was having herself. I can't help but think that, if the same situation had come up in a radical unschooling family, she would have ended up just as good in the end, only perhaps with a better sense of personal power. To say that this was the only way things could have worked out seems short-sighted at the very least.

The Importance of Environment

Eli brings up an interesting point when he discusses environment, saying "When unschoolers, radical or otherwise, talk about people’s natural motivation to learn and do what’s ultimately best for themselves, they often don’t acknowledge the power of our environment. What I’m motivated  to do is affected by what’s available, what’s needed, what others are doing, what’s considered 'cool', etc." I agree that perhaps how much we're all effected by the culture around us isn't recognized as much as it could be. I like Daniel Quinn's characterization of "the voice of Mother Culture," and that's generally what I'm thinking of when I say that unschooling isn't enough. And what I mean by that, is that unschooling alone will not come anywhere close to solving the tremendous amount of problems with our ways of living and relating to each other on this Earth. We need to question a lot more than just the education system. But, I think unschooling is a very good start, and I question whether increased parental control is really going to have a positive impact on how children and teens learn to deal with all the various pressures and situations they're faced with on a day-to-day basis. As I've said in discussion about TV watching (a very common example that radical unschoolers bring up, as is noted in Eli's post), parents being very involved with their kids--discussing the problematic things we encounter every day--is, I believe, far more productive than simply trying to keep their kids away from everything they believe is harmful, which is completely impossible if you're trying to take in as much of the world as you can, as many unschoolers seek to do. Similarly, while I believe that it's important for parents to be an active part of their teens' lives and the decisions they make, important for parents to act as guides and mentors, I'm not so sure that parents making choices they believe are "best" for their children, without their consent, is a good thing. Parents regularly, with their children's best interests genuinely at heart, make decisions I'm inclined to think are really bad!

That said, absolutes are rarely true, and I'm very sure that parents making choices against their kids wishes sometimes works out really well. Sometimes the kids in question end up very happy with whatever decision(s) were made. I'm also really not a fan of people deciding exactly the "right" way for everyone to relate to each other and interact as a family. How people best communicate and make decisions, what makes individuals and families happy and healthy, will differ from person to person and family to family. I strongly believe that the more respected and trusted people are (regardless of age), the more open and genuine the communication happening, and the more collective/cooperative the decisions made, the better everyone tends to end up feeling. But... Ultimately each situation is unique, and everyone just has to do their best in doing whatever they truly feel is best! Here it seems Eli and I agree, as he says "Personally, I think the ideal is truly happy, healthy people who know themselves, and do their best to share their gifts with the world."

What Makes Radical Unschoolers Different

Eli says that "Almost all parents who are not radical unschoolers think [unrestricted access to] TV, bedtimes, junk food, and video games is ridiculous. By concentrating on these things radical unschoolers can differentiate themselves from other parents. Every group needs their own way of identifying themselves." Which, well, feels like it's selling radical unschooling more than a little short. I've never felt like the most important things to radical unschoolers is unrestricted access to candy! I think why those are often used as examples is not just because all radical unschoolers agree about it, but because those things provide easy examples when articulating the ways in which approaching parenting with a radical unschooling philosophy play out in everyday life, by comparing the way they might usually be handled to the way an RU parent might handle things. And it still seems to me that when radical unschooling is discussed, the focus remains squarely on trusting and respecting children, not sugar or Wii.

Ultimately, Eli comes to the conclusion that what truly differentiates radical unschoolers is their "concentration on not forcing their children to do anything or impose any rules." And here, well, here I really disagree with him that rules are ever necessary. I don't believe in "rules" (neither do I believe in "laws," though that's a whole different story). Rules are absolutes, and don't leave any room for context, for figuring out how to handle each different situation in the best way. You can have no rules, yet still physically stop your child from hitting someone, or pulling on the cat's tail, or walking into traffic. Rules aren't necessary to parent well, and I believe they are at least as likely to cause more of the "bad behavior" in response to such an authoritarian approach, as they are to actually stop the behavior! I don't think rules help make people decent human beings, but I do think that acting with kindness, and helping your children (and partner(s), friends, neighbors) to act with kindness (including holding those around you accountable for their less than kind actions), helps create people who are kind. Rules aren't necessary.
  
