"You happy now, bitch?"

a rebuttal

Another typical unschooling-defamation piece makes its way into my Tweetstream. I was inspired to make a little something I will picture in my mind every time this happens. Call it my personal moment of Zen.

"You happy now, bitch?"

This little bit of Photoshoppery has nothing to do with unschooling. It has everything to do with being awesome. For instance how awesomely I LOL every time I read or hear some other persnickety, tired-out, anti-child, parent-dissing pearl-clutching screed recommending enforced child-class institutionalization.


In other news: I wrote a new post at UB, but it’s kinda grouchy, fair warning. I had a good day today though, honestly.

when Black Friday comes / I’m gonna dig myself a hole

Friday links, and I’m owning it!

1. This weekend we watched Trail of the Screaming Forehead courtesy of sundancenow.com, a project by Larry Blamire (who also helmed one of our family-favorites, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra). It was so much fun – so funny, clever, silly – and beautiful color (it was filmed in CRANIASCOPE). Truly a treat! The children laughed at the jokes but also took the “tension” very seriously!

2. At Underbellie: I published my piece for the Squat! Birth Journal. I encourage you to buy a copy (print or download). It’s a lovely zine by passionate people!

3. I was very impressed with “Ami’s Guide to Food Privilege: How classism, fatphobia, and various other “-isms” control what we eat”. Such a great 101 for the classist and orthorexic bile I am sad to say, I hear often enough – maybe even daily.

4. Join the “I LOVE MY BUM” Campaign! at The Discourse. AU Dr. Thomas continues to prove her awesomeness. I think I got firsties when I sent in my email, too. Hee.

5. “Guest Post: Transmisogyny is Misogyny Against All Women”; another one to sink your teeth into, featured at TranArchism.

6. Laurie Couture writes, in her typical direct and passionate manner, “Unschooling Parents (Not School Teachers) Best Equipped By Nature to Guide Learning”. As a friend at lunch said yesterday, she thinks parents truly aren’t aware there are options besides school or at-home-school. You know… as an aside, I would hope any of my work encourages parents to find ways to be with their children and live life well. I know I’ve made a difference – and I have people like Laurie and Wendy and Idzie and Cheyenne and Jeff and Daniel, to name a few, who’ve helped me find my own way.

7. Did y’all catch the title of the last Friday link post? [ tumbleweed blows past ] Anyway, 17 year old Fiona at Rachel Simmons’ site writes the first thing on the “Rebecca Black phenomena” I’ve seen so far that was worth reading. You know what’s pretty pathetic? Full-grown people making fun of thirteen year olds (yeah, this is happening. LOTS). And saying stuff like, “I’m going to ass-rape you” and “die in a fire” (but you know, it’s just a joke! And so are all those other instances of child abuse and terror, and actual thirteen year olds that get raped! All jokes! Um… er…). Yes. That is actually happening.

8. On a lighter note, and at The Retroist: “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Memories”. As I commented, I have a special place in my heart for this film; likely primarily because I saw it as a young child. Interesting it is one of two films responsible for the PG-13 rating. Also from the Retroist: Patrick Warburton for Bugle Boy. Look, PW is a handsome guy, and that’s a very nice bod he’s sporting there outside of blue latex and all. But the soprano sax and the come-hither-I’m-dressed-in-your-shirt-teehee!, not so much.

9. “Study: 87 Percent Of Movies Would Be Better With Michael Keaton In Them”. So true!

