Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite Unschooling Posts (On This Blog) of 2011

The last couple of years I've done something like this, and it's a tradition I'd like to keep going.  I've chosen my favorite post on this blog from each month of the past year. It's always interesting looking back on what I've written over the year, and if you missed any of them the first time around, I hope you'll find them an interesting read now!


Growing Up Unschooled...With Siblings
"To me, one of the greatest benefits of unschooling is the relationships I've developed with my family, which I definitely attribute at least in part to unschooling.  When in school, siblings spend every day appart from each other, in separate grades, classrooms, and even schools (though seeing as you're not supposed to be socializing in class, I suppose it wouldn't make much of a difference if siblings where in the same class, anyway).  Evenings are usually spent doing homework, or spending time with other friends.  There's a stigma attached to hanging out with people of different ages, and I've definitely also encountered a stigma to liking family members.  To many young people, actually liking a sibling enough to spend time with them just isn't cool."
Blame Unschooling!
"By unschooling, I had the time and space to become my own person.  Unschooling gave me freedom.  The rest I did myself.  Or, myself, with the help of the world, my community, and life in general...  Unschooling didn't create the aspects of myself that I'm proud of, and neither did it create my less than stellar qualities.  My achievements and mistakes are thanks to me and the circumstances I've found myself in."

Why I Use "Labels"
"Some people eschew anything they see as labels, and that's fine.  But as a word lover, I kind of like walking around with a string of words attached to me.  I picture them trailing out behind my head, fluttering a bit in an imaginary breeze as I move around: a banner of pride.  Yeah, pretty fanciful mental image, I know.  But anyway, I choose to attach these words to my person because I identify strongly with them: they make me happy to use, I feel like each one describes me well, and I just like them.  Those words are my friends."

I'm going to cheat a bit on this one, since I didn't really write any real posts this month, and instead share two podcasts I did during that time, one an interview between me and my sister, the other an interview with Kelly Hogaboom.  Neither of them are especially "professional," but I was really happy to try creating stuff in a new medium!


A Parental Right
"Unschooling isn't about parental rights.  It's about children's rights.  A childs right to choose their own path in life, with the support and assistance of parental or other care-giving figures in their life."

Teenage Rebellion: An Unschooling, Respectfully Parented Perspective
"When the subject of "teenage rebellion" comes up now, my mother is fond of saying "why would you rebel, since there wasn't really anything to rebel against?"

Now, I think there is an important distinction to be made here: some parents proudly brag about how their teens aren't "rebellious," and what they really mean is that their children are obedient to their parents wishes (or, possibly more likely, are simply very good at hiding the aspects of their life that their parents would disapprove of).  When I say that most unschoolers I know, myself included, don't or didn't "rebel" against our parents in our teen years, I don't mean it's because we fit the perfect-child model of some narrow-minded authoritarian-parenting suburbanite."

I only wrote one post in July, so this pick was an easy one! Insecurities and an Anniversary: Three Years Blogging and Writing from the Heart
"Okay, I'm just going to come out and say it: I don't think, especially right now, that my life is a good example of unschooling.  I feel like I've somehow put myself on this pedestal, with lots of people looking up at me, and I'm just going what?  How did this happen?  I'm not the person you think I am!!"

The Ignorant Commenters Strike Again: "But You Have to Learn to Get Along With People You Don't Like!"
"Sadly, life is filled with people who, to put it bluntly, are assholes.  People who treat others poorly.  Bullies.  People who don't seem to realize that working respectfully with others is even an option.  You can (and will) definitely find those people in school.  But, even if you never set foot in a school, you'll still find those people.  The whole thing with living and learning in the real world is that, well, you tend to run into the things commonly found in, you know, the real world."

Breaking News: Unschoolers Not as Good at School as Schooled People
"Schooled kids and schooled-at-home kids practice tests all the time.  They get good at taking tests, because they take tests.  Young, unschooled children who are not used to tests obviously will not be as good at taking tests, regardless of how much knowledge they have in the areas they're being tested on.  Unschoolers don't generally aim to be "successful" by being good at tests: they aim to be successful by being good at living life!"

Unschooling: Are We Teaching Ourselves
"Virtually every time unschooling is covered in the media (such as the newest segment on MSNBC's Today Show) people, either in the segment itself or in the comments, refer to unschooling as an educational "method" where kids "teach themselves."  And that's always struck me as being way off the mark.  Unschooling isn't about unschoolers "teaching themselves": it's about unschoolers choosing how and what and with whom they want to learn."

Guest Post: The Future of Unschooling by Jeff Landale
"If we find ourselves engaging in radical modes of alternative education which don’t inherently challenge and disrupt crucial aspects of the world, then we should be concerned that we are actually reproducing the same structures which Unschooling was originally supposed to allow us to escape from. Thus, rather than having Unschooling be that thing which isn’t school or homeschooling, we should have Unschooling be something which, while growing out of critiques of industrial schooling and its sibling, homeschooling, defined in terms of what it allows us to become, and how it allows us to change the world."

Unschooling and Trust
"Trust is hard, and learning to trust yourself is a continuous journey, full of learning and re-learning your own strength and capability, while learning to accept weaknesses and mistakes.  A great strength of unschooling is, I believe, the gift of being confident in the innate ability of children to learn.  Giving them trust.  And in so doing, breaking a cycle of teaching dependance on authority, breaking the cycle of teaching children that they're incompetent and incapable of having a major say in their own lives."
And with that, I will wish you all a very Happy New Year, filled with joy and health and, of course, lots of learning!  I'd like to publish a post in the next couple of days with my favorite unschooling/radical education posts of the last year from all over the internet, and hopefully I'll find time to do so!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homeschooling Doesn't Mean Your Kids Will be Like You

I've talked to a lot of young parents considering alternative education of some sort or another, not necessarily unschooling, and to people who plan on teaching their children, a common enthusiasm expressed is that they'll be able to teach their children to love what they love.  Usually the thing they're talking about is "classic" something or other, especially literature.  Sometimes it's even put as baldly as that, though often that simply seems to be an underlying theme in what they're saying.  I don't point it out, though sometimes I consider doing so.  It doesn't seem particularly nice to say that all their dreams of creating children who share their interests isn't necessarily going to happen, and I figure it's something people will figure out themselves soon enough.  But I always kind of shake my head a bit, internally.  Trying to make someone else like the same things you like is likely to lead to them having little interest in the subject being pushed, at best, and actively disliking and resenting both the subject being pushed and the person pushing it, at worst.

I understand the drive behind it: when you think something is fascinating and exciting, enjoyable and useful, or simply fun, it's natural that you want to share it with others.  I'm very pleased with myself for making Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans of several of my friends, and I rather hope any future children of mine will like reading Tamora Pierce novels as much as I do.

I can't wait to read her newest novel!

Wanting others to like what you like is perfectly normal.  But where many people go wrong is in how they attempt to approach it.  With friends, you mostly have to be respectful about it, and introduce things in a "I think this is so cool and thought you might too, want to watch it/read it/try it with me?" But when it comes to children, so often their very thoughts are considered to be under parental control (because really, what is attempting to teach something against someones will if not attempting to control their thoughts?), parents decide what their children should be interested in, and decide to make it happen.

But of course, no matter how much power you hold over another individual, you may be able to make your children read classic literature, but you can't make them like it, no matter how much you enjoyed reading Mark Twain yourself.

