Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Unschooling: A Parental Perspective

For a while now I've wanted to do an interview with my mother, and tonight we finally both sat down and did just that!

Friday, December 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My brother, sister and I.

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

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

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unschooling is Not Relaxed Homeschooling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unschooling is Forever talk now available for download!

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

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

How old are you now?
29, nearly 30.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Difficult, but not impossible. 

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

Are you currently earning money in any way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

How old are you now?  

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

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

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

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

Are you currently earning money in any way? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unschooling Isn't Parental Manipulation, It's Genuinely Respecting Children as People

Sometimes, actually quite often, the description of unschooling found in homeschooling books (and on homeschooling websites) is really, really not accurate.

And more even than simply inaccurate, I often find it rather insulting.

This is not a relationship built on dishonesty.
Because what's often insinuated, sometimes directly said, is that what unschooling really is, is not just "letting kids do what they want", but instead parents sneakily teaching their children what they, the parents, want them to know.  This is often written with a slightly conspiratorial and condescending air: isn't it wonderful how we let these children *think* they're allowed to follow their own interests, while really we're just pulling the strings?

Now, if actually put into practice, this would completely fall apart.  Kids know when they're being manipulated, and will often let their displeasure in this fact be known (I know that when younger, and faced with less respectful adults, my sister and I were definitely not impressed!); if they don't have any interest in something their parents think they should learn, and the parents force it anyway, it ceases to be unschooling; and if a parent shares an interest, asks if their kids want to go to a museum or sign up for a class, that's not in the least sneaky or manipulative, so doesn't warrant any conspiratorial aura.  All that is, is a parent openly asking their child if they'd be interested in doing something, or genuinely sharing a personal interest.

To think that all unschooling is, is teaching a child without the child ever realizing they're being taught is to completely misunderstand what unschooling is and how it works.  Well, I'm here to say that:

Unschooling has nothing to do with the covert manipulation of children.

An unschooling parent will fill their house with interesting things (or make available other resource rich places: libraries, cultural centers, co-ops, etc.).  They'll be happy to help their children pursue a passion or simply get an answer to a question.

Unschooling is a genuine respect for children, their right to choose their own learning, and their right to be supported in those choices.

Now if only people who have no actual experience or understanding of unschooling would stop pretending they do, it would make it much easier for people just discovering it to gain a solid understanding of what unschooling really is.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

5 Things Unschooling Is Not, and 5 Things Unschooling Is

Lists are fun. I like writing lists. So here are a couple of short ones on what Unschooling is, and is not.  

5 Things Unschooling Is Not
  1. Homeschooling (in the emphasis-on-"school"-sense): Usually considered a subset or method of home education, unschooling is nevertheless it's own unique philosophy, and one that shows little similarity to the philosophy of most home-schoolers.  Using the two terms interchangeably doesn't really work much of the time.
  2. Forced "learning": If you're being forced/made to do anything "educational" against your will, it isn't unschooling (though it may be relaxed homeschooling, or something similar).
  3. The same for everyone:  People sometimes like to latch on to something one unschooler says about the way they learn, and apply it to ALL unschoolers.  When in reality, in my mind one of the greatest things about unschooling is that no two journeys are the same.  As truly unique-to-the-individual education, every unschooler will be learning in a way that suits them best!
  4. Teacher-less: It certainly can be, but unschooling can also involve plenty of classes, teachers, tutors...  If chosen by the learner, teachers can be a wonderful resource for unschoolers!
  5. Individualistic: Or at least, I think the best way to approach unschooling is to realize that there are wonderful communities and resources out there to help you in your unschooling journey: everything from other unschoolers to give support, to the myriad of wonderful activities, groups, communities, etc., based around any interest you might have.  Unschooling doesn't mean going it alone: it means taking advantage of the vastness of the world around you.
5 Things Unschooling Is
  1. Exciting: When learning is chosen, and you realize that you really can pursue any interest you have, learning is fun, and learning is exciting!
  2. (Re)claiming your time: Doing what you really want to be doing with your time.  I think it was Grace Llewellyn (although I could be wrong) who said something alone the lines of "what is life but time?", in reference to the fact that schools steal your time, and thus your life.  An unschooler has control over what they do with their own time, and thus their own life.  They can dive headfirst into something and spend hours daily on that one subject, or they can research something for ten minutes before deciding they've had enough for now.
  3. Empowering: It feels good to know that you control your own learning, that you're steering your own course in life.  It's empowering to be trusted in doing so, and to feel confident that you're more than capable of living life your way!
  4. Gaining the tools needed to create a better world: A common criticism of unschooling is that unschoolers will never learn to do anything they don't like.  Though that's a false idea, I think it is true that since unschoolers are used to living a life that makes them happy, they're far less likely to just settle for the unhappy existence that so many people in our culture think is unavoidable.  Unschoolers know that there are better ways of living, so they're much more likely to work hard to make those better ways of living available in their (and others') adult lives as well!
  5. Respecting people of a wide age range: When outside of the false age segregation and imposed authority of school, you have the opportunity to interact on an equal footing with virtually every person you come across.  Because of this, instead of only making friends with people their own age, or very close to it, unschoolers value friendships with those from a wide age range.  The more we limit ourselves in our choices of who to spend time with, the more barriers we place between people, the fewer wonderful folk we'll connect with.  Realizing that people can be our friends no matter their age opens up so many wonderful opportunities for connection!
So there you have it: a few more things unschooling is not, as well as a few more reasons why I love this philosophy of learning so much!  Feel free to add your own additions to these lists in the comments.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Storytelling: An Art With Many Forms, or Why TV Shows Are Cool

