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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Does It Improve Upon the Silence?

Lately I've been inclined to say less and less about more and more.  

Maybe you've noticed.

It's not that I have suddenly decided my opinions don't matter.  (I actually decided that long ago.)  It's that I've taken a certain question to heart, and it's had a profound affect on my desire to say much of anything at all.  

A few weeks ago -- and don't ask me to be more specific because I'm too lazy to go back through my feed reader and find the post --  author and 37 Days blogger Patti Digh suggested that we consider this simple question before we speak: "Does it improve upon the silence?"

It occurred to me-- continues to occur to me -- that very little actually does.

What a revelation!

What a relief!

What a nice way to let you know I think I've said all I'm going to say here. 

Thanks for sharing your time with me.

Enjoy the silence.  I will, too.



Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Dispatch from Planet Unschooling

My friend's daughter just turned four.  She does cute four-year-old things, which my friend sometimes posts about on Facebook.  In among the happy comments that followed one such posting was the one that always seems to come, the one advising my friend to enjoy her daughter now, because "when she's 14 you'll wish she lived on another planet."

People, let me tell you something.  My daughter is 14.  And there are times when I wished both of us lived on another planet.  As in, together.  As in, far, far away from everyone who thinks teens are by nature a subspecies from hell.

And guess what.  There are times when, in a manner of speaking, we do.

Last week, for instance.  In the mountains of East Tennessee, thirty-three unschooling teens, a half-dozen counselors, a handful of parent-volunteers, and the awesome Laura and Scotty Bowman, director and camp chef, all gathered for the first ever East Tennessee Unschooled Summer Camp at Buffalo Mountain outside of Johnson City.

It was our own private Jupiter.  Or moon thereof.  An unschooler's moon.

Now, I knew this was going to be a different sort of camp than the one I attended when I was fourteen.  The one with the bland meals in the big mess hall, and Reveille at sunrise, and mandatory Vespers on Wednesday, and forced bonhomie, and too-bad-for-you-if-you-don't-like-hotdogs, and adult staff hovering everywhere, keeping the rabble campers in line.

And I was right.  This camp was nothing like that.

First of all, there were only a few rules.  Like, no food in the cabins, morning and evening check-ins, hiking partners for hikes, quiet hours after 11 p.m.

But no lights-out-by-whenever, so night owls were free to stay up as late as they liked, as long as they got up for morning check-in.  And instead of Reveille blaring over the camp loudspeakers at dawn, those who needed help waking up were serenaded at their cabin door by counselors singing Bohemian Rhapsody.  And they were free to return to bed after check-in.  Take that, Camp Arthur G. Hough.

There was a schedule of activities listed daily on a whiteboard.  They were led by the counselors, by the campers, and by Laura. They were all optional. You could go to a few, or all of them, or none of them.  But they were all so intriguing, how could you not go?  And so the lodge was full of kids taking part in discussions of the Myers-Briggs personality types, of college, of long-distance friendships, of relationships with siblings.  They met up for hikes to the waterfall, and kayaking, and swimming, and the zipline. They showed up for a couples-dancing workshop, a belly-dancing workshop, a zine-making workshop, and a two-hour soapstone carving workshop that ended up lasting two days as everyone kept going back to do one more.

And then there was the spontaneous stuff, like the ever-morphing games of Werewolf that grew to encompass nearly the entire camp. And the music jams, the walks along the creek, the late-night conversations in the lodge.

There was good food, much of it locally sourced, almost all of it made from scratch. Muffins from recipes, not from boxes. Lasagne noodles rolled out on a pasta machine.  Fresh vegetables.  Meals were served at set times, but there was always a big bowl of fruit and chips and granola bars on the counter, and shelves in the kitchen where campers could stash their own snacks for between-meal noshes. The kitchen never closed, and there was a late-night staffer whose job was to stay up until the last camper wandered off to bed.