10. While I’m excited as anyone at the so-called trend Penelope Trunk identifies in Sara McGrath’s piece, “Entrepreneur with Asperger’s on getting unschooled” (I say “so-called trend” because of course, school is the relatively new invention, not “unschooling”), I didn’t like the tone of some of her comments. Specifically: “Over the next ten years, Trunk predicts that we’ll have two classes of kids: one set who knows how to run themselves in this world and another set who needs to be told what to do.” Hissss! While I have absolutely seen many differences observable in self-direction, independence, assertion, fairness, anti-bully mindset, varied and complex social skills, and real-life skills observable in non-schooled while well-nurtured children (not just in my own children but in reading countless testimonies of other life learning / consensual living / unschooled families, children, and grown non-schoolers), I think ultimately framing parenting and childrearing in competitive terms is both a very schooly thing to do and quite unhelpful – but, unfortunately, as American as deep-friend asshattery.  In this country, raising your own children without the use of state institutional instruction/care is damned rare, and I’m wondering if the few and the brave who do it might consider distancing themselves from or even denouncing outright too much Special Snowflake MY KID WILL HAVE AN EDGE OVER ALL OTHER KIDS. Caveat: in exploring the amazing multilayered awesomeness that is life without school and non-punitive parenting, it’s been like scales falling from my eyes daily and a lovely journey. I think any amount of talking about one’s experience of this Wonderfulness is going to necessarily bring to light some of the silliness or awfulness of the live lived before, and I’m aware that be threatening for some to read. It’s a conundrum I haven’t quite figured out myself (for my part I try, when talking about our homelife, to speak in first person). I’d also point out many passionate life learners are very concerned with improving outcomes and scenarios for all children, including the 98% enrolled in compulsory schooling, and have some of the most incredible ideas about how to go about these goals.

11. Film: live-action akira adaptation: starring white people! at Angry Asian Man. This film is a classic, much beloved, and Hollywood won’t do well by it. The typical racebending aspect is just another soggy slap in the face. SMH as per usual.

12. Speaking of movies: I’m loving Anita Sarkeesian’s vlogs times one hundred. In “Tropes vs. Women: #1 The Manic Pixie Dream Girl” she does not disappoint. But you know, Portman’s character in Garden State *totally* had her own story arc. Like how she was epileptic, and her hamster died that one time.

13. Movies, again: screen giant and philanthropist and lovely woman Elizabeth Taylor dies. A lovely photo-perspective at all things amazing.

14. Bri writes a wonderful post on her experiences with a lap band. You know, that surgery that is rather dangerous and doesn’t work, but people are still quite eager about.

15. In ridiculous and gratuitous cupcake awesomeness, I submit the Cupcake Cupcake Topper and homemade Hostess cupcake cake balls (as seen on my blog yesterday).

16. Wednesday night we saw Handsome Little Devils at the college (they were fabulous!); Monday it’s the Reptile Man’s Serpentarium, and a few weeks later, the Kenya Safari Acrobats. I can speak highly of the first two experiences and I look forward to the third; what are you up to?

17. Currently listening to: Vetiver, Au PairsAdele’s “21”, and Kelis (Phoenix loves the latter two). What are you listening to?

18. Live bunnycam featuring new babies. LIVE BUNNYCAM FEATURING NEW BABIES. There is no better link to leave you with, people. P.S. a baby rabbit is called a “kitten” or a “kit”. Excuse me while I punch myself in the face. Because of the cuteness.

different outlooks different hopes

friday, friday, so good to me

Taking a break from my latest Netflix obsession (don’t worry, my obsessive-television watching is usually in short-lived bouts) I bring you: FRIDAY LINKAGE.

Bollywood for Beginners Index at Filmi Girl

“Worst Movie of the ’00s?” at PostBourgie. Great piece and excellent comments.

There are no words for the excellence:

(thanks, Steev!)

“Smiling Indians and Edward S. Curtis” by @NativeApprops. Definately check out the galleries, & the video.

“Guest Post: Reactions to the Case of Lara Logan” by Matt Cornell; also, Bill Maher makes LOUD NOISES about how U.S. is just SO MUCH BETTER TO WOMEN THAN MUSLIMS: “Bill Maher Pronounces Sexism in The Middle East, Worse Than In America” from womanist-musings. Finally, a succinct summation of some of those others who stand to lose with these narratives: Laura with “On Feminism, Religion, Superiority, Kyriarchy and Women’s Rights”.

“CNN buys into homeschooling stereotypes in child abduction case, blames victims”. Just add another nugget to the pile of deplorable turdburger that “Nancy Grace” (the show, not the person).

“Covering Up is a Feminist Issue” via PhD in Parenting, fertilefeminism; great video and a good 101!

“Class warfare” at globalsociology

“Just a Parent” by Ouyang Dan on Random Babble

Planned Parenthood at PostBourgie

“Dear Michele Bachmann, et. al: Please Shut Up and Sit Down” at parenting.com

Gym Class by Michelle Allison. If there was a BINGO card about lots of awesome shit Kelly cares about (abolishing adultist thoughts, freeing children from forced institutionalism and segregation, HAES/FA etc.) I’d be shouting “LOTERIA!”