I keep feeling a need to write, and have felt for the last few days like I should write a post on unschooling.  Because, you know, that's what this blog has become almost entirely about.

But you know what I really want to write about today?  I want to write about TV shows.

A couple of years ago, I hardly watched any TV shows.  There were maybe one or two I watched with any sort of interest or regularity, but that was about it.  Yet in recent times, I've come to truly appreciate about ten different shows, and really, really love a couple of those ten.  Having discovered the joys of watching shows on DVD when possible, I've devoured whole seasons in the space of a few days, caught up in wonderful worlds filled with compelling characters.  Current favorites include:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Though a classic of modern television to most people, I only started watching it in July of this past summer, after having heard rave reviews from multiple people.  I was quickly sucked in (no vampire pun intended), and after having gone through all seven seasons during the course of the summer (and very early fall), I can say that this is my favorite show, ever.  Terrific, hilarious dialogue; genuinely believable character development; great characters; clever storylines...  I was by turns literally falling over laughing and bawling my eyes out.  So yeah, it's just great!

Being Erica: A sweet, funny, and moving story about a woman who's building the life she truly wants through time traveling "therapy".  My only favorite Canadian show, since, well, there don't seem to be many Canadian shows to choose from at all, so considering the overall small percentage, the good ones are few and far between.  But this one is a real gem! 

Supernatural: My newest discovery (I'm currently nearly finished the first season), this show is about pretty guys fighting malicious spirits, demons, shapeshifters, and various other creatures of the night.  Since I'm someone who likes both fantasy/supernatural stories, and pretty guys, how could I resist it?  The interaction between the two main characters is great, and there's plenty of humour, a must for me (I can't think of a single show I like that isn't funny at least at times...  If there's nothing to laugh at, I get bogged down in serious shit and just get bored).

Sherlock: Really a mini-series more than anything, I've decided to count it anyway because it's a recurring mini-series (can't wait for the next season!  I sure hope it's longer than the first one...).  By far the best on screen take on Sherlock Holmes I've ever seen.  Set in modern day, this fast-paced, sharp, and witty show is just wonderful.  Also?  I usually (well, okay, mostly) refrain from shipping non-canon couples, but it's obvious that Sherlock and Watson are made for each other (and the show's creators totally play on that!).

Other shows I enjoy include Inspector Lewis, House, The Mentalist, and Doctor Who.

And what's the point of my telling you about a few of my favorite shows, you ask?  Well, besides recommending them to you, I want to talk a bit about storytelling.

You see, some people have this idea that storytelling is only worthwhile, only a valid way of spending time, if it fits a certain format: most often, those who feel this way consider books to be that format.  Yet storytelling is an art-form, or more, a collection of art-forms, that are incredibly diverse: books, comics, plays, movies, TV shows, puppet shows, musicals...  All of these are different ways to tell a story, all can be equally, though in very different ways, captivating, interesting, thought-provoking, and just plain entertaining.  I think there enters a certain snobbishness though, as people try to cast certain forms of storytelling as "better" than others.

