Saturday, November 28, 2009

Unschooling: a "hands off" approach?

I've seen, too often for my tastes, unschooling be described (by non-unschoolers or those very new to unschooling, mostly) as a "wait 'til they ask", or "hands off" approach, and that always makes me sigh.  I wonder if perhaps this arises from the fact that many parents dealings with their children are often confrontational, authoritarian, and generally of a more coercive nature?  Perhaps when they think of "not forcing" kids to do things, they feel they couldn't suggest activities or anything at all, because the way they're used to interatcing with their kids is that of authoritarian Parent and Teacher of child!  Perhaps not.  I'm just throwing that out there, because I'm really not sure *where* that misconception came from!  If you have any ideas on that, I'd quite like to hear them. :-) But moving on.

Wherever the misconception came from, the fact remains that it is quite common.  And it is just so far from the truth!  I think that people get so caught up in the perceived technicalities, the what an unschooler *does* and *doesn't*, *can* and *can't*, do, that the core of the philosophy and lifestyle, that of parents and children living and learning in freedom together, seems to be forgotten. 

Because that is really what unschooling is all about, and what unschooling looks like: a family that actually likes each other exploring the world together.  Emphasis on *together*.  When I think of unschooling in my own family, I think of my mom finding an awesome book at a local used book sale, and saying "Idzie, I saw this book and thought you might be interested.  It looks fascinating!".  I think of an impromptu trip to the library because I asked my mom if we had any books on Medieval weapons, and it turns out (for some reason) that we didn't.  I think of my mom calling me from the other end of the house, voice filled with both fascination and horror, because she wanted to read an article about GMOs to me.  I also think of countless times when I searched her out to tell her about the intriguing characters and plot of whatever novel I was reading, or to bounce an idea off of her for an article I wanted to write, or to share a song I thought she'd like, or to read her an excerpt from a book on green anarchy or unschooling.  Point being, learning in my family is a very involved thing (I used as examples things just between my mother and I, but I enthusiastically tell my dad interesting stuff as well, and my mum, sister, and I have the most fascinating conversations all the time!). 

I'm not saying that *everything* is shared, because it isn't.  For instance, Emi writes a ton of fiction, but she usually only lets her online role playing (not the RPG type role playing, but the writing back and forth, collaborative story writing type role-playing) buddies read it, and both my mom and I respect that as her choice, and don't try to bug her to let us read it.  Even that though, is involved in that my mother cares about her writing, and happily listens to Emi telling her about the finer points of writing, her own writing journey, what she's discovering about English grammar as she learns a second language, etc.  She just doesn't try and push my sister to do something she doesn't want to. 

"Hands off" to me means ignoring kids.  Saying "oh, they'll learn for themselves", then just going about your *adult lives* without making your kids a part of it at all, or very little.  I see true unschooling, on the other hand, as a collaborative living process, where each family member shares interests, suggests activities (which the other family members can choose to participate in or not), shares cool articles and facts and internet links, and lets the appropriate person know when they come across something they might like (my mom has brought Emi home numerous books on Japanese history, language, poetry, etc., for her perusing pleasure). 

Unschooling is nothing more complicated than living, and thus learning, with respect and freedom, together as a family.  And although this often isn't *easy* (I know that my family has more than it's fair share of squabbling and grumpiness), it seems to me to be fairly *simple*!

These are just a few rambling thoughts, so please excuse the general, well, rambly-ness of it all! ;-)


Thursday, November 26, 2009

How I came to be an unschooler: vlog version

I haven't done a vlog in ages, so I decided to do one today!  It's aimed mainly at my subscribers on YouTube, most of whom do not read my blog (as far as I can tell), so it's covering a topic that I've already talked about here, and that is how I ended up as an unschooler.  I decided I'd post this video here anyway in case anyone was interested, and you can find my page on YouTube here!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The dilemmas in life

I haven't been feeling my best, this past week.  And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

I think sometimes it's a matter of accepting the darker, less pleasant feelings...  Sadness, depression, frustration, fear...  Accepting those emotions for being there, being real, being valid, and then sitting with them for a bit, instead of pushing them away, trying to pretend they have no right to be there, pretending they don't exist.