Parent volunteers had rooms in a building down the way a bit, nearby but not exactly central to the main area, so we could stay out of the way if we wanted to and still remain accessible if our kids needed us, or needed a cool place to hang out or sleep, since our rooms were air-conditioned and theirs weren't.  A couple kids took advantage of that option, and nobody shamed them, or suggested they toughen up, or accused the parents of mollycoddling.  The kids were hot, the rooms were cool, sleep was needed.  Needs were met.  Would that the whole world could work so well.

It was an amazingly functional week.  People got along, did what they wanted, hung out, tried new things, helped in the kitchen, acted silly, wandered the trails, made music, talked to one another about important stuff and everyday stuff and important everyday stuff.

And when I say "people" I mean all of us.  The kids, the counselors, the parents, the staff, everyone.  With each other.

That's the gift of unschooling.

I will say with complete confidence that not one of the parents at that camp wishes our kids were on another planet.  Not one.  Is it because our teens are exceptional?  Well, sure they're exceptional.  They're unschooled.  Which means all of the schooly stuff that comes between kids and their parents, between kids and their passions, all that stuff that gets in the way of kids figuring out how to relate honestly with one another, how to respect themselves and others, and how to respond to the needs of their bodies and their minds and their imaginations, all of that stuff that gets mediated by school and by the institutionalized thinking that supports the schooling paradigm, is absent. It isn't even a part of the atmosphere.

In the words of fellow unschooler Sara McGrath, unschooling "gets schooling out of the way so various unique, dynamic personal, creative ways of growing up, living, participating and contributing to communities can develop."  Places like ETUSC are the result of what happens when you do just that: get school out of the way, out of your life, out of your kids' lives, out of your mode of comprehending the world and your own place in it.

You have a whole new world.

And a most excellent planet.  Or moon.  Either way.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drawing Bones

image courtesy University of Washington

Last night I noticed Dragonstar was working on a sketch of a cat skeleton.  She was using an online photograph as her model.  The image was either an actual skeleton or a realistic recreation.  At the time I wandered by, she was drawing a foreleg.

Some time ago she had explained to me how an understanding of cat anatomy helped her to draw better dragons.  For example, she'd pointed out how the bones of a cat's hind legs are set at acute angles, even when the animal is standing up, a trait shared by her dragons.

If you want to draw fantasy creatures that look like they could actually exist, it helps to know how real animals are put together, she told me.

Indeed.

She usually wears headphones when she works. Often she's listening to Celtic tunes on Pandora. Tunes are not the same as songs. Songs have lyrics.  Lyrics can be distracting, depending on what you're doing.  Tunes -- instrumentals -- tend to stay out of the way.  But they are very much heard.  At one point yesterday  she pulled off the headphones and raced upstairs, where a moment later I could hear the trill of her pennywhistle.  Apparently Pandora had just played a tune she'd been learning, with a particular passage that had been giving her trouble, and she wanted to commit what she'd just heard to memory before it got away from her.

A few minutes later she was back at her tablet, drawing bones.

I love unschooling.

Update: A couple days after I wrote this, D explained to me that the smaller the animal, the more angeled that back leg joint will be.  Which means you can judge the size of her dragons by the set of the back leg.  The wider the angle, the bigger the dragon.  


I.  Love.  Unschooling.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Through a Lens, Darkly

"Unschooling is stupid."

(Comment left on a YouTube interview with Mark Frauenfelder, 
founder of BoingBoing and editor-in-chief of Make Magazine.)



A long, long time ago (in my salad days, when I was green with inexperience), I knew a family whose kids weren't going to school. They didn't do school at home, they just "lived." And they seemed very happy.

At the time I was a single woman with an exasperating job and an unsatisfying life. I was not happy, but I hadn't yet made the connection between my unsatisfying life and the assumptions under which I was living.  So when I looked at that family whose kids didn't go to school, and didn't really homeschool in any sense of the word, I, dear reader, was judgmental.  Yes, I was.

I was sure these parents were off their nut, and equally sure that their kids were going to grow up to be, oh, I don't know... Deficient. Crippled. Damaged.

Life is so ironic.