Dealing with Conflict

I agree that radical unschoolers often put a lot of focus on conflict, namely on avoiding it by minimizing situations likely to cause conflict between parents and children. I also agree with Eli that conflict is unavoidable. Where I differ greatly, though, is in the level of conflict I think is okay. Fights over who didn't change the toilet paper, political opinions, and similar things are an inevitable and not very major (well, depending on the political opinions, I suppose!) aspect of living with others. But when Eli states that "Sometimes a parent will have to make a decision the child really doesn’t like and the child may be angry at her/him for a long time"? My initial, gut reaction is just no. When someone is angry at someone else for a long time, it almost always means that an important trust was betrayed. If anger lasts for a long time, it means something wrong was done. So while I don't think the damage is necessarily irreparable (though it may well be), I definitely don't think it's okay to cause that much anger and hurt.

Arguments for more tightly controlling children, and by children I mean people who have not yet reached their teens, hold more weight than those advocating controlling teens, to me. Not that I agree with traditional parenting of young kids AT ALL, but that arguments for more control seem to have some sense to them, at least. Children really aren't capable of a lot of things that older people are, though they're a lot more capable then most people give them credit for, and should be treated with no less humanity and respect than every human should be entitled to. But teens? Teens are remarkably capable people. Teens regularly raise children, run households, work as activists, and a million other important and difficult things. Teenagers, in my mind, are deserving of ALL the rights and respect accorded to adults. No one should be able to make important decisions in the life of a teen against their will, never mind whether parents want to or not.

This is not to say that teens are exactly the same as adults, or that they don't usually need more support and assistance than older people. Just that with the capability they have, teens should be the ones ultimately making the important decisions in their lives, because, well, it's their life. It's pretty simple.

Keep Away from the Muggles!

Some people, Eli says, have been turned off by the judgement and intolerance they've met in dealings with radical unschoolers. And actually, yeah, that's been exactly my experience, as well. Not personally, but friends and even family have been told they're not "really" unschooling, and many people have said to me they've felt extremely unwelcome in radical unschooling (and even sometimes plain 'ol unschooling) spaces, both online and in person. Often people who are new to unschooling ideas quickly find out that certain questions and concerns are not treated kindly when expressed (and I'm not talking about people who come into unschooling spaces and aggressively start interrogating everyone there, but people who respectfully and worriedly ask questions about this philosophy that really draws them, yet is frightening at the same time). That's why I try very hard, while still expressing difficult ideas as plainly and honestly as I can, to make sure I never tell others that they're doing it wrong. While I do believe there are things that are not really unschooling, I respect and am friends with people who are homeschoolers, relaxed homeschoolers, and regular schoolers. I think more freedom is always better, in any context or way, and if a parent whose kids are in school gains some inspiration for creating a home environment that's more respectful, or a teacher tries to bring as much inspiration from unschooling into their classroom as they can, or a homeschooler convinces their parents to let them pursue some of their own projects during "school time," then I'll feel I've succeeded in sharing unschooling ideas. Any positive changes people make in their lives are good, even if they don't end up unschooling.

"Radical Unschooling" in (mis)Practice

I know Eli's criticism's stem in large part from what he's witnessed at conferences. 'Cause here's the thing: if you've been to unschooling conferences, it's almost guaranteed you've seen at least one instance (and probably more than one) of kids behaving in disrespectful and unkind ways to those around them, while their parents do nothing. Sometimes it seems that radical unschooling, with ideals of giving children great freedom in all areas of life, is interpreted as everything your children do, ever, is okay because they're just "expressing their freedom." When, well, there are lots of things that aren't okay. How each family and individual will deal with and react to each situation will be different, among people who identify as homeschoolers and unschoolers and radical unschoolers and everyone else, and there isn't really one right way of reacting to any situation, though I definitely think it's fair to say that there are better and worse ways, and ignoring unkind behavior, no matter what the age of the individual, isn't a very good strategy. I understand that this is what Eli, and plenty of others, have witnessed, and for some it's turned them off of unschooling altogether, which is a real shame. The unschooling community as a whole is often really loathe to self-critique, which lets a lot of problems within the community go unchecked and unmentioned by many (though not by the plenty of people I've had really great conversations with about the issues we see). There are often issues that do need to be addressed, but here we get to perhaps my main problem with Eli's post: it generalizes. So hugely and blatantly.

Those who call themselves radical unschoolers, or whole-life learners, or otherwise extend freedom to their children beyond just the academics or what could be considered traditionally "educational," are a large enough group that if you generalize, you're going to be wrong. I know too many really awesome people, and great parents, to feel even remotely comfortable when someone equates radical unschooling, and all radical unschoolers, with what some like to call "unparenting." Criticize the problems, but don't decide that those problems are shared with every radical unschooler out there. And please don't decide that the obvious solution is more control! People can hold those around them, their kids and friends, accountable for their actions, work with them to improve situations and responses, and recognize that children need lots of extra help navigating the world they're in, without resorting to authoritarianism.

