Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Unschooling Gets Publicity...In a BIG Way!

If you're an unschooler, or a homeschooler, or interested in alternative learning, and are even *slightly* involved in any of those communities online, you've most likely heard about the Good Morning America segment on unschooling.

Unschooling has been moving steadily into the mainstream awareness in the last few years.  I've seen a marked increase in people talking about unschooling since I started paying attention to that type of thing a few years ago.  But never have I seen this level of attention.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here is the ridiculously biased, negative, and over-edited segment that appeared on Good Morning America yesterday:

I didn't even finish watching it the first time I tried to.  I just kept cringing at how horribly ABC was slanting things, and just imagining the reactions it would get...

Sure enough, if you read just a few of the 830+ comments on this piece, you'll see just what I was afraid of!  There are multiple lovely unschoolers commenting positively in the comments section, but there are also a huge amount of ignorant, uninformed, and downright nasty comments.  I always attack schools, never people who go to, or went to, school, but even if I did think schooled people were "losers" (discounting the fact I don't think life is about competition, and don't believe you either "win" or "lose", PLUS know a large amount of seriously awesome schooled folk), I can't imagine ever making such vindictive and cruel comments!  Why do people feel a need to do that??  Do they feel better in their mediocre life choices if they can believe firmly and with great smugness that there are people out there who chose MUCH worse paths in life than they did...  Is it because, if they admitted that there were better, more joyful ways of living life, then much of their own life has been wasted?

Today the Bieglers, the family in the first clip (whom I've met, though don't know well.  What I have seen of them has led me to believe that they're intelligent, kind, and caring people!), where given a chance to speak briefly live on Good Morning America, without all the editing.  It was MUCH better!!  They were articulate, passionate, and just did a great job.  I wish they'd been given longer to speak.

Sadly, I'm afraid the feedback from the general public was just as negative.

The first video was on Yahoo homepage (not sure if it still is?).  Twitter and blogs are abuzz with talk of this new-fangled thing called "unschooling" (I keep patiently pointing out to people that it's not new at all!).  I have never seen this much attention paid to unschooling before.

And I have to say, it's kind of scary.

I've been watching hits come in on my blog from people searching stuff life "unschooling cons", "unschooling negatives", "unschooling sucks"...

Suddenly the masses are being exposed to something that challenges everything they've always taken to be The Way Things Are (and The Way Things Should Be).  Many people don't seem to be reacting well. 

Yet, at the same time, I think that publicity is important.  I liked reading some comments from Wendy Priesnitz on Twitter, one of which reads: "In the 70s, people were scandalized by idea of homeschooling; now [they're] scandalized by unschooling. This will pass. Evolution happens."  I really do think that publicity is good.  I WANT more people to know about unschooling, I want more people to understand it, I want more people to accept it, and I want more people to do it.  So how can I be against publicity, even if it isn't as positive as it could be?  At least we're getting the message out there!  And for better or for worse, the message is most certainly out there now.

The Bieglers are going to be on the Joy Behar show on CNN tonight, so you might want to tune into that.

Several unschoolers have written great responses to ABC's portrayal of unschoolers, so I want to share those:

Unschooling Stephanopoulos: Good Morning America Fail From Swiss Army Wife
Unschooling: How Good Morning America Got It All Wrongfrom the Huffington Post
Unschooling on GMA from Child's Play

What do you think of the segments?  What do you think of the huge amount of publicity unschooling is getting?  Does it make you excited to know more people are finding out about it, or scared it just opens things up for stricter government regulations?


P.S. I'm going through old blog posts and comments and putting together an Unschooling FAQs page...  I figure I've answered so many questions, I should gather it all in one place to make things easier!


  1. Hi , thanks for sharing that with those of us abroad, very interesting. I just love the way when the media 'discovers' something they automatically think it is new, when people have been doing this for years. Iris Harrison, who is a forerunner of Education Otherwise here in Britain fought the authorities for years back in the 1970's for the right to raise her children not just outside school but without formal instruction of any kind. Can't bear to go read the comments on the interview. I didn't think it was too bad apart from the interviewer making her own views too blatantly obvious, surely not good journalistic practice? As you say, it is all raising the profile and getting people talking, so isn't necessarily a bad thing.
    much love martine

  2. I don't think anyone reads the comments or cares about understanding. Instead of a social conversation we have opinions like graffiti.

    I had left a comment and I can't even find it. It was about how my now 18 year old was accidentally unschooled before I even knew of the word. He learned to read and do math while playing. We read together often and played around with ABC refrigerator magnets and this "curriculum of love" was enough to make him a reader. For math, he played Math Blaster on the computer with an abacus. A traditional scope and sequence would have slowed him down!