Yet at the same time, I feel like I'm using depression as a safety net.  Thinking that because I'm feeling down, I don't have to do the things that frighten or frustrate me.  Letting that keep me in my safe little bubble. 

So I don't trust these feelings, because I don't know how honest they are, and how honest I'm being with myself!  I don't know if I should be accepting and working through these emotions, or simply giving myself a kick in the ass and telling myself to stop whining.  It's a bit of a dilemma, really. 


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lovely music

I very recently discovered for myself a band called Chumbawamba.  I thought I'd share one of the songs from their newest album, The Boy Bands Have Won.  I present to you the lovely song Words Can Save Us.

I find it quite annoying how much talk and arguments there are to do with music.  What's "good" music, what's "bad" music, who's "sold out", who's *really* political and who's just doing it for the attention...  I love listening to music with a strong political message, especially if that political message is anti-civ or at the very least anarchist.  However, I listen to music that I like listening to.  I'm far more concerned with how a song makes me feel than if the band has sold out or not!  So that's my mini rant on that.  And just so you know, the members of Chumbawamba are anarchists... ;-)


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winston Duffy

I've realized that I've hardly even mentioned one of my most...outgoing, shall we say, family members on this blog!  So I'm going to give a mini introduction now.

Right now, we share our house with three furry family members: two cats and a dog.  The dog is who I'm going to be talking about.

His name is Winston (his nicknames are many and varied, including Windy, Winduffy, Winduffers, Winston Duffy, Boo Boo, Dumbass and Butt Head) and he's an 80 pound Airedale Terrier, the largest member of the terrier family.  He became a member of our family when he was 18 months old, since his first family felt that they couldn't give him the love and attention he deserved, what with busy work schedules and grown children who no longer spent much time at home.  They were very sad to see him go, but I'm so happy that they gave him to us!  He's now 7 years old, I believe, and has gotten a bit more mellow with the years, but he's still not exactly a quiet dog!  He's goofy, too smart for his own good, sweet natured, and energetic.  He loves to play, greets me every morning with great joy when I wake up, and though he's sometimes ridiculously frustrating and has a habit of bashing into everyones knees with his very hard head, he can also always make me laugh with his antics, and will apologize with soulful eyes and kisses when he accidentally hurts someone.  How can you not love a dog like that?

I pulled out the camera today when Winston was "helping" my dad to bring in wood (Winston loves to help with a variety of household chores...  His "helping" usually involves placing himself in the middle of whatever happens to be going on, sticking his nose into anything that looks interesting, and looming over your shoulder with a look of bright eyed curiousity if whatever you're doing happens to be on floor level), and though some of them are a bit blurry, I figured I'd share a couple here!

A happy dog. :-)


Friday, November 20, 2009

The power and beauty of language

My sister Emi's equivalent to a blog is her deviantART journal, and I absolutely loved a recent entry of hers on her love of language, so I wanted to share a couple of excerpts here.

I've been thinking a lot about the power of language lately. You can describe a simple thing with tons of words, and you can describe an indefinably large abstract idea with only a few. You can discover a myriad of things about cultures, time periods, places, and individuals through what words they use. You can learn the attitude of a society from the language they use and how they use it. You can blow someone's mind with a single sentence and talk for hours straight without saying a single thing they care about.