Eli says near the end of his post that "We need to go to the root of ourselves and the problems around us if we want to create real change." But as I see it, reevaluating the way we treat children and teens as a culture, and realizing that authoritarian control is and never will be a way to create positive change, never lead to the creation of a culture that is truly cooperative and respectful (to humans, non-humans, and the Earth), is deeply important. You can't teach people to be respectful by treating them without respect. You can't teach people they're capable of making good decisions by making the decisions that you think are best for them. And you can't teach people to trust in themselves by telling them with your actions that they're untrustworthy.

I rather think radical is a good word here: getting to the root of things by questioning the very foundation of hierarchy and authoritarianism that puts the youngest of us at the very bottom. Treating children as capable human beings deserving of respect, not "unfinished" beings that have to be shaped and controlled? Yeah, I think that's pretty radical.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stuff Worth Sharing with Unschoolers: a Gathering, a Group, and a Mailing List

This post came about when I was realizing just how many things, events and online groups and other things, that I wanted to let my readers know about. And, well, once you have more than one or two, it seems pretty silly to give each one it's very own post! So here are some things I really think you should check out.

Summer Montreal Unschoolers Gathering (SMUG) 2012 This event, organized primarily by my wonderful mother Debbie, is now in it's third year, and I'm sure will be every bit as fun as it was the last two years! For unschoolers (and friends of unschoolers), unlike many overnight (SMUG is a six day event) unschooling events, this is not a conference, but instead a gathering of like minded people with the express purpose of hanging out and having fun (not that unschooling conferences aren't also a ton of fun)! It also tends to have a very large percentage of young adults in attendance, so if you're a grown unschooler this might be an especially good event to look into (the first year there were also lots of young families, last year less, and this year I'm hoping there will be a nice mix of ages). So yeah, it's cool. You should come. Join the Yahoo! group, and list yourself as "going" on the Facebook event! It's been a little slow in the organizing stage because of a lot of things going on for my mother, but as long as we get enough people wanting to stay in the lodge (we know we have enough people combined camping and lodge to make a good gathering, it's just that we need a certain number in the lodge to get it all to ourselves), it's going ahead and it's gonna be great!

SMUG 2011, photo credit Patrick Morris.

Stuff Worth Sharing Network My sister Emilie just launched a Facebook group yesterday, aimed especially at the unschooling community! As the description says: "This group is about giving, trading, recycling, and generally providing for and receiving from your community! You can offer and ask for items, a place to stay on your travels, help with learning a skill, etc. I hope that this can be a tool to help unschoolers get things, be it help with a project or that rare book they've been searching for, that they can't find locally." Check it out here.

Freedom-Based Education Events Montreal I started this mailing list (for "sharing freedom-based, radical, and alternative education events happening in and around Montreal"), and then haven't really done anything with it. Yet I really want to change that, because I really think it's important! From the description:  "for several years I've been as involved as I can be with the freedom-based education community in Montreal.  During that time I've often been frustrated at how far-flung and disconnected the various people and groups interested and involved in freedom-based education are, and how hard it often is for people wanting to get involved to know where to start.  So I've started this list in an attempt to remedy those issues, to help people get involved and stay involved in the various events and projects going on, to connect with each other, and to help build momentum in this growing movement." Join the mailing list here!


Anything else you think other readers of this blog might want to know about? Events, groups, etc.? Share them in the comments!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Grown Unschooler Chloe Anne Spinnanger: "The best thing about unschooling is freedom!"


Remember that grown unschooler questionnaire I posted quite a while back, the one that lead to the publishing of a lovely bunch of interviews with grown unschoolers? Well now I am thrilled to be resurrecting that series, with this interview with Chloe! I hope you enjoy reading it, and if you're a grown unschooler, I hope you'll consider filling out the questionnaire and becoming part of this series as well. And now, I'll hand things over to Chloe:

I am Chloe, I have been educating myself since I was 9 years old. Instead of schoolwork or "homework" I spent my time doing other things. 

Instead of Phys. Ed. I was riding my bike with my brothers or friends every day, and hiking in the woods with my dad and  my dog. Instead of English class,  I read Jack London and Anne Rice and Shakespeare (among countless others), and when I was twelve I wrote a two hundred page Adventure novel with characters based on friends. I then got myself a copy of the current writers and illustrators market and learned about how to get a book edited and published. Instead of science, I watched the Crocodile Hunter religiously, I read the origin of species, and numerous zoology books from the library, and then I went outside and hunted down frogs, salamanders,turtles, snakes, I taught myself how to identify them, and where they lived. I  had the time for many  "Extra-curricular activities" such as volunteering at the library, horseback riding, martial arts classes, training my dog, tye dying tee shirts, going to music festivals, museums, or just to the park to play, hike, or swim. 

