Friday, May 14, 2010

Speaking Out About Unschooling

Recently I'm realizing more and more, as I've been in contact with an ever growing amount of local unschoolers and alternative schoolers, as well as similar "radical" educational types, how very precarious the state of all non-institutionalized schooling is in my home province of Quebec.

I grew up hearing some homeschoolers worrying about having the neighbors call child protection services, and I remember hearing of a couple scary stories when they were called...  Things never seemed all that bad, though, overall.

But in recent times, it seems to me that the climate here is becoming increasingly unfriendly to those outside of traditional schools, even as (or perhaps because of) the steady rise in the amount of people choosing to stay far away from the school system.  I'd wonder if maybe my personal perspective has changed as I've gotten older, and I'm just noticing it more now, except that others in the area are saying the exact same thing: from speakers at a local Christian homeschooling conferences, to freeschool advocates and anarchist unschoolers.  The government really is cracking down on what they seem to see as a potential threat to their control of the minds of children and teens.

When I commented about this on Facebook, several people suggested it was a fallout from the recent publicity unschooling has been getting.  I can't speak for anywhere else, but I know that that's certainly not the case here!  The general population in Quebec pays very little (I'd go so far as to say no) attention to news in the States.  And even beyond that, this isn't something that recent: I think the last several years have shown an increase.

But those comments raise an important point (one I've talked about a bit before, and thought about a lot more), about whether publicity, and whether being very outspoken, is a good thing or not?

Many unschooling and homeschooling families choose to be "under the radar".  To just quietly go about living their lives, without bringing much if any attention to *how* they're living.  I totally understand and respect that as a personal choice: either because you don't want to deal with the annoyance of being constantly questioned, or even more importantly because unschooling is borderline legal where you live (as in Quebec), so being open about it can be downright dangerous, depending on your situation (I know that my family didn't even admit to being homeschooled [let alone unschooled] when we were younger, if we could help it.  We all felt safer that way!).

But I take issue with the idea that people in general who have chosen non-traditional paths in education *should* keep quiet about it, stay under the radar, for fear of government crackdowns and restrictive laws.

I think that's a horrible way to go about things, and honestly a very selfish way.  People who are unschooling, people who have started or send their children to or go to democratic or free schools, people who are natural, autonomous learners of all types, are showing that the alternatives are wonderful.  We're going beyond the theoretical and actually showing, through our lives, how joyous life can be without a coercive schooling system.  To keep these alternatives quiet seems a gross injustice to everyone currently in the school system.

I watched The War on Kids last night, screened as part of this month's Festival of Anarchy.  It's a GREAT film, though very depressing.  I cried at multiple points during it, and I just kept thinking "thank you mom, for never sending me to school!".  To allow things to continue the way they are, to keep quiet when so many are suffering--depressed, self-harming, suicidal--in school doesn't feel right to me.

I think that those who feel comfortable, and those at least risk by doing so, have, well, I'd almost go so far as to say a *duty* to be outspoken.  To share our stories, speak out, write about it, write "Ask Me About Unschooling (Freeschooling, Homeschooling...)" on our shirts... ;-) Just to be OUT THERE, willing to discuss and share.

My family is at a point where both my sister and I are old enough to be safe from government intervention.  I'm past compulsory schooling age, and Emi would be finishing her last year of high school were she in the system.  So we're in an excellent position, and one we're taking advantage of, to be very outspoken.  My mother, sister and I spoke at a local homeschooling conference last month.  I'm speaking as part of a panel on radical education at the upcoming Anarchist Bookfair.  We've been connecting with lots more local educational radicals of all stripes.  And there's also other amazing local stuff going on, promoting alternatives to the traditional educational model: a local mother is helping to start a freeschool, as well as writing a book about how harmful the school system is (which I'm helping to edit/organize); a young Quebec teacher is putting together a documentary on how bad a job the schools are doing, and how many wonderful alternatives are out there!

I'm thrilled to have connected with so many locals recently, excited to be a part of this movement for educational freedom in Quebec, and looking forward to connecting with many more people in the coming days...

Not only do I think being outspoken is incredibly important, it also just feels so GOOD to share something I'm so passionate about, to be a part of a movement I think is so important!

For all of us who have solutions outside of the mainstream, institutionalized models, I really do believe the best way forward is to speak up!  The more voices, the better. :-)


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Unschooling Grows Up: A Collection of Interviews

A collection of interviews with grown unschoolers, both on this blog and on other sites.  If you're a grown unschooler who'd like to answer a few questions about your unschooling journey, please find out more about how to do so here.  I'd love to hear about your experiences!