There is the argument that TV has many harmful messages: that there's obvious sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia, fat-hating, and other really nasty things present in most shows.  And that's completely true.  But, since we live in a society that is sexist, classist, etc., everything created by members of this society, be it TV or novels or puppet shows, is as likely to perpetuate oppression as anything else.  In a society where oppression is so ingrained, it's virtually impossible to find something, anything, without at least some nasty shit in it.  I suppose you could decide to not come into contact with any media whatsoever, and in the right circumstances that could certainly be managed, but even then, if you still talk to people, you're going to encounter those some attitudes and things you're trying to avoid.  Which leads to my next point:

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

To start with, it's a social activity: I virtually never watch TV shows alone.  All four members of my family like Sherlock and Inspector Lewis; the three women in the house like House, Being Erica, Buffy, and Doctor Who.  Emi and I like Supernatural.  And we like discussing what we watch.  And when I say discussing, I mean we talk about everything from how hot that guy is, to the fact that in this show, that person is being treated as the Token Gay Guy, or how police are glorified in many shows.  We discuss the building of stories and characters, scriptwriting etc., as well as how commonly found stereotypes and social norms are reinforced in TV shows, and how that might affect the people who watch said shows more passively than we do.  It's not unusual for one of us, when watching a show on DVD, to snatch up the controller, pause it, and bring up some interesting point about something that just happened on the show.  Active engagement might seem like a strange way to describe watching TV, but for my family, it seems pretty accurate.

Does this mean I think that people who don't watch TV shows or don't own a TV are seriously missing out?  No, it doesn't.  If going TV free makes someone feel freer, more whole, more relaxed, or in any way happier, hell, I think it's great!

This also doesn't mean that I love modern technology, or think it will exist in the future.  I see a future of radical decentralization, and a return to truly sustainable communities: technologies based on exploitative practices have no place in that future.  But seeing as I'm a part of this culture for now, as are we all, I either embrace (like Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or tolerate (like money) many aspects of it that I might think hold no place in an egalitarian and sustainable future.  

Life is adaptable, and perhaps I'll decide at some point, maybe even in the near future, that I think the negatives of TV's and TV watching outweigh the positives, and decide to make some changes around TV in my own life.  But for now?  For now I want to see if Emi wants to watch the season one finale of Supernatural, because I can't wait to see what happens...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Struggling With Unschooling Negativity

Warning: this is a grumpy rant.  If you're not in the mood for negativity, or think you might be offended by some good ol' fashioned grumpy ranting, then you might want to skip this post.

Normally, the negativity people express about unschooling doesn't really bother me that much.  I'll get slightly annoyed, yes, upon reading or hearing stupid comments or ignorant misconceptions, but I'll calmly share my personal (positive) experiences, or send them a link that I think might help them understand unschooling if they wish to do so, then move on.  If I wasn't able to easily move past annoyances with people's perceptions of unschooling, then I don't think I'd be able to be as public about unschooling as I am!

But lately, in the last week or so, it hasn't been so easy.  In short, I've been kind of crabby.  But especially crabby when it comes to unschooling!

I read someone saying that:
"Child led learning is fabulous but 100% child led learning, in my opinion, does not prepare them for most modern day jobs." 
And I scream internally YOU HAVE NO EXPERIENCE WITH UNSCHOOLING, HAVE NEVER EVEN MET AN UNSCHOOLER, SO YOU CAN'T SAY THAT! Your statement is based in ignorance. Please be less ignorant before making statements.

And that's just my reaction when the statement is made in complete ignorance.  My anger jumps considerably when I stumble across a homeschooling mother who states:
"As the director of a large local homeschool co-op, I've had the opportunity to see first hand the differences between 'unschooled' homeschoolers and 'schooled' homeschoolers. There is a vast difference in their ability to keep up and move forward. The 'unschoolers' also struggle with understanding time restraints. Because they are allowed to 'learn' at whatever they happen to be doing, they struggle to succeed in an environment that is controlled and has direction." 
Don't you love the fact she adds quotes on "learn" when speaking of unschoolers?  Apparently her bossy personality is very annoyed when these unschooled kids are reluctant to drop whatever project they're working on and engaged in, to move onto something else they're not currently interested in ("struggling with understanding time restraints").  Apparently these unschooled kids learn at their own pace, and refuse to follow this seemingly very narrow-minded woman's view of where they should be in relation to other kids ("their ability to keep up and move forward"), and apparently this does not make her very happy. 

If I can't help getting annoyed at those who make judgments about unschooling in ignorance, at least I get it.  I understand that unschooling is something vastly different from most people's experience, and something that's difficult for many people to understand.  So while I might be annoyed momentarily, I don't hold it against the individual at all.

