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?"


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.


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.


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.