It's understood that adults will have different interests based on their own personal tastes and preferences, and those different interests are generally at least marginally respected (while an interest in comic books might not be respected overly much, it's probably unlikely someone will be told to their face they should be reading classic lit instead), yet most often children get very different treatment.  Like ideas on the necessity of Shakespeare, many parents think that their list of things that have been most enriching in their lives will also prove the most enriching to their children, if only they teach them about it.

And hey, maybe it will prove just as enjoyable and enriching to them!  But it's far more likely to be if you approach it right, the same way you would with a friend or other adult loved one.  Share your enthusiasm, make the things you like readily available, ask if your kids want to watch this great movie, or read your favorite book.  Enthusiasm and passion are engaging, and can definitely spark interest for someone else.  But unless you want to breed resentment, be okay with your kids just not being interested, or watching that wonderful movie and finding it considerably less wonderful than you find it.  It also has to go both ways: if you expect your children to at least try out your favorite things, be ready to do the same with them.  The best relationships, no matter the type, are based on sharing: sharing of emotions and experiences and interests and passions.  It's no different when it comes to sharing favorite things with your children (and your children sharing their favorite things with you).

So I keep quiet when parents enthuse about how much their children are going to love this and that thing and subject because the parents are planning on making it an important part of their homeschool curriculum.  I just wish them the best, and hope that things work out in a way that each person gets to have their own favorite things, and enjoy sharing those favorites with each other!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Against the Grain: Listen to the Podcast on The Unschooler Experiment!

I fell down on the job these last few days what with Christmas and all, but as I'm sure you'll notice my last several posts were of the essays being published on The Unschooler Experiment as part of the Week of the Idzie.  You can find a list of all those essays here, and as of today you can also listen to me read them all on The Unschooler Experiment podcast!  Check it out:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Finding Community @ The Unschooler Experiment

Day 3 in the Week of the Idzie.

I started getting enthusiastic about the idea of unschooling when I was 16 or 17, and I actually met other unschoolers in real life for the first time when I was 17 and went to Not Back to School Camp. I think I expected everything to change instantly: that I’d magically become more outgoing and make a ton of new friends in one fell swoop, and I was a bit disappointed when that didn’t happen. But I did really like the atmosphere of camp, and I did make some new, tentative friendships. And as I continued to make my way into the unschooling community by going to a couple of conferences with my mother and sister, and going to Not Back to School Camp again the next year, I started realizing that, slowly but surely, I was making quite a few friends. I found myself keeping in touch with those friends, even though they lived far away, and gaining a hell of a lot of confidence along the way.
I learned that maybe I was someone worth being friends with, after all, and I learned that there were a lot of unschoolers I very much wanted to get to know better.
Now, the unschooling community isn’t the only one I feel I need in my life: I was rather surprised when I first started going to unschooling events by how non-radical many unschoolers are. I guess I’d assumed that because questioning the schooling system lead me to questioning so much else, that that would be the experience of others, as well. And it is! Just not as many others as maybe I’d first thought. This isn’t meant in any way as a criticism, just an honest reflection of my thoughts. Regardless, the people I choose to surround myself with now are unschoolers, anarchists, radicals, queers, hippies, pagans, and other odd folk. And I’m using “odd” here in the most complementary sense possible!
Everyone will feel pulled to find different communities, but all of us do need community.
It’s the finding of it that can be difficult.
Read more at The Unschooler Experiment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Normalcy is for Squares @ The Unschooler Experiment

Day two in The Week of the Idzie.
My sister and I spend a lot of time together. We enjoy having really great discussions, sharing observations, jokes, and just generally being best friends. And a while back, I made some comment along the lines that I dress pretty normally, and my sister just looked at me and said “Idzie, you’ve forgotten what normal is.”
I regularly forget what normal is about more than just clothing. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not, but I think it does say something about where, and with whom, I spend most of my time!
I’ve been asked if I feel unschooling made, and makes, it harder for me to connect with “regular” people, and I find that a difficult question to begin with, just because there are so many ways in which my views and lifestyle are, well, far from mainstream. It goes beyond just what could be covered under the label of unschooler.
Some people seem able to find common ground with every single person they come across, and I truly envy that skill. Because so often, with new acquaintances, I find myself running out of anything to talk about very, very quickly. Being the unschooling, vegetarian, animistic, green-anarchist, feminist, hippie freak that I am, what’s on my radar tends to look pretty different than the things that feature most prominently in many other peoples lives...
Read more over at The Unschooler Experiment!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I Get My Very Own Week, Courtesy of The Unschooler Experiment!

I did a recording of my talk Against The Current, for the wonderful website The Unschooler Experiment, about a month ago.  The Unschooler Experiment sets itself apart from pretty much all other unschooling sites in that it focuses on the stories and experiences of grown unschoolers themselves, instead of parents, and seeks to share information that's interesting and relevant to both grown unschoolers and parents of unschoolers (and grown unschooled parents of unschoolers, of course!).

And now I'm incredibly honored to be featured this whole week on that site, during The Week of the Idzie!  My talk has been broken up into 7 essays, which will be followed by my reading of those essays in a podcast on day 8.  I'm truly flattered, and also just can't help but be extremely amused by that title.  "Week of the Idzie"...  It sounds very much like something I'd declare dramatically and with great silliness to my family.  "I declare this to be the Week of the Idzie!!"  Anyway, a big thanks to Peter Kowalke and other awesome folks over at The Unschooler Experiment.

See all the Week of the Idzie posts here:

And read today's essay Against the Grain (Day 1 in the Week of the Idzie.  It seems egocentric to get such a kick out of that title, but I can't help it!). 

In other news, though it may be taking longer than I'd hoped, posts will soon be posted on Sistermatic Response, I promise!  You can follow updates over at the Sistermatic Response Facebook page.  You can also, of course, follow this blog as well, at the I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. Facebook page!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unschooling and Trust

When you get right down to it one of the most integral aspects of unschooling, and this is something you hear lots of unschooling advocates saying, is trust.

Trust is a really nice word.  According to, trust is:


1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2. confident expectation of something; hope.
I love that first definition.  Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person.  Unschooling, or really, doing many things differently than those ways of doing and being sanctioned by the dominant culture, takes a lot of trust.  It takes trust on multiple levels.

Trusting that Nature/evolution/the Divine/God/Goddess has created human beings capable of learning, capable of following their innate drive to learn, capable of making the important decisions in their lives.  It's trusting that nature got things right.

Trusting, as a parent, that you have the capability (and strength, ability, surety) to make the decision to take your kids out of school, or to never send them to school to begin with.  And trusting that your children are capable people, able to learn and grow guided by their innate desire to explore the world around them. 

Trusting yourself, as someone who is themselves of an age to be in compulsory schooling, to have the insight, foresight, strength and ability to take the leap of leaving school, or if your parents made that decision at an earlier point for you, trusting that you really have always been and continue to be capable of controlling your own learning, "education," and life.

Trust is hard, and learning to trust yourself is a continuous journey, full of learning and re-learning your own strength and capability, while learning to accept weaknesses and mistakes.  A great strength of unschooling is, I believe, the gift of being confident in the innate ability of children to learn.  Giving them trust.  And in so doing, breaking a cycle of teaching dependance on authority, breaking the cycle of teaching children that they're incompetent and incapable of having a major say in their own lives. 

I believe unschooling can really help in allowing people to develop confidence in their own power.

At the same time, though, unschoolers are of course just people, and unschooling doesn't erase the influences of the rest of this culture, or fundamentally change the fact that everyone, no matter their upbringing or education, has insecurities and worries and problems with trusting their own judgement.  I never went to school (I don't count kindergarten), yet that doesn't stop my insecurities!  And it doesn't stop me from wondering on a regular basis if I am trustworthy, if I really am capable of making the best choices for myself.