And here's the thing: I felt that way about that family's choices even though I had longed for release from school when I was a kid, my longing set against my absolute certainty that such release was, sadly, impossible.  I carried that certainty with me for a long time. School, I knew, was a given, like teething.  Yes, it hurt, but it was necessary.  You had to go through it or you'd end up gumming your way through life.

So I sniffed with disapproval at that ridiculous, benighted family.  How could they not understand something so basic?

Like I said: ironic.

It's deeply ingrained, this schooling paradigm.  When even those who were damaged by school will take up its banner, it's not hard to understand how the system is able to perpetuate itself in spite of its well-documented  shortcomings.  It's a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, where the captives come to identify with their captors.  Or domestic abuse, where the victim defends the abuser.  Or maybe it's more like that old Ferengi line, "We don't want to end the exploitation, we want to become the exploiters."

When I write about inculcated norms, this is part of what I'm talking about.  When I write that schools are in the business of inculcating norms, this is what I mean.  The perception in our culture that school is indispensable is a lens ground to precision by the process of schooling itself.  And the notion that individuals can't find their way in the world without that lens is part of what keeps so many really smart people utterly myopic about school.

So when I hear someone say something stupid about unschooling, I try to remember how nearly impossible it is to perceive that we're wearing lenses while we're wearing them.  And even when we know we're wearing them, how easily we come to rely on the clarity of the world view they provide.

Even when that world view is harmful.  Even when it's shallow and anemic. Even when it's (ahem) just stupid.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wandering Off Track

Because that's where all the interesting stuff happens.

The heart and the eye and the earth-dusted boot heel, all are drawn to the places in between

and underneath.  

The dangerous ground that is no longer
before and not yet after.

Living for miles upon days
in the liminal world

balanced on the threshold
of a dream.


Go where you want to go
Do what you want to do
Be who you want to be.
Live.  

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Friday, May 7, 2010

Unschooling and Intellectual Rigor

Honestly.  Can we dump the "how will they learn?" straw-man into the compost pile now, please?

Here's the article: Unschooler Wins 2nd Place in NASA No Boundaries National Competition.

And here is Zoe in action on her Youtube show, Exogeology Rocks!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Unschooling and the Honest Critique


Dragonstar and I are getting ready to leave for ARGH, and I wasn't planning to write a post until we got back, but then Dave emailed me with a link to Sharon's unschooling post, which led me to her previous unschooling post, and to the comments on both posts, and after crafting a reply to Dave, I thought, well, maybe I'll put something on the blog after all.

So let's blame Dave, shall we, for sending me to the keyboard when I really should be packing.  

Anyway.

It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks in unschooler-ville, in case you hadn't heard.   And in the aftermath of the original GMA story that got so many people riled up, Sharon Astyk's post on unschooling was one of the more measured, thoughtful, and articulate critiques I've read.  

Sharon is the author of several books, including Depletion & Abundance, and A Nation of Farmers (with Aaron Newton), and a blogger at The Chatelaine's Keys.  If you want the full thrust of her unschooling critique, please go there to read it. I'm mainly interested in exploring the latter half of her post, where she ponders the limits (as in, are there any?) of autodidactic learning.  

Keeping in mind that she isn't comparing unschooling to school, but to other methods of homeschooling, these are a few of the questions that came to mind as I read:  

What is the role of the adult in the lives of autodidact children?  The answer that springs most readily to mind is that of "facilitator" -- but what are we facilitating, exactly?  And how are we doing it, specifically?  

What about intellectual rigor and discipline?  Is it important?  How is it instilled?  How does an unschooler gain this rigor in the absence of pressure?  What process is involved?  

When does guidance become interference?  When does gentle encouragement -- or the intentional push -- become a coercive shove?  Are imposed structures and routines necessarily coercive?

It's been my experience throughout my family's unschooling years that the answers to these and other questions change depending on the age and circumstances and inclinations of our kids.  But in a larger sense, I think the answers are less important than the act of asking the questions and allowing new understanding to surface.  The longer I can stay with the questions, the more I learn. 

