kittle, kittle, author, author

Poor Ralph. Truly he does not know when I’m going to get this feverish idea and simply obsess on something until I get my way. In this case “my way” involved about $32 worth of sewing patterns, which I enjoy shopping for and ruminating on more than perhaps the reader can understand. At dinner the children asked I sew them sleepwear and were quite specific: two “nightshirts” that match in style (but not size nor fabric), as well as a set of button-up flannel PJs for Nels (“Like my mermaid pajamas,” he tells me – and reader it is a total shame I never took pictures of those home-dyed and hand-embroidered lovelies!) and a summer-weight nightgown for Phoenix.

As we finished our dinner (homemade pita stuffed with fried tofu, cucumber, and grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese) my brain was working like the tiny little self-perpetuating maniac it is.  When I contemplate my next sewing project (and just so you know, there’s currently one 20% underway in my sewing room, and it’s going to be Awesome) I think over what fabrics I have, what patterns I have; my children’s current tastes vs. what’s already in their closet (in this case, nothing regarding sleepwear; they go to bed in home-sewn boxers and Walmart panties). In my case the planning is one of my favorite parts of sewing: in a kind of energized trance I swim through my ideas, my inspirations, strategies and skillset; it is the first stage in a process where I pluck something from thin air that never before existed and fashion it with my tiny little hands.

By the time my mom stopped by to pick up the children for a sleepover (her request) and we all shared a half bottle of wine (“we all” meaning the grownups) I’d thumbed through my pitiful little batch of highly organized Ottobre patterns and thought about the Etsy shop I stalk for vintage children’s patterns.  I also considered an appropriate “nightshirt” for Nels, meaning one he would love and that I would enjoy sewing – something new to tackle. After the kids left I circled around Ralph like a shark and then came out with it: he must allocate funds for these sewing patterns. My final pattern decisions: one of my Ottobre patterns for the button-up pajamas, the Folkwear kittle for matching nightshirts, and a lovely vintage nightgown for my daughter (who favors fitted bodices and long hems). In all cases I already own the requisite fabrics (although I could be persuaded, always, to buy something else fondle-able and lovely) and – to save on shipping, obviously – I gave ordered just one more excellent set for my girl, a little swimset she will adore (probably to be made up in seersucker, which my mom charmingly calls “cocksucker”, which to her credit, a tiny bit, is a piece of jokery from a respected and acclaimed novel). Thinking of these patterns winging their way to my porch, to arrive just as I finish the current sewing project, gave me little shivers of joy.

I’ve been realizing just lately I feel a tiny, tiny bit sad at the middling-quality fabrics I often sew with. This simply can’t be helped; if I am to sew as much as I do I have to rely on sales from the large “meh”-quality chain, thrift store finds (and fabric “scores” are sparse, here), and gifted fabric (two yardages of flannel sent by my girl JJ will be made into Nels’ button-up jams). In my most recent finished object I did observe that a higher quality fabric would have rendered a well-made piece into a piece of Art; but, well, we’re a single-income family of four (with lots of pets) and I make clothes my kids wear into threadbare dust with their varieties of high-energy outdoor play.

So that’s that, for now.

In other news I am fully published, for realz. Let me tell you, tears of pride and gladness are in my weak beady eyes thinking on this. Wendy Priesnitz, the founder and editor of this publication (as well as companion magazine Natural Life) is a Real Life (S)hero to me – someone I look up to immensely and find myself reading and re-reading her words. She has been a deeply influential mind and author in our family. For some perspective, I get told by several my writings serve as help, or mentorship, or are appreciated for candor or insight. Well, Priesnitz is a persona and author I go to for mentorship, one of the few I’ve found who’s spoken to my heart and mind like cool drafts of clear water. To be included in her publication is extremely gratifying.

The article I wrote, “The Unschooling Conversation That Never Happens”, is available with subscription obviously (and I recommend it; it’s a wonderful periodical and includes awesome authors like 19-yr old unschooled anarchist Idzie) but will also soon be available online either at Underbellie or the LL site or both.

And finally a footnote: HQX residents may be amused at the “lumberjack” collection at Etsy. Yeah, ok, little cutesy/hipster stuff because loggers are funny and quaint and extinct? Grays Harbor, you and I know logging history is here and gone but also still very, very much with us.

inter-netz asshattery roundup

Here  you all thought I was only going to post sweet little stories about my family life and swimming and how awesome things are around here. But guess what? I have this other life, which is called Reading and Digesting and Writing about our culture, devouring feminist and womanist and rad fem and anti-racist and PWD blogs and… well, lots of stuff. I thought I’d post a little roundup of the variety of asshattery I’ve found in the last couple days so you could share in the fun!

(Warning for sexist language, child-hate, mother-hate, classism, and anti-homeschooling / unschooling sentiments)


So first: who can find the sexist language in this (otherwise quite interesting) article at WebEcoist on “bevshots”?

