Monday, April 28, 2014

"I want to unschool, but what if my kids just watch TV all day?"

I did an interview for a new online homeschooling magazine. It will be a while until it's out, and a little while after that before I post the complete interview here on the blog, but until then I figured I'd share this bit. An answer to the question "I want to unschool, but what if..."

I feel like this question almost needs to be broken down into multiple answers.

While watching TV all day every day wouldn't be a very good thing, I do think that people tend to devalue activities deemed worthless, like TV, without realizing that even that is learning, or leads to learning. I can't count the number of times TV shows or movies have sparked Google searches on historic figures or events, discussions of tropes and archetypes in storytelling, the breaking down of harmful stereotypes and discrimination in shows... While TV watching can be something passive, it can also be something very involved, something that leads to lots of thinking, creating of stories (fan fiction is the way a lot of young writers first get into writing!), and interesting discussions. Once you start actually looking for learning in everything, not just thinking of it as something that needs to be deliberately imparted to young minds, you start seeing it everywhere.

I also think people don't full respect the power of boredom. Watching TV all day every day is going to get boring. It just will. And then they'll be looking for different things to do.

Though admittedly, if I got the food network I might just watch
TV all day every day for at least a week or two...

Another important thing to keep in mind is that unschooling parents are not supposed to be in a passive role. It's not like unschooling parents just say "okay, go learn now!" and then proceed to ignore their kids. There are times when kids definitely need their own space to learn and explore, but there are plenty of times they don't. Parents can sit down and watch those shows, initiate those conversations and Google searches. Parents can also provide a wealth of interesting library books and board games, suggest activities and clubs and outings.

Which isn't to say that worries about a child spending tons of time in front of a screen aren't things parents who are unschooling sometimes have trouble dealing with, especially when they first start transitioning to unschooling. Deschooling is an important part of unschooling if you're going from either school or very formal/strict/school-at-home homeschooling, so it's important to leave time for that adjustment to a very different lifestyle. What unschooling looks like when you first start is almost certainly going to be very, very different than what it will look like a year or two later. Along those lines, don't give up too fast! Just because it doesn't seem to be "working" right away doesn't mean something is wrong, it probably just means your child(ren) are adjusting to not having to "do learning."

For specific situations, experienced unschooling parents are going to be much more helpful than I could be, not being a parent myself so never having been on that side of things. All I'm saying is that such a worry is often unfounded, and also that there's a whole lot more to it than just "what if my kid just watches TV all day?"

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Least Favourite Thing About Unschooling

I've answered my fair share of "what's your least favourite thing about unschooling?" questions over the years (most recently in an interview I did for a new homeschooling magazine to be published through Apple Newsstand), and my answer has always been other people. People who aren't unschoolers, don't understand unschooling, and can make your life difficult because of it.

The anonymous critics mean very little, as do the random strangers you somehow end up discussing the subject with, no matter how much you may try and avoid it.

Yet what does mean something, and when it can start to feel kind of scary, is when someone has something you need, and you fear your educational background could cause them to make getting what you need more difficult.

I'm talking about the potential employer asking you questions about your education, even though you have all the experience needed for the job you're applying for. Or when something goes wrong in a big way, and you call the police, knowing that even though you're the victims in whatever happened, that you'll get grilled on the fact your children don't go to school. Or you're looking for a therapist, and fear as soon as they find out you didn't go to school, they'll start trying to blame whatever struggles you're dealing with on your lack of "proper" education and strange upbringing.

It can cause a lot of worry, wondering if someone important, someone with the power to provide you with much-needed support (or money, or information) will start asking those questions, and then start treating you through the lens of their own pre-conceived biases and ignorance about unschooling (and home learning in a broader sense).

Maybe I should bring a handful of the awards I got as a teen to those types
of situations, and just wave them in peoples faces with an air of sort of
desperate exasperation: "See?? I was doing stuff that was recognized by
stuffy people as Important Things while not going to high school!"

