UNSCHOOLING.COM ONLINE NEWS Mid February 2003 - Mothering Forums

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Mid-February 2003


In this Issue:

The Myth of "Learning"
Growing up Unschooled
What Parents Learn
Web Snacks
What if Everybody Unschooled?
Keeping a Log


The Myth of "Learning"

The trouble with talk about "learning experiences" is that it implies that all experiences can be divided into two kinds, those from which we learn something, and those from which we learn nothing. But there are no experiences from which we learn nothing. We learn something from everything we do, and everything that happens to us or is done to us. What we learn may make us more informed or more ignorant, wiser or stupider, stronger or weaker, but we always learn something. What it is depends on the experience, and above all, on how we feel about it. A central point of this book is that we are very unlikely to learn anything good from experiences which do seem to us closely connected with what is interesting and important in the rest of our lives. Curiosity is never idle; it grows out of real concerns and real needs.

John Holt
from Instead of Education
E. P. Dutton 1976


Growing up Unschooled

When I was younger I never had to worry about assignments with time restrictions, grades or tests, because I never had them. No, I wasn't a school drop out. I was homeschooled. I've never been to any school prior to college. People tend to act funny when I tell them that. They ask “You've never been to school?” to which I reply “no.” Or they ask “Well how do you make friends?” and I say “I'm in dance, I used to be in girl scouts and if all else fails you knock on the doors of your neighbors and start up a conversation.” But my favorite question of all time was asked to me by a store clerk “How do you learn to communicate with people outside of your family?” I stared at her blankly and said “I'm talking to you aren't I?”.

The next thing they want to know is how many hours a day I spend doing “school.” This has no easy answer. If by school they mean sitting down with a text book, or doing math problems, then the answer is usually only one or two days out of a month (unless I've been on an I need to go to school kick). But if by “school” they mean learning, then its anytime I'm awake. The methods my Mom has used to teach me aren't what you would call traditional. For the most part she goes with the flow, letting me absorb all the rich knowledge around me, rather than pounding it into my head. Letting me ask questions and then helping me figure out answers, rather than quizzing me about things I already know. For me, learning something new is an everyday experience, so my memories of learning are tied in with my memories of my family and friends.... I don't really remember learning how to read, or write, or do math in my head. I just do it. It's like walking, I know I had to learn how to do it at some point, but I don't really remember learning how...

...We moved to Illinois when I was six. I made friends with the girl across the street. She thought it was so cool that I was already home when she got home from school. We stuck together like glue on paper. Not everyone thought it was such a cool thing to be homeschooled though. I remember my first dance class after we moved to Illinois. I was six, and my shoes weren't the right color.
When I lived in California my dance teacher had us wear black ballet shoes. They didn't show dirt like the pink ones did. But here in Illinois EVERYONE had pink ballet shoes and even the teacher was surprised that I didn't have the right shoes. I remember sitting around in a circle and taking turns telling everyone our names and where we went to school. I remember how everyone looked at me funny when I said I was homeschooled. I was different from them, in two ways, the color of my shoes, and my school and they didn't seem to like that.

For the first time in my life I wanted to go to school. I wanted to
be like everyone else. I wanted to be surrounded by friends. I
wanted to be popular. I didn't want to be different. “Is that what
school is supposed to be about Melissa?” my Mother had asked me. “No, it's not” I had said “But please I want to go to school.” I made up a schedule for homeschooling. I decided I was going to learn like everyone else. I would read about history for an hour and then write down everything I had read, then do math for an hour, then eat lunch, then I had a half hour to read anything I wanted, then I would write a story. This quickly got dull and pointless. I was doing math problems not because I wanted to, but because I thought I had to. I was reading history I wasn't interested in, or already knew. I was writing the most pointless things just for the sake of writing. Worst of all, I was putting a time limit on my reading. I looked at my friend's math book, the one she was having problems in. It wasn't that hard, it took me five minutes to solve all 50 problems. I decided I was just as smart as everyone else my age, and if I had gotten this smart without trying before, there wasn't any reason I should change what I was doing. I told my mom I didn't want to go to school after all...

...I watched my friends go to high school and become zombies,
working on papers far into the night, studying until their eyes
burned only to get a C on their next test. I saw one of my best
friends stop reading because it had become a chore associated with school. Referring to a novel I had recommended she once told me “I don't have to read this, so I won't read this.” While all my friends were sweating over Biology finals I was taking trips to the zoo and spending hours drawing the vast array of life there. While they were cramming for a history exam, I was taking trips to the Field Museum of natural history. While they were struggling to finish a book report, I was talking to my parents about the latest book I had read...