Didn’t find it?  Let me break it down for you with a quote:

“Beverage art is one way the more macho members of society can get in touch with their artistic side, and the unisex appeal of BevShots’ presentation makes it far more likely to be accepted by spouses who may balk at framed Budweiser posters hanging in their living rooms.”

Right. So, in no way should a man feel bad about being “macho” (i.e. objectifying women’s bodies) but he is free to augment his living room with artsy-fartsy. The whole “unisex”/”spouse” gibberish is also subtly coded heteronomrative, i.e. of anyone who might like a beer poster there are two sexes whom are straight and married. And I’ve saved the most glaring ass-tidbit for last: a heterosexual DUDE won’t have an objection to Budweiser girl posters (Duh! Why should he? Booooing!), it’s the spouse that won’t want it (eyeroll delivered to those sensitive wimmin folks, amirite?).


I’d stopped reading The-F although the title subjects – food, fat, and feminism – are passions of mine. No, I stopped reading because there are plenty of awesome FA sites that don’t pick on kids (which always, always translates to picking on mothers). Now the owner/author of this site has no children and wants to keep it that way which is great, because I support those without children (just like I support those with children!) and I specifically feel for people who don’t have children by choice (especially women), given they are constantly second-guessed and despised and sneered at (maybe someday I’ll link to some of those anti-childfree* nastiness examples to illuminate and analyze). But like so comments I read online (both from those with or without children), the anti-child sentiment is so prevalent on this site – and goes entirely unchecked within comments – it was just sapping my energy so I’ve concentrated on other FA locales.  However feeling amiable the other day I visited the site to discover the latest post, “Open Thread: Talking to kids about fat comments”. In it blog author Rachel posts a story about family and a child who made many direct and not-nice-sounding comments about her weight and size. Rachel put together an email to her family (which was a good email) so that was pretty cool.  But then… it started with the sentence, “I don’t have children (thankfully) and I can usually only take kids in small doses before they mentally and physically exhaust me” and went on from there. Most of the comments were pretty cool and offered sensible support: we should openly discuss this topic with our chlidren. But pretty soon the parent- and child-snark started, and it REALLY started when I (had the gall to!) put up my own perspective – that I thought Rachel’s email was fine, that Adult Privilege was showing in the comments, and that parents have an uphill battle in combating larger social norms and the attitudes of children’s peers.

Four comments weighed in calling my points “ridiculous”, the list a Parody, that I didn’t support or understand “manners” for children (strawman! especially considering I’d commended Rachel’s email), and that acknowledging Adult Privilege would result in children getting killed. I am too exhausted to take apart “Jackie’s” comment (I’ll bet you one MILLION dollars this person has no child, since she gave the longest prescriptive laundry-list of “THOU SHALT” to apply to ALL parents). Of course the only thing these people (one person posted twice) paid attention to was the posted Adult Privilege Checklist – none of my other points nor my support of Rachel’s email.  A little bonus bit of awesomeness, one commentor sneered at the APC author who clearly didn’t know how to raise a child, even though, sshhh! this author – and myself! are raising children!

One commentor posted: “Kelly, thanks so much for posting that link, and for giving me a term for the set of attitudes that has made me deeply uncomfortable on otherwise wonderful websites.” (Yay!)

(As a sidenote, it’s funny how unapologetic child-hate – which is often mother-hate – always, always involves the kid-screaming-in-restaurants HORROR. It’s almost comical how routinely this comes up – the trump card and TOTAL PROOF of how much kids and parents suck! And how parents and kids can’t have a bad or emotive day in public, or how we should parent in some Magical Way or according to Their Standards, or how kids should always be seen and not heard! And many literally think kids should not be in evidence at all! Because having them in school most their waking hours and then at home in bed for a third of their lives is NOT ENOUGH! No really many people still believe this!)

I’d love to talk about the Adult Privilege Checklist and soon because I think it is brilliant (Thanks, Anji!) and challenging to many if not most USians. Most who read it – the very fact of its newness in a time when privilege checklists are So hot right now! is telling – are definitely going to be challenged and splutter, “But, but, but!” and bring up points of Safety and how kids can’t raise themselves and then paint really gloriously well-rendered pictures of kids going all Lord of the Flies and Running (Ruining) Everything while their Lotus-Eating parents sit back and smile benevolently.

Of course I am in fact raising kids with the APC firmly in mind and it’s going well, and my kids are just fine and normal and pretty damned awesome (according not only to myself but to many we run across). Such tish-tosh beneath-notice detail escapes those who’d want to shriek about the implications of considering kids as People.

Because that’s the thing. Refusing to even consider how kids experience their own lives (which you note says NOTHING about how a particular parent/carer should handle a particular challenge nor the vast landscapes of other-care) perfectly illustrates just how subhuman people consider the class of “kids” (keep in mind, “KIDS” are from ages 0 months to emancipated 18 years, I guess they magically turn human after that).

Or as Twisty Faster at my beloved I Blame The Patriarchy (oh rad fem… is there anything you can’t do?) says:

“Kids” are a class of people around the discrimination, domination, indoctrination, and abuse of whom entire cultures, industries, pathologies, and oppressive social systems flourish. Youth is temporary for the individual, yes, but a youth class persists; there is a constant supply of replacement children to keep this class well-stocked with hapless victims. Furthermore, the damage inflicted by expertly administered adult oppression techniques hardly vanishes the moment a kid turns 18.