Sure, there are other difficulties possibly related to unschooling that can make things unpleasant sometimes. There are times I feel insecure about what I know and have learned, but only in the way I think everyone, regardless of education, does: if you feel someone knows more than you, seems "smarter," it can be easy to feel some insecurity. But generally I feel really good about my skills, knowledge, and accomplishments. They're not the same as other peoples, but that's the whole point. Each person is unique, with their own strengths and skills. Most of the time, I know mine are valuable.

So it's just other people I worry about. People who might not see my strengths or value my experience, because they got side-tracked as soon as they heard that whole "didn't go to school" thing and are no longer focusing on anything else. Sometimes that fear is unfounded, but sometimes, well sometimes it isn't.

Regardless, us unschoolers usually manage fine despite that. But that doesn't mean those types of attitudes don't sometimes make things harder, make you hesitate before seeking help, and create a little kernel of fear when a person who can provide you with important services does that double take we all know well: "wait, you were homeschooled?"

Which is why, until our culture stops thinking schooling is the be all and end all when it comes to "getting an education" and becoming a "productive member of society," the reactions of others will remain my least favourite thing about unschooling.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Unschooling 101 Zine: Printed and Ready to Order!

I've been wanted to make an actual print zine, something physical you can hold in your hands, for quite a while now. So after plenty of discarded ideas, failed starts, and lack of motivation on the zine front over the last couple of years, I finally have a stack of zines sitting beside me as I write this.

What finally worked out was when I thought "hey, wouldn't it be nice if I had an unschooling 101 in a physical form as well? Something that people could actually hand out to a friend, parent, neighbor, or other person who wonders what this whole unschooling thing is about?" Thus this zine was born.

If you click this photo, it brings you to the store page on my website, where
 you can buy your own copy!

I started with the 101 page on this blog, and anyone who's read that will see that that was clearly my outline. But then I started editing, adding bits from other posts I've written, filling in with snippets of original content, making it all make sense and provide complete answers without the benefit of all the links to be found on the original blog page... And at the end what I have is something still similar to the digital version, yet different enough to be truly it's own thing. The unschooling 101 page made solid and zine-like. I'm pretty pleased with it, to be honest.

Continuing in the spirit of it's namesake blog page, it's short. Three sheets of paper folded in half to create a twelve page booklet, with nine pages of text. I was ruthless with the writing of this zine, doing everything I could to keep it short. It's easy to recommend unschooling books to people, but unless they're especially interested or especially invested in you or your children, most people just aren't likely to read a whole book. This though? This can be read in just a handful of minutes. It's short, to the point, and easily digestible, complete with a few author and book recommendations at the end for those who want to dig deeper. I very much wanted this to be the thing even your French class teacher and nosy neighbor would actually be willing to take a few moments to read and think about!

I was so excited about this project I even made a video showing you the zine and talking briefly about it.

Sound like something you'd be interested in? Awesome! I'm so happy already with the amount of interest this has generated thanks to my mentioning of the project (quite a few mentions, really) on the Facebook page and other social media haunts. You can go buy it here on my store page. And if you want to share either this post or the store page on Facebook or Twitter, to help it reach a larger audience, I will be nothing but grateful. 

I'm so happy to be offering my first ever non-digital writing for purchase, and I hope very much that you'll enjoy reading it, and find it a helpful tool in sharing with others the very basics of what unschooling is all about.

While working on this zine, I decided having multiple pairs of eyes looking it over would be really helpful. So I asked, and what I received was some truly wonderful feedback! After each person read it, I changed multiple small things, and I felt like it just got better every time. For helping to shape this zine I want to say a big THANK YOU to Loreto, Sol, Amy, and my sister Emilie. For a whole lot of assistance with the printing and assembling of this zine, I want to thank my mother Debbie. Without her I probably would have just given up in frustration, and you wouldn't all be reading this now!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Grown Unschooler C. Kennedy: "I was unschooled from the day I was born."