    My degree is in education but I've learned more about learning living and learning with my children.

    I think unschooling is learning without all of the schooly things.

    Great post!

  3. Thanks for posting this. I thought the first story was a shameful piece of journalism, even by the lowest of standards, and I'm grateful that so many in the unschooling community have been articulate and swift in their responses.

    I've also had the experience of being interviewed about unschooling. After hours of talking and a half day spent with the photographer, the story was condensed down to a few choice quotes (many in response to questions that the reporter posed and taken out of context) and a photo of my son with our goat, although we are not a farm family. And this was with a largely sympathetic reporter.

    For those stuck in the paradigm of compulsory schooling (witness JuJu Chang's comment that unschooling is like playing hookey), it is probably impossible to understand the range and richness of such a life. And just as I don't think a shot of kids watching tv tells the whole story, neither do I think it means much to talk about unschoolers who go to college. Unschooling is necessarily fluid and individualized--even my two sons have had very different experiences due to their interests, choices and personalities.

    Comments aside, I'm guessing that the result of this segment will be even more stories about unschooling and from such quantity, a more balanced overview will emerge--for those who seek such a broad perspective, that is. And those who seek a broad perspective are more likely to unschool in the first place. :)

  4. Great post!

    When the activity of grass roots folk gets to a point of being well grounded, the media 'report' on it so as to damage it in some way.

    That's what's behind the Climate Change media hype .....

    However, they will always fail, because common sense and empathy are innate human characteristics, even though both are damaged by conditioning. And so they switch to another subject rapidly.... ever since the 'climate gate' expose, and Copenhagen, they have reduced the 'reporting' on Environmental Issues...

    The fear that by continuing their 'reporting' that more and more people start to look into the issue ad take note of the inconsistencies, which always reveal the hidden agenda.

  5. Thanks for the link Idzie!

    Also for letting us know about the Joy Behar show. I can't stand that woman. She's the one who said Homeschoolers are demented on a homeschooling segment of The View. Ick.

  6. My family was one of the first to be interviewed in a huge national magazine (People) several years ago. After that experience we decided to never put ourselves out there again...even though the article was positive over all and not a bad experience.

    I think there is great risk when putting your head on the media chopping block. You are relinquishing a great deal of control and allowing people into your life in ways you can't control. I hope that unschoolers will carefully and cautiously consider that risk when entering into any kind of interview.

    Phil and Chris are awesome parents and Kimi and Shaun are awesome kids. I hope the fall out from this does not affect them negatively. I wrote my own blog post about it today: http://radicalunschooling.blogspot.com/2010/04/inspired-by-good-morning-america-piece.html

  7. I was happy to see unschooling finally get some media attention, be it good or bad. Just having the issue more out in the open like that will spark debate and discussion, which is always a good thing imo.

  8. I only have one thing to say to Juju, go read the curriculum map at your kids school. If an unschooler reads one book a month they are learning more than what the "no child left behind" schools are teaching.

  9. Any press is good press. Obviously there will be people dismissing it right away. But there will also be people who become curious and read more about it, understand and go for it too. Unschooling is so damn right :-) that there should actually be nothing to fear.

    We're there. This IS the time that we have been waiting for so long! You just need people who can talk, who are eloquent, who know the right answers right away, who are experts and can answer the questions quickly, respectfully and with all the logic it comes with - in talk shows, in seminars, in speaches, in TED-talks, in more books, blogs, youtube-channels...

    You're in the lucky position that unschooling, unlike for instance in Germany, is legal! Go and push the borders, go for it and break through. It should generate an infrastructure so that every parent can "unschool" even if s/he works full time and has restricted possibilities - like "learning centers", open and loud libraries or resource centers with classes - colleges for the youngest with alternatives but no obligation to assist classes and such things. Come out of the niche and show the world that autonomous learning is the way to go.

    Greetings from Germany

  10. I was on the radio in 1978 debating the person in government in charge of education about what is now being called "unschooling," which was then called "homeschooling," and which I now call "life learning." Within a few hours, the local school board's truancy thugs were at our door wanting our then-six-year-old daughter to "perform." Perform she did, a few days later. Blew them away, actually. She didn't mind the experience, which taught her a few things about abuse of power. Many have told me over the years that was their first exposure to whatever-we-call-it. I still believe that all publicity is, ultimately, good publicity - aside from how it might feel at the time. This negative publicity is an indication of the nervousness felt by many people about change. But change won't be stopped.