Finally, and I’ll keep this short: Homeschooling and Unschooling are being dissed in a recent Free Range Kids post, including Amy who says: “I fully support your right to ‘unschool’ your kids. After all, someone’s going to have to change my kids’ oil and make their burgers someday.” (Amy wins the Ass-Hat First Prize for brevity whilst displaying ignorance, classism, and good ol’ fashioned nastiness!). Donna conflates homeschooling with being uncool because it isn’t living in the inner city or something? and weighs in on the majority of intelligent, educated parents being terrible teachers for their children (aw how sweet! I must have missed that day she came in and audited us personally!).  Sky compares my personal expressed joy in unschooling to something about collard greens (I can’t tell if she’s supporting or insulting me, there).


Believe it or not it can be personally exhausting at times to take on the subjects of social justice in America (and seriously? Tonight we got to hear a loud, racist rant from a patron while out at dinner, and my husband almost physically engaged this man, which was more bonus). Being able to take a critical eye to random asshattery and bigotry and such is a skill – and it’s a skill earned by a commitment to the self-work and takes no small amount of my time. One thing I learn: the work – social and Self – is never done (as an example, a recent post at Native Appropriations entitled “The Potawatomis didn’t have a word for global business center”? exposed my ignorance regarding Native languages). I do it because I think it is right but also, even when it tires me out, I do like to do it.

To those who read here in good faith, thank you so much for joining me.

Fortunately I know my readers here are awesome, awesome people and going to Blow My Mind in the comments.**

* Both “childfree” and “childless” are terms others dislike or find offense with; I effort to say “people without children” but sometimes I use shorthand.

** I usually just put up my personal journal here; for more of my social issues stuff you can read Underbellie (once-weekly posts, just about) or follow me on Twitter at either kellyhogaboom or underbellie – the latter more skewed to activism and posts from activist sources.

este día en la carretera hace mucho calor

Nels is looking different today from yesterday as about thirty minutes into our biking adventures he biked right into a car (while vying for the attention of children outside in a daycare yard). The daycare employee who witnessed this (I only heard the thunk! behind me) ran inside to get Nels first an icepack then an Otter Pop for good measure. She was a beautiful, beautiful girl with deep tanned cleavage and long shiny black-brown hair and I’ll bet she even smelled nice (I didn’t lean in to check) and with her sympathy and the ice pack and the ice cream, well, Nels didn’t seem to mind being hurt so much. My son spent the next half hour wearing the pack, and as a result his black eye is slightly less gruesome than it otherwise might have been.

Ice Pack

Today started out with our typical feral rituals: the kids went outside and ate (for breakfast) marshmallows, bananas, and special dark chocolate. In the yard, half clothed. By then I’d finished my morning writings (here’s some of that) and housework so I asked them inside where they each took a big drink of milk before we biked our errands, ending up at the Central Playfield park where now no longer do we have shade-trees (cut down by the City) so the sun bakes us all and the adults who wish to talk have to shout over the sound of two highways (the trees helped absorb that too). The bathrooms are also closed down as well (Honey Buckets in the summer sun, kids – and grownups – love that sort of thing) but the pool is open from noon for a few hours and the kids? They love it. My kids were in their underwear as I hadn’t brought the suits. You know, I don’t often use the term “ghetto” but, well.

Suits Not Required

Central Playfield in Hoquiam

I ended up scrunching under a pitiful amount of briefly-supplied tent shade and talked to a father there with four of his seven kids, a handsome, deep brownish/red-skinned man who could balance with me on the proverbial non-native language teeter totter, meaning he had about as much inglés as I have español (the vast majority of native-Spanish-speakers here usually have very good English although I do meet those que no entienden). One example: he told me he and his wife were “broke” so I asked ¿Tienes el trabajo? then he managed to convey he meant, he and his wife were broke from relationship with one another and I said “Oh! Divorced. Separated. I thought you meant no tienes dinero.” Then after we’d shared where we lived and how long we’d lived there I told him, “Mi esposo trabaja en el colegio” in case he got some ideas I was a scheming single mama looking to juggle a family of nine kiddos (instead I’m rather a scheming conversationalist who loves talking to strangers like a Huge Nerd) or in case he had similar ideas (seriously? A mama out with kids in Grays Harbor is not immune from flirtations from random strangers). He had the most beautiful one year old clambering around on him, a boy with shoulder-length locks and deliciously plump limbs who took interest in my bike wheels. “Fue agradable hablar con usted,” I said to this father as we biked out, my kids soaked and newly cooled down and me as hot as ever as we headed to our little grocery store for dinner provisions.

