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November-December is chock full of all new articles from unschoolers on the journey to self-directed lives. Our writers touch on socialization, math, reading, fantasy worlds, foreign films, nutrition, following others agendas, raising free kids, valuing ourselves, deschooling, the secret lives of unschooling parents and more.


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November-December 2014 Table of Contents

Mom, the Dream Wrecking Ball, by Voltrina Williams

 I imagine that he thinks people will awe and wonder at the fact that the post office he builds was built by him. Daily accolades will come from homeowners far and wide because of the crown molding, the swirling staircase, and the built-in book shelves that “Almighty Chandler” planned in their beautiful homes. His plans are to build the homes himself, then act as real estate consultant/friend as people lovingly go from house to house with him to choose the one that they want. The pats on the back and smiles are palpable that way. He will see the appreciation for the labor of his love written all over their happy faces.

My dilemma as a mother is the fact that Chandler’s plans and dreams for his future will have obstacles that his nine year old mind can’t grasp. Do I prepare him by presenting what I know is reality, or do I let him live in the la-la land of “You can do anything you set your mind to” that our parents presented to all of us? Architects don’t build houses with their hands. Construction company start up costs are astronomical. Real estate agents don’t have time to be architects too. Wrought iron is expensive. Builders often sacrifice luxury for cost savings. People don’t care who built the store they shop in. Hiring friends is not as cost effective as tapping into the skilled, but undocumented immigrant labor pool. The unemployment rate for graduates with bachelor of architect degrees is, right now, at a dismal thirteen percent.


Splendiferous Foreign Films for Kids, by Seres Kyrie

With a large world map posted to the wall, our family (Leaf, age four, and Finn, age eight) have been jet-setting through film this year. Foreign films not only present refreshingly different stories but often times the actual filming techniques and storytelling styles contrast to our western cinema (I might even say as an antidote).

I admit to hating voice dub-overs but for young children, the voice overs still provide a gateway into world film travel. For older children of reading comprehension, subtitles invite a new way to process film with the added delight of hearing tone, inclination, and the space of between speech and translation. For films where dubbing was not an option, my nonreading son still settled happily into watching the film with only musical and contextual clues.


Prisoners of Agenda, by John Taylor Gatto

Think of the word “agenda.” You, I, our students, their parents, and the general public think, mistakenly, that the agenda of institutional schooling is well-known, but trust me, it is not. Schooling, by offering access to the inner life of the oncoming generations of citizens and consumers at a vulnerable moment in the development of their consciousness, presents such a juicy temptation to a broad array of special interests that schools from their inception were a playground for multiple agendas.

Any interest that thinks it can stack the deck in its favor by colonizing the minds of the upcoming generation has felt justified in inserting a partisan agenda into institutional schooling. An explosion of purposes which confused (and confuse) school employees and bewilder students and families by putting into question whether those who manage their learning actually know what they are doing. It is impossible to exaggerate how many partisan agendas are competing for attention at one and the same time in official schooling, which displays almost no ability to resist them. The net result is unbearable confusion among the teaching staff as to who exactly is in charge of schooling and its objective. The favorite whipping boy of journalism to take blame for this is the teacher’s union–which certainly is NOT the case.

Some of the many agendas working simultaneously behind the scenes in schools are quite sinister and aim for ends which the public would be horrified to support.


Loving Food, Eating Simply, by Jenny Lantz


We are quite nerdy about food in my family. For several reasons. We have some special diet needs, we are vegetarians since almost forever (IZve just begun my 20th year as a vegetarian, starting out as a 14 year old activist vegetarian and never looked back), and maybe the most important reason–we aim for simplicity in our life, and food is a big part of that. As an unschooling family we have a lot of time for cooking, and even though I wish we did it more, we also cook together with our kids.

Food is the single highest expense we have. We donZt buy a lot of things; the clothes we wear are mostly second-hand bargains and our house, an old house in the countryside, is filled with second hand furniture and household goods. And this simple living, frugal life we lead is a choice we’ve made with all our hearts. To be able to stay at home with our kids. To be able to unschool them. And although we do economize with food as well, we want high quality food. ThatZs something we will not compromise on, and our way to afford it is making everything from scratch. As well as cooking our meals, we make our own almond milk, and we make our own bread and bread spread.


Just When I Had Everything Under Control, by Donna M. Kilgore

When you finally learn that everything is a learning experience you can just sit back and relax right?

Not if you’re me. If you’re me, you totally lose control the minute you think you’ve finally gotten everything under control.