“The best parenting book you will ever read.” – some thoughts on a fictional hero of mine – and many others’ (note: spoilers, link concerns the book To Kill A Mockingbird).

“Five Questions for Laurie A. Couture by E. Christopher Clark of Geek Force Five”. Ms. Couture is becoming one of the items in my feed reader I look forward to most. Her thoughts on the third question – C. – I’ve found most relevant as she’s discussing teens, and I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time around teens lately and I’m loving it!

Awesome Godzilla Quilt, courtesy of the East Bay Heritage Quilters

“Coke Bottle Watering “Globes” at RadMegan

Hand-painted  B-movie purses? I had to write this lady a stalky email because. Come on. How awesome!

How to cook perfect rice – in a frying pan at Just Bento

‎”Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.” ~ A. S. Neil

Random Awesomeness
Promtacular – ZOMG, who’s ready to dig up prom pictures? 100 to YES.

“Mad, Mod & Macabre – The Ronald Stein Collection” – I. Want. This.

different outlooks different hopes

"Wisdom Teeth" at xkcd

hey yo it’s pink Friday

This morning when I woke up I observed my daughter had found a discarded t-shirt of mine and slipped it on and slept in it all night.

Which I love, more than anything.

OK so, aw hells yes! Another Friday and I am scaling back my linkage, or trying to, still. And what-do-you-know, I’m still on some very similar topics. Well OH WELL, what can I say, I am just very excited about them all!

“I don’t love you enough” by Jeff Sabo. This piece is a worthwhile refution of the “tough love” sentiment and just how bad things have gotten if you’re proud of “stalking” your child.

P.S. I emailed Jeff and he told me his blog should be up and for public viewing (earlier there were problems).

On the please-do-not-do-it-this-way parenting bit, here are some “treasures” from Love & Logic (a parenting/teaching philosophy fairly popular in my peer set which demonstrates the phenomenal and deep-level breakdown of trust that many mainstream parenting strategies perpetrate). Here’s their most recent update, on some “tough love” (same ol’ same ol’, although L&L seems to hold itself as something different than typical old-school punishment techniques) regarding shoplifting; then follow this with this delightful screed comparing children to “growling and foaming at the mouth” “rabid dogs”. Fun!

Sandra Dodd: Unschooling & Real Learning, a six and a half minute clip of a Sandra Dodd interview that I like (what she says between 0:50 and 1:01 gives me the shudders… because I have seen and experienced this firsthand). I like the word “unschooling” less and less – not that I have any problem with others using it. Maybe I’ll write more about that soon.

“Iron-deficiency is not something you get just for being a lady” by Dr. Kathryn Clancy. Consider your blog FOLLOWED, Doctor-Woman!

“Lactate Your Ass Off (Or Not)”; JJ Keith drops some realities regarding breastfeeding and “baby weight”. I notice people brag about losing their baby weight (which helps other people feel terrible about themselves for this or that reason). What I know now is, that’s a pretty individualistic thing and people should consider STFU on the whole thing.

Michelle Allison asked her readers what questions they’d have for her regarding food, nutrition, and eating competence: “how to eat in front of other people” was number one (this is quite sobering and sad). The pdf material she provided in response is incredible. Even if one doesn’t think they have any issues with disordered eating, a read-through is highly recommended.

“Real Quick: Actresses who eat things are FASCINATING” by Lesley Kinzel. Ha! Nail, hit on the head. Also, “fatassery” is the best word I’ve heard this week.

Fringey streamers at Oh Happy Day

Guess what’s gonna be happening in our house this next week. KOREAN COOKERY!

Just Awesomeness

National Geographic‘s Photo of the Day, won’t you?

Minecraft + pharmaceutical humor! (WIN) (& – thanks, Ryan!)
"Wisdom Teeth" at xkcd

Three years ago, Valentine by yours truly (and yes, this still happens to me)

Back to the future by photographer Irina Werning. ZOMG do I love this times one hundred.