It's all kind of incredible... I have, like most people, used language since I was a very small child, and I've written stories, poems, essays and more since I was a slightly older child, but I don't think I've ever put as much thought into words and language as I have in the past half a year. Learning Japanese has opened up my eyes to all sorts of grammatical subtleties, rules, and terms, all of which I knew but never really considered as such. I can speak and write with proper grammar, but I'd never really thought about why one sentence made grammatical sense and another one didn't. It's very interesting to look at, at least for me...
I've also developed a lot of interest in poetry. I used to read poems with my mom and sister when I was younger, and I liked some of them well enough, but I was just never really into poetry. My recent interest with all poetry was sparked by my interest in Haiku. The way a few words, so strictly contained by the number of syllables that have to be used, can evoke such powerful emotions and images is completely incredible. Reading haiku (and reading about haiku) helped to solidify thoughts I was having on the power of words. Reading Haiku in the original Japanese, seeing the patterns of syllables and the visual beauty, is wonderful for me. To think, not only does a Haiku share a moment and emotion along with many more potential layers of philosophical meaning, it also has a flow to it, a beauty to the sound and placement of the words, and all of that while still conforming to the rules of five, seven, five. It's seriously mind blowing to me.

It's funny: there are some things in life I feel discouraged about when I see reminders of how little I can really do, or when I look at the work of maters of that craft, but writing is not one of those things. When I see reminders of how far I still have to go, I feel inspired to write write write until I get there! I feel inspired by the great works I read, whether it be great work by published authours, other amateur writers, poets, or even non-fiction writers. Seeing words used well, to convey beauty, power, eloquence, humour, facts, or any number of other things, is a wonderful, fun, moving, insightful thing. Writing really is a huge passion of mine...
All these thoughts kind of make me wonder how all the people out there who use words every day of their life never bother to really look at the language they're speaking or appreciate it at all...

Just reading that reminds me how much I love language as well!  It's such a powerful, beautiful thing.  You should also keep in mind that my unschooled sister has never had a grammar or writing lesson in her life.  What a great harm my parents did by keeping her out of school, eh?  I love reading her work, and it makes me so proud of her seeing the wonderful stuff she creates!  Yeah, I'm a proud big sister. :-P


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some more thoughts on teaching and learning

Wow, there's been a whole conversation going on over several blogs about the subject of what exactly the words *teaching* and *learning* mean; is teaching a good, bad, or neutral word (or can a word be good or bad?); how language is used, etc. etc.  It started (and I'm doing this in chronological order) with Cassi's The Role of Parental Instruction, I responded with some thoughts in my post Teaching vs. Learning, Cassi wrote a post entitled Teaching and Learning, and finally today there's a post over at Lenz on Learning called The Unschooling Thought Police.  Be sure to read the comments if you want to get a picture of the whole discussion, because those are at least as important as the original post!  I wanted to post excerpts from some comments I made on a couple of the posts, to kind of expand on why I don't generally use the word teach.

“Don’t let words master you” is one way of looking at things. Another way is realizing that words have incredible power. They do. And what word you choose to use can make a huge difference in how what you’re saying is interpreted by those around you. Jumping on other people because of their word choices? Maybe not such a great idea. However, I make a point of paying attention to the language I use, since as both an unschooler and an anarchist, I have very strong opinions about things, and I want the language I use to reflect my values, not just perpetuate all of the stale ideas of this culture. So that means that sometimes I decide to use certain words carefully in context, so they mean only what *I* want them to. And it means that sometimes I decide to stop using a word entirely, or almost entirely, if I feel that its commonly held meaning, that I strongly disagree with, is too entrenched in most peoples minds… 
What you describe as *teaching* sounds a lot like what I'd just call fascinating conversations with interesting and intelligent people! 

I didn't respond before to a mini discussion on whether someone can only learn if they *want* to learn, but I'm going to throw out a few thoughts on that now.

I think this depends a lot on what exactly your definition of learning is.  Schools generally consider learning to be synonymous with memorization, and I'd say you can definitely be *taught* a list of facts...  But even then, memorization only occurs if the student decides they're going to memorize stuff!  Students who really don't give a crap don't, and fail tests, because they just don't care.  So I'd say that it really is all up to the individual and whether or not they want to learn this specific thing, and if they don't want to *learn*, they're not going to!  As for true, deep, learning, well it seems obvious to me that that type of learning can only ever happen when the student truly wants to learn about whatever it is they're learning... 

That felt a bit scattered, so my apologies!  Not enough sleep lately...