It’s no wonder to me my kids are getting a great education as letting them out and running and biking and playing and eating and drinking means when we get home they absolutely want to read an encyclopedia or give themselves spelling/English work or learn times tables or teach themselves history (or even clean their room, as my daughter is doing at this moment). And another thing, I never hear my kids say they are “bored” – ever, which is something to ponder given we have no television or video game system! (In full disclosure, we do have a computer which they are allowed to use if I am not using it). (Also, now that I have had the hubris to even slightly brag or more accurately, take joy in a facet of our little fringe lifestyle, the children are going to immediately come inside and chant in demon-voice how bored they are).

Tomorrow our day will consist of 100% beach time out in Ocean Shores with my mother and a picnic basket and sunscreen. And that’s going to be pretty goddamned awesome.

As I type the kids run off with the various and sundry neighbors catching the ice cream truck (the frosty treat-bait has caught some full-grown, some still children); my husband on his way home is picking up fresh mozzarella for insalata caprese and tahini for tomorrow’s hummus and also – very important – a pool for our front yard. Because like many PNw’ers we don’t have air conditioning and employ the strategies of lowered blinds and open windows or fresh cooling water.

Phoenix Attempts To Rejoin Her Mistress, The Sea

school’s on for summer

Tonight during dinner (a lovely Vietnamese dish augmented by grilling tri tip steak outdoors) the kids brought up “playing school”, which is, oddly, something we do only a handful of times a year. I don’t know why this is such a rare event exactly as we (the kids and I) are huge nerds who like nothing more than doing “workshops” and workbooks and crafts and dressing in “uniforms” (the kids) and me ordering them to get my coffee then go feed and water the “school cats” and clean the “school bathroom” (in other words, having them do every chore, ever) and they do everything I say and learn things so fast I get a little creeped out.  Maybe we don’t do it that often because I am incredibly lazy in some organizational way; certainly when we do play “school” we always have a great time.

In tonight’s case we got started about 9 PM.  After dinner the kids dove into their room and cleaned up and made a sign for the “school” (naturellement!). People donate schoolbooks and workbooks to me now and then and of course there’s the inter-netz so in no time I’d worked up a few activities on the subjects they’d requested (math, “fireworks”, and art). I arrived at the “school” just as the kids hung their sign for the “Smiling Faces School & Pet Co.”

Phoenix and Nels made a little graphic displaying themselves as the two “i” characters in “smiling”. They were one hundred percent serious and intent about this.

First we diagrammed sentences in an oceanography lesson (time it took for my six year old to grasp “noun”, “adjective”, and “verb”: one minute; Phoenix had already educated herself on this through something she’d read at sometime or another).

Diagraming SentencesThen we did some math. Both my children enjoy math-on-paper but my son is a bit more adventurous in tackling it; Phoenix is such a perfectionist she is less of a risk-taker and thus slower to adopt strategies. I encourage her to use “baby” methods like finger counting or pictures or whatever she needs; somehow this less pressured approach helps her leap and bound into understanding more complex concepts within minutes. Today she worked on times-tables from downloadable fourth grade worksheets and said, “Oh, I’m totally grasping this concept!”

Nels added and subtracted three digit numbers. What’s amazing too is that he is very good at this but he still now and then flips a “5” or a “6” around completely backwards. I love that were he in school he’d be harped on about this (thus each subject gets to be also Penmanship and Manners and Taking Ones Turn and every other goddamned thing). Nels laughed in delight every time he got a problem right (which was every time) and he smelled so good leaning against me I just about had butterflies in my stomach.

Nels Adds

For Nels’ “fireworks” unit we did a math worksheet (this one probably a kindergarten or preschool “level” involving sticker activity) and then a silly little oil/water/food coloring activity where non-emulsified color droplets settle in oil to then meet and “burst” in water. Slowly our pitcher began to bleed the green of the “fireworks” and the kids ran out to the garage (where Ralph was recording music) to beg him come and see:

We took turns reading excerpts of a world history book.  It was a bit dry but they followed along just as well.  The book had a brief and useful selection dilineating “fact” vs. “opinion”. I went over it with the kids; I’d have one of them make a statement so I could guess “fact” or “opinion” and they’d get to correct me. Nels did confusing little numbers like, “Nels wants a pencil,” with this smart-ass smile when he’d say it (shit! Really! I think that’s a “fact”, right?).

So I asked Phoenix to give us a fact/opinion and she immediately said: “Spitting cobras can aim at enemy targets up to six feet away.” Then, she giggled and amended, “Well, these snakes do not actually spit their venom.” (!!!) She thought for one more minute and then offered, “The Egyptian Cobra can stretch the ribs in its neck to give itself a dark and scary ‘hood’.” She even ducked her head a little and did scare quotes around the word “hood”! I just about died laughing. The laughter was not mockery, or perhaps it is self-mockery that my children are so much more intelligent, exacting, and – this probably is the most important – deeply in the moment than I. My laughter is a pure joy and amazement at them, tandem feelings that fill me up when I slow down enough to spend Actual Time with them.