Action Figure Slow Motion Punches:


Of winter’s lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer’s secret
Deep down within its heart.
– Charles G. Stater

needing decompression

Ralph, Phoenix and I have just returned from attending “Erase the Hate”, a community discussion project curated by the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The event was less of a discussion than I’d thought it would be, but was nevertheless a great presentation and talk delivered by Thomas B. Howard, Jr., Ed.M.

During the introductory video I cried silently and rather fluidly.

Howard’s subsequent speech and presentation kept me on the edge of my seat (not so much for Phoenix, who after two hours flagged a bit). I was also very pleasantly surprised to see how intersectionalist the Foundation’s work is – the stated missions as expressed on their site’s FAQ are rock solid and were borne out tonight.

Dr. Howard made it clear his personal eschewal for the “kids will be kids” excuse in response to bullying activity and resultant harm and suicide in our nation’s youth population; he emphatically stated, “Kids will be the kids we teach them to be.” Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. I found myself fervently wishing for more strong, compassionate and proactive leaders of Howard’s ilk in the lives of our young people.

He also expressed his opinion the “athletic white male” and white males in general have incredible privilege they can leverage to make things better for marginalized and abused populations. Yes, again. Another strong point in a very strong presentation.

But there was deep sadness for me in this event, too.

I knew schools were oppressive for marginalized groups but I didn’t realize how much. Near tonight’s conclusion one young white man stood up and after thanking Howard profusely announced his intention to start a GSA at his own high school – Hoquiam. He also said he was the only out gay male in the school. This bothered me quite a bit. I went to this same school and graduated sixteen years ago; at that time we had one “out” male student (who was mistreated horribly). Sixteen years and youth still aren’t safe?

A handful of other young people stood up and told part of their stories. It was clear that although the college campus is generally experienced as a bit more inclusive, the problems in our public schools are quite severe. In support of my impressions Howard said today’s conversation at Hoquiam High School had been a good one but Aberdeen was “the worst school he’d been to.” He said he was not so upset at the disrespect of the students but because the adults in power did nothing to stop it. This is very grievous indeed, but is substantiated by other experiences I’ve read about regarding this school (see: “ALCU Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Harassed Student” ; you can read the school district’s response here, where sadly and predictably they deny they did anything wrong or have any responsibility for Russell’s experience.)

It seemed like everyone left smiling and relaxed – in one attendant’s view, “empowered”. I felt quite disturbed and sad. First, I would expect most attendants tonight to be those who already supported many aims of the Foundation – and it was hardly a full house. If this small populace does not take their inspiration tonight and continue to meet the rest of the world with strength and compassion and an improved listening ability, I worry change will continue at a glacial pace. Secondly, I feel anger and sadness about the larger community that does not task themselves to do better. And I was and am rattled to hear the testimonies from within school.

I did take some comfort: it appeared many of the young students there (Phoenix was the youngest but there were students from age thirteen and up) took a lot of strength from what they saw. This is a good thing, probably even an essential one. At the end of all this, for me, I simply have to believe people who said they found the work helpful. I can’t let myself get cynical or apathetic.

And on that note, today I stumbled across “Born This Way” and read through a few entries. Not quite enough, not yet, to feel better. But a good start.


In additional news: today the Hogaboom kids announced their intentions to convert to vegetarianism (they haven’t quite grasped how near-impossible this is to do if eating out, ever, in Hoquiam and Aberdeen). I am not super-surprised as we’ve been watching the typical glut of nature films lately and both kids have been expressing a high degree of compassion and empathy for animal life; for quite some time they’ve also been aware of big agriculture processes (as opposed to our happier chickens, for instance). I am a good enough cook with regards to vegetarian fare but – three meals a day for four people! Yikes! Recipe sources that don’t suck and aren’t boring are highly appreciated!

dominator lite – it’s TEH LOGIKAL

Today I get this automated newsletter in my inbox:

Dear Kelly,

I can still remember how I felt as a child upon seeing the very first “back-to-school” advertisement on TV. While a bit sad over the fact that summer vacation was almost over, I always felt a strange sort of relief knowing that before long I’d be doing something more exciting.

Summer was fun at first, then it got really boring. Only as an adult have I learned that my parents actually planned it that way. Their idea was to create a two-part summer: Part one was filled with fun: fun that helped us recharge our batteries after a long, hard school year. Part two was filled with a good amount of boredom and plenty of chores: dull duties that helped us really look forward to being able to escape to school in the fall.