Monday, November 16, 2009

Review of The Teenage Liberation Handbook

I wrote this review for Homeschooling Horizons magazine a year or two ago, and since I've been wanting to share reviews of unschooling books, I decided to post it here!

"In the end, the secret to learning is so simple: Think only about whatever you love. Follow it, do it, dream about it...and it will hit you: learning was there all the time, happening by itself."
Grace Llewellyn

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn

This has to be the most inspiring book I’ve ever read. I’m actually at a bit of a loss for just how to get across how amazing I found this book… I suppose I should start with how it affected me personally. I’ve always been an unschooler, and I read some of this book years ago, but the last year I was seriously questioning the path that my education had taken. Was I doing the right thing? Should I really be in school instead? Or at least studying textbooks? Then I picked up the Teenage Liberation Handbook once again, and my worries melted away. Here in my hands I held a virtual goldmine of ideas, resources, encouragement, and practical advice. Written with passion and conviction, liberally peppered with stories of real life teenage unschoolers and the marvelous things they’ve done (least fascinatingly to me getting into prestigious universities, but that means a lot to some people), and continuously inspiring. Although aimed directly at teenagers still in the school system, with advice on convincing your parents that unschooling can work, to legal issues, to worries about socialization, I found it equally useful as an unschooler, with such wide ranging chapters giving ideas for things you can do for every traditional school subject, and some less traditional ones, as well as getting into colleges and universities, finding meaningful volunteer and paid work, doing apprenticeships, starting your own business, traveling the world… If ever you thought unschooling couldn’t work, or you simply need to be inspired, then this is the book for you. I feel like I’ve started my own education all over again. I’m actually exited about learning for the first time in a while. Good job Grace! Grace does have some very strong opinions. Since I agree with most of them, it wasn’t a problem for me, but it may be for some people. That’s the only even possibly negative thing I can say about the whole book! Read it. Love it. And most importantly, love learning.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Zine reminder

So, it's been a month since I first put out the call for zine submissions, and I have half a dozen pieces that people have sent in.  However, I was silly and never really mentioned a proper deadline.  SO, I'd really like to have everything in by December 1st, so I can start putting it together then and have it completely finished before Christmas (when I won't have time to do much of anything)!  I know how easy it is to get sidetracked and forget about stuff like this (I know I have done so more times than I would like to admit...), so I figured I'd send out a friendly poke to everyone who said that they may want to contribute something to the zine... *Grins* If you do want to send something in, but aren't able to by December 1st, that's still totally fine.  Just drop me an email at to let me know when you're able to send it in by!

Thank you so much to everyone who has expressed interest in this project, whether or not you're able to submit something!  Just having this much interest has made a big difference to me. :-)


Friday, November 13, 2009

Teaching vs. Learning

After reading this post entitled The Role of Parental Instruction over at Unschooling Ruminations, I was thinking about the word "teaching", and trying to figure out if there really is anything *wrong* with it, or if as an unschooler I just have an unfair prejudice against it. I know that I certainly get a bad feeling when I hear it. But I've come to the conclusion that no, it isn't just an unfair bias. I really do feel the two words have distinct meanings, and I choose not to use the word "teaching" because I don't like the meaning it conveys. This is how I see the two words:

  1. Teaching puts the emphasis on the external: the person or thing *doing* the *teaching*.
  2. Teaching implies something being done to you, instead of being something that you do. As if learning is something done *to* you. You're taught. It implies a certain passivity in the learning process. You sit and take in what is being taught, instead of going out there and learning it.
  1. Learning, however, puts the emphasis squarely where it belongs (IMO), in the hands of the one doing the learning. What learning is, as far as I'm concerned, is what YOU make of the world around you. Not just what experiences you take in, but how you interpret them. Thus learning is the process of interpreting and making sense of the world around you.
  2. It implies an active process. You are the one *doing* the *learning*.

