Saturday, January 15, 2011

Unschooling Publicity in Montreal

A few months ago, my mother and I were interviewed, in person, by a journalist from La Presse, the largest (or one of the two largest: not quite sure) daily French language newspaper in Montreal.  She was writing an article, not just about homeschooling, but specifically about unschooling.  How exciting is that?

In Quebec, alternatives to traditional schooling are even less well known than in the rest of North America.  I've even heard one friend suggest something along the lines that when the Catholic church lost control of the hearts and minds of Quebecers a few decades ago, school stepped in to fill that space!

Saint Joseph's Oratory. (Source)

At least churches are prettier. (Source)

But regardless of whether or not that holds true, the fact remains that homeschooling, and especially unschooling, can be difficult here in Quebec.  The law is ambiguous at best, having one line mentioning home education, and saying only that students must receive an education "equivalent to that received in school."  What exactly "equivalent" means is left open to interpretation, and basically means that the school boards interpret it to mean they have full oversight of all home educators, and home educators interpret it to mean they can do quite well without any school board involvement, thank you very much.  Because of the many troubles school boards can cause, at least half the home learners in Quebec are "under the radar": not registered with any school board.  School board policy states home learners must be registered, but since the actual law says nothing of the kind, it falls into a legal grey area of a kind.  Freeschooling seems to be even less legal, from what I've heard and seen (not that that stops people from starting a freeschool, which is awesome, in my opinion!).  Which is all just to say that educational alternatives in Quebec are very, very far from the mainstream.

But back to the article.  I was excited to know that someone was interested in sharing unschooling with such a wide audience in Quebec, but also rather leery, considering how badly slanted media pieces have been in the past, when talking about unschooling.  We (my mother and I, since the interview request was for me and any/all of my family members if they were interested) came very close to turning down the interview request.  But I discussed it a bunch with my family, since really it would be putting a spotlight on all of us, no matter which one of us was being interviewed, talked a bit to Wendy, who'd already been interviewed over phone with the reporter, and her positive experience talking to the journalist in question was enough to finalize our decision.

So my mother and I met the reporter and photographer at one of my favorite places to sit down and have tea, a co-op health food store and cafe.  And, you know, we talked about unschooling!  And also had a lengthy photo shoot.  Both the photographer and the journalist were very nice, and though as soon as we left I started thinking of things I wish I'd said, or said differently, I was still happy with how it went.

Cooperative du Grand Orme.  Isn't it cute?
But of course, how an interview goes says nothing about how the final article will turn out!

Last Friday, part one of a three part series on unschooling came out in La Presse.  Now all three parts have been published, and you know what?  They're pretty good!  I mean, there's the usual experts-who've-never-heard-of-unschooling-before-but-hate-it included, but the series of articles overall is one of the least blatantly biased against unschooling ones I've seen.  Part three is the one that talks about my family.  And the photos included of me (there are three, spread out over the three installments, though only one is online) are even good, which made me happy!  I mean really, who wants to be in the newspaper looking bad?  At the bottom of any of the articles linked is a list of links to the other parts in the series.

Photo credit: Robert Skinner, of La Presse.
The articles are, of course, in French, but I include them for both my French speaking readers and anyone who feels like using Google translate to get a (very) rough idea of what the article says.

You aren't able to post comments on the articles, but I stumbled across a blog post by the author (in French), and there are most certainly comments there!  And they're basically what you see every time unschooling gets some new publicity, minus all the positive comments by unschoolers jumping in to tell people how wrong they are (there just aren't enough unschoolers in Montreal).  And no, I didn't look at the comments to aggravate myself (though I must admit it does feel weird to have such venom directed specifically at us. It doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would, but it is weird...).  I looked at the comments because I was curious if the reactions would be different than what I've seen in the past, since Quebec itself is pretty different from the rest of North America.  For the most part, the reactions are the same, though there is a much stronger current of "these people will always be on the margins of society and will also be, *gasp*, RADICAL!"  Evidenced by the fact I'm a radical anarchist hippie, because obviously one unschooler represents all unschoolers...

But despite the pesky comments, I'm most definitely more excited about this than anything else.  So many people who never knew there were any options other than traditional institutionalized schooling now know there are vastly different ways to "get an education."  My blog, since it was mentioned in the article, has been getting a lot more hits from Montreal, so people are actually looking up this unschooling thing for themselves. 

I get all excited whenever some new radical education project starts in Montreal, or there's an alternative ed workshop that gets a big turnout, or there's some new unschooling publicity.  I feel like interest in alternatives has been growing by leaps and bounds here in the last few years, and there really is a small but growing revolution in education happening here!

So while I'm on the topic of freedom based education in Montreal, I want to throw in some links to cool projects and similar things happening in the area:

There's the Montreal Rad School, a freeschool being started up by some really great people, who want to make freedom based education available to all, not just those able to unschool.  This is a bilingual project.

The web-series La Déséducation has been airing since November, and focuses first on what's wrong with education in Quebec (the first eight webisodes), and starting up once again in February, will focus on alternatives to the existing model, including homeschooling, freeschooling, and unschooling (my mother and I were interviewed, and will be included in one of the webisodes).  Sadly, this series is currently only available in French.

The first webisode in the series:

There's also the long neglected (I feel a bit guilty about that) yet hopefully starting up soon once again support group, Unschooling Montreal.  And remember the Summer Montreal Unschoolers Gathering that my mother and I organized last year?  Well, it's happening again this summer (though the location may be changing...  Join the Yahoo group or Facebook group to get all the updates!).

So there you have it!  Montreal.  Unschooling.  Cool stuff.  I'm looking forward to seeing how things progress in our ongoing education revolution!


  1. wow, very interesting (and great to read, as I'm french, lol !) Thanks for sharing this !

  2. We are fortunate to have such a courageous spokesperson for unschooling. Thank you, Idzie.

  3. Very interresting. Well...maybe I'll go check the article and the comments then. I thought I would be disappointed again reading it, but since you say it's good... :-)

  4. this answers something I had been wondering : "do you speak French ?"
    and since you do, why did you decide to write your blog in English ? is it so that more people can read it, or just because it's the language you are more "at ease" with ?
    sorry for the questions but it's just interesting to me ;-)

  5. @Nettlejuice: Thank you so much!

    @Line: I actually don't speak French, or more accurately, only speak a small amount and understand a bit more. Montreal is a very bilingual city, and one of my parents is Anglophone, the other Francophone. However, when I was little and learning to speak, my parents spoke English to each other at home, so that's what I learned! I pick up more French when I'm spending time in a more French environment, but then I seem to lose it again in some dark recess of my brain when I'm no longer in such an environment... I'm sure I'll become fluent at some point, but for now I can just manage very basic communication in French. So yeah, that's why I write in English! :-P