A note from Idzie: The first interview with a grown unschooler I ever posted was in 2010. Over the next two years, I was happy to share a total of eight interviews with various adult unschoolers, ranging in age from 17 to 30, and all with such varied and fascinating lives and things to share. Now I'm thrilled, after quite a while without any interviews, to present a new one! The grown unschooler questionnaire still resides under the grown unschoolers section at the top of the blog, and I invite any adult unschoolers to fill it out. Thank you to C. Kennedy for kicking these interviews off once again, and I hope you enjoy reading what she had to say as much as I did!

C. Kennedy is a playwright, puppeteer and Orientation and Mobility Specialist currently bumbling around Philadelphia. In between producing, writing, performing and working for the State of NJ, she enjoys: traveling around the world, learning languages, aerial silks, cooking, reading, and performing as her alter ego, Señor Papos (alongside her partner Jeremy Prouty as La Rosa Peligrosa, Jota). for more info.

When did you become an unschooler?
I was unschooled from the day I was born.
    How long have you unschooled/did you unschool?
    I still consider myself an unschooler. I attended undergrad from when I was 18-21 and grad school from age 25-26. Other than those 4 years, plus one community college class when I was 17, I have never attended any sort of school. 
      How old are you now?
        Do you have any siblings?  If so, did they/do they unschool as well?
        One younger brother who was and still is unschooled. He has not been to college.
          If your parents chose unschooling, do you know how/why they made that decision?
          My mom was the primary factor. She was a grade A student and always considered very bright. When she graduated college she felt as though she knew nothing, and that she had spent her life memorizing things so as to ace a test. She read some Holt, Gatto and the Teenage Liberation Handbook and decided to give my brother and I the option to unschool. My father was supportive. We were both given the option to go to school at any time and chose not to.
            What were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
            None really. I had zero problems getting into undergrad or grad school, 3.84 GPA in undergrad, 4.0 in grad school. I have always had lots of friends and activities, a supportive family and have had a really happy life. I'm a theatre artist so I've struggled to make that work financially, but have finally found a part time job where I am financially comfortable and have enough time to pursue my creative work. That doesn't really have anything to do with unschooling though, more to do with how artists are compensated and regarded in our society which is another issue entirely.
              What do you think the best thing about unschooling is?
              Freedom to pursue your own interests. I love writing/reading and as a child I would read and write for literally entire days. I love that you can manage your own time, which allows you to focus on and accomplish tasks, as well as learn to budget your own time. I'm told by nearly everyone in my adult life that I'm the most highly self-motivated person they know, and that I'm amazing at multi-tasking. I credit this to unschooling entirely.

                What do you think the worst (or most difficult) thing about unschooling is?
                I don't really have anything negative to say about it. Oh! I was never sitting around bored in class, so I never learned to doodle. I'm terrible at doodling. That is a detriment. My handwriting is also bad because I didn't do handwriting drills. Which isn't really all that bad in our modern computer age, but I do become slightly ashamed of it at times. 
                  Did you decide to go/are you going to college or university?  If so, could you talk a bit about that experience?
                  I have an M.S. in Orientation and Mobility. 

                  Applying for college originally: Took the ACT when I was 15. Got a decent score (26 I think). Decided I would retake only if my college of choice did not accept me. Auditioned for college of choice. Was offered a scholarship based on audition (theater school). Was told I "might need a GED, we are not sure". Took GED and in the meantime, send college a curriculum that my mom and I typed up (basically a book list and list of activities I had done/community college class I had taken). Was accepted into the honors program at the college based on that. Then received my passing GED score which was no longer needed.

                  Applying for grad school: Took MCAT, scored 96 percentile. Told by admissions that they "love" homeschoolers because they are self motivated. 