The worst critiques of unschooling -- or anything I hold dear, for that matter -- make me defensive, and I don't learn much when I'm defensive.  The best critiques -- those that, like Sharon's, probe beneath the surface and raise honest questions -- make me want to go deeper and come to know more fully what it is I'm doing and why, and how can I do it better and more richly and to greater satisfaction.  I would love to know your thoughts.

Friday, April 9, 2010

To Live As If School Didn't Exist

My new favorite definition of unschooling comes from the slogan of the 2008 Live & Learn Conference:

Unschoolers Live As If School Didn't Exist.

I  like this definition because it invites us into a new paradigm.  It invites us to live as if.

Entire realities are created by people living as if.

The process of creative visualization depends on living as if.

People love Gandhi's exhortation that we be the change we wish to see in the world. And what does it mean to be the change, if not to live as if, i.e. to live as though the change has already occurred?

It's not wishful thinking to live as if.  Wishful thinking is passive.  Wishful thinking waits for things to change. Living as if doesn't wait for things to change. Living as if is active.  It embodies change.

It creates a new normal.  Not everywhere, but right where we are.

We don't have to change the whole world to change the world, you know.  

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Curious Stuff You Find in Business Books

I'd never read a book by business guru Tom Peters before, but a few days ago a slim one called Talent fell off the library shelf and into my hands, and I brought it home.  I think I was drawn to the graphics.  Lots of black and red and big, bold typeface.  (Hmm.  Where have I see that before?)

Plus it's short, which is a good quality in a business book.  Business theories go out of style so fast, it's nice to finish reading one before its contents expire.  Then again, this book was published in 2005, so it's practically a fossil already.

At any rate, in what is mostly a locker-room pep talk for the Brave New Free Agent World (with lots of exclamation points!) Peters has some good things to say about technology and how it behooves the current generation of business leaders to "grovel before the young" -- a reference to the fluency of those who grew up/are growing up on the native side of the digital divide.  Plus he talked about freaks, and making sure you have them (us?) on board  -- as friends, partners, customers --  when you launch your awesome whatever.

For some reason this reminded me of the "all he wants to do is play video games" lament of parents who worry their video-game-playing children will not be prepared for the world of work -- not realizing that the world of work includes a $20 billion-a-year video game industry that did not exist 20 years ago.  Which in turn made me think of this TED talk.  And this blog post.

Anyway, I'm not launching an awesome whatever at the moment, but what I got out of Peters' book translates well into Unschooling 101, not to mention Life 101: respect the kids, embrace the freaks, and don't be afraid of the new stuff.  Especially the new stuff that's totally old hat to the kids and the freaks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Unschooling, Collapse and Emergent Culture

Whenever I read another report about the ways in which schools in the U.S. are becoming more controlling and coercive, I try to remember something Eckhart Tolle wrote in Stillness Speaks:

The dysfunction of the old consciousness and the arising of the new are both accelerating.  Paradoxically, things are getting worse and better at the same time, although the worse is more apparent because it makes so much 'noise.'

The current system of conventional compulsory schooling makes a lot of noise. Whether it's the re-working of a failed national policy or the absurd politics of textbook content or the crime of doodling on desks, what happens in the schools reverberates through our culture in ways that make the system seem so monolithic and all-consuming there appears to be nothing it does not ultimately touch.   

Kind of like the Roman Empire in its day.  Or any empire, for that matter -- an analogy that reminds me of another author's work, and makes me hopeful, actually, in a perverse sort of way that you anti-civ folks might recognize.

In his 2005 book, Collapse, Jared Diamond makes the point that civilizations often go from peak to collapse relatively quickly.  Empires, in particular, tend to be "noisiest" -- to borrow Tolle's term -- at their peak, when they are using up the greatest amount of resources at the fastest rate and extending their dominion to its farthest reaches.

School -- that all-consuming empire -- penetrates so deep into our culture, and so far into our cultural mindset, that it's helpful to remember that all that cacophony erupting from the current system masks some joyful sounds coming from a different quarter.  