I'm sure there's tons more that could be added, but this is the brief version of why you won't hear me using the word teaching if I can help it! ;-)


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

I refuse to celebrate [veterans of WWII] as the greatest generation because in doing so we are celebrating courage and sacrifice in the cause of war. And we are miseducating the young to believe that military heroism is the noblest form of heroism, when it should be remembered only as the tragic accompaniment of horrendous policies driven by power and profit.
~ Howard Zinn (thanks to Ronnie for the quote)

This quote pretty much sums up how I feel about things. It bothers me deeply that Remembrance Day seems more about glorifying war than anything else. Celebrating the dead who "gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country" (a line that in itself rings alarm bells to me). I don't want to celebrate or glorify war. I simply want to remember those who have died, and those whose lives will never be the same because of war (those who are also not getting the support they need and deserve). Remember and recognize the horror. And vow never to support a system that perpetuates such atrocities.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My blog is nominated in the Homeschool Blog Awards!

Guess what? Guess what? I'm nominated in the category of Best Teen Girl Blog in the Homeschool Blog Awards!! I am very flattered, and want to give a hearty THANKS to the peeps who nominated me! I greatly appreciate it. :-)

Oh, oh, and you should DEFINITELY check out the Best Unschooling Blog category! There are soo many wonderful blogs on that list that I had trouble choosing which one to vote for...

EDIT: After I'd already posted this, I discovered another unschooling blog hidden in a different category, and that was Eli Gerzon's Worldschooler Blog, in the Current Events, Opinions or Politics category. Go vote for that too! ;-)

Anyway, thanks again! *Happily dances off*


Friday, November 6, 2009

Review of 101 Reasons Why I'm an Unschooler

Today, I received a veritable jewel of a book in the mail, entitled 101 Reasons Why I'm an Unschooler by PS Pirro. It's a small, slim, volume, one that could quite easily be overlooked when grouped among the vast array of unschooling books out there, but hopefully won't be, because it's a wonderful read! Described as an "unschooling manifesto", this book is exactly what it sounds like: 101 reasons why the author is an unschooler! Delivered in short, bite sized pieces, each reason delivers a clear point, something to think on, and this format makes it very readable, whether you read it straight through like I did, or just flip open a page for a short, inspiring thing to remind you why you've chosen unschooling!

Divided into two sections, the first 50 reasons are basically anti-school: why the author is not a compulsory schooler. And let me tell you, those reasons are very convincing (not that I needed any convincing, obviously... :-P)! Covering such things as "School Steals Your Freedom", "School Rewards Conformity", and "Drugging The Kids", I wish I could convince some pro-school people I know to read it, since hopefully it would shake their perceptions on schooling a bit!

The second section is 51 reasons why the author is an unschooler, and what wonderful reasons they are. :-) From "Staying Up Late", to "Real Learning Happens In The Real World", the author details some of the wonderful reasons we unschool, highlights the perks, as it were, of living this free life.

I read the entire book aloud to my mom, with frequent pauses in reading to discuss one point or another, and we both agree that it was a lovely read. Inspiring, thought-provoking, and just generally a good way to pass a gloomy Fall afternoon! Highly recommended.

If you want to read more from PS Pirro, you can check out her blogs, Over The Wall and Crooked Mile.

Also of note, this is the first in a series of sorts, as I've got several other books on unschooling and self-directed learning that I'm planning on reading and reviewing, so keep a look out for future posts about great unschooling books!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009


What I value in life are connections.

Connections to the humans around me, connections to the other non-human animals, to the land, wind, water. Connections to the food I eat, to how and where it was grown, to how it was cooked. Connections to my health, to the medicines I take.

Sure, I may watch a few TV shows, I may wander around the internet, but those things have a disconnect about them. A passivity and distance to them. They're not fulfilling to me on a deeper lever.

And that's what I mean when I talk about connections, and why I can tell people, in all honesty, all I need to be happy, truly happy, is clean water to drink, food that isn't poisoned, a whole and healthy land base, and a supportive, loving community. That's all I need. All I want.