After six years of homeschooling my boys, studying about learning styles, reading tons of books and articles on “how to homeschool”… I finally figured it out. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. You just have to find what works for your family and go for it!

Fast-forward four years: Even though I’d finally grasped the concepts of unschooling, self-led learning, and not having to fit into any kind of prefabricated mold…I couldn’t help feeling that the lack of structure in our unschooling homeschool would be our downfall.

I’m just a structured sort of gal. I like knowing what has to be done and when. I enjoy making plans and schedules…even if we don’t stick to them. Just the idea of having a list of what needs to be done soothes me. It gives me direction. My son, is my polar opposite. Plans make him nervous. Schedules make him panic. He doesn’t like timed exercises. He doesn’t like being told that he’s done enough science for one day. In fact, even though he’s only eleven, he recently put me in my place by telling me that all the famous scientists had moms who let them do all the science they wanted. Every day.


When Reading Comes Slowly, by Jill Swanson

This is a story with a happy ending.

I am telling you this right up front because for many years I clung to stories with happy endings and hoped for our own happy ending as I homeschooled my wonderful, dyslexic son.

Now my son is 23 years old, studying for his doctorate in microbiology, fascinated by plant genetics, hungry for research opportunities. Perhaps just as thrilling for me, he reads for pleasure. He chooses a novel to read over a Christmas break. He peruses the newspaper with his morning granola and tea. The seemingly ordinary gift of reading is sweet when it is hard won.

For many years, I wondered when this day would come. I wondered when he was six years old. And nine years old. And eleven years old. I fretted over how a person copes with a world awash in print when he cannot read. I second-guessed myself as I made decisions about how best to help him. I parried blows to his self-esteem from a myriad of sources, including unintentionally his own younger sisters who glided past him on the road to reading. And I treasured every story of a child with dyslexia emerging into reading along his own excellent path.


Working with Discomfort, by Leslie Potter

When I began the unschooling journey with my then 10 year old daughter I was working from a fantasy that leaving traditional schooling behind was going to be filled with ease and freedom from our old conditioned life.

I remember actually feeling giddy imagining no time schedule, no pressure from enforced homework, no expectation to fit into the cultural norm.

I could hardly wait to start our new exciting adventure.

What I didn’t anticipate was the discomfort that would arise from creating a life of freedom.

Though I didn’t particularly like the structure and pressure we both felt with the schooling experience I didn’t expect the free fall of letting it go.

I had read a lot about unschooling so knew there was a deschooling process. What I wasn’t prepared for was how long it would go on. Hers and mine.

I prided myself on being a “free spirit” and one who could go with the flow, trusting the universe. Secretly I thought, “this is going to be a piece of cake.” My arrogance was quickly humbled as I ran directly into unconscious conditioned beliefs that rose with a FURY when things didn’t go the way I expected. I was in for a HUGE dose of discomfort and fear when the rubber met the road and I realized that I was not in control.


How Do We Value Ourselves?, by Idzie Desmarais

In our culture, it’s very obvious that we value certain knowledge and skills more highly than others. Namely skills that are academic and intellectual, communication skills, and social skills (somewhat less tangibly, seeing as those are harder to test). It seems everything else comes a distant second.

Schools are all about teaching academic skills to the exclusion of all else (though how good a job they do at imparting those skills is very debatable).

When we take school out of the equation in our own lives and families, we have the option, the opportunity, to take a hard look at what skills are valued, and decide to broaden what we personally value and encourage.

But are we taking that opportunity? Too often, I don’t think we are.

My family didn’t, or at least didn’t to as much of an extent as we could have. This isn’t meant to place blame on my parents; we’re each of us constantly learning and growing, and unlearning ideas that have a negative impact on ourselves and others. My parents did the best they could in the places they were at, and I’m grateful for it. But looking back, it’s very obvious that the skills they were most concerned with me and my sister acquiring were those taught in school. It was subtle, because it was unintentional, but that preferencing of academic skills, at least to some extent, was very much present.


Zero is Beautiful: Teaching Mathematics as if People Mattered, by Aravinda Pillalamarri

Can you imagine the time before the discovery of zero? My husband and I got a glimpse of this when we witnessed the discovery of zero, not on the world-historical scale, but by our two-year-old daughter.

When our daughter saw that the numeral 10 comprised a 1 and a 0 she flung herself upon a chair and cried. We were taken aback, unprepared for the blow this dealt to her understanding of numbers and how she would struggle to make sense of it.

This was the struggle of an artist. The world had changed in a fundamental way. Something was lost that would never return. Why would there be a zero in the number ten? Til now the numerical representations were incidental to the concept of number, of quantity, of this thing that could go on forever…and had now abruptly, jarringly, come back to zero.