Now I am an adult but I still feel like a kid, and an unschooler, because my learning didn't stop when I walked out of school. I am always learning, I am always seeking out what I want to know, what I want to do, and how I can make a difference in the world. Unschooling has made me who I am, and I am an unschooler for life.

When did you become an unschooler?
 4th grade officially, I realized it at about 12. 

How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
 10 years.

How old are you now?
20.

Do you have any siblings?  If so, did they/do they unschool as well?
Yes I have two younger brothers who have never been to school in their lives.

If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
At the time I think I was too busy enjoying life to pay attention to my parents motives, but I can say that I know their decision was influenced a lot by other local families who unschooled.

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?).
My parents made the ultimate decision, but I was fine with that! I was lucky enough to be leaving school in the same year as two of my best friends, who's parents were also deciding to home school. So I was pretty fearless about leaving, I couldn't wait.

I remember being so happy that I was going on summer vacation and never coming back, I told all my teachers, I don't remember their reactions but I wish I did.

What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
The best thing about unschooling is freedom! The freedom of your mind: The freedom to read what you want, do what you love, be friends with anyone you want, follow your dreams, and to question anything. The freedom of your own time, to pursue what you want. The freedom of being able to live life in the real world instead of just preparing for it. 

What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
Probably other people's ignorance and closed mindedness. Schools train us so well to believe that we cannot learn or be successful without them, and it's difficult to tell people who think this way that you don't do schoolwork at all.

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 college for two years and just recently took a semester off. I really just wanted to try it out of curiosity. I was very excited, and loved most of my classes. 

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 decided to stop at the moment to step back and decide what I want to do with my life. I don't look at college as the only option for creating a happy and successful life. If I decide to become an English teacher or a zoologist, then I'll be going back to College. If I decide to become a novelist, a world traveler, or a farmer I will have no use for it.  

Are you currently earning money in any way?
I am currently working for my boyfriend's family's business in which we do catering making pizza on a firetruck. It is a lot of fun!

What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
My first job was as a volunteer at a local horse farm when I was 12, it was hard work and long hours but I loved it more than anything, I learned about working as well as learning about caring for, riding and training horses. If I had been in school I would not have had nearly as much time to spend doing this. 


I worked in a small pet store when I was sixteen, I worked there for two years and made some lifelong friends in the process. I was able to work a lot more hours than the other high school age kids working there. 

When the first pet store I worked at closed, I worked at Petsmart, doing dog training and grooming, but I ended up leaving because I hated being told what color socks to wear and having a script to spout to each and every customer. 

I have also done waitressing for the past two years, along with numerous other restaurant jobs, which is a little hectic but good money and sometimes a lot of fun!

Have you found work that's fulfilling and enjoyable?
Yes. Because of my working experience I know how important it is to me to have a job that I really enjoy, something which I can dedicate myself to. 

Have you found that unschooling has had an impact on how hard or easy it is to get jobs or earn money?
 I never once had a potential employer look down upon the fact that I did not go to high school, And when I was younger I had a huge advantage being able to work weekday hours, when the high school kids had to give up their weekends. 

Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
Unschooling has taught me to be self motivated and to do what makes me happy. I never had someone telling me that work isn't supposed to be fun, and so I only sought out and kept jobs which I enjoyed.

What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
 I can't imagine what I would be like if I had gone to school! I know I would be less mature, due to cliques etc. Thanks to unschooling I didn't have to try to impress anyone, and I become friends with whoever I like.
 I know that I would not read as much as I do. My appetite for reading would be suffocated by being forced to read things that are not of my choosing and having no time to read the things that truly interest me thanks to 6 hours a day or more spent in school as well as homework.  

I would not be so independent in seeking out the things that I am interested in.

I would not question authority as much, or at all. 

If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change?
 I would have kept doing Ballet, which I gave up on when I was 13 because I saw that most girls had been doing it since they were very young and I had not. But I love Ballet and wish so much that I had kept to it.

If you have children, are they unschooled?  Alternately, if you were to have children, would you choose to unschool them?
I cannot wait to unschool my own children someday! It is one thing that is very, very important to me.

What advice would you give to teens looking to leave high school?
Read the Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn!! It is inspiring and funny, and full of resources! It will give you the information to know what you are doing, as well as the confidence to do it.

What advice would you give to someone looking to skip, or to drop out of, college or university?
Follow your dreams! What do you love most in the world? What could you spend your life doing that would make you happy every single day? Do that! And if College is needed, then go, if not don't go!


