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, SeƱor Papos (alongside her partner Jeremy Prouty as La Rosa Peligrosa, Jota). http://cwkennedy.weebly.com 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?
      29
        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! kennedy.candra@gmail.com
                                    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!  kennedy.candra@gmail.com

                                      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.

                                      Thursday, March 27, 2014

                                      When Unschooling Isn't Perfect: a Call for More Compassion and Less Striving for Philosophical Purity

                                      When I was somewhere in my teens, my mother said to me that my father was worried about what I was learning, and she wondered if I'd mind reading a history book to make him feel better. I agreed, and she handed me an overview of Canadian history that she thought I'd find interesting. I did, though I stopped somewhere near the end when it ceased to be as interesting.

                                      This is one of the very few times past early childhood (when we were still closer to the homeschooling end of things) I can remember my parents exerting any type of pressure on me to learn a specific thing. Yet it occurred to me that that history book thing would horrify some. "That isn't unschooling," I can hear people thinking. "Was she even unschooled at all??"

                                      I say this because I've seen this attitude directed at plenty of other people. "You did what?? Your unschooling card should be revoked!" My mother was once even told that, since she used the term child-led learning when my sister and I were young, that we weren't real unschoolers, and furthermore, that since my sister and I were both well into our teens by then, that it was "too late" to start unschooling.

                                      Any worry I had about whether people think I'm a good unschooler or not faded years ago, and beyond that, with the reputation as an unschooling writer I've built, I doubt anyone would level those types of accusations at me now anyway.

                                      But it's troubling to me that those types of attitudes exist, because it seems to be an attitude more concerned with some type of philosophical purity (and the prestige of being able to claim such purity) than with the actual success and happiness of families and children.

                                      It's not that I'm against clarifying what unschooling is, and that it doesn't involve forced curriculum or forced teaching. Just that within the amorphous philosophy that's most frequently called unschooling (but that also goes by life learning, natural learning, autonomous education, and a whole range of other terms), if people are making a continuous effort in their lives to live in a way that allows their children a whole lot more freedom, and doing their best to act as supportive mentors in their children's learning journey, there's no need to pounce on any perceived mistake or "wrong" decision they make and declare them bad unschoolers. People are mostly just trying to cope with the situations they find themselves in, striving to do better each time. And whether a decision was made deliberately that some purists would disapprove of, or someone just reacted badly and decides themselves it was a poor decision after the fact, it's not your life, those aren't your choices, and if you really want to help you'd do it with kindness. If someone seems unhappy with a choice they've made, maybe ask if they'd like to hear some alternative ways of doing things. But if someone is happy with their choices, whether you agree with them or not, telling them they're being bad unschoolers isn't exactly likely to make things better for them or their children. Sometimes, even if a decision doesn't seem in line with the unschooling philosophy to you, for that person, in that family, in that situation, it's the right decision.

                                      Two happy and imperfect grown up unschoolers.

                                      Another important point, to me, is that unschooling just isn't that fragile. An entire lifestyle doesn't collapse because a parent says they'd prefer their children wait until they turn 18 to get any tattoos, or because they get some SAT prep books and say "hey, have you thought about taking the SATs next year?," or enforce a bedtime, or because they ask if you'll read a history book to appease a worried father. If pressure to learn specific things is a regular thing, or there are a whole lot of I-don't-want-you-to-be-doing-that's, then maybe things aren't working out so well. But if it's an occasional thing? Well, people aren't perfect. Unschooling isn't going to be perfect. And striving for perfection is likely to lead to either frustration or, perhaps, a false sense of superiority, when the reality is that no one is going to get it right all the time.

                                      So I guess what I'm hoping for is just a little more understanding and compassion. Talk about your own successes, but also your failures, and when things don't go right. It always helps others to know they're not alone. Write about how unschooling is different than homeschooling, but don't walk up to someone and say "you know what you're doing isn't unschooling." Examine your intentions and make sure they're coming from a good place, a place that's attempting to make things better in a general way, or help someone out, not just make yourself seem more right.

                                      This isn't in any way an attempt to say I'm the one who gets to decide what is and isn't kind, or that I'm always as kind as I could be myself. I've made countless mistakes over the years in my advocating of unschooling, things I've changed my stance on or just wished in retrospect that I'd handled differently, more compassionately. Yet in the years I've been writing, I've noticed a troubling amount of people, who are really trying their best, being made to feel that they're just never going to be good enough. It's one thing to help each other do better and be better, but it's an entirely different thing to hold up an image of unschooling as a pure practice that must be enacted without any mistakes or deviations from the correct philosophical ideals. No one is perfect, and I think it would be really great to remember the importance of empathy and understanding when it comes to our unschooling advocacy!