  11. I personally, would give my left arm to be unschooled. But it's a constant struggle with my parents to just get them to consider homeschooling, let alone unschooling. In fact, I had a long discussion with my mom just now. Apparently, next year, on my 16th birthday, I'm getting kicked out. Because I told her, either it's homeschooling, or I'm dropping out. Hooray for me. So, do me a favor, and go up to your parents and tell them you love them and that they're the best parents in the world for understanding.

  12. HLN is covering this topic and here is my comment to them today on facebook.
    Unschool does not mean no school. Please read on:
    I have four children whom I unschooled (UnS) all for most years of their education years. I have a son who is in his last year of getting his PhD as an electrical engineer: he interns with NASA. Another son who just got excepted to UCF and my daughter is now in high school, an honor student, class president, cheer leader, the list goes on. Another graduated from culinary school.
    I do not understand people who make such negative comments about something they have no idea about.
    Crystal, not sure why you think UnS don’t follow rules. I was very strict with my children, they did many chores and we learned many things.
    Regina’s was just simply ignorant.
    Here’s an example of how it works. You have to pay attention to your children, see what interest them then present things that support that interest: books, movies, documentaries, field trips. Most UnS don’t have cable so all day TV watching is not even an option.
    Not everyone can UnS so calm down everyone. The reason they can’t is because you have to be around your children to pay attention to them. For many parents this just is not possible economically. Too bad because UnS children are usually such balanced, social beings.

  13. Looking at the first video one question comes to mind:

    Do unschoolers expect school people to have good manners (and behave like adequately socialized people)?

    The first video was really NO surprise. None what so ever.

    (Not saying here that I agree with the first video...)

  14. I think how ABC presented this topic was so biased and closed minded. In short, instead of opening people's minds about what is on the other side of the grass, they just bashed on it and made it look worse to people. Screw you, ABC.


  15. I will have to watch this after the family gets up- have someone sleeping right here!

    I pretty much unschool and it has been a blessing to see my daughter enjoy learning again.

    This is my 1st year homeschooling. Yesterday at our homeschooling co-op, a woman came in talking about unschooling (maybe she saw the show- I came upon the conversation after it started).

    There were 6-7 moms there and most thought it sounded interesting. Several have homeschooled numerous children and admitted that starting around middle school up to high school, this may be the way to go.

    Learning should be exciting, fun and a lifelong venture. Why do childen need to know triginometry (sp?) if they will never use it? Who cares about a Gerund?

    If they need to know it for something in life, they can learn it as they go along.

    I would rather have a child who is kind, polite, social with kids AND adults, care for children and love the Earth. I have all of that and more in my daughter...

    I may have to post about this on my blog on the hs page!

  16. I think Good Morning America did a wonderful job of showing terrible clips. In my opinion, they really made unschooling look bad. All of the talk about what learning what the kids want, and all they show is clips of the kids watching TV or playing video games. Not that video games or TV are bad (I'm all for TV and video games) but it seems like they were really playing off they "If you let your kids do whatever they want, they'll just sit around." There was no explanation that TV and video games do have actual value, and I think they should have included a little of that. But its GMA, and they're biased, and they didn't want to show anyone the good points of unschooling.
    And if that spiel wasn't a good enough representation of how I feel about unschooling, I'd give my left arm to have been unschooled. I spent 13 years in parochial schools learning what I was told to learn, and heard about unschooling only after high school graduation and beginning college. Now, I'm trying to surreptitiously unschool myself through taking classes only in what I'm interested in. My end-goal in college is not the career, but the education itself. If my career ends up being something I took a class or two on, well then bully for me.
    Since I wasn't unschooled but think so much of it, I'm working on convincing my fiance to unschool our future kids. I'm glad to say it's working!

  17. Here's my policy: Never be recorded in any format unless it is going to be edited and presented by me or by somebody I would trust with my life.

    Actually, make that "somebody I would trust with my words" (a much higher standard).

  18. Just thought I'd post here what I posted on that abc comment box:
    "That video was a truly dire depiction of what unschoolers are actually like. May I first of all say that I'm a full-time school student learning in the conventional way, and I have done for my entire life. I've never actually met an unschooler, but the idea that everyone, given the chance to not go to school would hit each other with sticks in the garden is preposterous. However, I feel that this system of learning has done more harm than good for me. I personally think the idea of exposing young children to things like gender stereotypes and a rigid classroom atmosphere in which the adult always takes precedence over the children is an incredibly mentally degrading and detrimental way to approach education. I can say with all honesty that all I have learnt over the past few years at school has been that I hate school. My biggest problem, and the reason that I find school such an unbearable experience is because I actually enjoy learning. At some point in history, school and education became estranged brothers and the two unfortunately were no longer compatible. Now, I think that what began as mere estrangement has widened to a colossal chasm dividing the two. When at home, I mainly listen to and write reviews of music that I listen to, I read books and watch films that mentally stimulate me and I use the vast expanses of information on the internet to further my understanding and learning, whilst constantly trying to push myself to fully understand all that I can. I personally feel that I was ready for university at 15 years of age, and the time since has more or less been a waste as I have desperately crammed for exams at the expense of real learning and education. School has simply become a place where one learns that the world is a truly deplorable place in which the best thing that a person could possibly do is conform and just do what they're told. I only wish that I could have had the opportunity to be an open-minded and free person through unschooling."
    Thanks for the great blog by the way. I always enjoy reading :)