What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
Also read the Teenage Liberation Handbook, it is written for teens but it is a wonderful book for parents as well. Also try Dumbing us Down by John Taylor Gatto. Go to some conferences, meet some local unschoolers (because there are more of them than you think!). Think about your own values, what kind of people do you want your children to grow up to be? Independent, self driven thinkers and learners?  The first thing to do is educate yourself about it. 

Is there anything else you'd like to talk about or add?
I am forever thankful to my mother, for always believing in myself and my brothers, for educating us in ways school never could, and for showing us what life is about. I only hope I can be as good as you someday.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Idzie is Speaking at the Rethinking Everything Conference 2012

The Rethinking Everything Conference is one I've had my eye on for several years, and came very close to attending as a regular ol' attendee a couple of years ago when Daniel Quinn (author of Ishmael and Beyond Civilization among other books) was speaking, but ultimately it was just outside my budget. So I was truly thrilled (and honored) to be invited to attend this year as a speaker! I'm greatly looking forward to being part of this conference, now in it's 16th year, that has the aim of "Exploring our lives in brave new ways, supporting radically empowered birthing, gentle parenting, sustainability, unschooling and self-design, entrepreneuring, super enlightened wellness and sexuality, and lots more." Click below to see the bios of all the speakers and the talks they're doing:


You'll probably notice some familiar names there, like Peter Kowalke of The Unschooling Experiment and unschooling author Dayna Martin, among many other really interesting looking people!

The talks/discussions I'll be doing/moderating myself are as follows:

What Do Unschoolers Do?

It's easy to read lots of philosophy and theory, the history and evolution of unschooling. But when you get right down to it, sometimes it's hard to know what exactly unschooling looks like in actual peoples lives, hard to know what, exactly, unschoolers do? Join this panel discussion to find out about what unschooling looks like in different people's families and lives.

The Art of Nonconformity

Sometimes not going to school is the only thing we're doing that's against the ideals of the dominant culture, but often, unschooling is just the start. When the food you eat, your political views (or lack thereof), your relationships, and the way you're choosing to live your life all seem to set you apart from the majority of people, it can be both a difficult and rewarding experience navigating through the world. Come to share your experiences and support each other, as we discuss finding community, following our own paths, dealing with negativity from others, and other important things to think about when you're living an unconventional life!

Misconceptions of Unschooling

Unschooling especially as it's begun to be a bit better known thanks to recent media attention, is plagued by quite a few myths and misunderstandings about just what it is and how it "works." In this workshop, we'll dispel a bunch of common misconceptions, and discuss sharing what unschooling really is with others.

Unschooling is Forever
Now you're a little bit older, and suddenly the questions are changing. Instead of "don't you have school today?" it's now "so what college are you going to?" We know that unschooling means we're always learning, thus it can naturally continue long past what are conventional compulsory school years for many, though definitely with some new challenges. For those of us who have decided (for the time being, anyway) not to go to college or university, and instead to continue unschooling, it's a unique time and experience in our lives, both very similar yet different from unschooling in the younger years. How does unschooling evolve as we grow older? How do the expectations and reactions from the culture around us change and impact our experiences? Come to this discussion to share your experiences and support with each other.


I hope some of you will be joining me at Rethinking Everything this year, as I'm sure it'll be a fun, challenging, and just all around enjoyable gathering of like-minded people!

Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Ways to Help Someone LOVE Reading

I've written about some ways to encourage a hatred of reading, but now I'm moving on to something different: ways to help someone LOVE reading! This is something that's close to my heart, as despite being a "late reader" (or perhaps because of it, as there's never been anything negative in my life associated with reading), I am a very avid one, and have been since first I cracked open a novel to read myself. So how did this happen? What things in my life (and things I've seen in others lives) have contributed to this deep love I have for the written word? Here are a few of the ways I think can help foster a love of reading...

My father loves reading, too.

1. Read aloud. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother and sister and I curled up together with a good book. Long before I was was reading myself, and apparently even before I was born, my mother would read aloud. Thus, long before I could read myself, I loved listening to others do so. If you don't take much joy in reading aloud yourself, audio books are another great way to listen to the written word, either alone or together with your kids (or your parents!). They were a big favorite especially on road trips!

2. Go to the library. A lot. Ah, the library. Growing up, we'd make weekly trips there, spending hours between the isles, flipping through countless books and piling those we decided we wanted to bring home onto a table we'd claimed as our own (a table placed there for studying, but to us is seemed far more useful as a surface to cover with stacks of books). I remember how excited my sister was when she turned five and could get her own library card! She'd regularly max it out at 50 books, way more than her petite self could manage, leaving her mother and older sister to wobble out the doors with rows of bags filled with heavy books on their shoulders.