                                      Monday, March 24, 2014

                                      When You're An Unschooler, Ignorance is the Greatest Sin

                                      The other day as I was driving somewhere with my sister, I turned to her thoughtfully and asked "do you feel like you've learned to hide when you don't know something so people don't blame it on unschooling? Because I feel like I do that automatically." She agreed that she did that as well. "It's not a good thing, though" she said. "It's not," I agreed, "but it is a thing."

                                      Growing up as an unschooler, it often feels like people are watching you like a hawk, just waiting for you to stumble, so they can shout "aha, I knew unschooling wasn't a good idea!" You never want to provide fuel for other people's judgement, so it becomes easier to just pretend you know what's going on around you, or that you understand that unfamiliar word someone just used. Most people, regardless of their education, tend to do this to some extent, but I think unschoolers and homeschoolers can fall into the trap of doing this to a much larger extent, just because we know that our ignorance will likely be taken as a reflection of an entire philosophy and community.

                                      It strikes me as rather ironic that those most concerned with how much unschoolers do or don't know, those who frequently decide it's appropriate to quiz people as soon as they discover their educational background, are actually making it harder for unschoolers to learn. If you learn that expressing curiosity around strangers comes with the risk they'll react badly to it based on your education, you're going to quickly stop asking as many questions, and thus miss out on learning a lot of interesting things!

                                      My ignorance is great when it comes to drawing.
                                      I am, however, quite good at cooking!

                                      I'm trying to unlearn that habit now, as an adult, since as my sister noted, it really isn't a good thing. But right now I still only really feel comfortable showing ignorance around trusted people: either unschoolers and unschooling types, or trusted friends from different communities who I know won't judge me for it, or think that unschooling has led to my, you know, not knowing everything.

                                      Lest it sound like I think unschoolers are less curious because of this, I don't think that's the case at all. I just think the widespread judgement we face can, sometimes, lead to people being more cautious of which environments they express that curiosity in.

                                      Which, no matter how you look at it, is just a real shame.

                                      Friday, March 21, 2014

                                      Quizzing is For School, Not Life

                                      Ah, quizzing. People in any type of formal education are probably familiar with the official kind, the test kind, but for the crowds of homeschoolers and unschoolers especially, we learn early on to dread the questions coming as soon someone finds out you don't go to school. "What's 8 times 8?" "What's the capital of China?"

                                      There's an easy way to separate quizzing from plain old asking of questions, and it's this:


                                      Questions asked in curiosity, asked because you want to know the answer for yourself, is the way a question is generally best asked. When you instead quiz someone, ask them a question you know the answer to just to see if they know it, too, it becomes something entirely different. It becomes an attempt to assert yourself as smarter, more accomplished, superior. An attempt to bump yourself up higher on the perceived knowledge hierarchy. Anyone who, as a child, has had another child ask "do YOU know what that means?" or had an adult bend down and with the greatest of condescension ask them a question that adult most certainly already know the answer to, knows just what that looks and feels like.

                                      You'd think that it would end as an adult, though, wouldn't you? That adults would at the very least treat other adults with enough courtesy to not quiz each other unless invited to. Yet that obviously isn't the case, as I've learned. It happens sometimes still because of unschooling, such as when, a year or two ago, someone tried to ask me a math question upon finding out I hadn't gone to school. And at an unschooling conference a couple of years ago, my sister (then 18) got in a conversation with a family staying in the same hotel who weren't part of our group, where as soon as they discovered what type of conference was going on one promptly asked her a question about physics. She doesn't tend to let herself be pushed around, so responded simply "I don't think that's usually how you introduce yourself to someone you've just met." The quizzer was embarrassed, and his family apologized, commenting that "he's a teacher!" which I suppose was supposed to convey that he just couldn't help himself. Yet more frequently than that rude quizzing from complete strangers, I think it often happens among people who do know each other, by individuals who just don't think about how condescending their queries are likely to sound.

                                      Last spring, I was happily telling a friend who's very into wild edibles and wild skills about how I'd been harvesting and eating fiddleheads, and the first thing he said was "how did you know they were the right species?" taken aback, I explained that they had the correct groove in them. "Other non-edible ferns have that too." still feeling rather off balanced, I added that they also had the correct papery bits, at which point he nodded, satisfied.