Consider:
  • The first Autodidact Symposium, held last week in South Carolina and organized by adult unschooler Cameron Lovejoy, offered an inspired three-day glimpse into the world of young adult unschoolers who are beginning to make their way into, and make their mark upon, the world.
  • The upcoming Life is Good Unschooler Conference in the Pacific Northwest continues to draw increasing numbers of new and returning unschooling families each year.  
  • Small regional gatherings, like ARGH in Eastern Tennessee, MUGs and SMUG in Virginia and Montreal, respectively, and the big Rethinking Everything conference in Texas, bring together the families and individuals who are making those joyful sounds, whose lives reverberate with those joyful sounds, who are reaching out and finding one another and creating lives and livelihoods that have pretty much nothing to do with that seeming monolith known as school.
As Diamond argues, the seeds of an empire's ultimate collapse are sown early on, though it may take generations for the over-extension to play out, so that by the time signs of collapse become obvious it is so far along as to be pretty much inevitable.

There seems to me a certain inevitability about the collapse of our current system of compulsory schooling, though I suspect it will continue to raise a racket for some time to come.  Meanwhile, it's gratifying to see and be a part of an emergent culture that's making a different kind of noise, something that sounds to me a lot more like music.  People's music.  Yours and mine.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Some Thoughts on Getting Stuff Done

Spring made a showing in these parts this week, and it's about damned time.  My cave has become small and crowded and I've been restless.  And grumpy.  Yes.

But I've nearly finished a new book project -- a zine I've been putting together for the past couple weeks.  Details to come. [update: this project got sidelined after much consternation.  I'll probably have another go at it this summer.]

* * * * *

A few weeks ago I posted a review of sorts of Seth Godin's latest book, Linchpin, in which I suggested that the business ideas he expressed in it were surprisingly compatible with unschooling (though I don't know his  position on unschooling, or if he even has one).  I've long felt that way about his writing, which is one reason I read his blog.  Yes, it's a marketing blog, and that framing gets in my way sometimes, but if you approach his stuff without any preconceptions you'll find he's really writing about living deep and well and fully and on purpose.  All stuff I'm into in a big way.

Anyway, there's a part in Linchpin where he writes about how he gets so much done (a dozen books at last count) and he reveals his secret is doing just one thing at a time.

Yeah, okay, as revelations go it's not exactly Earth-shattering, but still.  

One thing.

Reader, I'll be the first to say, just one thing is not my style.  I'm a three-to-five projects at a time kind of gal.  But you know, sometimes it's good to reconsider one's style.  So for the past several months I've been trying out a different style and working on just one thing -- mostly -- for the duration of the month. With deadlines.  Real ones.

In January I made an art bra for a charity auction.  In February I painted canvases for a show that went up March 1st.  This month I created the zine.

And I'm hooked.  As in, convinced.

Here's why: this one-thing-at-a-time idea eliminates that debilitating sense I often have of never finishing anything.  It's a false sense, since in reality I finish all kinds of  stuff, but it's also true in that I never get to rest in that moment of completion because I'm always juggling other things that aren't finished.  And since some of those things might never be finished -- because I don't give myself the time to either finish them or make a well-considered decision to let them go -- I'm in a perpetual state of incompletion on all fronts.

Which is exhausting.  As you probably know, given that we all tend to do the juggling thing.

Now I know that, in an existential sense, life itself -- Big Life -- is just one long perpetual state of incompletion. I get that. But creative projects are not so much Big Life as they are life's brain-children.  Heart-children.  Soul-children.  They have a gestation period, and then they need to be birthed.  And the ones that just get transferred from one year's "stuff I want to do" list to the next tend to drain off the very life force that's needed to get them out into the world.  

If you know me at all, you know I'm not into getting stuff done just to be getting stuff done. Productivity in and of itself is overrated.  It's factory-thinking.  I'm not a factory.  But creating the stuff I really want to create?  That kind of productivity matters.  So I try to choose my projects with care.  And given my propensity to juggle, the forms they take -- the books, the canvases -- can occupy space in my head for a very long time.  The zine, for example, has been on my list since last summer.