3. Talk about books and stories. Being able to share something with others almost always adds enjoyment to whatever it is you're doing, and reading is no different. I remember my mother commenting on multiple occasions that she didn't really get he point of requiring book reports, since she heard verbally all about whatever books me or my sister were reading! And we still do that: tell each other about the stories we're currently involved in, talk about characters and where the plot might be going and things we like or don't like about the writing style. Talking about books and stories is fun.

4. Build a home library I counted bookcases in our house once, and lost count in our very cluttered basement after number 16 (seriously, I'm not kidding). Science-fiction novels share shelf space with cookbooks, tarot reading manuals, books on the history of locomotives, horse breeds, and a huge variety of other subjects. I'm lucky to have grown up in a house were my parents had already been collecting books for years, and to have been a part of continuing that collection through going to new and used book stores, garage and library sales, asking for books for various holidays, etc. Not everyone has the space or money for as large a home library as we do (I'm not sure we have the space, either, to be honest, but we fit them in anyway), and regularly going to the library can serve almost as well. But having a home library, collecting books on various subjects, can create such a wonderful environment for reading.

5. Surround yourself/your kids with a variety of books. Check out a new section at the library, pick up a book at the neighbors yard-sale on a subject or in a genre that you've never read before. Bring home books you think your children might be interested in. Books lying around about all different things are exciting, and can be a wonderful introduction to new things, new worlds, new ideas.

These are just a few (very much overlapping) things that I truly believe can contribute to a love of reading. However, seeing as people are ultimately individuals with different passions, interests, and ways they enjoy spending their time, some people will grow up with all of these encouraging-a-love-of-books-things in their lives and just not be very into reading, while others will have none of this yet become voracious readers. 

I'm sure I missed some good ones in my list, so please, comment! What are some other ways to help someone love reading?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Held Hostage by Small Metal Implements: a Guest Post by Kelly Hogaboom

I'm delighted to present a guest post by my friend and all 'round awesome person Kelly Hogaboom!  We've all experienced similar questioning and reactions from people as school-free learners, and I greatly enjoyed hearing Kelly's take on the experience of "being held hostage by small metal implements." I hope you'll enjoy it too!

Getting talked at, while pinned down.
Today, the dental hygienist: "Do you have the day off of school?"
My nine year old daughter Phoenix: "No. I don't do school."
Hygienist: "Oh... do you homeschool?"
Phoenix: "Yes."
Hygienist: "So it's just like school, but at home!"
Phoenix: "Not really. It's quite different."
 
If you delve into almost any alternative education blog (homeschooling, unschooling, life learning, or any other related variation) you'll soon find author(s) discussing the seemingly endless querying we practitioners receive. Strangers, family, and friends regularly ask us not only to explain why and how we do things differently, but to in fact justify our life choices in a way seldom required of compulsory education adherents. More surprising still, although I admit I should no longer be surprised, many of these questioners will listen very little before proceeding to tell us how education really works, regardless of our perhaps relevant experience. Confirmation bias runs rampant and deep: often in these outsider assessments of our family life, children who give the appearance of excelling (by their manners, displayed intelligence, or skill acumen) are often labeled as "exceptions" (or "smart" or "bright", etc); while children who display any different-ness or perceived social faux pas are taken as proof that such alternative methods Don't Work (and of course, you rarely hear the compulsory schooling model being blamed for the sum and summation in the reciprocal case of a schooled child with "behavior problems", etc).
 
This is familiar ground for any family who has, with confidence, been navigating the alternative education or life learning waters.
 
We're a life learning family; radical unschoolers, if you will. For us, this means our children do not go to school and are not required to perform curriculum at home. In other words, we do nothing approximating "school at home", unless the children want to play a "school" game, which I'm just now realizing they haven't for some time. Our children are also not required to sleep at certain times or eat certain things (or forbidden others). They are not punished nor grounded when they make mistakes. They are not forced to do chores. They live with as much freedom as their father and I can afford them in safety, and any difficulties that come up are discussed as a family - and each voice has an equal say.
 
Obviously you can see this type of family model extends far beyond the scope of "education", although as many astute minds have pointed out, each of us is learning all the time, every waking (and possibly sleeping) moment. Family life is part of our education, of course.
 
So look - some time ago I gave up trying to argue why I think this is one ideal and perfectly lovely way to raise children. I am at peace with our choices; we are learning every day. Like everyone, we make mistakes and (hopefully) grow from them. My children continue to thrive emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I'm hearing daily, in relative order, how "smart", "good", "cute", "well-behaved", etc. they are. And I guess those who have negative opinions are keeping them to, or amongst, themselves.
 
