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!


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.


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! ;-)


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!