It helps though, having had so much trust for so many years.  It helps being able to look at all the things I've learned and accomplished, by my own initiative and in my own time. 

So, unschooling is really about trusting.  Trusting Nature, trusting your kids, trusting yourself.  It won't be perfect, but as long as that core of trust remains, I'd say unschooling works out pretty damn well.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sistermatic Response: Announcing a New Blog!

I love this blog, love writing about unschooling and radical education, and plan to continue writing here for the foreseeable future (hopefully with more frequency than I've been posting lately!).  But at some point, this blog has morphed from being a blog where I can write about anything, to a blog very specifically focused on education (and directly related things like respectful parenting).  That isn't a bad thing at all: I feel the focus and content of this blog is strong, and I like that.  But it has left me feeling a bit like I'm just sticking in my comfort zone in writing almost exclusively about unschooling, and has made me feel a bit restless.  I want to be writing about more different things, exploring in writing my views and experiences when it comes to other important subjects.  So I was absolutely thrilled when I asked my sister Emilie if she would be interested in co-authoring a new feminist blog with me, and she said yes!

That was a few weeks ago, and since then, we've come up with a name (let me give a shout-out to Ryan, follower of this blog, for suggesting the title!), set up a blog, and are working on that in preparation for a launch in early December.  If you'd like to stay up-tp-date on it's progress, read interesting linked articles, and know right away when the blog goes live, you can follow it's Facebook page:


(Don't worry if you don't have Facebook, you won't get all the updates, but I will post on this blog letting you know when Sistermatic Response is active!)

Just saying "it's a feminist blog" may not really tell you if it's something you'd be interested in or not (though it might), so here's a bit more info.  Our tagline is Two feminist sisters on sexuality, gender, pop-culture, and resistance, and part of the About page reads:

Sistermatic Response came about when two sisters, sisters who spent many hours swinging on swings and staying up into the wee hours of the morning, realized that all the things they regularly discuss--such as sexism and gender oppression; sexuality; gender identity; gender roles and expectations; racism, heterosexism, cissexism, classism, and how those all tie into each other and tie into sexism; the problematic (and positive) themes and tropes they regularly saw in their favourite (and least favourite) TV shows, novels, movies and comic books; and the dismantling of and resistance to the various and complex systems of oppression that make up this culture--could be written about, too, and shared with others.

And so this blog idea was born, as a place for us to publicly discuss, dissect, and rant about the world we live in and the things we experience on a daily basis.

All issues and movements and subjects overlap and interweave, and I'm sure there will be occasional cross-posting of posts on I'm Unschooled. Yes I Can Write. and Sistermatic Response, but largely, this blog is my education blog, and Sistermatic Response will be my (shared with my sister and best friend) social justice and political blog.

I hope at least some of you share at least some of my excitement about this project!  If you do, come join us on Facebook, and look for news on this blog about SR's launch in December.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest Post: You Can Unschool with Limited Resources by Sara Schmidt

A big thanks to Sara for sharing her experiences here!  Enjoy, and think about sharing your own stories in the comments section.

I am broke. But I can still unschool.

One of the most common misconceptions about homeschooling and unschooling is that you have to be wealthy to do so. I actually do get this comment from both parents of children who attend public school as well as some curriculum-using homeschoolers, many of whom are quite well off and do not seem to understand if we cannot afford an expensive field trip or microscope.

This idea, however, is a bit ironic to those of us who consider homeschooling something of an ancient practice, the way all humans learned until the development of compulsory schools—which, in America, was only around 100 years ago. How on earth did our ancestors learn anything, I always want to respond, when they were too busy working the fields, caring for one another, doing chores, and, well, living every day? Funny how literacy rates were higher back then, too. 

But I digress. Of all of the unschoolers I know, many of them are in the same boat I am in. I was laid off in 2008, followed by my husband’s layoff last year. Together we went from an income of about $65,000 to one that was, until this month when he got a new job, under $18,000. This was very difficult (and still is, as we pay off debts such as student loans) and we have had to make a lot of cuts, but we are still quite happy and healthy—and we still unschool.

You don’t need any additional funds to unschool (or homeschool, really; if you want to use a curriculum, there are several free ones available). Unschooling is simply living with your child every day, allowing him or her to make his or her own decisions. No additional materials or programs are required; only your time and attention, if that. Unschoolers rely on experiences rather than overhead projectors and expensive curriculum sets. And now, with the Internet easily at your fingertips, there’s really not much you cannot learn.

Even so, many of us unschoolers don’t believe that money is all that valuable. Gasp! There, I said it. Sure, we need it for food and electricity and other essentials, but we don’t usually buy a lot of the same things our neighbors do—multiple cars or cellular phones, televisions, video games, cable, whatever. We do a lot of secondhand shopping (my daughter enjoys yard sailing very much!) and we buy what we need, usually nothing more. 

Our values tend to reflect this as well; indeed, our definition of success is does not include how much money or how big of a house you have, but how happy and healthy you are, how meaningful your life is to you, and how kindly you treat one another and the earth itself.

I am lucky enough to work from home, and my husband works very early morning shifts so we can both usually be with our daughter; but I know unschoolers who take children to work, swap childcare with other unschoolers, or even utilize a good childcare program for part of the day while they make their living. Your child is going to learn no matter where he or she is or what he or she is doing, so why worry? There are so many options available to you if you just look outside the box a bit—which is, of course, what unschooling is all about!

Please do not get me wrong: there is absolutely no reason for you to feel guilty if you absolutely cannot unschool due to finances and a need to work very long hours. So please don’t feel guilty! But that might not have to be the end of the story for you, either. If money and/or childcare are the only things standing between your family and unschooling, see if you can come up with a solution. Try brainstorming with other unschooling or homeschooling friends (or on this blog!) and with your family and maybe you’ll be able to come up with a creative way of life that is unique to your own family’s needs—one that will allow you to live life the way you always wanted to. 

(A note from the blog owner: just a reminder to please be respectful in the comments.  Each person is the expert on their own life, so if someone says they really can't unschool, please respect that!  Of course, if people are asking for suggestions in how to make unschooling work for them, that's something entirely different.) 

Sara Schmidt is an unschooling mom, writer, artist, activist, and intermittent graduate student from Missouri. The former editor of YouthNoise, she has written for The Whole Child Blog, Teaching Tolerance, The Institute for Democratic Education in America, BluWorld, Ecorazzi, and dozens of other blogs, printed materials, and nonprofit organizations.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Guest Post: The Future of Unschooling by Jeff Landale

I found this post to be very relevant personally, as when I received it a couple of nights ago I was in the middle of writing in my unschooling book about how we present unschooling, and how I feel we often sell it short, in not recognizing how much of a truly radical impact it could have...  I feel that Jeff really illustrates some interesting and important points here, and I hope you like this post as much as I do!

The New York Times had an article it published earlier this year, titled “After Home Schooling, Pomp and Traditional Circumstances”, which, in my mind, illustrated a few of the dangers alternative education movements can encounter as they grow, and also some roadblocks to a greater role these movements can take in transforming the world. The article describes 26 Floridian homeschoolers participating in a graduation ceremony, saying that “just as more home-school families now join co-ops offering weekly field trips and chemistry labs or use the local public school for sports, band or a class, so too do many of them embrace all the trappings of graduation season.” While I don’t want to deny parents the joy of seeing their child participate in a ritual marking their entry into the world (especially given the overall lack of rituals we have in our world), I hesitate when I see alternative education taking the same path that alternative music took in the 90s: a different surface aesthetic, but fundamentally following the same model as what it was ostensibly supposed to be an alternative to.

