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!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Quotes Make Me Happy

So I figured I'd share some!  Many (though not all) of these have been posted recently (as in the last month) on my Facebook page, so if you follow that you may already have seen them.  You also might not have.  Several of the quotes featured below were found in the book Walking On Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution by Derrick Jensen, which is very good (really.  You should read it!).

"On your own, you have to face the responsibility for how you spend time. But in school you don't. What they make you do may obviously be a waste but at least the responsibility isn't charged to your account. School in this respect is, once again, like the army or jail. Once you're in, you may have all kinds of problems but freedom isn't one of them." Jerry farber

"So long as we only believe in the justice of the state, of the law—made by those in power, to serve those in power—so long will we continue to be exploited by those in power." Derrick Jensen

"If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner." Walter Barbee

"Grades are a problem. On the most general level, they're an explicit acknowledgment that what you're doing is insufficiently interesting or rewarding for you to do it on your own. Nobody ever gave you a grade for learning how to play, how to ride a bicycle, or how to kiss. One of the best ways to destroy love for any of these activities would be through the use of grades, and the coercion and judgment they represent. Grades are a cudgel to bludgeon the unwilling into doing what they don't want to do, an important instrument in inculcating children into a lifelong subservience to whatever authority happens to be thrust over them." Derrick Jensen

"Modern schools & universities push students into habits of depersonalized learning, alienation from nature and sexuality, obedience to hierarchy, fear of authority, self-objectification, & chilling competitiveness. These character traits are the essence of the twisted personality-type of modern industrialism. They are precisely the character traits needed to maintain a social system that is utterly out of touch with nature, sexuality, & real human needs." Arthur Evans

"The function of high school, then, is not so much to communicate knowledge as to oblige children finally to accept the grading system as a measure of their inner excellence. And a function of the self-destructive process in American children is to make them willing to accept not their own, but a variety of other standards, like a grading system, for measuring themselves. It is thus apparent that the way American culture is now integrated it would fall appart if it did not engender feelings of inferiority and worthlessness." Jules Henry

‎"School is indeed a training for later life not because it teaches the 3 Rs (more or less), but because it instills the essential cultural nightmare fear of failure, envy of success, and absurdity." Jules Henry

"A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker, a raving lunatic." Dresden James

"People don't mind being in prison as long as no one else is free. But stage a jailbreak, and everybody else freaks out." William Deresiewicz

"Schools have not necessarily much to do with education...they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school." Winston Churchill

“School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught.” Ivan Illich

“Think of reading like riding a bicycle: One doesn’t consciously name the muscles involved or the particular actions required of each, or the parts of the bicycle, or Newton’s laws of motion, or the physics of gears, or the changes in brain chemistry associated with balance. One gets up on the seat and starts to pedal.” David Albert
"The founding fathers provided jails called schools, equipped with tortures called education. School is where you go between when your parents can't take you and industry can't take you." John Updike

"There were no sex classes. No friendship classes. No classes on how to navigate a bureaucracy, build an organization, raise money, create a database, buy a house, love a child, spot a scam, talk someone out of suicide, or figure out what was important to me. Not knowing how to do these things is what messes people up in life, not whether they know algebra or can analyze literature." William Upski Wimsatt

“Children are not our own art products to be turned out well, but their own life work in continual process.” Jan Fortune Wood

"You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." Martin Luther King

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.  Begin it now." W. H. Murray

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..

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unschooling Questions? Ask An Idzie.

Thank you to everyone who gave me feedback on yesterday's post!!  Just wanted to let you know that there's now a page on the left sidebar entitled Have Unschooling Questions? Get Answers!

And she'll do her best to answer!

All the details can be found on that page.  (There isn't yet a donate button, but there probably will be one in the near-ish future.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Horrible Idea? Or a Good One...? Looking For My Wonderful Readers' Opinions!

There are five Ryerson graduate students making a documentary about unschooling, which is pretty exciting!  Today, I spent a little while talking on Skype to the reporter for the story, about growing up unschooled, and some other basic questions (they're still looking for both a grown unschooler and an unschooling family, in the Toronto area, who would be willing to be interviewed/filmed, so if you're interested, let me know and I'll put you in touch!)... 

Right after that, I started looking through my "to respond" folder, which stretches back several months, and feeling really guilty about all of the unschooling questions people have asked that I've yet to answer.
And then I started thinking how easy it is to answer questions on Skype.  How I both usually enjoy it more, and how it takes about five minutes on Skype to answer a question that would take me fifteen minutes if I were to answer it in email (thinking about phrasing and proofreading and all that.  When answering questions about unschooling via email, I feel like I'm just writing a private post!  No less effort goes into it.).