 But when a homeschooler thinks it's their duty to explain disapprovingly and condescendingly how bad unschooling is, how incompetent the parents are, how we're totally doin' it wrong and are giving a bad name to the REAL homeschoolers, now that to me is simply unacceptable (and I have come across this type of attitude among homeschoolers a LOT).  We're supposed to be on the same side, dammit!  I'd never put down homeschoolers in a public forum like that.  We're all misunderstood by the general populace: all targeted by restrictive laws and disapproving people.  We should be banding together, not attacking each other or getting into petty disputes over who is doing a better job.  Really and truly.

So that's how I've been feeling lately.  Fed up with dealing with the vast amount of ignorance and disapproval around unschooling, fed up with (though in no way planning to stop) explaining unschooling, time and time again, to people who just don't get it.

I'm not truly angry at the people who don't get it, though.  I'm just angered by a culture and system of schooling that's created a situation where something as simple and beautiful as life learning is incomprehensible to most people.  And I'm saddened by how many people react in harsh judgment and condemnation to something they simply don't understand.

This mood will pass.  In a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, I'm sure I'll go back to being able to brush the negativity off with an easy smile and a patient response.  But right now?  Right now it just pisses me off.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why People Don't Get Unschooling #1: Don't Trust Yourself!

I've decided to start a new series of posts, on the subject of Why People Don't Get Unschooling (I have a strong urge to write that Twitter style: #WhyPeopleDon'tGetUnschooling). We all know how many misconceptions about unschooling there are, how many questions people have, but I think it's also interesting to explore why people have these reactions, and what myths are commonly believed that inhibit people's understanding of life learning.

Welcome to post #1: Don't Trust Yourself!

“All I am saying ... can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” ~ John Holt

I think that quote sums it up nicely: as children, people are taught not to trust themselves. Taught that they don't know what's best for themselves; are incapable of making even the most basic decisions (like what to wear or when to eat); are unable to learn by their own volition, or to know what they should learn at any given time; and are just generally untrustworthy. This message, that they are incapable and untrustworthy, is pounded into people throughout their childhood and teenage years. Then suddenly, as Adults, they're expected to be both capable and trustworthy. As if a switch has suddenly been turned in their head from the "irresponsible" setting to the "responsible" one! I suppose it's little wonder that many people continue to make themselves dependent on various institutions, on their workplaces, throughout their lives... They don't know how to live without turning to a higher/outside authority. They don't know how to trust themselves.

So what we're doing when we ask people to accept unschooling, is to not only accept the idea that parents are trustworthy, and thus capable of making decisions about their children's education (a hard enough concept as it is, as evidenced by this comment I once came across in response to an unschooling article: "how do people have the arrogance to say that parents know what is best for their children?"), but that the children themselves are deserving of trust, and capable of pursuing their own education.

That's a pretty big thing for people to swallow. Hell, it's a pretty big thing for unschooling parents to come to terms with: the fact that, despite everything they've been taught, they are worthy of trust, and quite able to choose a much freer, more consensual way of living for their children and themselves, and their children are quite capable of blossoming in just such an environment. Even for the unschoolers themselves it's difficult, since even if their parents are supportive of unschooling (and there are definitely instances where this isn't the case), the rest of the world is sending those same dis-empowering messages to them. Our society seems determined to keep people from realizing and acting on their own power. In trusting ourselves, and trusting our children (and by "our" I mean children collectively, not just the ones who share some of your DNA), we take a big step forward in reclaiming that power.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unschooling, Blogging, & Visions of the Future... Some Clarifications.

There have been some interesting comments on my last unschooling post!  And several things said lead me to want to elaborate on a few things...

Each post I write is fairly self contained.  I usually focus on *one* thing.  It's a single post amongst a much larger body of writing to be found on this blog.  So I do not try and talk about absolutely everything that could be related to anything I'm saying about the main point of the post.  That would lead to very long, rambling, and unpleasant to read posts.  I also don't tend to add disclaimers.  I think that much of the time, disclaimer type comments thrown in are distracting and weaken the impact of a post, so I only add that type of comment when it actually seems to make sense to do so.

Because I didn't mention something in one post, does not mean that I've never thought of it/about it before.  I love hearing from readers and getting a variety of opinions!  But I do feel slightly insulted when people post comments telling me I must have NEVER EVER thought of socioeconomic factors, or that I must have never thought of the fact some families are single-parent.  Really?  I always feel bad when I get comments like that.  So please do bring up aspects that you feel might have been overlooked in a post, I just ask that if it's something very obvious, like the fact that many people have a low income, you assume the best: that I have considered it myself, so don't approach it in a way that suggests I must have never thought of it!