Had I not assigned it its own month, with a hard deadline -- a shipping date, Godin would call it -- it could well have remained on my list through next summer.  Or forever.

Instead, it's in print.  And I get to have my moment of completion before I launch into the next thing.  And that, dear Reader; seems to be making all the difference in the world.

That, and Spring.

Anyway, this is a long way around to saying that most of the energy it takes to juggle a bunch of projects goes into the juggling, not into the projects.  And while it makes me feel like I have a lot going on, having a bunch of balls in the air turns out to be far less satisfying -- and far more stressful -- than standing on the pitcher's mound and delivering one ball into the catcher's mitt at a time.  And then another one.  And then another one.  And then the inning is over, and I can sit in the dugout for a bit and watch the crows in the outfield before getting up and doing it again.

And yes, that's a baseball analogy, in honor of Spring Training.

And Spring.

And crows.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Weirdly Homesick

Dragonstar and I recently watched the Not Back to School Camp video by Allen Ellis that's been circulating on the web.  It made us both a little teary-eyed.

What I felt was something like a homesickness, the way an immigrant might feel for the Old Country.  Except in our case there is no Old Country.  Dragonstar hasn't been to NBTSC yet.  It didn't matter.  We watched it and knew it was part of us, and we were part of it.

If you follow my meaning.

Sometimes I think of our unschooling journey -- this big life we're part of -- as the opposite of a diaspora.  We start out all separated and find our tribe as we go along.  Like in The Stand.

I wonder where it will take us next.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Random (with an Action Item)


We are surrounded by friends at a distance.

Dragonstar and I were imagining a perfect world, where everyone we loved lived within a four-hour drive.  Then I realized that things would get pretty crowded if that were to happen.  (And isn't that good to know?)

What we really need are transporters.  Like on Star Trek.  We already have the little communicator devices, and our laptops are much sleeker than anything that ever showed up in Picard's ready room. And the big-screen tv thing, check.  So why not transporters?  What's the holdup here?

We've never met in person, but unschooler and cafe owner Mary Gold is a friend.  She made the bracelet in the photo, and more like it, in memory of (and to raise memory for the husband and daughter of) Serenity Dixon, an unschooling mom and friend who lost her fight against cancer almost three weeks ago. Mary calls the bracelets Serenity Beads. I think she may have sold every last one of them, but you can check her blog to find out.

I have mine on my wrist as I type.

The mug, meanwhile, was created by local artisan Steve Herron and brought home (along with three of its siblings) by the BBPiT from a gig a while back.

The other day I was moodling around, thinking it might be interesting to do something with Mud River Press, the domain I created to serve as an imprint for 101 Reasons Why I'm an Unschooler.  Right now it's just a Blogger landing page with a link to the Lulu store.  But after Idzie put out her DIY ezine in December, it occurred to me that Mud River might serve a more useful purpose if it were to become a distro for unschooly stuff, books and ebooks and print zines and ezines created by unschoolers and unschooly types.  My thoughts are still in the "wouldn't it be cool to do this" stage -- pretty amorphous, in other words -- but the idea interests me, so I'll be thinking more about it.  And looking for feedback on the idea, if you've got any.  (This is the Action Item, for those of you who wondered. A request for comment, si vous plait.)

In other news...

Author Patti Digh is bringing a new book out this fall, and at least a couple unschoolers (me and fellow blogger Laura Flynn Endres) have submitted art to the publisher for possible inclusion.  Yes!  Laura is giving a talk at this year's Unschooler Winter Waterpark Gathering in Ohio, as is John Taylor Gatto.  I know a bunch of you will be hanging out at the Kalahari Resort next week, raising all kinds of hell your awesome unschooler kids in a spirit of freedom and exuberant exploration. 

Meanwhile, Dragonstar and I are saving our nickles for Spring ARGH.

Which is coming.  That dang groundhog says it's going to take its sweet time getting here, though. Good thing I got lots of fuzzy socks for Christmas this year.

Life is good.

That's all.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Business Book for Unschoolers?