So yeah, I've got nothing to prove. I'd be happy most days to just go about my thing - and let other people do theirs.
 
But you know what? The number one question my children and I hear when out and about during daytime hours is, "You have a break from school?" And every time we get that question, in some form or another, these murky waters of JUSTIFY YOUR LIFE get stirred up.
 
We have options, of course, when asked this question. We can just say "Yes." We can say we "homeschool" and let people have their imaginations (this usually involves me being perceived as doing a Lot of Work to cram information into the children's otherwise thick, clay-like noggins). Sometimes I say we "unschool". That nearly always elicits an alarmed response. Sometimes I say, "My kids don't go to school," which is usually assumed as "homeschooling" - but also, occasionally, seriously rattles grownups. I have yet to meet someone who jumps to the correct conclusion: autodidacticism, but I know some day that will happen.
 
I should point out these are the reactions I get from adults; I notice other children seem to quickly understand what our life is about. These kids have, to a soul, enthused quite a bit about a new possibility. Some children have taken a request to homeschool ("homeschool") back to their families; and a handful of these have reported on their parents' opinions of our lifestyle (probably not something those parents would be happy to know got back to us, because many times their opinions were expressed in a very Meany-Pants way).
 
I let my kids field the questions sometimes. As you can see from today's example, my daughter handled the hygienist's questions (and assumptions) quite well; but later in the day I stopped at a spa for $15 worth of a treatment I hadn't had in a couple years and within minutes, on the table, I was once again cornered. "Oh you homeschool... how fun. My sister in ______________ does it too. I know how much WORK it is. You know, kids don't just learn on their own..."
 
Ugh.
 
You know what lady? They actually do. They really do just "learn on their own", just like you and me - like regular people, almost!
 
No. Scratch that. "Uh-hmm," I say. Just please finish grooming those ferocious eyebrows of mine. Thank you.
 
It's not that I am shy about our lifestyle. I've accepted some people get upset if we mess with their worldview, just by living our life. It's that SOMETIMES I am a little tired out and I just want to have a Normal Life. "Hey Bob, how's the wife and kids?" "Fine, Jim."
 
It's tricky enough that by being a minority in this country; our lifestyle's a bit cramped as it is. A life learning advocate and mentor I respect very much describes the life learning experience as "living as if school doesn't exist". I think I know what she means by this, but of course that is not possible in the United States. Even if you didn't have strangers, friends, and family quizzing you (or outright pressuring you in hostile fashion), the 98% (or so) rate of by-rote institutionalization of children, often since infancy, has major environmental effects. Many adults don't really know how to handle kids and have all sorts of (authoritarian, Scarcity Principle) ideas. Social life is skewed in the most child-segregationist manner: other people's children are not available during the day, and due to intense scheduling, often not available for much during the afternoons, evenings, or weekends, either. When I take my children out and about, I am discouraged from having them enter public spaces - either implicitly or explicitly (I have dozens of examples in my life; here's one - in Olympia, Washington, the closest "city" to my small town, restaurants that serve alcohol - that is most of them - disallow any children to enter after ten PM, even when accompanied by their parents).
 
It's not really possible to "live as if school doesn't exist", because so many depend on it existing and do not question the order of things. And you know, a lot of days that whole business is tricky enough without the pressure of WHY WHY WHY, EXPLAIN YOURSELF.
 
My son Nels, with a post dentist-visit treat. I love we get to have special dates frequently during the week.
 
So yeah, as breathlessly lovely as it's been to be exposed to, learn about, and thrive by life learning, and as excited as I am to share our journey (you can read my blog if you'd like to know more), I do sometimes get weary of being reminded we're black sheep.
 
And please don't, as my aunt once said, tell me I'm "naive" to think if I do things differently than most, I'll get treated differently.
 
You can't really say I'm "naive" when actually, No I Actually Very Much Know What It's Like to live as a minority in this way.
 
It's like - but sometimes? I. Just. Want. To. Get. My. Brows. Waxed. Or Whatever.
 
Kelly Hogaboom is a 34-year old wife, mother, seamstress, writer, volunteer, and social wellbeing activist living in lush and verdant Hoquiam, WA, the United States. She enjoys daily life with family and friends, sobriety, B-movies, and lots of snuggles with the kids and the four kitties under the roof. You can read her blog at kelly.hogaboom.org, her social wellbeing site at underbellie.com, add her on G+, and/or follow her on Twitter (@kellyhogaboom & @underbellie, resp).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

5 Ways to Help Someone HATE Reading

I've often heard complaints and worries, from a wide variety of people, about how many people, especially youth, don't like to read.  Blame is placed on a variety of things, from texting on cell phones to uninvolved parents to class sizes in school.  But rarely is the actual way reading is taught and approached and looked at brought into question the way I think it needs to be.