The article describes how each graduate was given a “Certificate of Completion”, speeches were given, photographs were taken of the graduates in gowns and those square hats with the tassels, so that the homeschoolers can say “I graduated, just like everybody else.” Homeschooling, for these homeschoolers and their parents, seems to be a way of schooling, just by other means: parents instead of teachers, a graduation at the zoo instead of the gymnasium, and so on. By wanting to participate in the cultural touchstone of a graduation ceremony, these homeschoolers are still allied to the ethos of school. There is thus only a superficial rejection of schooling, because the school is simply reconstructed at home. For the students and parents, this can make a huge difference in their lives, but structurally things are the same. Homeschooling, in this way, is a private affair, and a private decision, with no implicit or explicit social ramifications.

While this article does not make a big deal about the pros and cons of homeschooling (Will they be socialized? Will they have friends? How will they live in the real world? Will they learn anything?), it does open up the possibility that these questions are increasingly becoming an irrelevant distraction for people interested in truly radical alternative modes of education. If homeschoolers spend so much time and effort imitating the rituals, structures, symbols, and outcomes of industrialized compulsory education, if homeschoolers work hard to be able to answer the mind-numbing litany of inquiries into the success of homeschooling, then homeschooling itself will be nothing more than school outside of the school building.

And this is where Unschooling comes in. Unschooling runs the same risk of becoming superficially different while structurally similar to the forms of education and learning which we are aiming to break free from. Unschooling as a pedagogical philosophy has the advantage of being able to differentiate itself from both industrial schooling and homeschooling, but only if it differentiates itself critically, and not merely superficially. What are the structural changes we want to see in our lives as a result of Unschooling? What kind of relationship do we want with learning? What are the social changes that would inevitably result from Unschooling, if the logic of the philosophy was allowed to unfurl itself completely?

Writers like John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down) and Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) showed not only how schooling damages individuals, but also how it supports so many of the oppressive and exploitative aspects of our society. If we find ourselves engaging in radical modes of alternative education which don’t inherently challenge and disrupt crucial aspects of the world, then we should be concerned that we are actually reproducing the same structures which Unschooling was originally supposed to allow us to escape from. Thus, rather than having Unschooling be that thing which isn’t school or homeschooling, we should have Unschooling be something which, while growing out of critiques of industrial schooling and its sibling, homeschooling, defined in terms of what it allows us to become, and how it allows us to change the world. And this means that in a lot of cases, we should simply disengage from conversations with Unschoolers and with all of those annoying talking heads on TV who ask over and over again whether Unschooling will create the same sort of individuals as school does (except smarter, and harder working, or whatever). With the legal status of Unschooling being mostly settled in the United States and Canada, now might be the time to stop reassuring others and ourselves that Unschooling won’t screw up lots of kids, and start focusing on how self-directed learning can lead to, and be a part of, much broader social movements throughout the globe.

Jeff Landale is an elementary school drop out currently studying Politics and Classics at Simon's Rock College in scenic Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Ostensibly, he is writing an undergraduate thesis on Unschooling and its role in emancipatory struggles, but in reality he spends his time thinking about Indian food. He can be reached at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Want to Contribute to this Blog? I'm Looking for Guest Posts!

You know how I've been talking about writing a book, or a zine, or an eBook, for a very long time now?  Well, I keep starting, then deciding it's crap and starting afresh, then deciding that one is crap too, then re-writing part of it, then starting another one...  Basically, I haven't been very productive when it comes to writing a book or even a zine.  So about a week ago, with November and thus NaNoWriMo coming up, I started thinking hey, why don't I just basically do NaNoWriMo (in that I'm aiming for 50,000 words by the end of November, 1,667 words a day), only write my book about unschooling instead of a novel?  Because I'll be writing lots this month, and won't really be able to write much on this blog, I figure this is a good opportunity to solicit some guest posts I've been wanting to get for a while now!  Here are the subjects I'm looking for:
  • Rising Out of High School. Making the decision, convincing parents, dealing with school staff, how friends react, making the transition/deschooling, etc. I think this is a super important subject, but one I'm not qualified to write about. I fairly regularly get emails from teens in high school who really want to get out, but don't really know how, and I just feel helpless because I have no clue what advice to give!  But I know that there are riseouts who read this blog, and I know that your story would be MUCH appreciated by many people!!
  • Unschooling and Marginalization/Unschooling and Privilege.  I'm not really sure that's a good title at all, but basically what I'm trying to do here is make some space for narratives about unschooling that you don't usually see.  The most common unschooling narrative is that of a middle class, white, able-bodied, nuclear family.  When you go to unschooling conferences, they're mostly populated by middle class white people.  So what I'm looking for is people to write about why they think that is; the intersection of unschooling and class, race, physical ability, sexuality, gender; and the lived reality of unschooling when you're not middle class, not white, not straight, etc.
  • Unschooling Internationally.  No, I'm not talking about travel.  I feel like there's already lots of interesting stuff out there on that!  What I'm interested in is posts about unschooling in countries outside of North America.  What's it like unschooling in Mexico?  Ireland?  Romania?  India?  I'm looking for stories of people from the country they're writing about please, not ex-pats.
And I think that's it for now!  If you'd be interested in writing an article on any of those subjects, or a combination of any of the above subjects, please email me at  If at all possible, I'd like to receive your finished posts during November (though contact me before writing anything to discuss details, please!), so that there can be interesting content here during this month, but if that's not possible, I'm still interested in having your posts at a later date!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Public Speaking, Here I Come! ...I hope.

Some people may have noticed that I changed/updated/sort-of-made-a-new page (it used to be "speaking at..." and never got any hits) last week.  It's entitled speaking schedule and information on booking.

Up until recently, my approach to public speaking tended to be more along the lines of "oh, yeah, I guess I probably will, if someone asks", so this new page is signifying a change in perspective.  I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the things I like doing, and how I could do them differently, as part of a last-ditch attempt to figure out ways to earn some money doing the things I actually enjoy doing, before surrendering completely to the idea of hunting for a real job.  Some of this rethinking will not involve money, but money has been on my mind, as I've been thinking of how it relates to what I'm doing and want to do, which is something I never really did seriously before (I always seemed to have the mostly subconscious idea that the only way to really earn money was through far less fun ways, so those are always what I thought of when it came to money-earning).

TUC 2010. Definitely a case of "what? Um, yeah, I guess!"

And, well, in that thinking and rethinking of things, I decided to make it clear that not only will I do public speaking, but I actively want to be doing more public speaking gigs.  I enjoy it quite a bit, and though stress is often involved, it's a challenge that I genuinely like.

So here's what I have to say on my new public speaking page:

If you would like me to speak at your event or to your group, please contact me at If it's something local (Montreal and surrounding area), I'm happy to do Q & A's, panels, and/or short speeches for only the cost of transportation (bus fare, basically), simply because I think it's important that people learn about unschooling!  However, especially for longer speeches though for the above as well, I prefer to speak on a by-attendee-donation basis, thus helping to support me and my ability to write, travel, and speak, while still being accessible to everyone who's interested in hearing what I have to say, regardless of income level.  Receiving a flat fee also works, of course!  I'm very open to discussing and trying hard to make things work for everyone involved.
I'm also quite happy to travel further afield to speak, with similar views on cost (paid transportation, beyond that it's negotiable).  Contact me!