On this site:

Hannah Thompson: "My unschooling experience has taught me to follow my passion without restraint."
Anna J. Cook: "The experience of unschooling helped me to remain confident in myself." 
Cheyenne La Vallee: "Everyone has it in themselves to be passionate and motivated." 
Jaclyn Dolamore: "Art and stories are woven through the fabric of every subject." 
Jasmine Carlson: "You don't feel pressured to 'be' something, you are allowed the space and time to create."
Vanessa Wilson: "As an unschooled kid, the world is full of so much that a school cannot give."
Tara Wagner: "Amazing things happen inside of freedom." 
Chloe Anne Spinnanger: "The best thing about unschooling is freedom!"
C. Kennedy: "I was unschooled from the day I was born."

On other sites:

Growing Up Unschooled, Melissa's Experience on Woman, Uncensored
A Lifelong "Unschooler": Interview With Quinn Eaker on Woman, Uncensored
Julian Baptista; Grown unschooler, musician from Enjoy Life Unschooling
Unschooling: An Interview with Everett Bogue from On Top The Cage
Carsie Blanton, Grown Unschooler & Musician (video) from Kelly Halldorson - Unscensored
Interview With Anna Hoffstrom, Part 1 and Part 2, from Mr. Haines
Jason Hunt: Grown Without Schooling from The Natural Child Project (originally published in Unerzogen)
Notes from an unschooled world wanderer from Skipping School

From Life Learning Magazine:

From Radio Free School:

Cameron Lovejoy: "Is this what I want to be doing the day I die?"
Eli Gerzon: "I love my life."
Unschooler Jessica Barker: "Redefining success."
Brenna McBroom: More time is more freedom
Looking back on unschooling: Kate Cayley (video)
Grown Unschooler Kate Fridkis: Embracing the Weird
Sean Ritchey: Grown Unschooler

From The Unschooler Experiment:

Sean Ritchey: So Many Projects, So Little Time
Idzie Desmarais: Not Alone in the Woods
Courtney Clay: Building a Sustainable Community
Beth Kander: The Due Diligence of Writing for Fun and Profit 
Carsie Blanton: Ain't So Green
Brenna McBroom: Skipping College
Peter Kowalke on the Sociable Unschooler
Brian Walton: How to Be a Librarian
Lynda Young: Second Generation Unschooling and New Zealand Yarn

If you know of other interviews with grown (17 or older) unschoolers not listed here, please pass the link along to me!  Thank you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Notes on Unschooling: From Our Talk at the AQED Symposium

A couple weeks ago, as I've previously mentioned, my family spoke at the AQED symposium.  I think a lot of this has been covered on my blog already, but I figured I'd share the notes for our introductory speech on unschooling!  Most of our time slot was devoted to answering questions, but this is what we started with.  Regular font is by me, italics are by my mother, Debbie.
So, what is unschooling?

To use Life Learning Magazines definition, unschooling (also known as Life Learning) is personalized, non-coercive, active, interest-led learning from life. (back to my own words) Unschoolers don’t have a set curriculum, are not “taught” by their parents, and instead learn from the world by living in the world, learning on their own terms with parents acting as facilitators instead of teachers.

How We Came to Homeschooling, or The Very Early Years
I’m told that before my birth, my parents had never even heard of homeschooling, let alone unschooling. It was only when I was a toddler that my mother found out about homeschooling, and started getting interested in it as an option for our family. However, my father wasn’t as impressed with the idea, so when I reached the right age, I was shipped off to half day kindergarten. However, there were some problems: problems big enough to convince my father to try homeschooling, so just halfway through my very first year of school, my parents pulled me out, and that remains my only experience with formal, institutionalized education. My sister, Emilie, who’s a couple years younger than me, has never been to school.

From Homeschooling to Unschooling

We started out as eclectic homeschoolers. My mother bought a few different programs & books from different companies, and encouraged both my sister and I to use them. But even in those early days, she was pretty relaxed, and when we didn’t want to do something, when it wasn’t working for us, it was generally fine with her if we stopped doing it. The only thing that was ever really an issue was math, because for a while, my mother still felt that math had to be “taught”. I think we became true unschoolers when we realized that there really were no “exceptions” to the concept: through simply living, following your passions and interests and curiosity, you really can (and do) learn all that you need to know, including math.

Like homeschooling, unschooling is not one single method, it is a continuum.

Academic Unschooling:

At the end of the spectrum nearest to eclectic homeschooling, is academic unschooling. Academic unschooling is allowing/encouraging your children to be responsible for their own education. It means that you don’t give them a curriculum to follow, but trust that they will learn what they need to by their regular daily activities and choices.

Radical Unschooling:

Radical unschooling is at the other end of the unschooling continuum. Radical unschoolers trust their children to make their own choices in everything that they do. They let their children decide when to go to bed, what to eat, and what to do with their time, or in other words, how they will live and learn. Radical unschooling is really a lifestyle. You trust that your children are capable of making choices for themselves.

Not "Unparenting"

Radical unschooling does not mean unparenting.