So I thought "hey, I can tell people that if they want to ask me questions, add me on Skype, arrange a time to chat through email, or just poke me if I'm online!".

But then, quick on the heels of that thought, came the thought that lots of people like asking me questions.  Grown unschoolers aren't always easy to find, and thus are in high demand when they are found!  What if that ends up taking up a lot of time?

At which point another idea came along...  What if I put up a donation button?  And said that I am happy to answer questions for anyone who feels a need to ask, and don't expect any compensation, but if you want to give me a little something for my time, if you have it to spare, that would be really great.

So the point of this post is simply to ask if you think this is a horrible idea, or if this might just be a good one?  I have this huge feeling that what I say is SO not worth anyone spending their money on, but if it's an entirely optional donation button and is just sitting there if people want to use it, then it's out of my hands and thus in theirs, right?

You can probably tell I'm very unsure of this idea that popped into my head a mere fifteen minutes ago.  So, your feedback is very much appreciated!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Asian Inspired Tastiness

Now, there are some things you should probably know about my food and cooking preferences before I jump into this post, and share a couple of (vague: I rarely measure) recipes:
  1. I firmly believe that kale is the greatest leafy green ever.  It's one of the first veggies you can get at the farmers market in early spring and one of the last in late fall.  It's extremely healthy, and it actually tastes good (I should mention at this point that I'm not a big fan of most greens, so that's saying something!).
  2. I love Asian inspired food.
  3. I love tamari soy sauce.
  4. I eating food in these awesome, perfectly large sized clear glass bowls we have.  Eating food out of them makes me feel all happy and cozy.
Now on to the food!

Stir-fried Kale With Quinoa

Pretty simple really: I chop up some kale (chopping up the leaves and stalks separately) and some bell pepper, cook it with tamari soy sauce, water, and a bit of this seasoning powder called Nonya (which is made up of onions, garlic, chillies, and lemon), adding chopped kale stalks first and cooking for several minutes before adding the leaves, then after another few minutes the pepper, to make sure that everything is cooked enough to become tender, but not too soft.  When done, serve over warm quinoa.  

Vegetable Chow Mein

About 6 smallish stalks of kale, leaves & stalks chopped up separately
1 medium onion, sliced
Some baby bok choy (maybe half of a head?), white part and leaves used, sliced
2 small red bell peppers, cut into smallish pieces
1 small hot pepper, ribs & seeds removed, chopped finely
A bunch of thin egg noodles (about 250 or 300 g uncooked)
Tamari soy sauce (I just add it by what looks and tastes right!)
About 1 tsp Salt
About 1 tsp Sugar
Olive oil or other vegetable oil, for cooking.
Toasted sesame oil

1. In a large frying pan, put enough veggie oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add kale stalks (not leaves!) and let cook for a few minutes. (If I don't let them cook longer than the other ingredients, they end up tough)
2. Add kale leaves, onion, and hot pepper, adding more oil as/if necessary.
3. Sometime during first two steps, cook egg noodles as instructed on package then rinse in cold water and set aside.
4. When onions are fairly soft and kale looks nearly done add the bok choy and bell pepper (continuing to add oil on an as needed basis). Continue cooking for a couple of minutes, until bok choy and pepper are lightly cooked, crispy yet tender.
5. Put the cooked veggies in a large pot (I use the same one I cooked the noddles in), along with the noodles, enough veggie oil that everything won't stick, a splash of sesame oil, the salt and sugar, and the soy sauce.
6. Stir until everything is warmed through and the noodles are just starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, and serve!

I made this for supper tonight, and every single picky family member enjoyed it!

Garlic Noodle Soup

Veggie stock with some water, tamari soy sauce,  Nonya seasoning (powdered onions, garlic, chillies, and lemon), makes up the broth.  Then I fry (with a bit of oil then water added as needed) kale, bell peppers, onions, and LOTS of garlic (this is the type of soup I like to eat when sick) until tender, add to soup broth, add uncooked noodles to soup and cook until ready, then eat and enjoy.

Sushi Salad

This is what I eat when I feel like sushi, but don't feel like spending the two hours needed to make it!  It's pretty simple:

Sticky rice/sushi rice
Chopped up cucumbers, bell peppers, avocado, and any other veggies I like i my sush
Torn up nori (seaweed)
Sweet pickled ginger

And as a dressing:
Equal parts rice vinegar (seasoned or plain) and tamari soy sauce
A pinch of sugar
Wasabi powder to taste (I'm assuming fresh would be better, it just seems I only have powdered left every time I make this).

Mix it all up, and enjoy the yummy-ness!!