So I guess I’ll do some more of that tomorrow.

a visit to the smack-forest

Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other. – Edmund Burke *


Apparently at a college function a couple days ago my husband was beset by two coworkers with questions regarding our homeschool life. SOOoooOOOO predictable what people ask or what “advice” they give (unsolicited). I’m sure Ralph fielded the (friendly as far as he could tell) inquiry just fine. He’s pretty awesome at that kind of thing.

Funny because no one plagues me much about (to take the top-ten bingo-winner of all time!) “socialization” concerns because anyone who spends time with me is concomitantly exposed to my children – I’m with them near-constantly. Thus the friends, strangers and acquaintances I run across see first-hand how excellently our kids navigate with just about everyone they encounter, including grownups, teenagers, authorities, people with mental or emotional health issues, rowdy friends ([cough!] Flo, I’m looking at you!), crying babies, clueless or rude relatives, etc. etc.

Tangentially, my children’s “social education” has some notable upsides as these little ones hold their own up against a variety of asshattery flavors that most kids have been trained to either accept or work around through dishonesty and/or avoidance. For instance my mother recently related that last fall when Phoenix spent a couple weeks with my (patriarchal ass of a) grandfather, my daughter was “the only child in Grandpa’s family experience who didn’t fawn over him. And it kind of got his nose out of joint.” Without going into any family history I must say I was floating on air to think of how this played out in two weeks of my absence (in contrast to my daughter, I drank liberally of the “Grandpa is Jesus Christ Himself” kool-aid until my late twenties). Anyone who knows Phoenix knows she is a level, circumspect and polite child.** She’s also a child who has a Center, as we say; someone who can’t be bullied by any whozit who runs across her and thinks that because she is a Small Pretty Girl and has only been on our planet a handful of years she deserves less respect or autonomy.

New lessons: today deep in Sam Benn Park the kids found a large cedar stump that had been hollowed out by a creature or perhaps (less likely, given its remote location) other children. The stump was surprisingly deep, enough that my children could fit inside and their heads not stick out the top. Inside it smelled lovely, cedar and loam. Nels dropped a cheap golden “pearl” necklace (he’d just recovered from the tennis courts) into its depths and Phoenix used a variety of forest tools to attempt to retrieve it. Sadly it was lost; I hope a woodland creature finds it, maybe as a gift for his Lady Squirrel.

Tree Stump Of Mystery

Minutes after our stump tomfoolery I spied a discarded hypodermic needle, very classily capped off so there was no protruding sharp. I showed it to the children and asked them if they knew what it was; Nels called it a “shot”. I gave them the proper term and told them someone was probably doing drugs in the area and left it. “If you find one, don’t pick it up unless you’re sure you can do so without sticking yourself. If you get stuck you might get very sick and will likely actually need a shot. If you do pick it up you must throw it away. Some bathrooms like the library have a big red ‘biohazard’ container these are meant to go into.” The kids nodded in recognition. Phoenix found another needle a few hundred feet away and this time she knew what to do.

See, you learn something new every day in Aberdeen.

* Thanks to Mamapoekie for the quote today!

** So, um… on the Nels front. He has – of his own volition – stopped using swear words and now subtitutes his own “beep!” sound in their place. & Yes, I am so proud.

Unschooling: How do I provide my kids the rich environment they need?

Posted on an online forum June 5th, 2010:
So I have a 3yr old boy and a 1yr old boy. I am in the midst of researching all the various educational avenues for my 3 year old. I know a few homeschoolers nearby and have been inspired by their experiences to the point where I feel like sending my 3 year old to a regular school would be just SUCH a disservice to him. And now in discovering the concept of unschooling, I am even further intrigued. It makes a lot of sense and fits my philosophy well… BUT… I am torn.

I feel like I can’t give my older boy the attention I would need to give him when I am with the baby… and I’m even thinking of having another baby next year if I can. I feel like there are a million things I’d love to do with my son in theory, but then I have so little energy and attention to give him during the day around it. (Especially when baby isn’t sleeping through the night…and I feel like a zombie….) I am not a single mom, but I live sort of like one, as my husband travels and is gone about 90% of the time.

I am seriously wondering how I could have another baby and still give my oldest son a “rich” experience here at home. In exploring all my options, I found a local montessori school that seemed WAY more interesting than what I can provide for him right now. Or at least, what I *think* I can provide for him. Also, he is a pretty sociable little guy, and we don’t have any neighbors with kids… so that too is a concern – how do I make sure he meets friends? Maybe I could have him go to Montessori til the babies are no longer babies?

So…my questions for you guys are… how do you give your older kids the sort of “educational attention” they need when you’re dealing with a baby or babies?

I read on here that one woman unschooled all her children, and I think she said she had 7 kids…. That sounds verrry interesting. But it has me wondering how she did it with babies and all… How do you have the energy for creative projects with a 5 year old if you’re sleep deprived from dealing with a newborn?

Trying to wrap my brain around all this… so any advice is greatly appreciated!