On the first day of school will your kids go into shock when they are expected to sit at their desks, listen to their teachers, and complete assignments? Or, will they experience a sense of relief, thinking, “Wow! This sure is easier and more fun than being at home!”

As the school year looms large, might it be wise to begin making your home more boring and more chore-laden? Wise teachers know that kids who are used to doing plenty of chores at home are far more likely to excel at doing plenty of work at school.

In his CD, Didn’t I Tell You To Take Out the Trash?!, my father, Jim Fay, teaches simple techniques for getting kids to do their chores without reminders and without pay. If you want a happier home, and happier, more responsible kids, this CD is a must.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend or visit www.loveandlogic.com/join to sign up.

Dr. Charles Fay

If you’ve read here long enough you might be able to predict a bit about how our autodidactic principles inform my response to such an email. My first thought was Wow, that’s a lot of work. “Let” your kids have a bunch of fun at the beginning of summer, but make sure toward the end to set the thumbscrews with “boredom” and “plenty of work” as to make enforced schooling look better. This is all so the kid will go to school with a willing heart and mind, not because they wholly look forward to school and want it with every fiber of their integrity, body and soul, but because you’ve made the environment in their own home an unappealing one. Bonus, you got them to do a bunch of the dreaded WORK around the house while you did it! Yessiree, it’s a lot to be the Grand Poobah Manipulator but as you can see, it pays off, especially how it can create a teetering facade of having “good” kids who are Hard Workers, a family that’s “in it together”, etc. etc.

My second series of thoughts and feelings involved my gratitude for the life my family leads; my kids get to daily “recharge their batteries” in the methods they chose which they themselves are most primed to intuit as necessary. Their education is self-obtained with my assistance and loving help (when it is needed). Summer is just as much fun as fall and learning happens willingly and all the time. These days work (not “chores”) are done with a deep sense of personal commitment and gladness and no small amount of humor at the everlasting natures of our Work*.

I’m glad I still get these email updates. The institution that sends them out and writes the books and sells the CDs and gives the talks and events and all that is very popular in my peer group. Not that long ago my husband and I sat in a class facilitated by this Parenting Expert school of thought and a lot of it made sense to us. There seemed so much right with what we were hearing at the time: kids shouldn’t be coddled; there are too many kids who don’t “grow up right” because their parents “do too much for them”. Children shouldn’t be allowed to be sneaky or rude or shirk on chores without consequence. You should be the boss (a loving boss, but still the boss), and maybe most selling to my vulnerable heart, making your kids do work in the home is the only way to prepare them for the Real World.

I am hardly the first person to expose in any way some of the underpinnings of yet another school of parenting strategies to provide simple, clear techniques for getting compliance from our children – while relying on dominating techniques to do so. Many leaders, child workers, psychologists, and qualified smarter-than-I individuals far more experienced than I have weighed in on the phenomenon. Writer Alfie Kohn calls such schools of thought with regards to education “Assertive Discipline, […] essentially a collection of bribes and threats whose purpose is to enforce rules that the teacher alone devises and imposes.”

When it comes to similar parenting techniques, here’s what Kohn has to say in Chapter Four of his book Unconditional Parenting:

A number of consultants, meanwhile, have responded to the understandable reluctance of many parents to use punitive tactics by repackaging them as “consequences.” In some cases, the change is purely semantic, the implication being that a friendlier name will make the same practices less offensive. But sometimes we’re told that if the punishments are less severe, or “logically” related to the misbehavior, or clearly spelled out in advance, then they’re okay to use-and, indeed, shouldn’t be considered punishments at all.

Kohn talks further about such techniques – which can have slippery names and terminology – and their listed principles and consequences in Chapter 4 of his book Beyond Discipline, a chapter called “Punishment Lite: ‘Consequences’ and Pseudochoice.”

Most parents I personally know employ various forms of Assertive Discipline.

