Tuesday, July 30, 2013


So many things to write about!

I recently saw someone post something about a person who claimed credentials they had not earned. Actually, I've seen this a lot, in a variety of fields. In this particular case, one of the people in the discussion commented "isn't that unschooling?" It brought into question whether it is legitimate, for someone to be self-taught to the level of excellence, and at that point, whether it was acceptable for the person to refer to themselves with a professional title.

It is a legitimate question, that's for sure.
How can unschoolers talk about people not needing to be taught things, how they can learn anything on their own… but then balk at a self-taught person claiming expertise?

There are a few puzzle pieces in that question, that I'll address separately.

First, is it really possible to learn everything on your own, or are there some things that must be taught?

I have seen many unschoolers insist that children do not "need to be taught." Period. Ever. That EVERYTHING can be learned "through life."

This topic is near and dear to my heart because…  I teach.

My personal opinion is this:
In theory, yes, it's possible to learn anything you want without being specifically "taught."
There are some things that are better learned from someone who knows both how to do the thing, and how to teach that thing to another person. Physical skills are often better learned person-to-person than from a less hands-on or immediate way. Trial and error works for some things, but not everything, at least not in a timely manner.

In my specific profession, it takes a lifetime to really learn it WITH excellent instruction and immediate feedback. There are several paradigm shifts that must occur to reach a full understanding, and not everything about it is apparent from the outside, or to a beginner.
While it is theoretically possible, in the broadest sense of the word, for someone to teach themselves… it is highly unlikely.

At the same time, what I teach is not possible to force someone else to learn. They must be an active, willing participant. The "teaching" is absolutely a joint effort.

This brings me to the next part of the question.

Even if you COULD learn it yourself, through reading books, watching videos, personal study, and practice…
a person does not have the right to claim the professional title that only comes from having gone through a very specific set of experiences, demonstrations, and both physical and written examinations. No one can self-anoint themselves.

More examples:

I can learn to cook by asking someone- like my Mom- to teach me. I learned a lot about cooking from my Mom, starting at a very young age.
I can learn by experimentation, directly. I can make up recipes, combine foods, try new techniques.
I can learn by using cookbooks, or other knowledge from other people, but in an indirect way.
I can learn by sharing food, knowledge, and experiences with friends. 
I can learn from feedback from the people who eat what I prepare.
With all those ways of learning, I can learn a LOT, and get to be a pretty good cook.
However, no matter how good I get, I do not have the right to refer to myself as a professional chef.

I can study law however I want…but cannot be an attorney without taking the Bar Exam.
I can learn a lot about medicine, in many ways, but can't be a doctor without med school.

I have no problem with someone being "self taught." How could I? I have learned many, many things that way, and some of my most active interests are entirely self taught.

I have a big problem with people who claim experience, knowledge, and expertise they do not or cannot demonstrate, and professional titles they have not earned.

My profession is very close to no longer existing because of the high number of people who claim the professional title, without any actual credentials- and without the ability to reach an expert level of understanding without going through that credentialing process. They are out there, claiming to "teach" something they do not, themselves, understand. There is no oversight. People are paying them good money for what they assume is competent instruction, but is not. There is no way to fight against this. People don't know what they don't know, and true professionals are vastly outnumbered. It has reached the point where almost no one even realizes that there is a level beyond those who illegitimately claim the title, so the average person accepts what is most often offered as the "real deal."

So yes, this is a personal issue for me.

On the other hand, a skilled, talented, honest, amateur is worth a million pretend professionals.
It is critical that people are honest about what they know, and how they know it.
I'm more than willing to acknowledge excellence and expertise wherever it exists- as long as no one is claiming a specific, recognized credential that they have not earned.
Credentials, in and of themselves, aren't the important part- but they ARE a specific, legal thing.

Given a choice between someone who is an expert, and someone who has the credential, but is a poor practitioner, I'd choose the person who knows what they are talking about, or who can do what they say they can do, over the one with a piece of paper. Just don't claim that piece of paper if you don't have it. That's not part of unschooling, at all.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yes and No

Over on facebook there was a discussion going on, started by a woman asking for help. She had gotten a kitten, but her very young child was mistreating it, and she wanted suggestions for gentle ways to help the child understand not to hurt the kitten.

Sounds reasonable, right?

Part of the whole unschooling thing has to do with respecting children, and helping them, rather than controlling them. So to ask for ideas for how to be kind and gentle, rather than punishing, can be part of the path people travel while becoming more accustomed to a different way of being and living. There is no shame in needing help, and in asking for it.