I've been thinking about this a lot, since I've realized how much I enjoy, and always have enjoyed, living as much outside of the commercialized consumerist lifestyle as I can. I adore wonderful thrift store finds, warm wool sweaters and worn jeans, love going to local farmers markets and picking out fresh produce, or, even better, harvesting our own homegrown vegetables and herbs... And this is far from a new thing! This didn't come from when my views got more "radical".

When I was a child, for years I was absolutely obsessed with pioneers (yes, I now have very different opinions on those individuals who took over land already being lived on by Aboriginal peoples, but, well, I was a kid, and those thoughts never crossed my mind). I would dress in period garb, read anything, both fiction and non-fiction, about pioneers that I could get my hands on, and all of that jazz. But even more then that, we made our own candles. Our own lanterns for them. I sewed and embroidered things myself. In the Great Ice Storm of '98, I was positively thrilled when the power went off! Then, as now, our main source of heat was the wood stove, so we really didn't suffer much, unlike so many other people. We cooked on the wood stove, heated water there for our baths, which then had to be lugged upstairs to the bathroom. Burned candles for light when it got dark. I loved it!

That's what I mean when I say connections. That joy, warmth, and fulfillment that comes not from purchased things, not from "experts", but from all the little connections to the little things, that make life feel good.

To be intimately acquainted to all aspects of your life, and as an extension of that, all aspects of the community as a whole: that's my dream, my ideal, and my vision for how I want to live my life, and the world I want to help create (or, more accurately, help to re-discover). I can't think of any better way to live than that!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bits and pieces

The poll just closed! The results are below:

What subjects are you most interested in me writing about?

25 (32%)
My daily life/what I'm up to
9 (11%)
Green Anarchy/Anti-Civilizationism
11 (14%)
All of the above
31 (40%)

Total votes: 76

Also, I know that a couple of people asked me to keep them posted on how the zine was going, so I'll give a litle update on that! About 30 people have said they will, or probably will, contribute to the zine, which is really exciting! I've actually received 5 different things from 3 different people, and am hoping to get more stuff soon... ;-) So that's going well.

In other random news, we, we being my mom, sis, and a friend, went to the Anti-Colonial Thanksgiving dinner a few nights ago, where we ate delicious vegan food made by a local collective, watched a very interesting, moving, and thought-provoking documentary film called Club Native, listened to a couple of interesting speakers (notably a woman from BC who had some very interesting things to say about the Olympics, organizing against the Olympics, and similar things), and just left with lots to think about. And talk about! From the moment we left, we were having fascinating conversations on Indigenous rights, colonialism, sexism, minority groups, counter cultures... I love the wonderful conversations mum, Emi, and I have! Emi also commented how very much she likes being around the more radical type counter cultures, including both unschoolers and anarchists (the type of people to attend an anti-colonial dinner are not exactly State loving types)... I agree that it just tends to be so much more of an open and friendly environment!

Oh, and as a funny side note, I commented that I was mildly surprised at how many people there were who were dressed "normally", and Emi looked at me as if I was crazy. "Idzie", she said, "you've forgotten what normal is. You think if someone doesn't have huge holes in their pants and political buttons attached to their blue hair, they're normal. And they're not." Well, excuse me. :-P Apparently most of the people at the dinner were dressed in "that flaky hippie style, wearing clothes from thrift stores that were 'normal' years ago, then adding a knit hat"... According to Em, that's a style that many unschoolers also favour. I love my sister. :-P And while we're talking about Emi-isms, she recently described anarchists as a whole as being "hippies without all the flowers", which sounds pretty accurate to me, actually. She says all of this with an air of slightly exasperated affection, which is not in the least insulting, and considers herself an anarchist (though she's not as loud about it as me), though she does not consider herself a hippie (she really isn't at all), just in case you were wondering. Yeah. I really love my sister.

And that little bit of rambling is all there is for now, folks.


Latest editition of the Carnival of Unschooled Life!

The November edition of the Carnival of Unschooled Life is here! Check it out for a whole bunch of posts on various aspects of living an unschooling life. :-)