Melissa Gocek

From the draft essay "I'm Just Like Everyone Else"


What Parents Learn

We've learned to trust our children and ourselves. Trust is not easy to come by, and it's made even harder by schooling which teaches us not to trust ourselves, or our own instincts and feelings, but to rely on expertise and authority instead. Schooling utilizes a top down chain of command, a heirarchical student-teacher relationship, but homeschooling doesn't need to replicate this hurtful pattern.
Homeschooling encourages the development of a loving relationship based on caring and trust between parent and child, and this is the best possible environment for real learning to take place. Real learning, like how to talk to other people about minor and major things, how to determine what needs doing and the best way in which to get it done, how to find one's rightful place in a confusing and complex world, how to truly live a life filled with goodness and worth-iness and love.

While this learning is happening to our children, similar learning is
happening to us as parents. We begin to question long-held assump-tions about children and learning and our own place in the puzzle. We begin to see that what we were told about certain things like educa-tion and earning a living and what's worth doing with our lives is not necessarily true, and we find ourselves searching for answers to questions we thought we already knew the answers to.

As parents for over twenty years now, we've learned that we don't have all the answers. Sometimes our children have better answers than we do, especially as they've grown older. We've taught them to think carefully, and to consider several angles and approaches to a situation when necessary, but we're not as good at it as they are now. We've learned that being open to new ideas, new ways of looking at things, is a valuable approach to life, but old habits and old ways of doing things can be difficult to let go. Our children are helping us learn to let go and embrace new ways of seeing, hearing, and feeling.

We've often quoted an old saying, whose author we've long forgot-ten, that goes something like this: "We can teach our children to have courage, faith and endurance; they can teach us to laugh, to sing, and to love." In the final analysis, these lessons are probably the most important ones.

Helen and Mark Hegener
from The Homeschooling Book of Answers by Linda Dobson
Prima 1998


Web Snacks

How to make Lava Lamps!
Demonstration lava without heat

Helpful guide to thinking about writing, for teens on up
The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing


What if Everybody Unschooled?

It all boils down to a truth quickly learned by most families who decide to try "just partly unschooling." They may manage for a while to keep the unschooling approach limited to only a few subject areas, but un-schooling ideas are insidious; they sneak and slither their way into every part of your life. The learning theory that you meant to apply just to the kids is indeed highly contagious. You begin to realize that you're envying your children the enthusiasm and eagerness with which they explore their world, and you realize that unschooling ideas are just as applicable to your own life. And then, of course, you're hooked
for good. Once you've unschooled your children and yourselves, you begin to wonder how to apply unschooling ideas to other areas of your lives, to your work and your community.

We look to our communities and wonder why the ideas that seem so obvious to us are so strange to the rest of the population. Why does our society increasingly try to keep our children separate from the rest of society, from what will become the locus of their everyday lives once they reach adulthood? In our zeal to rescue children from exploitation, from child labor and unsafe living conditions, why have we moved so far to the other extreme --- to keeping the workings of adult life completely out of the view of most children, even of older adolescents?

That so many children become lost when they reach the legal age of maturity shouldn't be surprising. With all their years in school, with classes and assignments scheduled throughout for them, when and where do most children get a chance to feel useful, to create a meaningful place for themselves? They're considered too young, too immature, too unreliable, too untrustworthy to be allowed to do much of any real value; it's no wonder so many turn to their peers for affirmation and respect. We "protect" them from doing anything much in the way of real, meaningful work, deny them the opportunity to find places where they are truly needed, and then turn around and blame them for never doing anything worthwhile. If school is to pre-pare our kids for that archetypal real world, why are other schools the only places in that real world that are even remotely like school? Why don't we make more room for our children in every aspect of our society, welcome them into our everyday lives and work?

In many ways, unschooling can be reduced to that hoary old chestnut from the sixties --- the one you still see occasionally on bumper stickers today: "Question Authority!" Ask why we always do things the way we've always done them, but ask with an open mind. Figure out what works and what doesn't, and use what works.

Most of us who occasionally ponder that second-most-asked question --- what if everybody unschooled? --- don't have any real answers. What would such a society be like? What if we did not classify and categorize children according to their age and the facility with which they acquire skills? What if we worked from their strengths instead of concentrating on their weaknesses? What if every person dis-covered and pursued at least one passion, one positive interest that consumed them to the point where they became expert at it (or at least found joy in the search)? What would being a part of such a community be like?

It's certainly an intriguing idea. I intend to find out.