  19. Hi Idzie. I just responded to your comment over at BabyCenter. I wanted you to know that I regretted criticizing the family ABC chose, rather than flat out criticizing ABC, who is solely responsible for making the family look vapid. Thanks for waking me up to that and... I like your blog. Don't let internet negativity get you down. It is rampant and seems to be getting worse. Not good.

  20. P.S. I just read you were from Montreal. I am from Vermont, and live in a homeschooling hotbed.(We're living in France right now.) Our favorite babysitter of all time, she is AMAZING, is an unschooler.

  21. Thanks so much for all these great comments!! I'm really loving reading your different perspectives, opinions, and stories!

  22. Idzie--

    You are a sweet, sensitive soul. I'm a little more jaded, and I still seethed when I watched this video yesterday. I love the reactions by unschoolers on their blogs and I was relieved to see that GMA had the guts to let the family back on unedited. However, they just couldn't help themselves and had to put "negative" images of tv watching and game playing while the parents were talking. Where was the footage of the plants they were growing? The thing that struck me from yesterday's story was the intense lack of respect that Juju had for the kids. They were much more gracious to her, even though she was obviously judgmental.

    Anyway, to answer your question, I'm a little worried about too much attention. Wendy is right, and has good historical perspective on this, that in the end, it brings about awareness and a growth in the movement. But, I am just really wary of government interference. The more focus there is on something that requires freedom but is not mainstream and can be construed as "negligence" (ugh, even writing that makes me a little ill), means that there could be future legislation against it or more demands for performance - drawing from Wendy's example. I'd rather everyone just forget we exist and we can go about in our freedom without negative attention and interference. Perhaps I'm a bit of an isolationist.

    What's funny is that I have also written about how I'd like to see more unschooling principles introduced into the mainstream educational system. But, I guess I'd like it to happen quietly without much attention. I'm so wishy washy!

    Anyway, thankfully there are loving, accepting, and supporting people out there. Don't let the negativity impact you. I believe that most open-minded and thoughtful people can see the logic and benefits of unschooling. And those who lash out at its proponents are either misunderstanding it or don't think much of children.

  23. Yikes! I just got my first real ignorant comment on my blog. Sorry to tell you, I directed him to your blog for an example of an educated unschool student. Anyway, I sort of laughed at his comment because it was so crazily naive and rude, but I sure hope he's in the minority. Can people be so closed minded?

  24. Thanks for your post. I'm here after one of the Twitter accounts I follow, Roger Ebert (with 157,000 followers), posted some snark about uschooling on Twitter.

    What you say here is true and Wendy Priesnitz is a great source of wisdom and resources on the subject. Sometimes I just want to wrap myself in an U/S community blanket as there are a lot of mean-spirited and ignorant people out there who say the first nasty series of things that comes to their mind.

    Fortunately, the people I meet IRL who see my (awesome!) kids get to see first-hand that our unschooling family isn't backward or creepy or "undisciplined" or weird or whatever.

  25. Yeah I came to your blog to see what that clip was all about. I just spoke to my MIL who has my kids for a week, and was telling her about the aero conference and then she mentioned the segment on ABC and how pathetic the family was, how undisciplined, etc :-(
    She then began to tell me that if you home school to be succesful, it requires 5 hrs a day. lol
    I am going to be there for 2 weeks. Wish me luck and patience, trying to figure out a diplomatic way to deal with our differences. I have yet to watch the video, but I think I will now. I explained to her how that the journalist put them in compromising positions and used editing etc, but she was sure they hadn't. meh.

  26. @baddestbadass. Perhaps your MIL is not as relevant as she imagines herself to be? Unschooling may be a harder sell to someone who has existed in a school system for 30+ years. Unschooling & Going off the Grid w/ renewable energy technologies is rooted in the noble pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. We encourage leaving the so-called "real" world for one that is more imaginative. DO NOT SELL YOUR IMAGINATION BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. You will become a biological automaton.