I love experimenting with food, never following recipes exactly, making up my own recipes, and just having fun with it.  I hope the stuff I've shared here can maybe inspire you to go make some yummy food of your own! :-)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Spirals of Self-Hatred

Confidence and self-esteem, those two so closely tied together things, are tricky.

Sometimes I really think I have this confidence thing down.  In a workshop, I speak enthusiastically to and with the large group, everyone's eyes upon me, with not even a twinge of fear.  I go up to individuals afterward to tell them how much I liked that comment about sustainability they made, or simply to introduce myself with a smile and a firm handshake.  I say "yes" without pause when asked to speak somewhere, and think cheerfully of how much fun it'll be.

This confidence leads into self-esteem: wow, people like hearing what I have to say, like meeting me, like me.  I have some awesome friends.  That's cool.  I'm proud of what I've done and do.  I like who I am.  I like me, too!  Hell, I love me!!


Then I'll say or type something seemingly inconsequential without putting much thought into it.  Or, even worse, think long and hard, then realize only just after I've opened my mouth or hit the send key how stupid whatever I said just sounded to me. Then comes the twisty feeling in my gut: how could I have said something so stupid??

Then, like the opening of a dam, usually kept tightly closed off in some part of my mind, comes the rush of all 10,000,000 other things I've ever said or done that have made me wince: brought on waves of shame and regret, or even just mild twinges of it.  Every single thing...

This tends to happen especially when around certain people, people I think are especially cool, or especially cute, or especially smart, that I seem to be unable to say or do anything cool or intelligent when around them or in communication with them.

It only takes one event, or one slightly low mood and a surfacing memory, to make me spiral down this path of self-hatred.

Of course, in an hour or two, I'll likely get a nice email, or have a friend say something, that gets me all happy and confident and self-loving once again.

I feel like this is probably a fairly normal occurrence for a lot of people.  But really?  It sucks.


It feels really strange to be posting this, actually.  I've come to feel obligated to write a *certain type* of post on this blog.  Posts that are of a higher quality with more constructive content.  But...  I'm trying to keep in mind what I want this blog to be, and that's to be a place I can freely express myself online.  That expression often is about unschooling, and often is in a more article-like format.  But when what's on my mind is something far more...  I don't know, personal, I guess, I want to feel that that's okay too.  Which is why I'm posting this, despite reservations!  That is all.


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.”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Blog Button, Anyone?

I've wanted to have a blog button for a while now.  I mean, they're just cool, aren't they?  So with the help of my sister Emi (who actually knows how to use Photoshop) I (we) made one, and with the help of this eHow article, I actually managed to put it in the sidebar with a nifty code box so that you can copy the HTML and stick it on your own blog/site! If you feel so inclined, of course. Here it is!

(If you have a Blogger blog, all you need to do is go to Layout, then Add Gadget, choose the HMTL box, and paste the code below into the box provided. Voila! I'm assuming other blog platforms have a similar gadget.)

I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write.

P.S. Notice how the pictures are supposed to represent unschooling, vegetarianism, animism, green anarchy, and hippie-ism. I figured that was a good way to do things!

Also, if you notice any problems with it (or if you think the size of the button should be changed), please let me know so I can fix it.  Thanks a bunch!!

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!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Unschooling is Forever Part 3: Isolation, Socialization, and Doubters

Part 3 of a talk I gave at the Toronto Unschooling Conference.

Read part 1 and part 2.

Isolation and socialization

One of the reasons it took us, as a family, awhile to truly embrace unschooling was how isolated we felt: the fact that we didn’t really know any other local unschooling families.  I know that feelings of isolation are a problem for many unschoolers, who find the local community of school-at-home-ers don’t always provide the support and reassurance needed.  To unschool, for both parents and kids, can feel very difficult at times.  We all need to feel that we have a community, a “tribe” as some people put it.  People who think and feel similarly enough to you that they get it, and I think that finding that tribe is very important when you’re tackling living a lifestyle that’s different from the mainstream.  Finding this community can involve many things: joining Yahoo or Facebook groups, or becoming part of the unschooling or Twitter community online is a good start.  Going to unschooling conferences or gatherings, looking for local unschooling groups, or starting you own are even more important in my opinion, though.  Nothing beats face-to-face interaction, and being around other unschoolers is a truly wonderful thing!  So for anyone who doesn’t have a local group, I’d encourage you to consider starting your own.  I know that I was really surprised when I started a local unschooling group at just how many local families there were!  If you’re in a smaller town, there probably won’t be as many as I found in Montreal, but there are still quite likely a couple of other unschooling families within reasonable distance from you to connect with…

As much as finding other unschoolers can be difficult, finding people in general, the whole “socialization” thing that seems to worry so many school minded people, is not a problem, as every homeschoolers and unschooler knows.  Because this is such a big issue, in that pretty much everyone I’ve come across who’s against school-free learning brings it up, I feel like I should take a moment to address it.