Many unschoolers hold the theory you don’t need to “provide” arts and crafts and science and writing lessons and all that to a passive student (as school does). Most children, given a supportive environment, take on their own interests (which include these subjects and more). They come to you with what they want or need (or you intuit it) and so unschool “planning” is not much of an issue. My children in this last week have been reading National Geographic and a set of encyclopedias, learning to skateboard, teaching themselves chess, and working on math problems of their own volition. My youngest is becoming an experienced street biker (my older already is one), and tonight my oldest helped me patch a dress of hers with bright fabrics. They love going to the library and while we’re there they pick out their own books and read, read, read at the library. I have to tear them away and they bring home books and DVDs which in turn spark more art projects and fields of “study”. In fact my kids are so independent I am often thrilled when they do come to me for something. This independence began in earnest when we began unschooling.

There’s a concept that if you don’t give your kids the “rich” environment all kids will sit on the couch and eat Chee-tohs and play video games. That just hasn’t been my experience.

Some aspects of our family life have made my kids’ autodidactic interests easier. For instance we don’t have a television set (I know many U/Sers are not at all opposed to TV but it’s not a good fit for our family; I grew up without one and loved it). We also bike a lot and being out and about on our bikes, running errands and visiting people always delivers a wonderful series of lessons and rich experiences. At home I’m mostly working on my own things (writing and sewing) as well as doing the cooking and cleaning and my children are hardly what I’d call underfoot.

As for a social life, this varies according to your values, your locale, and your willingness to organize or drive/walk/bike/bus to events. In our case our kids see tons of other children because they’re in sports programs and also the neighborhood kids are over at our house every day of the week; also many of my friends’ children come here for sleepovers because we’re so kid-friendly and my children are well-liked. I don’t know what we’d be doing if we were more isolated in our neighborhood, but given all four of us are so social I have a feeling we’d be finding those avenues.

I do not mean to sound completely clueless about how difficult life is with young children who are still in diapers and/or nursing and still need so much of us physically – I’ve been there and I too thought I’d “need” school to give myself some respite and give my children what they need (like a social life, etc). Your children are still very young and mostly just need lots of love, good food if you have it, TLC, and patience. Soon enough they will be out the door and running to the park or the corner grocery store or visiting friends on their own. I know with young children it can feel overwhelming but you will sleep again someday! (And by the way, the unschooling life is wonderful when it comes to sleep!) Find the things you love to do and try to be present with your children; that sets the best foundation for unschooling I can think of.

From the vault: Why haven’t we heard of “life learning” before?

A reader writes me an email, May 2010:
I subscribed to PhD in Parenting a few days ago so read your great comment.[1. This one: “Lots of theories on what WILL happen…”] The more I read, the more convinced I get that homeschooling is not this terrible thing – and when I say that I mean all homeschooling, not just homeschooling done by “forward-thinking” people like you who “do it right”.

What I do wonder though, specifically WRT unschooling, is either what has changed or is the way the collective We think of the history of education off? We tend to think of public education bringing literacy and more knowledge to everyone, giving them a little more power. Is that off? Or is that true, and something like unschooling works because the cycle of illiteracy has been broken, so the coupling of adequate access to information (books, internet, etc.) with parents’ ability to pass literacy on to children is enough to teach kids any of the fact-based things they need to learn?

From my place in this (and yours is clearly different), it seems like most people can accept that it is possible to “adequately” homeschool children to a certain age – 4th grade for some, or 6th, or whatever – because adults still have that information in their heads, so they can pass it on. But then there is also this belief that once you have exhausted your knowledge as a parent (which I’m much more inclined to believe happens long before a child is “supposed” to be in school), you have to send them to the professionals, because you won’t be able to keep up. With this model, it makes perfect sense that somewhere along the line, all of that knowledge had to be injected so it could be passed down. It seems to rely on a parent or a grandparent having had a more formal education and passing it along down the generations.

Unschooling does not rely on these assumptions, so I’m wondering why didn’t life learning work before public education but it does now? Or did it work, and if so, why is our societal story about education so off?

(Ed note – Keep in mind my response is an email from one white college-educated middle class female to another and relies on some of our shared experiences.)

Thanks so much for your email. The PhD in Parenting post makes me feel a little bit of the Crazy. It aims in tone to sound “fair and balanced” but in reality it’s just full of half-arsed theories re: home education by someone who hasn’t bothered to delve deep. I’m glad several people commented and called many of these out. I don’t think the author is going to change their tone or worldview, which is one of, “Oh, just a few concerns I want to point out” – even tho’ she herself admitted she hasn’t looked into home education at all. Hey, if you don’t know anything about something, you wanna keep talking prescriptively?

In addition the author seems terrified of uber-religious types (a fear I see often). In my view the way we treat or think about religious sects or groups is not to just wish they WOULDN’T EXIST and then slap an earnest (and false) belief on the whole business: that somehow throwing their kids in the melting pot of Society will ameliorate the concerns of religious fanaticism and exclusionary lifestyle (yeah… it doesn’t).

If nothing else I’m glad in any way that my comment spurs on good conversation for people who are willing to look past mainstream thought and bias. Whether or not these readers homeschool, the deconstruction of school’s “rightness” is good for all parents and children who – and this is important – are in the position to take up more of the reins re: their child’s education.

