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!