There are several books I know of that describe the essence of unschooling without using the word.  Maybe the authors didn't want to use the word.  Maybe they didn't know the word.  Maybe they didn't know that when they were writing about what they were writing about, they were also writing about unschooling.

I've listed a few of these books in the resource section of 101 Reasons Why I'm An Unschooler.  Frank Smith's Book of Learning and Forgetting.  John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down.  Daniel Quinn's My Ishmael.

Today I'm going to add another title to the list: Seth Godin's Linchpin: Are You Indespensable?

Seth Godin is the author of a whole bunch of not-your-everyday-kind-of business books, and he writes a hugely popular blog. It was through his blog that I ended up getting an early copy of Linchpin to read and write about.

Reader, it's a business book for unschoolers.

Consider this excerpt from an early chapter on the New World of Work:

We've been culturally brainwashed to believe that accepting the hierarchy and lack of responsibility that come with a factory job is the one way, the only way, and the best way.

And this:

I'm sitting next to Zeke on the plane.
Well, I'm sitting but Zeke isn't.  Zeke is two.  He spends the entire flight standing, walking around, poking, smiling, asking, touching, responding, reacting, testing and exploring.
Is it possible that you were like Zeke?
What happened?
Somewhere along the way, we baked it out of you.  And that's a shame, because what Zeke has (and what so many have lost) is exactly what we need.

And this, from a later chapter:

Great schools might work; lousy schools definitely stack the deck against you.  Why is society working so hard to kill our natural-born artists?  When we try to drill and practice someone into subservient obedience we're stamping out the great artist that lives within.

And finally,

"Wait!  Are you saying that I have to stop following instructions and start being an artist?  Someone who dreams up new ideas and makes them real?  Someone who finds new ways to interact, new pathways to deliver emotion, new ways to connect?  Someone who acts like a human, not a cog?  Me?"

Yes.

As I said, Linchpin is a business book.  It's about the world of work, and how that world is changing, and how certain forces within our current economic system are struggling to hold on to the old model -- a factory model -- that was never natural and was never designed to serve its human component.

Similarly, as I and many others have pointed out, conventional, compulsory K-12 schools -- which were established to support this factory system, and became factory systems themselves -- were never natural, and were never designed to serve their human components. Yet certain forces within our current system are struggling to reinforce the compulsory school paradigm even as all rationale for it falls away.  Promoting earlier entry into pre-schools.  Raising the legal age for leaving.  Trying to keep the system relevant by force of law, when it is clearly not relevant by force of nature.

Or business.

I'm beginning to think -- after reading books like Linchpin, as well as books by Daniel Quinn, mentioned above, who also writes about the significance of how we make our living -- that, at least in American culture, where work has always been the main driver for cultural change, the radical altering in how we work -- and how we think about work -- will be the driving force in changing the way we think about education -- and, ultimately, in changing the way we choose to live and learn.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

To Boldly Go


I inadvertently posted this to the wrong blog over the weekend.  (I really do need to get my blogging act together.  It's out of control.)  Apologies for the repeat to those of you who are sweet enough to read my other blogs.  More apologies to those who left comments, which were lost in the move.  Sigh.

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Back in 2007, Dragonstar and I went to our first Live & Learn Unschooling Conference, run by the indomitable Kelly Lovejoy.

At that conference, Kelly gave me some advice -- a single word, actually -- that, once I got around to actually following it, helped to dissolve the sense of isolation from other unschoolers my daughter and I felt, and made us happier unschoolers in the process.

"Travel."

Not as in "Go to Europe" or "Visit Machu Picchu," but "Go visit other unschoolers."

At the time I thought, well, okay... but we didn't really know any of these other unschoolers well enough to show up at their homes with our overnight bags.

Did we?

Apparently, we did.  And do.

Because here's what I've since learned: that unschooling families are like cells in a geographically dispersed intentional community, little clusters of "people who get it" all over the world.  Once you become a member of the community and you put the word out -- in person at a gathering, or on your blog, or via facebook, or through a Yahoo group -- that you're interested in meeting up, you'll get offers from others in the community to come visit.