OK, so you had a few questions.

I am not an expert on history of education in this country (although I’m studying up)[2. In fact when I think about it I know in a short time my very writings on the subject will seem trifling and underdeveloped, but I am working to learn.] but of course life learning “worked” before the public school (PS) model. The education system as we know it in America is actually quite new – mass schooling came to the fore at the turn of the century. It’s also not as nice and egalitarian and awesome as the “story” we’ve been told. I am planning on reading John Taylor Gatto’s books on the subject because I, like you, enjoyed school and think of school as a “good” thing and for most of my life did not question the latter mindset. In fact not that many years ago school was this kind of holy thing to me and even if I could allow bits and pieces of it weren’t “perfect” I still believed in it’s general goals (now I’m far less enthusiastic, but committed to improvement and justice for all kids, including the 98% in school).

Also, life learning is happening and has ALWAYS happened! What is happening now with you and your new job and passion as cheesemaker and your work learning to cook new cuisines, with me and my sewing and writing, with Nels writing music and building and literally gardening better than most adults I know, with Phoenix’s dragon-drawing and building expertise and writing and swim team? In fact most people recognize life learning as being the best kind of learning (the most fun, the most retained, the most efficient) but we somehow think we all need to go through years and years of this “other” kind of education first to earn the right to pursue what we want to do. To bad that “other” kind of education often alienates us from what we want and how to pursue it; it often eunuchs us and keeps us second-guessing what we want and what our abilities are (we trust others to tell us this).

And that leads me to the concept of “experts”. Because your questions about how one needs to go to “real” school to learn from the “experts” is awesome! I am currently writing an article for Life Learning Magazine that touches on the “expertise” in school; and yesterday I read one of Wendy Priesntiz’ wonderful articles on the subject:

“Knowledge and the Cult of Experts”

This little essay on Unschooling is probably a bit 101 for you, but toward the end it deconstructs some of the “expert” and “teacher” stuff with some nice, brief analogies:

“Unschooling or Homeschooling?” by Billy Greer

Of course as a result of school I know calculus and chemistry and… but wait, do I? If I had to perform some of these problems in a test I think I would do poorly. If I studied up a bit first I would regain my rusty skills. So that begs a few questions. Um, why did I have to learn this stuff? Oh, for college which led to my job (or as we liked to call it, my “career”). Well, the job was worth it back when I had it. Second question: did I have to go through all the rigamarole of the many formal classes I was required to take to get the requisite chemistry and calculus needed for engineering work? Oh hell no. Had I wanted the job I wanted I could have selected and with focus built my own education, got there my own way (half the foremen in my workplace – the job I attained before quitting – worked up through blue collar routes). This “build my own career” route is hard to even imagine now as when I was in high school and college I was still very much a product of the passive learning model in school. I not only willingly jumped through hoops, I was glad they were there because the concepts of thinking for myself, of “proving myself” and striking out on my own, truly, was quite terrifying to me.

American college students change their major an average of 5 times; much higher for kids straight out of HS than returning “adults”. I can’t help but think part of the reason this is due to the near total passivity that school encourages while simultaneously imposing socio-economic hierarchies in a zero-sum game. You’re supposed to be smart and an independent thinker but not TOO smart or TOO independent. You’re supposed to take responsibility for yourself but of course, if you were allowed that responsiblity (and you had the support of parents and adults) one might be inclined to leave and pursue a better education, which is rather frowned upon. There’s “not enough for everybody” so you’d better play your cards right to end up on top of the pile.

I was a good student in school. I liked to perform well and it became easy enough for me most of the time. However school teaches kids such lessons in external validation, cosmetic success, regurgitating (as opposed to true knowledge) it did not help me develop as fully as so many would like to believe about school. Children impress me, despite these obstacles. They have no “right” not to go, so I think they make the best of it they can.

I am looking forward to reading a couple of John Taylor Gotto’s books. This little bit on his site walks through the original three purposes of school vs. the fourth purpose: “American Education History Tour”. It’s a bit funny and may sound paranoid to those used to mainstream views but… well… I can’t say I disagree with the fellow (and I look forward to reading more of his work). A particular sentence struck home with me:

“What better way to habituate kids to abandoning trust in their peers (and themselves) than to create an atmosphere of constant low-level stress and danger, relief from which is only available by appeal to authority?”

I did well in school as I’ve said. Even though I felt I enjoyed school I know exactly what he means about low-level stress. Schools are also more dangerous than they used to be (not because kids are bad kids either; this is subject for a whole other conversation). And “authority”? What bullocks. Of course we know Authority is out there and we run across it every day. Playing the game, bowing to authority (no matter how unjust), learning to bully as corporate and personal policy? These are enforced in school, whatever other positive experiences we may have there.

I could talk (rant?) for much longer. Finally I want to say something more personal.

If I didn’t have my two “data points” of Phoenix and Nels I think I would be a lot more fearful of h/sing and a lot more trusting of public and private schooling. If I didn’t see how much better off they were socially, physically, academically, morally, emotionally out of school, I’d be tempted to think of school as workable, and I’d be assisting them in prevailing. After all, my kids were clearly on the “teacher’s pet” track (at least in these early years) just as I was. What a lot of nice pats on the head for me.

