July-August 2008 Selected Content
Interviews - Mary Nix
Interview with Luz Shosie and Ned Vare
Luz Shosie and Ned Vare are longtime unschool activists. If you are not familiar with them, be sure to visit their website, Unschoolers Unlimited: http://borntoexplore.org/unschool/index.html .
They reside in Connecticut, but the encouraging articles at their site are supportive for unschoolers anywhere. I asked Luz and Ned to share a little about their family and how they came to unschool.
Luz and Ned: First, we are in favor of homeschooling in all its forms and methods. We believe that sending a child to school -- especially public school -- is damaging for most if not all. Homeschooling is almost always a better experience simply because it avoids the negatives of school. We are both former school teachers and realize that teaching is a fraudulent occupation - unless the student requests it. We believe that applies to homeschooling too. Children's curiosity is diminished by unwanted teaching.
In 1980, when my ten-year-old son (by previous marriage) came to live with us at our ranch in Colorado, I sent for a curriculum in a box. We looked at the materials for a few minutes and decided to start the next day. Ten minutes in, my boy said, "Dad, this is stupid." I had to agree. It reminded me of my brief teaching career. We sent it all back and went out to play...permanently. A child had shown me that schooling is unwanted because it is uninteresting and wasteful. Also, I realized that I would be trapped by the schooling as much as my son. I had a life to live and had little time for such insulting tedium. That was when John Holt's words started making sense to me.
Homeschooling does not need to be schooling-at-home. Real life is what teaches us and our children. The academic stuff is learned incidentally, not as a separate time-wasting activity. A parent's role is nurturer, guardian, provider of unconditional love. Adding the unnatural role of teacher (as taskmaster and judge) creates tensions and conflict. We already went through it as children. Why must we put our kids and ourselves through it again?
Mary: What has the freedom of unschooling taught you?
Ned: Luz & I are Libertarians. We like freedom in all parts of our lives. The unschooling life taught me to trust my child's curiosity and drive to learn instead of some stranger's idea of what I should put into his brain at a given age. The child learns to make his own choices, instead of having them made by others. If parents simply back off and offer access to life, the child will make the choices that suit him best. The benefit is that the child learns that he --not someone else -- is in charge of his own life.
A big influence for me was Eda LeShan. When she was six, her parents told her it was time to go to school. She wrote them a note: "Dear Parents, Let me be how I grow." (her parents changed their minds) To me, that says a great deal about unschooling. What a gift: letting children be themselves.
Mary: How do you explain unschooling to those who don't think it could possibly work?
Luz and Ned: What do they mean by working? Does school Work? How? What did they learn in school (name anything) that they could not have learned elsewhere without the hassles, boredom, and waste of time spent in school? Was it worth twenty thousand hours of being lectured, plus homework, bus rides, competition for grades, etc? Almost everything we learned in school needed to be unlearned when we got out... the misinformation, the petty rules, the coercive tactics, the corruption and lies.
I avoid the term unschooling, except with experienced homeschoolers. The people you refer to have not tried it, and have not heard about its benefits and happy (often surprising) results. Some who are against the concept of unschooling dismiss it without thinking because it exposes their youth as mostly wasted in school. School taught most of us that learning only happens when we are forced, coerced, motivated and judged by others. Knowing that can be painful.
John Holt said, "Children don't need to be made to learn or shown how; they know how and are good at it." Our job as parents is to help our children follow their interests, any way we can.
Mary: Your son Cassidy is now grown. Has he expressed any opinions on being unschooled?
Luz and Ned: Cass wrote in a college essay, "I wouldn't have the confidence I have today if I hadn't learned to help myself."
He wishes he'd had more of a social life. Even though there were fewer homeschoolers then, there were theater groups, arts and crafts guilds, camping, sports, all sorts of activities for families. Bottom line: we could have done more, and I regret that. Today, there is much more choice.
Mary: What is he up to these days?