Mary Griffith
from The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your
Child's Classroom
Prima 1998


Take your child's wacky ideas seriously. When your child tells you that he believes he has psychic powers or that the moon is made of green cheese, don't tell him he's wrong or is being ridiculous; don't laugh at him or criticize him. Instead, ask him questions and discuss the idea with him. Give him the chance to take the idea in another direction or to discover himself that it's wrong... Ideas are delicate things, and they need room to grow. As easy as it is shut down the creative impulse in adults, it's even easier in children.

Roger Schank
from Coloring Outside the Lines: Raising a Smarter Kid by Breaking All the Rules
Harper-Collins 2000


Keeping a Log

One thing that has been beneficial to me as a homeschooling mom who is transitioning to unschooling (since we didn't start out that way) is to keep a little log of what my kids do during the day. I have a special calendar just for this purpose and I just jot down
"Casablanca" or X-Box Halo or Discovery Channel Temple of
Artemis. I was one of those who was worried that "all my kids
would do all day is watch TV and play X-box left to themselves."
What's been so wonderful about my little, informal log is that it is
physical proof *to myself* that my kids are doing far more than
TV and X box. It also is a way for me to track the inter-connectedness of their learning which is uncluding TV and X-box.

For example, my kids love to watch Jackie Chan cartoon on
Saturday mornings. Last week we were reading In the Year of
the Boar and Jackie Robinson aloud. Both of these have tie ins
to China which led us to reading more about China. We went on
a binge of figuring out our Chinese birth year names. (Mine is the
Year of the White Cow...) Then we went from that to the
constellations and various ways that other cultures count years
and keep calendars (solar, lunar or solar/lunar).

Then the kids got interested in the Silk Road which ends or
begins in China (they liked the book we found at the library
because it's introduced by Yo Yo Ma, someone they respect and
love from having heard of him originally on Arthur, the PBS
cartoon... do you see where this is going yet?). Anyway, we were
reading along about China and the Silk Route and the kids
wanted to read about cultural celebrations in China.

So we took out another book on celebrations and in it, it circled
back to the Chinese zodiac. It wasn't until this book that I realized that the Chinese zodiac is actually a 12 year cycle, not 12 months. My 8 yo boy suddenly blurts out: I know the characters of the Chinese zodiac and all their powers! I was shocked. "How do you know that Liam?" They're on Jackie Chan! Then he proceeded to look at the pictures and tell me all the names and each of their personalities. Full circle.

This interweaving of pop culture, TV, and cartoons with history,
religion, holidays, geography... well it literally floored me. And I'm
pretty sure that if I hadn't been keeping that log, I would have
forgotten some of the connections. For me, the log gives me a
sense of ownership and also reassurance during the transition.
I also think it will be easier for me at the end of the year to pull
together the stuff we've done into come kind of coherent picture
for the year end assessment (Ohio requires this or testing).

Anyway, just wanted to share another part of my process,
especially since so manyare trying to make the transition from
one way of learning to this newer, more insecure world of

From the Unschooling-dotcom email discussion list.
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The Jan/Feb 2003 issue of Home Education Magazine has articles on surviving tough times, non-school recess, homeschool empowerment, math renovation and more. From the columnists: the Kaseman's keep your privacy; Becky Rupp tells folktales; David Albert learns to love math; Sandra Dodd respects children; Elizabeth McCullough reviews "Fundamentals of Homeschooling"; and Carol Narigon gets dad off your back. Other columnists include Ann Zeise, Peter Kowalke, Linda Dobson, and Laura Weldon. HEM also offers a special essay by publisher Helen Hegener, classified ads, letters and discussion, pen pals and networking, and more.



The Last Word

Play with your child's ideas. It's astonishing to me that parents who are perfectly willing to play catch with their child are unwilling to toss ideas back and forth.

Roger Schank


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See you in March!

Deborah A Cunefare, Newsletter Editor

[email protected]

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#2 of 3 Old 02-21-2003, 08:39 PM
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thanks carla!


~diana google me: hahamommy. Unschooling Supermama to Hayden :Super Cool Girlfriend to Scotty . Former wife to Mitch & former mama to Hannahbear
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#3 of 3 Old 02-21-2003, 09:08 PM
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Feel free to forward this newsletter to . . . .and your mother-in-law!


That is pretty funny

The truest answer to violence is love. The truest answer to death is life. The only prevention for violence is for the heart to have no violence within it.  We cannot prevent evil through any system devised by mankind. But we can grapple with evil and defeat it, but only with love—real love.

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