I wish I could render artfully, dear reader, how carefully almost everyone I’ve talked to dances around the subjects of the domination and subjugation of children. It’s something I’ve only recently begun to notice. Since many American adults in my peer groups are squeamish about hitting children they have a separate category called “spanking”; it is elementally different, see, and apparently the ONLY way to make sure a toddler won’t run in front of an oncoming truck (much like the “ZOMG noisy children in restaurantz!!11!” example, this is often trotted out with no imagination or variance and often entirely hypothetical – very Weak Sauce, people). Parents who don’t spank and literally never hit or grab or forcibly pick up their children with semi- and unapologetic regularity employ more fascinating methods of manipulation and coercion. Immediately recognizable versions are “time outs” and “natural consequences” and stickers and rewards and charts* and “I’d love to help you but, sad, bummer – I can’t because blah-blah-blah” (my husband and I still employ this bit of douchery now and then – it’s hard to shake).

In writing here I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad for how shitty they’re parenting.*** I am so NOT wanting to do that I’m going to leave these two sentences all by themselves.

I write because I’m sorting through this stuff – me. It’s my journey. I am not putting down parents. I am a parent! I am doing this work! I am failing, daily, in eschewing limited and harmful practices! I have at times resorted to every type of strategy I just wrote about – and a garden variety of other shittery I often detail here in this journal!

But I am in the position to improve and to do better; to resist the passed-down traditional tropes most people I know adhere to. I know some parents who are part-dead inside; that is, parenting is for them exhausting and kind of humorless and at times scary and “thankless”. But all parents I know, as far as I can tell, love their children deeply.  They are doing the best they know how, and they make mistakes, then they get back on the horse. Mistakes don’t concern me; we all make them. It’s the traditional parenting schemas that I question and anaylze – the secondary reason I write is to provide exposure to better ideas than the ones I (we) had the day before (the primary reason I write is to keep a personal journal).

And these traditional parenting/teaching strategies, most parents and carers literally think there is no better way, that any other approach is Impossible or Impractical or will result in the Village of the Damned Children. Sure, maybe some of the manipulations and hand-holding and Requisite Omnipresence and punitive measures don’t sit right or don’t feel quite right, and certainly with some parent-child combos the problems get worse and the punishments (whatever you choose to call them) become increasingly convoluted or tricky to employ or downright scarily-received, and sure your “well-behaved” child exhibits deep rages or sorrows and you wonder Where did this come from? But… these other ways this Kelly Hogaboom or whomever talks about, these are Silly or Hippie or Trashy or Elitist or Too Complex or Too Simplified or Too Lazy or Too Work-Intensive.

But: really? These ideas I’ve been studying and employing? They really have made things better in our family – in so many ways. And I write because I know I help make other people’s lives better.

And by the way? I always have to epilogue this: my kids are great. Not stellar human beings that make people fall to their knees weeping: just garden-variety Great Kids. They are not lazy. They are full of life, not cynicism and subtle cruelties. They so rarely say they are bored (I don’t know if Nels has ever said it). They are not unprepared. They handle the Real World better than many (adults and children) I meet. They are not more rude or Lord of the Flies or more “disrespectful” or “selfish” than other kids (in fact I frequently get compliments on their behavior).

Finally: get this. The book I cited, Beyond Discipline, was written in 1996. Six years before I squatted out my first child. And Kohn is talking to teachers – you know, people who have to round up a classroom full of all sorts of kids from all sorts of backgrounds, professionals who have many obstacles stacked against them to do their job (I think the teaching environment is harder than ever). Kohn is tackling ALL that, tackled it years ago – and here I am struggling with my little family, just getting up on the learning curve.

I feel humbled. And assy. Here I am just getting started on doing things a better way. For my own two kids.

What am I doing typing away here? Time to head to the library.

H/T to Scott Noelle for his phrase, “Dominator Lite”.

* I am still struggling with the nature of “chores” and will soon write about it.

** Note: having stickers in your home does not make you a jerk.

*** Hello! Yesterday I leaned down and whispered very mean words to my son – well I said I was very angry and he was being totally rude – at which point he curled up inside himself and stifled tears and started “behaving” better, and I immediately felt bad, but fortunately we both knew this, and he put his arms up and I held him and I said I’m sorry. I let myself and my kids down often, and I always apologize and, sadly, that’s my “good enough” some days, so don’t be coming to me claiming I think I’m some Awesome parent who’s “evolved” past whatever). Parents already feel shitty enough and beleaguered enough and I’m not setting myself up as Best Mom Ever, and never have.

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.