When I say "unschooling should be available to everyone",  I think it's important to note the "should".  I also say that I believe every child is capable of being, and deserves to be, in control of their own education.  What I've never said is that unschooling is currently available for every individual, because it's not.  But instead of saying, as many seem to, that because it's currently not available for every individual unschooling (and freeschooling), isn't the answer (not sure how that logic works), I simply see there being lots of work that needs to be done to make freedom-based education available for all!  I feel like that's what I'm working towards, both with local projects I'm involving myself in (and I should point out that the local people working for educational freedom are very conscious of social factors and very involved in social justice work) and the advocacy for unschooling that I do.  I see myself as part of a movement towards a far more egalitarian future, and since I think education is a very important part of that movement, and something I'm passionate about, that's what I'm focusing on right now.  Note that I say part of a movement towards an egalitarian future.  Because I don't talk much about my other social/political views on this blog, perhaps it's easy for people to forget about them, and maybe think that when I talk about universal unschooling I'm envisioning this exact same way of living, only with unschooling instead of school.  That could not be further from the truth.  I'm talking about entire social transformation, radical decentralization, autonomous communities, etc.  And within that framework, I see unschooling as naturally becoming the default.  And a good way of moving towards a different way of living is building/creating as many positive alternatives to the current way of doing things as we can, I believe.  Showing in as many ways as we can that other realities are possible and attainable.  I see unschooling and freeschooling as part of this.

Also, I feel like I throw in the word "freeschooling" a lot, and I'm not even sure all of my readers know what that is, so I apologize for that, and do plan to write a post on it eventually (the shortest and least complete answer I can give is that freeschooling is basically unschooling in a building, or close to it).  Basically why I like mentioning it is because I see freeschooling as a great answer for families that are unable to stay home with their kids when they're young, and for teens who really prefer to spend their days in a group environment.  I think it would be marvelous if there was a freeschool in every community!

I hope this clears up a few things, clarifies some of what I've said in the past...  I always strive to be as clear in what I write on this blog as I can!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Why I Think Unschooling is the Best Option... For Everyone.

I think an easy to digest, and common, opinion about unschooling is that it's not for everyone, and won't work for some kids.  This is an opinion held by many unschoolers, and that's quite fine.  But it's not my opinion.

What that opinion says to me, is that some children have the right to choose, the right to live in a way that nurtures freedom, and some?  Some don't.  I believe that freedom, on both an individual and community level, is a fundamental right for every person and community.  So deciding that some children deserve to be given as much freedom as possible, yet some don't, just really doesn't sit right with me.

Which leads me to the fact that as far as I'm concerned, unschooling is the best choice for everyone, and should be the default.  By saying that, what I mean is that everyone should be given the freedom to choose from the start.  With that freedom of choice, it's quite fine if some kids or teens decide to go to a school, or to structure their days in a rigid manner, or not.  The key is choice.

Because I don't just see unschooling as one option among many, but as something that should be the default, sometimes I worry that people see my opinions as being somehow exclusionary or judgmental to anyone who doesn't unschool.  Yet I realize that not everyone is going to agree with me, and that I'm not going to "convince" everyone.  I don't expect all my friends, my Facebook friends, all the people I follow on Twitter, or all the readers of this blog to share this opinion.  All I ever attempt to do is share my opinions and experiences in an honest and authentic way: to share my truth as best I can.  And that's what I'm doing when I say that I believe that everyone deserves freedom, not just a select few individuals deemed worthy or capable of dealing with it!  I believe we all have the innate ability to make our own decisions, and to live consensually, these abilities just need to be nurtured and allowed to grow properly.

Update: I expanded on some opinions expressed in this post here, which may help clarify a few things that were brought up in the comments on this post..

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Unschooling Beyond High School (Unschooling is Forever Part 4)

I give you the 4th and final part of the speech I gave at the Toronto Unschooling Conference, dealing with a subject I'm currently very interested in thinking and talking about: Unschooling beyond the traditionally compulsory schooling years. Unschooling as true lifelong learning.