I positively love reading, and have since I learned to read at 8 or 9 (and before that I loved being read to), so perhaps I'm not the best person to be writing this.  Maybe someone who actually hates reading should be writing this, instead.  But then again, people who hate reading often hate writing as well, so would probably have no interest at all in writing about why they hate reading!  Besides, I know all the things that I think  were done right to foster my own love of reading, so I figure I can just think of all the opposite things that could have been done, instead.

1. Regulated reading.  When it comes to things to read, there's an overwhelming variety.  Comic books and magazines and poetry, novels and non-fiction books and instruction manuals and textbooks.  Yet usually the only types considered Important are actual books, not magazines or video game manuals, and within the category of books there are ones considered far more respectable and important than others (for instance, fantasy novels and non-fiction books on fashion are not generally considered important to include in A Comprehensive Curriculum).  There's so much out there to read that it's virtually guaranteed everyone can find something they enjoy reading.  Yet if someone is required to read only a certain type of book, only the type of reading deemed most "educational" and "worthwhile" the one doing the requiring is infringing on whatever relationship the learner could find themselves with the written word.  Coercion breeds resentment, and deciding what someone else should be reading will likely just create resentment against both the enforcer of that should and against reading itself.

2. Required reading.  Similarly to the above, requiring people to read certain amounts or at certain times of the day or for certain reasons is a great way to make reading feel more like work.  If something can feel fun instead, that's always what people should be aiming for!  As with any forced teaching or forced "educational activities," making reading mandatory doesn't make it something fun, it makes it something to resent.

3. Book reports.  So often growing up I heard homeschoolers discussing the book reports they required their children to write upon completing any book they read.  A forced book report (something often a very unappealing thing to write even for people who usually enjoy writing) looming at the end of every completed book, is not a very good incentive to do more reading.  If you want people to like reading, it has to be something positive and enjoyable, and anything that's done to make it feel more like work is really not conducive to people learning to enjoy reading for it's own sake.  When people are most likely to not mind doing things that feel like work is when that work is freely chosen, and when it feels meaningful and important.  Book reports?  Don't necessarily feel very meaningful!  Critically discussing books can be (almost) as interesting and enjoyable as reading itself, but that discussion can happen verbally or in many different written forms (discussion groups and chat-boards, blog posts, Amazon reviews, essays, or yes, book reports) and is of course only enjoyable when the reader has freely chosen to do so.  It's also important to remember that it doesn't signify a lack of comprehension if someone is happy reading without doing any type of break-down or discussion afterwards.  Different people learn and process things in different ways, and deciding everyone is best served by writing book reports is just going to, once again, breed resentment and negativity towards reading.

4. Shaming reading choices.  Maybe a parent doesn't actually regulate as such what their children read, but exclaims upon seeing that horror novel or Superman comic in their children's hands "you're reading that??," with a healthy helping of disdain.  This can be a very passive-aggressive tactic, or it can just be a knee-jerk comment made without thought, but either way, it's not pleasant.  People want approval and support from those they share their lives with, from the smallest choices and quirks to the biggest life decisions and goals, and even those smallest comments can be hurtful.  If reading is something they have to anxiously wonder what their parents will think and say about it, it's not going to be nearly as much fun (not to mention how harmful that type of interaction is to the relationship between parent and child!).

5. Focusing on reading skill.  I say this as opposed to focusing on reading enjoyment.  Reading skills are certainly important, and certainly influence reading enjoyment (if the act of reading itself is a struggle due to learning dissability or some other reason, it's obviously not going to be very enjoyable and needs to become less of a struggle first). But when you're purely talking about reading enjoyment, as I am in this post, I'm going to say that as long as someone is able to basically read without extreme difficulty, I think it's really important not to focus on individual reading skills, and instead on enjoyment. If someone is being tested regularly, prompted to read faster, asked regularly to read aloud (as a test of ability, not for fun, since reading aloud together can be really fun, no matter what age people are!), or otherwise has a parent focus strongly on reading skills, they're turning reading into something to feel anxious and possibly inadequate about. If someone enjoys reading, that's what's important.  And if someone enjoys reading and wants to do more of it, improved skill in the activity will naturally follow!

Of course, some people will face some or all of the things on this list, and still come out as passionate and voracious readers.  This list is simply some things I think are a lot more likely to harm than help!

How is your relationship with reading?  Do you think I missed anything that should be on this list?  Chime in in the comments section and share your thoughts and experiences!
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