                                      I was left feeling angry and hurt though. The lack of respect for my judgement shown with that question, to think I'd eat a wild food without feeling confident in my identification, was insulting, and that someone I considered a friend thought nothing of quizzing me was rather hurtful. I recognize it was likely coming from a place of concern, and when friends do this I'm sure there's no bad intention behind it. Yet it still ends up coming out badly!

                                      There are appropriate times to quiz people, of course. Times when you've entered into a relationship where you expect that from someone: you've accepted someone as a teacher or mentor for a specific subject, you're attending a workshop or class, or you've asked a friend to quiz you on a particular set of knowledge you're trying to get to stick. That's the type of quizzing that's actually helpful and beneficial.

                                      But if someone hasn't asked for it, that's it. Just don't, no matter the age of the person you're tempted to quiz. Instead, save questions for when you don't know something, and want to know more. Ask questions out of curiosity and fascination and excitement and a desire to learn more. That's what questions are meant to be all about.

                                      Tuesday, March 18, 2014

                                      Uncollege, Hackschooling, and When Success and Profit Hijack the Message

                                      I've been grumbling and grumping periodically (on the blog Facebook page, Twitter, and other online haunts) about the problems I have with the uncollege/education hacking movements for over a year now. People have reacted differently, some saying I'm being overly critical, some agreeing, and some just saying then WRITE something already explaining your stance instead of just complaining! Those latter people are probably right, in that perhaps it would have been a good idea to write about that ages ago, but at the same time, I don't think the timing was right. I haven't been in quite the right head-space.

                                      I finally got the push I needed when I read a post a few days ago by Jessica over at College Rebellion. Several things came together: that post, the post she links (When "Life Hacking" is Really White Privilege, which I read a month or two ago and which has really stuck with me), and a quote I remembered posting many months ago. Suddenly it wasn't just that I felt vaguely uncomfortable almost every time I read something about uncollege or education hacking, now I had an actual post in my head. A place to start.

                                      "Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, [is] jumping on the 'self-directed learning' bandwagon these days.

                                      And they are bringing to it all the same old bullshit - children who are 'more'. More curious, more motivated, more more more.

                                      So let me put my position out there. For me this lifestyle is about a principle and that alone - offering as free a life as possible to my children and myself. It's not about making a little super genius, super diverse interest, super engaged human. These children are not circus performers. So stop showcasing who did what at the youngest age, who gives the best TED teen presentations and not think that to me it will look no different except now the child is at home.

                                      Unschooling, self-directed lives, natural learning, call it what you want. If it's 'about' results then it's not my cup of tea. Into flow or no expectations? Then I can engage even if the flow includes results." -Gillian Goddard
                                      I think expecting that once grown someone has the skills to support themselves  is reasonable (if there are jobs to be had, and if disability, mental illness, or other serious things don't impede someone's ability to do that... So even that expectation isn't cut and dried). Nevertheless this perfectly highlights, to me, one of the biggest problems I feel there is with the uncollege type movement.

                                      People have taken a philosophy about learning more freely, a philosophy that should be exciting and comforting at the same time (following what interests you, combined with the comfort of choosing how much or little you feel able to do, free from the stress of a heavy college course load), and turned it into just the newest way to claw your way up the corporate ladder, become a wealthy entrepreneur, or otherwise become "successful" by the most capitalistic measures out there.

                                      Who are they speaking to?

                                      I say "movements," plural, in this post because it isn't necessarily one movement, but a collection of trends moving in generally the same direction, that share a lot of commonalities in attitudes and views.

                                      Generally, there's lots of talks about how college is a waste of time and money; college is conventional and makes someone boring, and to truly stand out from the crowd you should do impressive things instead (like travel the world or start a business); corporations prefer people who are involved with business from a young age instead of going to college; you'll learn more than your peers in college; the way of the future is technology, and schools are outdated and lacking in technology...

                                      A couple of those I agree with (like the fact that college is really ridiculously expensive in some parts of the world, and most definitely in the US, for instance, though it's not as bad where I live), but many other seem like pretty bad points, to be honest, and points that only seem especially relevant to a select group of people.

                                      While not going to college is cheaper than going, for many people doing anything but directly entering the job market is a struggle. Many people don't come from families where parents can support either college or expensive travel adventures, for instance.