Read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

The college & university years

This Fall marks the first time that both my sister and I are officially past the high school years.  Now at age 19, I would have graduated two years ago, and had Emi been in school, she would have finished up this past spring.  This is probably a good time to explain that in Quebec, high school only goes until grade 11, so people graduate at age 17 (or 16, depending when their birthday is).  "Higher education" in Quebec consists of CEGEP (sometimes called College), which is free for Quebec residents and usually takes two years to complete the chosen program, which is then usually followed by university, which works the same as everywhere else, except that if you've gone to CEGEP, university only takes three years for a bachelors program.  This is what both my sister and I are watching the vast majority of our peers doing, while we follow very different paths.

I know that to some, unschooling is simply an educational philosophy that covers the traditional elementary and high school years, something that's a good preparation for moving on to higher education, perhaps, but something that does have an endpoint. Yet to embrace unschooling as true life learning (learning as something that's inseparable from life) means to accept that learning never ends, and to truly become a lifelong unschooler. Now, to me being a lifelong unschooler can definitely include college or university, but it can just as easily not. It's all in how you approach life, and how you think about learning and education, not in whether some of your life learning happens in a school building or not.

For me, I doubt college or university will be part of my life, and if it is, it certainly won't be in the near future.  I know it isn't the right choice for me right now for several reasons:

  1. I have a fundamental disagreement with the institution of schooling.  With the structure, how it's run, how it's looked at and what it means to most people, the hierarchy and the commercialization of education.
  2. The thought of spending my days in a classroom seems positively stifling to me, which tells me that's definitely not where I should be right now!
  3. Of all the things I'm interested in doing with my life, all of the things I think I might do to earn money, a degree is necessary for none of them.
  4. The cost.  Especially considering all of the above, to go into debt for a degree I don't want and will likely never use seems ridiculous!
I've managed to learn everything I've wanted and needed to know up to this point without going to school, so the idea that a school building it absolutely necessary all of the sudden is counter intuitive to me, and feels just wrong.  I've quoted it many times before, but this quote by Eartha Kitt always comes to mind:

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma."

Learning, the knowledge and skills and experience that's absorbed every single day simply by living life, can and does continue past high school, even if you choose, as I have, to pass on institutions of so-called higher education.

As I happily go through another not-back-to-school season, and while many of my peers are heading back into the classroom, I'm instead following  my own personal, ever changing and evolving "curriculum" (though it looks startlingly like just living life) that currently does or may well include:

  • Speaking at the Toronto Unschooling Conference, and at other events, about freedom based education, and specifically unschooling;
  • Organizing, with the assistance of a great group of co-conspirators, a freedom-based education conference in Montreal, which will include a wide range of speakers and workshops that give people the knowledge and tools to step outside of the mainstream views on education, learning, and life;
  • Continuing to write regularly on my blog to an ever increasing audience;
  • Starting to write the first draft of a book about unschooling;
  • Finding and implementing creative and non-traditional ways of making money;
  • Publishing the second issue of DIY Life Zine, a self-published magazine;
  • And helping to further the cause of freedom-based education in Quebec, which includes collaborating with people involved in both starting a freeschool and a lobby group, among other projects.
As you can see, my life currently revolves around both unschooling and writing, two things that I hold very close to my heart.  I feel like I'm following a calling right now, and doing what I'm really *supposed* to be doing in my life.  That doesn't include college, and that's quite fine to me!

I also want to address the frequency with which I see people, even unschoolers, putting a huge gap between pre-eighteen and post-eighteen life.  As if, along with the end of unschooling high school and the start of college, turning eighteen means there suddenly has to be a huge shift in the way you act, what is expected of you, and how you’re treated.  I know that leading up to my eighteenth birthday I felt a HUGE amount of pressure!  To be doing something vastly different suddenly, to be taking on a ton more responsibility all at once!  As if eighteen was a kind of magical number and age.  Yet, I was still the same person on the day before my birthday as I was on the day after.  Still growing and changing, yes, but not making any huge jumps in that growth just because I’d passed a day that a bunch of people have decided holds special significance!  I see much talk among unschoolers about allowing your child to grow at their own pace, respecting their natural timeline and not attempting to force an external measure of when they should be doing what upon them.  Yet many seem to think that philosophy no longer applies after age eighteen.  You’re an adult now: act like one!

I encourage parents to realize that there is no magical age, and that their kid is still the same person, and no matter what their age should not be held to any external measure of what they “should” be doing.

So, Where do I go from here?