I don't know if this will change anything in terms of frequency of public speaking (I'm currently discussing speaking in Quebec City sometime next month, though I started talking to the organizer in that case before making any changes on the blog), but I felt it was important to at least put it out there to see if anything comes of it.

Comments, questions, advice, suggestions, are, as always, welcome in either the comments or by email!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review of A Rule is to Break: A Child's Guide to Anarchy

I received this book from the author and illustrator free of charge, but I am not receiving any other type of compensation for writing this review.

It's always exciting getting books in the mail. I always eagerly rip through the packaging, quickly finding a comfy (or less-than-comfy if I'm in a particular rush) place to settle down to rifle through the pages if it's a longer book, and simply read straight through if it's a shorter one.

A Rule is to Break: A Child's Guide to Anarchy by John Seven and Jana Christy Seven, being a picture book, I read reasonably quickly, though I did take a bit of time on each page to fully admire the wonderfully charming artwork.  I've long admired Jana's art, how gorgeous and organic it feels, the colours and textures and style... It's just lovely!  And this book was no different.

Well, not when it comes to the good artwork, anyway.  In other ways, it is VERY different from any other children's book I've read! 

Many (I think it's fair to say most) children's picture books are thinly disguised morality tales, and when not outright morality tales, are still strongly pushing and presenting the norms and expectations of the dominant culture.  Not particularly surprising, really, considering that the writers of most children's books, like most people, are very firmly enmeshed in the dominant culture. And really, doesn't everyone know that children should listen to their parents and teachers, follow all the rules, behave "well," etc.?

John and Jana, unschooling parents themselves, present a very different view in A Rule is to Break, saying on their site "children are natural masters of anarchy, but are too often unaware of the power they wield in their cute little hands, and too seldom encouraged by grown-ups to figure that out!  In A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy that determined little devil girl Wild Child wages her own one-girl rebellion against the stifling world of adults who just want her to behave! And she brings her friends along!"

With advice from "ignore school and read books! Use your brain." and "forget about grocery stores and get dirty in your garden!" to sillier but no less engaging pages urging you to "hug the ugliest monster you can find!" this book is definitely not your run of the mill children's book.  And I love that!  Because what this book really feels like is that it's simply celebrating childhood: the joy, the wonder of discovery, the spontaneity and strong emotions (one page reads "go ahead and get stompy!" with an obviously angry/frustrated Wild Child expressing her emotions in the form of stomping). 

I also appreciate that though identified as a girl by the authors, there's nothing in either the Wild Child's dress or behaviour that conforms to any gender expectations. She's just a kid who likes doing things her own way!

So there you have it.  If you hadn't already gotten that impression, I definitely recommend this book.  I've been bringing it with me on the various trips I've been on in the late summer/early fall, to show to anyone I think might be interested, and have been getting LOTS of positive responses to it!  So if you want to buy it, you can find out how to do so here, OR you can download it for free here!

I hope that you, and any children in your life, appreciate this book as much as I did.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Unschooling: Are We Teaching Ourselves?

Virtually every time unschooling is covered in the media (such as the newest segment on MSNBC's Today Show) people, either in the segment itself or in the comments, refer to unschooling as an educational "method" where kids "teach themselves."  And that's always struck me as being way off the mark.  Unschooling isn't about unschoolers "teaching themselves": it's about unschoolers choosing how and what and with whom they want to learn.

The world is big, and we're constantly learning.  Sometimes the learning happens when you're alone, sometimes with just one other person, sometimes in a large group.  These are just a few ways that unschoolers can and do find knowledge and learning:

The internet and books.  Here is a way that could be considered "teaching yourself."  Looking up things you're interested in on the net, reading books on the subject...  Yet even that isn't necessarily an all-by-yourself thing.  Sometimes someone will read something out loud to me that they think I might be interested in.  I regularly share article links and in turn have people send me links.  I interact with people and learn from them on the internet quite often.  I visit the library or a second-hand bookstore with family and friends, and we share the interesting books we find. 

Classes and lessons.  I know, shocking, isn't it?  But Unschoolers do actually take classes sometimes!  My sister takes Ninjitsu and has music lessons.  I've gone to various classes in the past.  Many unschoolers do, because sometimes, they're just the best or easiest, most interesting or fun way to learn something new, improve a skill you already have, or just enjoy learning along with a bunch of other people!

Workshops.  I could have included workshops with classes, I suppose, but I wanted to put this separately because I feel like most of the time, workshops  have a different feel from classes: they're more horizontal, rooted in the community, have less of a here-is-an-expert-teaching-us-stuff and more of a here-is-a-member-of-the-community-sharing-knowledge feel.  In case you couldn't guess, workshops are one of my favourite ways to learn with others, share knowledge, have great discussions, and meet new people.

Mentors.  My sister's Ninjitsu instructor and drum teacher are both most definitely mentors.  They're people she's friends with, people she respects, and people she learns a lot from (and as in all healthy relationships, no matter the type, I imagine they learn from her, as well).  Mentors can be found through formal things like classes, as well as informally, through your community or extended social network.  But no matter how you find them, people who are passionate and knowledgeable about something (be they accredited teachers or not), and are happy to share that knowledge and experience with others, can be a really wonderful way to learn.

Talking to people.  Everyone has skills and knowledge and things to share.  If you simply talk to people--friends, family, acquaintances, strangers--you learn a lot about a lot of different things.

The whole damn world.  I think that when people are first learning about unschooling, it can be helpful to point out specific ways to find knowledge and gain skills, but when it really comes down to it, learning is everywhere.  Whether walking in the woods, reading a book on architecture, going to Spanish class, talking to a friend, or contemplating clouds, learning is happening.  And I think that's one of the biggest paradigm shifts people make as they move towards unschooling: seeing that learning happens everywhere, all the time, not just between certain times in the day, or when engaging in certain activities.

Occasionally (really, it doesn't happen often), I've heard people say that they think that children are fine growing up with only their family unit around them: that all that kids need is a stable, loving family, and I definitely disagree with that.  While I think family is/can be extremely important, humans are social animals, and I believe having a wider community is also extremely important (and I also want to acknowledge that for some people--children and adults--who do not have any family, or whose family is not loving or supportive, people from their community are the most important people in their life).  So I think that by looking at unschooling as something done by a child, alone, that's really inaccurate, and misses out on what I think can be one of the best things about unschooling: the fact you're living in the actual world, interacting with lots of different people, learning and discovering within your family, and within your community. 

So, sometimes unschoolers learn on their own.  Sometimes they don't.  Some unschoolers spend more time learning with others, some unschoolers spend more time learning alone.  But overall?  Unschooling definitely isn't about only ever "teaching yourself"!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Blogging 101 Workshop for Teens and Young Adults

I hesitated about posting this on the blog, since most of my readers are not local, but finally I figured what the hell?  Maybe some local peeps who read will be interested!  So here's some info I just sent out on local lists about a workshop I'll be facicilitating next week:

What is this? Blogging 101

Blogging can be a wonderfully versatile form of self (and public) expression: you can use it as a journal; to showcase your art (photography, painting, comics, short stories, longer stories...); to share a subject you're knowledgeable about, or to document the process as you learn about a brand new subject; to keep people up-to-date on a community project; to provide support and information, to make connections with others, and a thousand other uses. Basically? Blogging is really cool! In this workshop, we'll aim to have every attendee figure out what they want their blog to be about, then set up an account and blog with Blogger (a free platform that lets you create and customize blogs). We'll also dicuss networking with other bloggers, building a readership, and other relevant blogging basics. Though this is a one time workshop, there's the possibility, if attendees are interested, in continuing to learn and share through a blogging club. Experienced bloggers who want to share their knowledge and experience are also very welcome to attend!