As in, "Come stay in our home with us."

At first I found this concept hard to fathom.  It was outside my frame of reference.  But when the offers kept coming, it finally became clear that they weren't "Oh, they're just being polite" offers.  They were real invitations.

Chances are, you'll get them, too.

And maybe you'll find them a little disconcerting, as I did.  But there will come a day when you tire of your isolation and you get out the map and finally realize that you may not live next door to any unschoolers, but there are unschooling families to the north, south, east and west who welcome visitors.  And some of them are within a day's drive.

A day's drive!

Keeping in mind that some unschoolers' definition of "a day's drive" more resembles a trucker's idea of "a day's drive" than a typical family's, let me say from personal experience that spending a day in the car -- even a long day -- in order to hang out with unschoolers is more than worth it.

And getting to hang out with them in their homes?  That's worth some serious road time.

Seriously.

If the mountain won't come to Mohammad, Mohammad must go to the mountain.

So it took Dragonstar and I a while to get comfortable with the idea of this kind of travel.  But our frustration with our geographic isolation finally outweighed our reticence, and off we went.  And we're hugely -- hugely -- glad we did.  Kelly's advice was wise, so I'm passing it along to you.  If you're an unschooler who finds the time between conferences or gatherings to be too frustratingly long, or if conferences are not to your liking but you crave the company of other unschoolers, I encourage you to try a more personal approach.

Be bold.   Put the word out.  Then fill the tank, and go.

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Note to commentors: Please bear with me while I turn on word verification in the comments for a few posts.  I have a very tenacious spammer I'm trying to rid myself of.  I dislike dealing with those crooked letters as much as you do, and will make them go away as soon as my spammer does.  Thanks for your understanding.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

It Isn't Perfect. It's Unschooling.


Over at I'm Unschooled.  Yes, I Can Write, Idzie has started a conversation about the downside of unschooling that deserves continued exploration.

I'm sure a lot of unschoolers wrestle with the drawbacks Idzie describes -- the continual need to explain yourself to those who don't understand, the lack of a local network of support in many communities, the self-doubt that arises from time to time, and the absence of ritual markers of achievement like a graduation ceremony to help unschoolers transition to adulthood.

These are recurring issues for many of us, and acknowledging them doesn't mean we're unhappy with the choice to be unschoolers, any more than seeing weeds in our garden means we're unhappy growing tomatoes.

It just means things aren't perfect

When people first embrace unschooling, they're often looking for assurances that it can "work."  But like any life-process, unschooling unfolds over time, and assurances that help us get past our initial fear of doing something outside of conventional practice don't necessarily serve us a few years down the line, when we're feeling defensive and isolated.

Recognizing that this stuff comes up for a lot of us allows us to see these points of friction as part of the process.  It reminds us (sometimes to our frustration) that, yes, we're different. And, no, that (probably) won't change.

The issues Idzie brings up are largely the consequence of our differentness bumping up against conventional culture.  And, as she rightfully acknowledges, ""Doing ANYTHING that isn't 'normal' or 'expected' often isn't easy."

But we do it, don't we?  We do it anyway.  

There may be supporters of unschooling who worry that a discussion of its drawbacks will leave new or struggling unschoolers disenchanted with the whole endeavor.  But frankly, I'm all about the dis-enchantment, if the enchantment has been the perception that unschooling is all unicorns and fairy dust --a way of life that will bring nothing but joy and delight to everyone who adopts it.

There is ease in unschooling, yes.  There is the ease of coming to know your wacky and wonderful self within an environment of love and support and trust and encouragement. There is ease in living free of the demands of outside institutions.  There is ease in learning what you learn in your own way, in your own time.

But just because there is ease doesn't mean it's easy.  And conversations about difficulties are as necessary as conversations about joys.  My thanks to Idzie for getting this one started.

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Update: dearest commentors, please bear with me while I turn on word verification for a few posts.  I have a very tenacious spammer I'm trying to rid myself of.  I dislike dealing with those crooked letters as much as you do, and will make them go away as soon as my spammer does.  Thanks for your understanding.