At my age, people now want to know what I’m going to do with my life.  Because seemingly, a decision must be made before age 20, and changing your mind frequently, or heaven forbid, moving into and through adulthood without a solid plan, is unacceptable.  People think that you have to have answers: goals and 10 step plans and ‘where you want to be when you’re forty’.  The time to decide what the rest of your life will look like is now, so many people think.  Yet to me, over-planning feels stifling.  I’d rather take life as it comes, make short term plans only, try lots of different things, focus on what’s truly important to me at each point in my life, and just do my best to make things work out.  Sometimes, the sheer spontaneity and lack-of-certainty of this non-plan seems terrifying to me, but looking at people I admire who are in their thirties or forties and have basically lived this way for years gives me courage.  They don’t usually have much money, but they’re happy: and to me, that’s what’s important!  I don’t want to be rich, I just want to be happy, to contribute my best self to the world, to do good, and to live by and act on my personal ethics and morality.  To me that’s true success, not the gaining of social station or monetary profits.  

The power of life learning

In closing, I want to reiterate what I said earlier: that true life learning never ends.  We’re always learning, growing, and discovering.  And as unschoolers, we’re in a marvellous position to think, see, and live outside of the box.  I make YouTube videos about unschooling sometimes, and in one video I interviewed my sister.  One of the questions I asked her was what does she think the best thing about unschooling is?  And, after saying she can think of LOTS of good things, she said:

“You get to have freedom in shaping yourself, and I think you really come to know who you are and what you want to life. I often encounter people in school with the mindset of ‘oh, this is just the way things are, well I’m just going to do this, I guess’.  I think not having that sort of close-minded, narrow path kind of outlook on life is the best thing you get from unschooling.”

If you know and trust yourself, if you feel confident in your ability to direct your own life, you have the tools to see where you want to be, where your unique skills and passions can best be put to good use.  You have the courage to change your mind, and choose a new path when the old one no longer feels like a good fit.  By giving children and teens the power over their own lives, you create individuals who can enact important changes in their lives, the lives of those around them, and the world itself.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with another quote by Wendy Priesnitz:

"Personal empowerment begins with realizing the value of our own life experience and potential to affect the world.”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Need For Schooling

I've gotten more negative comments on this blog in the last couple of weeks than ever before!  They have been kind of nasty (I think I deleted one, because it really bothered me), ignorant, defensive, and rather hostile.  Several have been responded to wonderfully by other commenters, I've responded to a couple, and some I've decided have enough in them that I'd like to really take the time to respond not only in the comments, but in an actual post.  This is one of them, a comment that was posted (anonymously, of course) on my post Unschooling is Forever Part 3: Isolation, Socialization, and Doubters.  The comment is in italics, my response in regular font.

Schooling and life learning are not mutually exclusive. Schooled children learn in a structured manner on school days for approximately 6 hours. The rest of their life is spent learning freely.

Really?  Only six hours?  What about transportation to and from school?  The hours of homework to be done after school?  It seems to me that school takes up quite a bit more time than six hours a day, and that for the majority of schooled people, very little time is left over to "learn freely"!

Not all parents are as patient and nurturing as you experienced with your mother.

Of course they're not.  But what other experience am I expected to write from besides my own?  I write and speak about unschooling from my own experience, my own observations of others experiences, and research (reading anything about freedom-based education I can get my hands on).  But, mainly, from my own experience.  I don't claim and have never claimed to speak for or represent all unschoolers: I represent myself only, and my mother is a wonderful, nurturing person.  I hope that comes across whenever I write about her.

However, there are lots of other unschoolers out there with very different experiences (though I'm happy to say the majority of unschooling parents I know are very "nurturing").  Some have bad relationships with their parents.  Some unschoolers left high school to unschool entirely against the wishes and without the support of their parents.  Each experience is different.

There are many children who benefit greatly from the structure and separation that school provides. In some cases there are sad situations behind that reality. In other cases, it just works well.   There are also many families who do not have the luxury of the stay-at-home-parent.

Now, I see a couple of points that need to be addressed here:  firstly, unschooling is NOT against structure.  What unschoolers are against is *forced* structure.  Unschooling is all about personal choice: putting the power over their own learning and life into the learner's/student's/individual's hands.  It's then up to that individual to choose how much or little structure they want in their lives.  Sometimes (fairly frequently, actually), unschoolers decide to try school!  Many end up choosing to leave again at a later date, some stay.  Unschooling isn't a philosophy against structure: it's a philosophy against force and coercion in the choosing of what and when to learn.