Who is it for? Anyone, homeschooled, unschooled, or schooled, who is in their teens through early 20's.

How much does it cost? Nothing! 

Where is it? In St Henri, Montreal (email Idzie at for exact location)

When is it? Tuesday, October 11, at 5:30 pm

Who's hosting the workshop? The workshop is being organized through the brand new IMAGINe educATION resource centre for teens and young adults (, and being facilitated by Idzie Desmarais. Bio: Idzie often refers to herself as an unschooling vegetarian animistic green-anarchist feminist hippie child. She dropped out of kindergarten, and instead grew up pursuing her varied passions and figuring things out in her own time. She became passionate about unschooling and freedom-based education in her late teens, and in the several years since she's established a well-known blog entitled I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. (, attended multiple unschooling conferences and gatherings, spoken about unschooling at various events, and has had articles appear in several education related publications (Life Learning Magazine; Our Schools, Our Selves; Homeschooling Horizons).

For more information on this workshop, including where it's being held, contact Idzie at For more information on the center, contact Marilyn at

I hope to see you there!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Bio, Updated About Me Page

I haven't felt satisfied with the bio I had on the About Me and the Family page for a while now.  It was a couple of years old, and though still pretty much accurate, just didn't really feel right anymore.  So today, I wrote a new (longer) one!  I also updated my photo on that page and my family's bios.  Go check it out!  Or just read my updated bio below:

My name is Idzie Desmarais, and I'm a 20 year old lifelong learner who lives in Montreal, Quebec with my wonderful family. 

Very short bio:  I'm an unschooling vegetarian animistic green-anarchist feminist hippie child.  I'm a writer, thinker, dreamer...  A woman, a sister, a daughter, a friend. I'm also an unschooling advocate/activist, a lover of food, and a radical.

Much longer bio:  I'm a kindergarten drop-out who, excluding those six months of kindergarten, has never been to school.  Instead, I grew up following my passions and figuring things out in my own time.  In my late teens I became fascinated with the education (often referred to as unschooling) I'd grown up with, and started reading everything I could about unschooling and freedom-based education, going to unschooling conferences, and writing the blog I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write.  At this point, as well as still doing all of those things, I'm also very involved with the freedom-based education movement in my home city, as well as the wider unschooling/freedom-based education community through the making of connections and friendships with people scattered across North America (and beyond!).  Basically?  I think unschooling is really, really cool, and that the ideas found in that philosophy can be a powerful tool of both personal and social transformation.

I'm a radical creature, a green anarchist and feminist, who leans strongly towards anti-civ thought.  I'm against hierarchy and rulers, imposed authority, capitalism, patriarchy/kyrarchy, and similar nasty stuff.  I try to be as aware as I can of oppression and privilege (in the interest of knowing where I'm coming from in my writing, I'm a white, cisgender, able-bodied, lower-middle-class, not-quite-straight woman), and to basically just not be an asshole.  I'm currently super interested in radical sustainability; communal, cooperative, collective, and community-based living (especially intentional communities); queer and gender stuff; feminism; getting stuff for free/living on very little/no money...

I love food.  As in, REALLY love food!  I've never been very successful at actually doing so, but I am interested in growing food, foraging, and dumpster diving, as well as sharing and trading food, farmers markets, and basically anything that involves me getting food.  I love cooking, cooking for others, and eating.  I love trying new foods, new restaurants, and I even like doing food prep.  I'm vegetarian, and have been since age eight, but though I don't really plan to change my diet anytime soon, or start cooking with meat, I'm no longer as attached to the idea of always being vegetarian as I used to be (though I know if I do start eating meat at some point, I will be VERY picky.).

My spirituality is closely tied into to the realization that all life is of equal worth, that the Earth/Nature is sacred, and that humans are animals, and like all animals, we belong in functioning living communities.  Sometimes I use the term animist to refer to my spiritual beliefs.

I often say I'm a hippie, which isn't really a word with a clear definition, but when I use it it basically just means that I'm a radical, tree-hugging, non-shaving, organic-farm-loving person who sometimes likes to wear tie-dye.

I value honesty and genuine expression greatly, and only really feel comfortable when I feel I'm being genuine.  I seek to share my trials and difficulties in my writing, how I'm actually feeling about things and my true opinions, not just what will sound good, or what will get the best reactions.  I feel like I'm mostly successful in this, though not always.

I love getting comments, though I don't respond to them nearly as often as I should.  Same for emails: I can be contacted at, and though I read every single email I get, I am VERY bad at responding to them (I usually respond eventually, but it takes me a very long time)!  If you really want to talk to me, the best way to do so is through Skype.  Just email me ( to set up a specific time, or add me: idziee (two e's), and just poke me when I'm online.  I really like meeting and talking to new people, and I'm happy to answer questions!

I can also be found on:
I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write. Facebook Page 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Breaking News: Unschoolers Not as Good at School as Schooled People

Seems there was a study that came out a few weeks ago, which came to the conclusion that unschooling does not "work" as well as either schooling or structured homeschooling.

I realize I'm a little late on addressing this one, considering it's a study that was published in early September, so has already been blogged about pretty extensively, but with how little time I've spent at home (or at the very least in my home city--my family is currently staying in an apartment while some major repairs/renovations are going on at our house) in the last month (I've been in Ontario, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine) this is the first time I've been able to get around to it!

I'd suggest reading the whole press release, though I find these parts especially relevant:
"The investigation compared 74 children living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick: 37 who were homeschooled versus 37 who attended public schools. Participants were between 5 and 10 years old and each child was asked to complete standardized tests, under supervision of the research team, to assess their reading, writing, arithmetic skills, etc."

"The study included a subgroup of 12 homeschooled children taught in an unstructured manner. Otherwise known as unschooling, such education is free of teachers, textbooks and formal assessment.
'Compared with structured homeschooled group, children in the unstructured group had lower scores on all seven academic measures,' says Martin-Chang. 'Differences between the two groups were pronounced, ranging from one to four grade levels in certain tests.'
Children taught in a structured home environment scored significantly higher than children receiving unstructured homeschooling. 'While children in public school also had a higher average grade level in all seven tests compared with unstructured homeschoolers,' says Martin-Chang." 
Upon reading that, a couple of things immediately come to mind:
  1. The method of judging "success" that was chosen was standardized tests.  Schooled kids and schooled-at-home kids practice tests all the time.  They get good at taking tests, because they take tests.  Young, unschooled children who are not used to tests obviously will not be as good at taking tests, regardless of how much knowledge they have in the areas they're being tested on.  Unschoolers don't generally aim to be "successful" by being good at tests: they aim to be successful by being good at living life!
  2. Unschoolers learn on their own timeline.  The children in this study were between 5 and 10, and were being tested on the things the educational system has decided should be known at age 5 or age 7.  I couldn't even read until age 8 or 9, so if I had been tested at age 7 or 8, I would have been way below "grade level." However, that doesn't seem to have harmed my ability to read now...  I don't really agree with using standardized testing as a way to judge achievement and success at all, but even just going with those by-grade-level tests as a way to meassure such things, I feel that were the study to instead look at teenagers, say, between 14 and 18, the results likely would have been quite different...
  3. The definition of unschooling that was used seems less than accurate.  No teachers or textbooks?  As I've said before, unschooling doesn't have to mean unstructured.  It just means that unschoolers have the freedom to choose more or less structure.  So if (rather unsurprisingly) the authors of the study--the ones separating the children involved into different categories--don't even know what unschooling is, it doesn't seem that that separation will be very accurate. 
I also take issue with the fact that one of the professors overseeing the study notes that this is one of the first "nonpartisan" studies to compare school, homeschooling, and unschooling, when as Wendy Priesnitz points out, an academic institution, using the tools and criteria of an academic institution, is reviewing academic institutions (like schools), it's hardly nonpartisan.