Some time later, she confronted a blankness of another kind. In tears, she ran towards me holding a white crayon. It didn’t show up on the paper, she cried. “Therefore I am throwing away the white crayon,” she declared painfully. Her eyes brimming over pleaded for a way out of this harsh sentence. I drew something with the white crayon and painted with water color on top of it The water color surrounded the crayon image to reveal it. Saved! In its own way, the white crayon was a place holder.


Raising a Free Child, by Barb Lundgren and Mark Hegener

As unschooling parents one of the fantasies many of us have for our children is to afford them as much freedom as we possibly can, giving them maximum opportunity to self direct their own lives and educations and futures. This can be particularly challenging when we ourselves have not been raised with such freedoms and have thusfar been unable to achieve a satisfying degree of freedom as adults. Let’s talk here about both how to establish freedom as an adult and offer such freedom willingly and happily to our children.

First, to be clear, my child’s freedom is integral to successful unschooling. There are lots of methodologies for homeschooling, unschooling being one. What makes unschooling so different from traditional homeschooling is the lack of “top-down” structure: parents are not setting the course for a child’s education with pre-planned curriculum or lessons, rather the parent is nurturing a partnership connection with the child that involves observation, listening, open communication and lots of experimentation, all according to the ever changing desire, intellect, passion and ability of the child. It’s a tall order and one that allows for maximum freedom in a child’s life: experimenting and choosing activities, reading materials, friends, foods, sleep, privacy, all sorts of ways to learn about oneself and the world.


The Secret Lives of Unschooling Parents, by Suki Wessling

So I wondered…what if unschooling parents were asked to tell all about something they do that doesn’t relate in the least to their children or their children’s education? What would I find out about the ways that we amuse ourselves, support our families, or enrich our inner lives when we aren’t with our kids?

My willing guinea pigs answered questions on a form I posted, and as I suspected, the answers were wide-ranging. A mom who credits a Zumba class for reawakening her passion for dance…professionals who treasure their time being capable adults…and even a mom who writes adults-only fiction: many of us find a child-free space in our lives that reinvigorates us for that other role, raising and educating our children.



From the Archives of John Holt: Learning on Her Own, Spaceship School, False Ideas about Learning, and Starting the Violin, by Patrick Farenga

When I was little, nobody ever thought that children had to be TAUGHT colors and shapes. Nobody ever taught me colors and shapes. I figured them out, just as I figured out thousands of other things, by seeing what people did around me and hearing what they said about what they did, and maybe asking a question if I wanted to confirm one of my hunches.

Every year we get more and more deeply mired in the fundamentally false idea that learning is, must be, and can only be the result of teaching, in short, that ideas never get into children’s heads unless adults put them there. No more harmful and mistaken idea was ever invented. The fact, as all parents of young children can easily observe, is that children create learning out of experience and they do it in almost exactly the same way that the people we call “scientists” do it – by observing, wondering, theorizing, and experimenting (which may include asking questions) to test their theories.

The idea that, unless taught, a child might actually grow up not knowing squares from triangles or red from blue is so absurd that I hardly know what to say about it. But it is an astonishingly widespread idea.

I suppose I’m doomed to spend the rest of my life battling it. The worst thing about it is that after a while kids come to believe it themselves.



HEM interviews Kristin Oakley, author of Carpe Diem, Illinois

When I was little, nobody ever thought that children had to be TAUGHT colors and shapes. Nobody ever taught me colors and shapes. I figured them out, just as I figured out thousands of other things, by seeing what people did around me and hearing what they said about what they did, and maybe asking a question if I wanted to confirm one of my hunches.

Barb: You’ve written a novel in which an entire town is unschooling its children. I love this, of course, but how did you come up with such an idea?

Kristin: In the summer of 2007, I listened to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as I drove around in my car and I wondered why futuristic civilizations in novels tended to be evil, horrible places; dystopian societies. Of course Mr. Bradbury was making a point about our own culture but that’s when I decided I’d write a novel about a society that was an improvement over today’s society. So the unschooling town Carpe Diem, Illinois was born. And to thank Mr. Bradbury for the inspiration, I named the Carpe Diem bed and breakfast The Bradbury Inn.

By the way, you’re not the only one who loves this idea. A couple of years after I started writing the book, I met John Taylor Gatto at the InHome Homeschool Conference in St. Charles, Illinois and told him about Carpe Diem. He looked like a kid on Christmas morning as he said, “Imagine, a whole town of unschoolers.”



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