By sad situations, I assume you're talking about bad home lives.  I agree, that's incredibly sad, and in such cases, which are way too common, unschooling definitely isn't an option.  In low income families, again, I agree that unschooling can be extremely difficult, and even impossible, to do (I should mention that I do know unschoolers who either are on or have been on welfare, so some low income families definitely manage to unschool!).  But there's a reason I say I'm not just in support of unschooling, but of freedom-based education.  Under that umbrella of freedom-based education, I place both unschooling and something else called freeschooling.  The most basic description of freeschooling would be unschooling in a building!  Virtually every freeschool I've heard of is dedicated to accepting as many people who want to go there as they can, no matter their economic backgrounds.  This certainly holds true for the freeschool starting up near me, as the organizers have a strong social justice bent and envision something truly wonderful, community based, and inclusive!

There are many children who would not have the drive to learn to read, as you did.

Oh dear, here I do believe you're showing your ignorance in having never interacted with the unschooling community, and seen the results! As Peggy Pirro, who writes one of my favorite unschooling books, said:
“We learn because we want to learn, because it’s important to us, because it’s natural, and because it’s impossible to live in the world and not learn. Then along comes school to mess up a beautiful thing.”
And that's how unschooling works.  As humans, we're creatures who love and want to learn, creatures who will learn everything they need to function in the society they're born into, simply by being a part of that society.  However, when you dis-empower people by telling them that they're not smart enough, not mature enough, not trustworthy enough, to control their own learning and life, you create people who no longer know how to learn if not from an "expert".  Schooling creates people who look to a higher authority for the answers, and don't trust their own power.

I have yet to meet an unschooler who *didn't* learn to read, and at this point, I've been lucky enough to meet hundreds of unschoolers in real life, and dozens more online.  And yet at the same time, I don't think literacy, knowledge of math, or any other academic achievement should be used as a measurement, *the* measurement, of success for any human being.  Memorizing stuff, learning to read?  That's easy.  And there are plenty of very well educated people who are miserable, depressed, and suicidal.  Is being "educated", as defined by having a body of knowledge that has been judged the Most Important Things To Know by some far off authority, really the most import thing out there?  I'd ask instead: are you happy?  Do you have a knowledge of your own value?  Do you love?  Do you feel loved?  Are you living in a way that makes you feel good?  Are you giving your best self to the world?  These are what I would consider measures of success, not whether you can do algebraic equations.

Schools do provide a service to our society, even if all it amounts to is increasing literacy of our community.

If everyone graduated high school being able to read, then this might be a more convincing argument.  It might also be a more convincing argument if the tons of people who graduate high school and can read, actually all liked reading, instead of many planning never to open a book again if they can help it.  Forced "learning" (because forced learning is never as real or powerful as true, deep learning, chosen willingly) often sours the subject, makes it hard and boring and distasteful.  Who enjoys being forced to do something against their will?  When you come to something yourself, you come to it without the tangled web of negative emotions and experiences attached to something you were forcibly made to do.

It sounds like your objective is to promote unschooling as superior. What you should be doing is seeking acceptance of unschooling as an equivalently effective method for preparing our children to become productive adults in our society.

That's what I *should* be doing, is it?  I should tell you now, Anonymous, that I don't take well to doing things I *should* be doing.  Everyone has their own idea for what everyone else should be doing, and many feel no shame in sharing their visions of what an individual should be doing loudly and authoritatively with said individual.  Whereas me?  I'm a fan of listening to your own intuition, looking at what you need and want, what your community (human, non-human, nature) needs and wants, and then taking the path that seems best to you.

I believe in freedom: freedom from government, corporation, hierarchy, oppression.  I don't see unschooling as simply one option among many (should I unschool this year, or go with a private school?), but as a method of freeing individuals from a government controlled institution that's intent on turning out well schooled individuals, who don't question the status quo, and happily consume as an empty attempt at gaining fulfillment.  Unschooling isn't just a type of education to me: it's a revolutionary and joyful choice.

So yes, I definitely consider unschooling  to be superior to other so-called methods of education.  No, I *shouldn't* simply be "seeking acceptance of unschooling as an equivalently effective method for preparing our children to become productive adults in our society".  I have absolutely no desire to become a "productive member of society" (=cog in a very large and currently earth destroying machine), or to suggest anyone else do such a thing.  What I want to be, and what I see as being created by unschooling/life learning/freeschooling is *good* (kind, compassionate, passionate, strong) people.  That's my wish and my hope, and more importantly than wishing and hoping, what I'm trying my hardest to be and do.

There are so many children in our world that need schools. 

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