                  Undergrad experience: I was a little nervous at first just because I'd never really written an essay, and had only taken a biology class at community college, no other school-type classes. Overworked myself the first semester and turned in everything way ahead of time/studied frantically. After the first semester I realized I was trying wayyyyyy too hard, relaxed and still continued to get mostly all A's in my classes, without all the freaking out. Didn't really find anything particularly difficult about switching to classroom based learning, although I did find myself easily slipping into "memorize for the test then forget it" type studying. So much easier than actually learning anything! But way more effective in a classroom setting. 

                  Are you currently earning money in any way?
                  I work part time as an Orientation and Mobilty Specialist, teaching individuals with blindness or visual impairments travel skills. I also work as a standardized patient, and usually about 2x a year produce a script I've written which doesn't earn me much, but usually breaks even and allows me to pay myself and the performers a small stipend.
                    What jobs/ways of earning money do you, and have you, had?
                    Wayyyyy too many. Waitress, actor, acting teacher, HR admin, telemarketer, caterer, haunted trail guide, promo model, standardized patient, orientation and mobility specialist, nanny, and all around craigslist odd job filler.
                      Have you found work that's fulfilling and enjoyable?
                      My work as an O&M specialist is fulfilling and enjoyable. I am financially stable and able to save for my future while maintaining flexibility that allows me to pursue my theatre/puppetry work. I find the work challenges me to think about the way we perceive our world, and is highly rewarding as I teach people to travel to the places they want and need to go to in a safe and efficient manner.
                        Have you found that unschooling has had an impact on how hard or easy it is to get jobs or earn money?
                        Not really. Being a puppeteer/playwright, yes. Unschooler, no. 
                          Do you feel that unschooling has had an impact on what methods of earning money or jobs you're drawn to?
                          Eh, maybe? Hard to say. I'm truly passionate about my artistic life and my life as an O&M instructor. Oh! Sure! I was never content settling for a job I didn't enjoy fully, or wasn't financially secure in. I would say unschooling probably assisted me in not settling for a job I'm not fulfilled by/can't grow in, and also has given me a firm foundation in keeping my artistic life alive.
                            What impact do you feel unschooling has had on your life?
                            Nothing but positives. I'm self motivated, and consider myself a lifelong learner. Last year I learned arial silks and trapeze, the two years before, Spanish. This year it's Italian. I try to learn something new all the time.
                              If you could go back in time, is there anything about your learning/educational journey that you'd change?
                              I'd make myself start learning Spanish earlier. I wasn't really motivated to do that as a kid. Oh well. I've learned it now and am working on Italian. After that, French. Hopefully German too before it's all said and done. Most people I know don't know a second language, so I don't feel behind. It's just I think it would have been easier to learn when I was younger.

                                If you have children, are they unschooled?  Alternately, if you were to have children, would you choose to unschool them?
                                If I do in the future, definitely.
                                  What advice would you give to teens looking to leave high school?
                                  Read the Teenage Liberation Handbook/John Taylor Gatto/John Holt. Educate yourself on what unschooling means, and make an informed presentation to your parents. Find other unschoolers online and have them talk to your parents. Write me and tell me to talk to your parents!
                                    What advice would you give to someone looking to skip, or to drop out of, college or university?
                                    If college is being paid for in full by a scholarship/amazingly rich parents, then go. Get it over with and get your degree in whatever. It will give you a leg up in applying for anything even outside your field. It may not be the most enjoyable, but if you're not going into debt over it, than it will be worth it. I don't really use my undergrad degree, but I sure am glad I had it when I went to get my Grad degree.

                                    If you have to foot the bill then think second thoughts. What do you really want to do? Does it absolutely require a college degree (med school? law school in most states?)? If it absolutely requires it and you are sure that's what you want to do, then you need to keep going.

                                    If you're not sure what you want to go into/your field does not necessarily require a degree, then hit the pause button. Maybe spend a year interning part time (whatever you can afford. intern one day a week and work the rest, or whatever you need to do) in whatever it was you were getting a degree for, see if it really fits you. Then if you absolutely have to have a degree to go into it, back to school you go. But you may be able to get into the field without a degree.