I think we all know how untrue it is that those outside of school will lack in time spent with other people, if they so desire it.  And that’s the important part: if they desire it.  Inside of a school, children and teens experience a version of forced “socialization” found in no other part of life.  Whether they want to be around specific individuals or not, or whether they want to be around huge groups of people all day every day or not, they have no choice in the matter.  That’s just the way it is.  And being in this type of environment, from everything I’ve seen, is not healthy.  In every large group of random high schoolers I’ve ever been around, I’ve felt emotionally unsafe, and nervous about openly expressing myself.  The amount of politics, backstabbing, dishonesty, desperation to fit in, and social manoeuvring is always an onslaught to my senses.  This really isn’t meant as a criticism of schooled people, as much as it might sound like one.  Whenever I see school-free learners dissing schooled kids, it really bothers me.  I think it’s important to remember both all the wonderful schooled people out there, and the fact that even among the schooled social groups I would never choose to spend time around, it’s not their fault.  They didn’t choose to be in an environment where they’re often forced to be either a bully or victim.  That was forced upon them against their will: “for their own good”.

Good socialization, in my opinion, is making the conscious choice to be around a variety of people: choosing when to be around people and when to be alone.  Choosing to interact largely with people who lift you up, not knock you down, and having the freedom to leave people or situations that make you feel unsafe.  The option to interact with a wide variety of ages is another big bonus, and is something that I think is very important.  But ultimately, with socialization as with everything else, I think the most important aspect is freedom.  As Adele Caroll said:

“Forced association is not socialization.”

Dealing with doubters

It would be nice if socialization was the only thing that both strangers and loved ones frequently worried about, but sadly it’s not.  Doubters abound, and dealing with doubters usually isn’t much fun, especially when those doubters are people who are close to you, people you care about.  But, like it or not (and I’d generally say it’s a not), if you’re open about being unschoolers, constant questioning quickly becomes the norm.  However, though the repertoire of questions you get (over and over again) is pretty standard, the place individuals are coming from, the way they approach the questioning, differs more widely, and I think can be quite interesting… So I wanted to share something I wrote on my blog awhile back, about the different types of questioners you’re likely to run into…

What I've been thinking about today is the vast array of *types* of question you run into.  There are many different people that ask questions about this lifestyle in many ways, but there definitely seem to be some trends in what feeling is behind the questions.  Now, over-generalizing is rarely a good idea, and that's definitely what I'm doing, but most of the people who've asked me about unschooling do seem to fit (roughly) into one of these categories! :-P
  1. The hostile questioner.  "Aren't you ruining your life?  How will anyone ever hire you if you don't go to school?"  This person is instantly suspicious and disapproving.  For whatever reason, be it jealousy that they never had the option of learning (and living more) freely, or something entirely different, they are determined not to believe in any alternatives to conventional schooling, and will do anything to disprove whatever you say.  Their purpose is not to learn, but to devalue the lifestyle you're living.  To invalidate it, and thus validate their own choices as the clearly Right ones.
  2. The well-meaning yet ignorant questioner.  "But what about socialization?"  This individual is simply curious, and entirely uninformed, the questions asked being slightly annoying only because of how often you've answered them before!  This person hasn't usually thought through the questions at all, they're just repeating things they've heard before in regards to home and/or unschoolers.  They really do want to know more, and just haven't really thought much about any type of education, other than school, before.
  3. The confused questioner.  (After having just explained unschooling) "So, is your mom a good teacher...?"  This person, no matter how many different ways you try to explain things, just isn't grasping the concept.  They're not confrontational or anti-unschooling in the slightest, they're just either very set in their ways of seeing the world, so much so that nothing else even computes, or you just think in a way that's too different from them, and can't explain things in a way that they'll get.
  4. The cautiously optimistic questioner.  "So, you can get into university?"  The idea strikes a chord with this person.  They kind of like it, but aren't quite sure they should, and are worried they're missing something crucial.  This is one of the most rewarding scenarios for an unschooler who wants to share this philosophy with others.  This person is very likely to be helped by finding out about unschooling!
  5. And, recently at the anarchist bookfair, I've been exposed to another type of questioner.  I'll call those who approach things this way the constructive questioner.  They're coming from a place that's already supportive of freedom, and their questions are intelligent and well thought out.  Their desire is to learn, and build on the basic knowledge they have, not to tear down the idea.  I found that quite delightful, and really enjoyed the panel discussion I was a part of there.
And that’s the end of the blog post.

Read part 4.