Of course, the author of the study also had to throw in a little comment about how structured homeschooling may provide academic success, but that school is an important place for socialization.  I don't think I even need to add any comments to that one.

This study joins the many other studies showing that homeschoolers do better on standardized tests than do schooled kids, which isn't really surprising.  And I don't personally feel that yet another study saying so adds anything to the home education movement as a whole.  We already know that, and personally, I'm just tired of standardized tests being held up as the one and only sign of success for children and teens.  Instead, I worry that, as flawed as the methods in this study are, it will add fuel to the fire of disapproval directed at unschoolers, both from society at large and from within the home education community.

And all of this just brings me back to a question that seems to keep coming up in my life lately: what, exactly, constitutes success?  If you're using test scores as your criteria, then those 12 young unschoolers who participated in the study are failures.  But if your criteria are different, if instead you're looking--actually looking, not just marking tests and studying at a distance--for things like passion, joy, involvement, curiosity, excitement, learning, then I'm quite sure your results are going to look very different.

And really, which one would you prefer?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Against the Current: Talk from the Toronto Unschooling Conference

I just arrived home yesterday from the Toronto Unschooling Conference, which was a truly lovely weekend.  Talking to lots of cool people, hanging out and just relaxing...  And, of course, presenting a talk.  Being the perfectionist that I am, I still have some feelings of oh, I should have written the talk sooner.  I should have practiced it more.  I should have spoken slower.  But honestly?  Overall I'm pretty happy with how it went!

It really is too long for a blog post, yet unlike last year's talk, I really don't feel like this one can be broken up into multiple posts.  So, I shall simply post it all despite it's length, with a "read more" option so people who aren't interested don't have to scroll forever to get to older posts...  So, here it is!

Against the Current

When I was six, I went to a street fair with my mother.  My little sister was probably there, too.  There were booths, from different companies and organizations, as there are at every street fair I’ve ever been to.  One of them was about the meat industry—it was probably PETA—and I think that’s the first time my young self made the connection between those furry and feathery creatures I so enjoyed spending time with, and the food on my plate.  Right then and there, I decided I was no longer going to eat meat.
I don’t even truly remember this incident.  When I try and pull it up in my mind, all I get is the shadowy almost-memory of a story told so many times, you can almost see yourself there.  My mother is the one who always told me this story, until I got older and started repeating it myself to those who queried me in-depth about my dietary choices.
I didn’t stop eating meat right away.  As determined as I was at six, Chicken McNuggets and hot dogs proved too much of a temptation right up until I was eight and gave those up for good, too.
But the decision was made at six, the summer after my parents pulled me out of kindergarten, and looking back now, I feel like that was probably the first major decision I made in my life that went against the current.  It seemed like everyone else ate meat, but this was not something I wanted to participate in.  This is yet another time when I’m so grateful to have parents that supported such a decision, despite my young age.
Now, this isn’t meant as a morality tale.  Though I still don’t eat meat, I’m not interested in convincing people to change their diets, and that’s definitely not the point of this speech.
It’s just an interesting example of how making decisions counter to those of the dominant culture started early on in my life.
Just by virtue of unschooling, all of us here have made a radically different choice in how we live and learn than that of the mainstream.  Whether you chose to never send your kids to school, pulled them out later on, or decided yourself to leave school, it was a huge decision, likely accompanied by much soul-searching and thought.  Possibly also a large amount of reading and researching and discussion.  Maybe you just followed what felt right.  But whatever path lead you away from schooling, I’m sure the impact of that choice was felt in a profound way.
Yet as big a thing as unschooling is in our lives, sometimes I think it isn’t apparent to others just how very many choices we’re making differently in our day-to-day lives.  Not only does the unschooled child answer with a shrug and a “why on earth should I know that??” look when asked what grade they’re in, the unschooled parent winces when they hear a parent, as so often happens, threaten to leave their child (who is very much enjoying themselves sitting on the plastic pony in the mall) behind if they don’t come right now!  The unschooled parent likely doesn’t understand how parents can scold their children for getting dirty, or rejoice at the beginning of each school year, or if they do understand, they shake their head sadly at their memories of a less enlightened time.
As an unschooling teen, one may make sympathetic noises when their friends complain about being grounded yet again, while secretly just not getting it.  Not allowed to go anywhere?  Why would parents do that?  And why are they listening, anyway?  Can’t they just… walk out?
Then there are the news stories on TV about back-to-school, the article in the paper about the importance of preschool in a child’s later “academic success”, the advertisement on the bus shelter about the failure a person will be if they don’t go to university…
In a hundred different ways or more, day by day, the society around us is telling unschoolers what they’re doing is wrong.
And that’s just unschooling.  If you’ve also made other different and radical choices in how you live, if your views on many other things are very different from the dominant culture, it gets even worse.
So how do you navigate in a world where you live so differently from those around you?  How do you find and maintain community?  How do you deal with the constant pressure to conform to the edicts of the dominant culture?  These are questions I think a lot about in my own life, and am continually attempting to answer.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Interviewed on The Unschooler Experiment Podcast #14: Not Alone in the Woods

Not too long ago I had a very nice conversation with Peter Kowalke, creator of the Grown Without Schooling documentary, writer/editor of the blog The Unschooler Experiment, and producer of a podcast of the same name.  And now that conversation is featured in The Unschooler Experiment Podcast #14: Not Alone in the Woods.  Listen by clicking the link just provided, or the below photo.


As usual when I do any type of interview, I always start thinking, as soon as I've finished, of all the things I wish I'd said differently.  However, I genuinely enjoyed this conversation, so I think that's probably a good sign! Let me know what you think.

The Ignorant Commenters Strike Again: "But You Have to Learn to Get Along With People You Don't Like!"

"But you have to learn to get along with people you don't like!" Says yet another commenter on the latest mainstream media piece on unschooling (and Sudbury Valley Schools, in this case).

I'm baffled by just how nonsensical (to borrow one of my sister's favorite words) the reactions people have on first hearing about unschooling often are, but this might just be one of the most baffling.  Because it seems to imply that unschoolers never see any people.  Ever.  School is obviously the only place where children and teens can find and interact with other human beings.  Obviously.

The people who make such statements must believe the above.  Otherwise, how could they possibly think that I, or other unschoolers, never meet (or met) people we don't like?

I can think of plenty of people I don't get along with, or don't particularly like.  The kid who used to be one of my sister's best friends.  The guy who derails the conversation at every workshop he attends.  Multiple people I had to work with when I went to Cadets.  Various extended family members.  Hell, a few people I've met at Not Back to School Camp and conferences!

Sadly, life is filled with people who, to put it bluntly, are assholes.  People who treat others poorly.  Bullies.  People who don't seem to realize that working respectfully with others is even an option.  You can (and will) definitely find those people in school.  But, even if you never set foot in a school, you'll still find those people.  The whole thing with living and learning in the real world is that, well, you tend to run into the things commonly found in, you know, the real world.