                                    Take community college courses. Every single one you can. Way cheaper. Make sure the credits transfer to whatever school you're going to.
                                      What advice would you give to unschooling parents (or parents looking into unschooling)?
                                      Trust. Read the Teenage Liberation Handbook/John Taylor Gatto/John Holt. Educate yourself on what unschooling means. Find other unschoolers online talk to them. Write me and talk to me!

                                      Wednesday, April 2, 2014

                                      Unschooling Isn't More Risky, It's Just Less Conventional

                                      "Part of me would like to unschool, but it just seems so risky."

                                      "I can't believe parents would do that! Why are they risking their children's education like that??"

                                      "These kids will just end up working at McDonalds."

                                      People seem convinced that unschooling is a risky choice. A risky lifestyle. Who know if kids will succeed if they're unschooled!

                                      This puzzles me more than a little, because it seems to assume that schooling is a guarantee. That if a child goes to school, they'll become emotionally well-adjusted, learn all they need to function in life, get a job, and become successful.

                                      If you ask any person if going to school is a guarantee of success, they'll say of course not. The majority of the people working in low-paying jobs went to school. There are people who went to school who suffer from addiction and mental illness, face unemployment and homelessness, and otherwise struggle in life.

                                      All going to school means is that you've gone to school. It doesn't come with any guarantees.

                                      Neither does unschooling. Unschoolers, too, can struggle with addiction, struggle to find a job, struggle in life.

                                      It's almost as if we live in a world where it's not easy to "succeed," whether you go to school or are unschooled. Almost as if, in everyone's life, shit happens. See what I'm getting at?

                                      Yes, for some people unschooling is riskier than others. People may be less likely to respect an unschooling education from people who face discrimination already, for whom anything can be pulled out as an excuse to continue that discrimination. But at the same time, the people for whom unschooling may be a "riskier" choice, often find that school is ALSO riskier: marginalized communities often have access only to  poorer schools, which have a lot less resources, face higher rates of bullying and violence in school, and higher drop-out rates. Marginalized people face more difficulty and discrimination no matter what.

                                      On the other hand, unschooling can also make things less risky: removing children from a space they face violence is removing them from risk (in reverse, for children who face violence at home, school can be the less risky environment: that's why I'm not against schools entirely, just schools as they currently exist and function). Outside of school, children and teens can have the opportunity to learn a whole bunch of things not learned in school, tailored to their own personal interests, skills, situation, and community. For unschoolers with a good home life and supportive parents, they can have more of a chance to grow in ways that feel emotionally healthy, in a safe environment, at their own pace. Thus perhaps making it easier for them to deal with the shit life inevitably throws at them.

                                      What's more or less risky will depend entirely on the individual, the family, and their unique circumstances. Only they'll be able to make the choices that they feel are best for themselves.

                                      But sometimes, when people talk about wanting to unschool but fearing doing so because of the potential riskiness, I wonder if it's less about risk and more about fear. Fear that, because of actively making a choice against conventional wisdom, if things don't work out it will be your fault, more than if school had just done a bad job. Furthermore, that you'll be blamed, by society at large (if unschoolers struggle with literally anything, there will likely be a whole bunch of people ready to say it's all your fault for unschooling), and even worse, perhaps by your kids. I believe the fear of being the one responsible for your child's education is a very present thing, and something that makes unschooling feel more risky, even if it isn't actually.

                                      Parents generally want desperately to give their children the best they can in life: they want their children to do well and be happy. Not being a parent, I can't imagine how terrifying the responsibility of making choices for your children, big choices like whether to send them to school, or homeschool, or unschool, can be. As unschooling gains in popularity, I just hope that more and more parents (and more and more teenagers looking to leave school) can find the support networks needed to feel confident enough to make the choices that really feel best to them, instead of basing their decisions on fear of choosing a lifestyle that's just less conventional.