But school is only an “it needs work but it’s basically okay and everyone should do it” situation if you believe it’s normal and required. Once I had cause to believe it’s a choice like anything else and knew my rights to abstain, school became less of a no-brainer. I am a passionate believer in encouraging improvements for all children (this is why I write about kids so much). But of course, I also can exercise my right not to public school and once I realized school had more harm than good to offer my kids, it was an easier choice. I still have doubts and I enjoy exploring and talking about them.

I am late in getting us out the door for swimming. I’d like to continue the conversation. Many people are close-minded to H/Sing and U/Sing. I hope my radicalism doesn’t scare open minds off.

heartstrings and spoke lights

Today my son swam back and forth in the deep end of the recreational pool, over and over and with a smile on his face. He flipped over on his back and swam, and stuck his thumbs-up out of the water and winked at me.

Then he took me over to the lap pool and swam the length of that. Three times.

I’d love to write a little essay on the YMCA and their berjillion weird and contradictory pool rules, including and not limited to: children are the responsibility of the lifeguard, NO WAIT they’re the responsibility of the parents’/carers’; If the kids can swim they’re allowed in the deep end of the rec pool, NO THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT unless they’re at least eight!; you can swim in the lazy river if you’re taller than the water level, NO YOU CAN’T YOU MUST WEAR A LIFEJACKET, then No you’re NOT allowed to wear a lifejacket in the lazy river EVAR. And my personal favorite duo: small children must be within five feet of a grownup at all times; a grownup may supervise up to ten children at a time (the mental picture of the supreme unfunness in one adult with ten small children within arms’ reach, moving through the pool like so many cilia attached to a central grownup protista, is a hilarious and untenable one).

There’s also this whole “swim test” proposition posted everywhere which somehow involves testing and receiving a bracelet and getting more swim rights (I can’t even snark on the standards of this “testing” in any way because I don’t see any bracelets on kids, ever, so I have no idea if these systems are even in effect).

Given all this and the many times some lifeguard would tell my son “You can’t do that until you can ‘swim’ [meaning their version of swimming] across the pool” (I hasten to add most lifeguards recognize his swim-competence and let him do what he knows he can) Nels did what was logical: he taught himself to swim and today he took on their test. Given their inconsistent rules and spotty enforcements I don’t think the issue of Nels’ swim freedoms is as settled as he thinks it is.  I really do mean to talk to the director of the pool scene (a rather grumpy person who is clearly managing a very large program) and try to figure this crap out.  But in the meantime we are having about 99.9% fun on our swim dates and Nels’ and Phoenix’s pleasure in the over two hours of swim time we had today was pure joy.

Another first: in the course of the day we took the bikes out all around town and to East Side HQX which meant riding up then down a bridge that is very steep and has an icky re-entry to road traffic at the bottom. Naturally I was worried because Nels is not only a Speed Demon he’s a (calculated) Risk Taker in general, and the bridge path was made perfectly slick by today’s on-and-off rain. Riding behind Nels on the steep grade I held in my mind two truths that formed my amazing reality: A. the worst that could happen to him would be a broken wrist or busted-out teeth and B. I was actually okay with this because I know Nels is doing exactly what he should be doing: stretching his abilities (within his supreme self-knowledge of them) to accomplish something he wants to master.* Don’t get me wrong, crash injuries are terrible to imagine like any injury to one’s child (Phoenix’s horror-crash happened exactly a year ago!).  This is why as I was behind  him my chest fluttered and I felt supremely alive.  As we sped down the thoroughway I talked him through trying out his brakes on the slick surface and he tested these with an expert handling of the resultant slight fishtail.  At the bottom of the bridge he firmly stopped in the exact correct spot.

It’s funny because a very short time ago I was helping my little duckling daughter travel on the same bridge and now she’s so bike competent I can focus entirely on talking Nels through our ride, knowing she is behind me as well-furnished a rider as I (given much of our ride is on a highway with log trucks and a small but unpleasant selection of asshole drivers I really do appreciate being able to focus on my son). Halfway through our ride Nels began hand signals before turns, cautiously lifting his arm and shoulder-checking and discussing strategies for stop signs (which can be treated as yield signs by cyclists). He was so engaged and having such a wonderful time it was almost possible for me to not have my mind blown at how effortlessly, joyously, and willingly kids learn a whole passel of fucking awesome skills if you merely help in the ways they request help.

When we got home Ralph was already here and he got started on the meal I’d planned – fried chicken, peas, and German potato salad. He also brought me home a bottle of Jack which verily I shall be making into ye olde toddies anon. And just now I get a phone call: Phoenix has spent the afternoon and evening with a friend who now wants to stay the night, so: Sleepover! (which you simply must imagine me saying in the tone of Orange Mocha Frappucino!”)

It’s been a good day times one hundred.

* He’s also gotta lose those teeth soon anyway.