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Unschool Travel From Oaxaca to L.A. Swimming Pools
This article, by Josanna Crawford , was originally published in the March-April 1996 issue of Home Education Magazine.


Nine years of my life were spent in school and so I have been recovering, healing from it since I was fifteen and will continue until I am twenty-four. But this process requires you let go of school and its preparatory molds. If you take school home with you then your clenched knuckles can't regain color. It is like building a house only forgetting to put windows in, then after sitting down to your new dining room table wondering why your face is being scraped with hail.

Letting go of textbooks, bells, and motivation from without was the first phase of my home schooling. I thought it was the last phase but I know now that unschooling (I define myself as an unschooler) is upward and linear. Unschooling is in fact, my life. The way I choose to breathe and feed my mind. Unschoolers have different reasons for leaving school and diverse paths needing to be mapped once away from school but I've noticed unschoolers share an element of direction. Not that unschoolers are going in the same direction but that they are going in the direction of their choice. The direction that fate, fascination, and destiny puts them in.

If ignored, lessons learned from unschooling can cut you up or even send you back to school. The phases of unschooling need to be worked with and massaged. In my situation I don't know if my lessons are getting easier, because as I get more involved with life activities, the lessons grow more abstract. Things like the supermarket checker eyeing my brother and I with suspicion I don't notice anymore. After you leave any kind of system or institution your sense of place and location changes from socially acceptable to rebel truism. At times it feels rebel but the volume of my life better qualifies as true.

My current phase is befriending my relation to paid work. I already have a lot of unpaid work. This is probably the only part of unschooling I've struggled with. Paid work is an institution like school. They rely and support each other a great deal and are interlaced. What I'm now figuring instead of fighting is that yes, I can have one without the other. Work without school. But to find my spot in the work force as an unschooler I have to be creative. Something college graduates have to do anyway these days. Instead of adjusting myself to a job, create a job that adjusts to me. But this has been more difficult for me than actually leaving school. Not that I don't have creative job possibilities in my life - the fiction I spend four hours every morning working on and the intricate beadwork I do are both marketable - it's that school has left a giant myth in my head. A myth that you must farm yourself out, give up any concise thinking, suppress important emotions, and most of all reject the individual for the mass, to get a job. Unfortunately many jobs warp you like that but not all. And if I realize and accept the progress I have made as an unschooler, work will invite itself into my life.

For five months I worked for Grace Llewellyn in Eugene, Oregon. I helped her with some of her brilliant projects and had the pleasure of being around her angelic energy and prolific mind. She was the ultimate boss and the job was extremely flexible and open, but I had to leave because the job hit something tender. It was partly that I missed the unique home I've been raised in, but now I see the tenderness was also connected to school. The job ignited memories of being controlled in school, it made me feel trapped. Sitting at a desk for a designated period of time washed school induced deep pain ashore. I left Eugene and lovely Grace Llewellyn and learned that to be happy I would have to create my own life's work.

Recently my mother and I went to Oaxaca, Mexico on vacation for three weeks. I had just finished sheet rocking, mudding, and painting my room - the project dominated my summer and I was certainly ready for a break. This was the first trip to a foreign country we had taken together and my second unschooling traveling experience. My first unschooling travel was solo to Bucharest, Romania when I was fifteen. Traveling of course wakens what you know about those you travel with and what you know about yourself - or don't want to know. Traveling strengthens, that is why traveling is so important to homeschoolers and unschoolers. Traveling cuts away attachments and strings and in return gives fresh firm ground. Traveling to me is like pruning a fruit tree, if done systematically and regularly there is health, production, and growth - if you are patient there will be fruit.

While in Mexico occasionally I was asked my age and if I had just finished high school. I would then attempt to explain that I unschool and learn from the greater world. Traveling in Mexico was an example I'd present. But often when questioned I grew impatient because you can't explain your life in five minutes of casual conversation, and that is what unschooling is, it is my life. So my mother, more accommodating and polite than myself would end up carrying on the conversation. However, there were two connections my mother and I made while in Mexico that were of deeper resolve. One connection I know for sure will result in future unschooled offspring. It was a woman who, without labeling it that, had unschooled, received a diploma, and went on to a job and marriage. And now, preparing to bear children, was thinking about what happens when it's time to send them off to school. I wrote down a short bibliography of unschooling books - the centerpiece being, The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn. And I had a wonderful burning sensation like my mother and I had just prevented someone from drowning their children. The woman was relieved by our information and possibly it changed her life.

From Mexico I learned that the world is full of homeschoolers and unschoolers who just haven't declared themselves that. There was a jewelry store in Oaxaca in which whenever we passed, the woman at the counter was in some way helping her children learn. She would pause to help customers and then return to her children and thoughtfully answer their many questions. And when my mother and I went to an art pelicula about Frida Kahlo there was a young girl who was sitting separately from her mother. The girl was sitting in the front and her mother directly behind us. Every time the girl didn't understand something in the movie she would come to her mother to get an explanation. The mother didn't tell her daughter to be quiet and go sit down. She whispered explanations into her daughters ear. There were many situations in Mexico similar to these. I was extremely impressed with the interwoven learning and the awareness that we learn from all of those who surround us.

Traveling is my favorite unschooling phase so far. Unschoolers and homeschoolers who travel are actively changing schooled perspectives with positive unaggressive force. Now that I have had unschooled travel my mind has forgone the narrowness of a building, wooden desks, and a well meaning non-life-experienced teacher, suggesting education. There is vast more potential for hungry young minds than a school. And it is the world.

On our flight back from Mexico City to Las Angeles there were two squirmy girls, sisters, sitting behind me. Probably aged twelve and fourteen, traveling with their father. They were very proud that they had missed two days of school. And I listened to them talk as they pointed out the airplane window, and asked their father numerous questions about bodies of water, mountains, cities, the outrageous number of swimming pools in L.A., why the plane was turning to go in the opposite direction, etc.. And I wanted to tell them, you're not missing two days of school - you're missing rubbish. Right now on this airplane you've learned about deserts in Northern Mexico, that the Sierra Madre Occidental range is similar to the Grande Canyon, the location of the Gulf of California and the land beside it, Baja, that fog closes down airports and forces planes to circle and make babies cry with pressure, and that you are sisters and friends even if your school friends don't condone it. Rather I listened to the sisters kid with their father that they would be ready to return to Mexico in two months for a birthday. And in them I saw unacknowledged unschooling in constant practice. And that all of us deal with schools and institutions in our lives, but the fond memories we treasure before we die are ones of airborne nature.
- Copyright 1996 Josanna Crawford

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