You are still there for your children.

When your children are young, you are the main source of new information and experiences.
You are the one to introduce new topics and information.
You are the one to bring them to new places.
You’re there to marvel over the wonderful things they discover.
You’re there to share the wonderful things you discover.
You’re there to share your interests and hobbies, and to be fascinated by theirs.
You set an example by your behaviour, of how people should behave.
Your manners teach your children about good manners.
Your love shows them what it is like to be loved.
They learn how to treat their friends and family by seeing how you treat yours.
You’re there to take them home when they are in situations that they can’t handle.
You’re there to cheer them on when they handle difficult situations well.
You’re there when they need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to talk to about why something happened the way it did (whether it is you or them doing the figuring)
You’re there to listen when they need someone to talk to. Someone who can just listen if that is what they need, or give advice or sympathy if that is what they want.

As your children get older, you are still there to tell them of the fascinating things you discover, and to hear what they are fascinated by. 

You’re there to marvel over the new things that they discover.
You’re there to drive them places until they get their own license.
You’re there for talks about boys and girls and romance.
You’re there to give opinions on drinking and driving, and drugs and teen suicide, and other things that are important to teens.
You’re there to support them when they make decisions they regret, without saying “I told you so”
You’re still there to help them find info that they can’t find themselves.
To encourage their dreams.
To sympathize with their disappointments.

You are still a parent, you are just not a controlling parent. You trust that they will be able to control themselves.


For all of this you must have trust in your children, and they must have trust in you. For unschooling of any kind to work, you need to have trust.

- You have to trust that your children are capable people.
- You have to trust that they will want and be able to learn.
- You have to trust that your children are capable of making good choices.
- You have to be willing to listen without judging.
- Your children have to trust that you will not ridicule their choices.
- Trust that you will listen and advise when advice is wanted, but that you won’t insist that the child follow that advice.
- Your child has to feel that you trust her to choose well

There are also many unschoolers who do not believe that academic unschooling is possible. They say that if you trust your children to learn “academic” things, you should trust them in all things. Also, since everyone learns by all their activities, control of food, bedtime, etc is also life learning, and by limiting control of this you limit what your children will learn.

This trust does not include their other life choices. In other words, if you are academically unschooling, you still make the choices, or at least must approve the choices, for bedtime, food, clothes, etc. Anything that does not involve school recognized learning. Sometimes, but not always, academic unschooling leads to radical unschooling as parents see how well their children choose.

Post Secondary…Or Not.

One of the most common questions I get as an unschooler is “can you get into college or university?”. Another big one is “so what are you doing now?” since I’m one of these mythical grown unschoolers, and people are always really interested in hearing my answer to that.

Firstly, unschoolers can definitely get into university. Unschooling is considered by universities to be under the wider banner of homeschooling, and as I think everyone here probably already knows, most universities have a special protocol set up for homeschoolers at this point, and some universities are even specifically seeking out homeschoolers, including unschoolers. Last time I heard, homeschoolers still aren’t able to easily get into CEGEP, if at all, though I’m sure the workshop on legalities of homeschooling in Quebec would have more to say on that subject.

However, I kind of object to this idea that’s so prevalent in our culture that you MUST go on to “higher education” to be “successful”. There are so many different paths out there, and only a few of them require a university degree above all else. The things I’m most interested in, and the things I think I might like to do as jobs in the future, include writing and editing, being a vegetarian cook or caterer, teaching primitive skills, and being an herbalist, or natural medicine consultant. None of these things require your typical university degree. In that vein, I’d like to share the words of of an unschooling mother, Ren Allen:

"I hope my children are not prepared for college at all. I hope they're
not prepared to hand over years and years of their lives for a thin
sliver of hope at a job they'll despise. I hope they're not prepared to
go into debt for that which does not feed their spirit, bring them joy
and ignite their passion for learning. I hope they can't do mindless
recitation of facts that mean nothing to them. I hope they're not
prepared for anything less than exactly what they love.”
As for what I’m doing now, I often have trouble answering this question, because I feel like what people really mean when they ask this is are you in school, or are you working fulltime, because those are usually the two options people think you should be doing if you’re 18 or older. And I’m 19, by the way. But what I’m doing is organizing local unschooling meetings, organizing, along with my mother, the first ever Summer Montreal Unschoolers Gathering, an event going on this summer that’s really exciting. I’m putting together the second issue of a zine I publish, called DIY Life Zine. I’m writing lots, blogging lots. I’ve been asked to speak at an unschooling conference in the fall. I’m really putting effort into finding/building local community, because in recent years I’ve found a lovely North America wide community, but I still kind of feel a lack of community here. I’m still learning and growing as much as I ever was when I was younger, and still trying to figure a lot of stuff out. But, I feel like I’m on the right path, and that things are going to work out well. I hope I’m right!
Thank you for reading!