All sarcasm aside, people definitely do need to learn how to work with people whom you don't particularly get along with, but you definitely don't need a special place to do that.  You just need to live.

Now, I also think it's important to note that what I'm talking about is just "not getting along," or not particularly liking someone.  Dealing with low-grade assholes.  I wonder if some of the people who question whether unschoolers will ever learn to get along with people they don't like, are actually just making a softer statement to the effect that Kids Need to be Bullied to Get Tough.  'Cause that's a whole different issue!

And it probably won't surprise anyone when I say that abuse, no matter what form it takes, is never something hat should be considered "good" or "character building."  Just picture me saying NO in the most forceful possible way.

Comments on internet articles are often a toxic place to read, but they can be useful (they've sparked many posts before, for instance!) in seeing what a lot of people actually think, and can be used to call out ignorance and bigotry, and share some actual truth and experience instead.

I feel like I've said most of what I say in this post before, but I've decided to take hold of any spark of blog-writing inspiration that comes along, and to let go of an attempt at perfection, because otherwise, i won't end up writing anything at all!

So there you have it.  And now I'm wondering what you thought of the latest mainstream article on unschooling and Sudbury schools?  Did you read the comments, and if so, did any thoughts or posts (share the link!) stem from doing so?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sudbury: the Unschooling Schools, a Guest Post by Bruce L. Smith

I've wanted to share some guest posts on freeschooling and democratic schools on this blog for a while now, and with the recent article on CNN talking about both unschooling and Sudbury schools, this article seems particularly relevant!  So I am very happy to present to you Bruce L. Smith on the Sudbury model schools:

After a few years’ teaching in the public schools of Columbia, Missouri, Bruce L. Smith left to find his true calling as an advocate for the Sudbury model of education. Bruce has founded and/or worked for Sudbury schools in Illinois, Florida, and Colorado, where he’s been on staff at Alpine Valley School since 1998. In 2005 he created the Center for Advancing Sudbury Education to promote the visibility and viability of this uniquely empowering form of schooling. More of Bruce’s writings on the subject can be found at and

I’ve known about unschooling for a long time, and I’ve long been struck by its resonance with the Sudbury model of education. For the past fourteen years I’ve worked for these “unschooling schools,” so when Idzie called for guest posts on the subject, I was excited at the chance to share my views on our respective approaches to self-directed learning.

The Sudbury model was first unveiled in 1968 by Sudbury Valley School in west suburban Boston. Since then it’s spread to a few dozen schools (about two-thirds of them in North America), all based on two simple premises: first, that children are innately, powerfully curious, driven to understand and master the world around them; and second, that the best education recognizes and respects this basic truth, allowing all young people the freedom and responsibility to discover their individual paths.

While a number of schools talk this talk, I find Sudbury unusually thorough in also walking the walk. As with unschoolers, Sudbury students freely chart the course of their days, months, and years. There’s no hierarchy of pursuits (e.g., academic vs. hands-on), and all learning happens organically—self-initiated, self-directed, and self-evaluated. Classes and other structured learning situations (e.g., internships) do have a place at Sudbury schools, but only as students seek them out. The bulk of learning at Sudbury schools comes in the course of daily life, and much of it takes the form of play and conversation.

In fact, the philosophical similarities between unschooling and Sudbury schooling are so extensive, I’ve often borrowed from the thoughts of unschoolers to help assure families that trusting their children’s drive is not only valid, but leads to the most effective learning. And that in turn reminds me that unschoolers and Sudbury families have this in common as well: many of our relatives, friends, and acquaintances think we’re crazy and/or putting our children at risk. So sharing our successes—concrete reminders, large and small, of how (and how well) freedom works—seems like one big favor we could do for each other.

Beyond their faith in young people’s nature and competence, what really makes Sudbury schools unique is that their structure is determined by the people directly involved. That is, everything from the rules to the budget to hiring is shaped by a democratic process in which a student’s vote is equal to that of any adult. This structure is flexible—within each Sudbury school, and among the various schools—and changes can be made at any time.

So how do Sudbury schools act like schools? Well, first of all, we do have these physical facilities where students gather on a daily basis. Attendance requirements are partly a legal matter, partly a means of ensuring continuity in the school community. Yet as I’ve suggested, there is significant flexibility here: at my school, for instance, students can arrive anywhere between 8 and 11am, and are required to stay only five hours (though our school is open nine hours, and many students stay past the minimum). With an Open Campus policy, most Sudbury students can come and go freely throughout the day, so long as they fulfill their commitments at school.

And these commitments are fairly modest. A Judicial Committee meets regularly to handle complaints about people’s behavior, and people are expected to serve turns on the committee and testify as needed. Also, Sudbury students are typically expected to do periodic cleaning chores. School governance is overseen by a weekly meeting that reviews the work of the Judicial Committee and considers proposals regarding rules and activities that could affect the normal flow of the day (e.g., field trips, parties, visitors). Then there are clerks and committees to whom much of the school’s business is delegated, along with certification (aimed at ensuring safe, responsible use of school equipment) and age-mixing (Sudbury schools are open to ages roughly corresponding to grades K-12).

In this environment, students not only learn to take responsibility for their own education: they also see what it takes to maintain an institution—though much of that organizational learning is optional. Students can attend School Meeting, serve on committees, and become clerks…or not. They’re expected to abide by the decisions of these bodies and officials, but their involvement is not required. Again, attendance, Judicial Committee, and chores are the only mandatory activities—and even here, students can work to change the relevant policies and requirements. Beyond these areas, students are free to do their own thing, so long as they respect everyone else’s right to do likewise.

In addition to all the freedom and flexibility, Sudbury schools also provide an ongoing, mixed-age community in which young people share responsibility for maintaining a culture of respect. Having such a space outside the family sphere gives our students the benefits of a diverse and vibrant “home away from home,” stretching them to try new things, new ways of thinking and being. In this dynamic, Sudbury students develop superlative interpersonal skills. There are constant opportunities to assess and regulate one’s behavior, and to work with people with whom one doesn’t already have a familial bond. Shy kids learn to speak up for themselves; overly assertive kids learn when and how to hold back. All eventually come into their own in the most thrilling ways imaginable.

Indeed, Sudbury schools foster a greater degree of autonomy and personal strength than I’ve seen anywhere else. These are indispensable qualities, since we all know that learning is not simply about pursuing our passions, but also figuring out how to realize those passions in contexts where people are not predisposed to assist us. Not all learning is sought: some is presented to us in the form of interruptions or obstacles—the people we don’t like or don’t get along with, but with whom we must co-exist; the hoops we must jump through to get what we want; things we’d rather put off indefinitely, but which must be done or learned before we can get where we’re going.

Bottom line, the Sudbury model is easily the most empowering form of education I’ve experienced in two decades as an educator: our students exhibit a maturity far beyond their years, while retaining the best child-like qualities. Articulate and self-possessed, they exemplify confidence and playfulness. Full of enthusiasm and free from fear, they are remarkably adept at knowing and becoming who they are, identifying and achieving their goals.

It is a good, good thing to celebrate the commonality and the diversity of our beliefs and practices. Unschoolers and Sudbury families alike face a status quo that seeks to invalidate us and make it unnecessarily difficult for us to follow our hearts. Getting to know each other’s approach better, sharing our ideas and success stories, and working to build acceptance for what we do can only help as we lay the groundwork for a future in which all children are truly free.