Luz and Ned: He had a stellar career at Hunter College in NYC, dean's list all the way, president of the film club, had jobs, worked on a political campaign, graduated Magna Cum Laude. He worked two years in a bike shop (loves fixing things). Three years ago, he rode his bicycle (eleven weeks, 4000 miles) from New York to Seattle. There, he met a wonderful young woman and they have married. They live in Brooklyn, where he got his old job back, is training for bike racing and is planning his own shop.
There's more of Cassidy's story and lots of unschooling advice and ideas in our book, Smarting Us Up. (see sidebar)
Mary: I read in a news report that Cassidy volunteered at the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven and that at age 8, he was in charge of counting the insects. They also reported that, "By 12, he was an information officer answering visitors' questions about the displays of dinosaurs and fossils." How did you discover these types of opportunities? Do you have any similar stories you would like to share that might help our readers find similar opportunities for their children?
Luz and Ned: The comic strip character Pogo (Walt Kelly) said: "We are confronted with insurmountable opportunity!"
We read in the paper that Yale's museum was looking for volunteers. The professors welcomed Luz and Cassidy in their workplaces and were generous with them of their time and knowledge. At the same time, both Luz and Cass made substantial contributions to their work, and enjoyed the exchange.
Cassidy took classes at another museum and was hired at age 15 to teach an "enrichment" class (Origami) for public school teachers. (How ironic, I thought.) A class at an arts center led to his first paying job - stringing beads for a local jewelry maker. He developed a close relationship with the owner and she encouraged him to go to college.
Mary: How did Cassidy prepare for college?
Luz and Ned: We did not think of his growing up years as preparation for college. He was living a real life and doing things that interested him, without schoolbooks, lessons or tests. When he was 17, he decided to go to Hunter College in NYC. They require a high school diploma and SAT scores. He bought books about how to prepare for the SAT and GED and scored well enough to be admitted.
Mary: Do you have any advice for unschoolers who are getting ready for college?
Luz and Ned: Schooling does not prepare a person for college. We told Cass at age four that he was in charge of his own education. He said, "Great, I'll do it." He did a great job in his own way. The key was that we trusted him and told him so.
College is a meeting of minds. You are seeking the knowledge that the college is offering. Cassidy found it helpful to meet with an advisor (a moonlighting high school guidance counselor) who helped him sort through the choices. Unschooling was important preparation because Cass had learned to plan and conduct his own life. So, I can advise others not to worry about the academics as much as the self-confidence and self-motivation areas for your children. Give them practice at self-determination.
Mary: Some parents are intimidated when they begin unschooling or homeschooling. As I tell others, my children were ready and willing to learn because they hadn't been influenced by the system of education so many of us grew up with. *I* was the one that needed deschooling. Do you have any advice for helping families with the deschooling process?
Luz and Ned: Deschooling is the word that describes the transition from school to a life of educating ourselves. It is usually the parents who need a helping hand in trusting their own children. That is because we have all been told that children need to be forced to learn, that school is the only place it happens, and many more lies. Whatever you do, be flexible. Kids' needs and desires change. Be ready to let go of your ideas and go with theirs. They will always love you for the trust you give them.
Live with your children as though school did not exist. If your kids have been in school, take time off before starting any homeschooling routine. Children may appear to be "doing nothing," but they are actually healing or detoxing. Parents may need an activity during this process. Find something you enjoy doing, learn something new. Your kids need to see that you have a life. You will probably be surprised at how much they are doing and learning. Do not hover.
Mary: Even though Cassidy is now grown, the two of you continue to offer support to new families. What do you consider the most important?
Luz and Ned: Our job is encouragement and reassurance. We send out a free information packet and an occasional newsletter. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive yours. We hold informal gatherings where families can socialize and exchange information. It is still satisfying to see families take their children out of the bad schools and let them see -- often for the first time - that their own interests are important.
Mary: Could you tell a little bit about your new blog, "School is Hell."
Ned: The title is my premise. Many parents believe that school is a necessary, and overall good experience. My job is to refute those views. Newspapers have published hundreds of my letters to editors about the public school failure. The more I've learned of the situation (thanks to Holt, Gatto, and many other writers) I keep finding new ways to describe that failure. The address: http://school-is-hell.blogspot.com
© 2008, Mary Nix