                                      Underpinning at least my understanding of unschooling has always been life learning as a, perhaps, liberatory approach to education. An unschooling influenced by Wendy Priesnitz' talk of life learning as an important part of saving our planet and re-imagining ways of living together, and unschooling as an important part of decolonization. The uncollege-and-hacking-your-education movements don't even seem to realize social inequalities exist, or if they do they don't seem to care. Ignoring the existence of institutionalized inequalities doesn't erase them, it just means that those considered the default, those already most privileged in our society, continue to be those best served by an oblivious or uncaring movement: white, male, straight, middle and upper class. No, not everyone involved falls into those categories. But everything I've seen seems to show that many people involved fall into at least a couple of those, and that there's very little to no representation from those most marginalized.

                                      In prioritizing corporate and business ideas of success above any type of societal shift for a more just, more egalitarian, more sustainable world, I think it's clear that this movement isn't and has never been for everyone. It's just a new way for those already in the lead (of a race that was rigged to start with) to pull even further ahead.

                                      Money talks


                                      With the surge in popularity for unschooling, uncollege, hacking your education, edupunking, the whole learning-more-independently-outside-of-educational-institutions thing, there's been a corresponding surge in people trying to make money off of this trend. A "trend-spotting firm" (something that, until very recently, I did not know existed) even predicted recently that unschooling counselor will be one of "8 new jobs people have in 2025." I think it's fair to say that job already exists, with numerous people offering unschooling and uncollege coaching over phone, Skype, and through online programs. New events and alternative programs claiming to support this type of education are popping up all over the place.

                                      I don't think this is necessarily bad in and of itself. In fact, in plenty of cases this is a good thing! But it does point to a worrying trend of both turning unschooling into yet another specialty held by experts, and something you need to pay for to receive, instead of something everyone can do without any type of expert intervention (finances to have the time to pursue education permitting).

                                      It also leads to some people misrepresenting their credentials, their success, and their experience in order to take advantage of a new market. I often feel like those claiming to want to help the unschooling or uncollege community--for a fee, of course--are far less concerned with helping and far ore concerned with that fee. Who's genuine and reasonable when it comes to the numerous books, programs, and coaching available is, of course, something each individual can only decide for themselves. If you trust someone, can afford their services, and gain positive things from it, that's great! And if you love something you're knowledgeable about and want to help support yourself through the sharing of that knowledge, I also don't think there's anything wrong with that. I'd just like to see maybe a bit more accountability to the community, and more openness about an individual's experience and troubles. If someone's life seems too good to be true, it might be because it isn't true.

                                      Either way, I find it alarming that unschooling is being turned into a commodity, information and expertise to be bought and sold, instead of a free-form philosophy about living and learning.

                                      I've never felt like there's much room for me

                                      I'm not attending college or university, and I never have attended any type of educational institution. So initially, I got excited about all this new stuff. I joined groups on Facebook, followed blogs, read articles. And quickly started feeling disillusioned. Nowhere was I seeing the concern for humanity as a whole I was more used to seeing in unschooling circles. I was just seeing a lot of Success! And tech! And success in tech! And entrepreneurship! Business is good! I saw posts suggesting pursuing learning in ways that didn't appeal to me at all, grand adventures that I'd never want to go on (and in fact with my struggles with anxiety probably couldn't go on without suffering a breakdown) and couldn't afford. I didn't feel like my anxious queer hippie feminist self had a place in that movement at all, and I still don't.

                                      Not a condemnation

                                      All that said, I think the college-free movements have helped popularize some important ideas. I think popular advocates have said plenty of good and helpful things. I think plenty of people have gotten a lot of good out of being a part of these movements. I don't think they should cease to exist. I just think there are a lot of largely unacknowledged problems, big blind spots, and goals I can never get behind. I want to like seeing unschooling ideas for college aged people getting so much attention and support, but I just feel uneasy and uncomfortable by so much of it that I see and read. And I really just hope to see more awareness in the future of social realities, and goals more closely aligned with the true success of all people, not just the wealthiest, whitest, most male of the lot.

                                      [Edited March 19th] The note about comments that was originally posted here was taken by some as an attempt to dissuade criticism or disagreement with this post, which was not my intent at all. So instead I'd just like to remind people, when discussing this potentially loaded topic, to please remain respectful in the comment section, and to note that I will be moderating it and deleting hostile/disrespectful comments. Thank you for your understanding!
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