But this situation of a very young child and a kitten also demonstrates very clearly some of the things about unschooling that people often fail to grasp. 

When my kids were born, I knew I did not want to send them to public school, so I started to explore other ideas before they were anywhere near school age. We did what we did, and were happy with it, the kids were learning and thriving, and it was as simple as that. We didn't have a name for what we were doing, really, and there weren't lots of other people who had been doing the same thing, to ask questions of. There was no internet, no google, no e-mail lists or yahoo groups. Unschoolers came to it pretty much on their own, or maybe, with a few friends, if they were lucky.

But now, most new unschoolers have seen or heard of unschooling. They might know someone. They may have read a book, or gone to a conference, or even seen a TV show. They join online groups and facebook pages. They have an ideal in mind, and are looking for people to help them reach it.

The odd thing is, I think it can actually be harder for some to grasp unschooling that way, than with no "help" at all. There is so MUCH "advice" out there, not all of it good. A sort of a "rule set" has developed in the minds of a lot of people. I've seen many, many people online who are struggling to "do it right," and for many of those people, who are trying to shift from one way of being to a very different one, all at once, rather than as their own growth process, it means that there can be a huge reliance on trying to copy what the "big names" are doing, or to follow, blindly, set concepts that they believe are mandatory, even while not fully understanding the intent.

Back to the situation with the kitten and the very young child.

The Mom, wanting to be a "good unschooler," no doubt, does not want to tell her child "no" or step in to protect the kitten by stopping the behavior when it happens. 

Where on earth did people get the idea that unschooling means never saying no, or never stopping negative behavior, that children should always be allowed to do whatever they want?

From a lot of sources online, who say those very things.

What the new unschooler is missing is the CONTEXT.

They get stuck on never saying no, because it is a "rule" of unschooling.
They become more attached to "doing it right" and being approved of, to calling themselves unschoolers, than to what is actually happening, or needs to happen.

There is a time to stop a behavior, period. If something is dangerous, stop it. 

If you don't want to have to do that, then you MUST set up the environment to avoid it, rather than try to fix it when it happens.
This is the part that people don't see, when they look at experienced unschoolers.
I've told people recently that my relationships with my kids, what they see and want to experience… took us 20-26 years of daily connection to develop.
We have done a lot of groundwork to get where we are.

Ever watch a magician? Ever watch a magician's act more than once, and notice that it is the same tricks, in the same order, and the same way, each time?
It is not only because it has been rehearsed that way (although it has).
It is because each trick is not a separate thing; they are built into each other. The execution of one includes the set up for another. That cantaloupe that appears under the hat was put there three tricks ago, while you were paying attention to the cards on the table.

Such is life.
Everything is connected.
Not just learning.

So if you want your kids to be strong, kind, independent, honest, trustworthy adults, you facilitate that their entire lives.
No one gets to start in the middle.
Whatever the ages of your kids when you begin unschooling, you start at the beginning. Building trust. Connection.
It takes time.

Another thing this brings to mind,  that some people may recognize: the tag line from the movie "Love Story."

"Love means never having to say you're sorry."

Most people seemed to think it meant that if you claim to love someone, you can do whatever you want, and not have to apologize.
The truth is very different.
It is that when you love, truly love, you live your life in a way that honors that love.
It is not that you have some sort of "don't apologize" rule to follow, or permission to be an ass.
It is that you take care to be honest, loving, and kind.
You never need to say you're sorry because you don't do things you'd be sorry for.

"Never saying no" works much the same way.
It has never been intended to be some sort of approval of being permissive, and simply allowing whatever happens to happen, never stepping in, never guiding, and never stopping inappropriate behavior. It does not mean that you sit back and allow anything and everything, as if unschoolers somehow have a right to behave in inappropriate ways, in the name of "doing whatever they want" being a goal.
It is meant to remind you that you need to be proactive, and thoughtful, and interactive, so that the need for saying no DOESN'T COME UP.

You don't do everything the same way you always have, or that other people do, except that you don't say no.
The set up for being in a position of not NEEDING to say no must be part of, not separate from, your entire way of being and parenting.

This is what it means for something to be a principle, not a rule.
A way of being, not a rule to follow, regardless of the consequences.


If I had a very young child, and wanted a kitten, we'd do some groundwork first, so I would be able to be confident that neither kitten nor child would come to harm. We'd visit kittens at the shelter, or visit friends with a kitten. We'd spend a lot of time touching, being gentle, and talking about it in between times. If all went well, we'd probably start with an older kitten, not a tiny one. I'd be sure to create some "safe places" in our house for the kitten, so it could get away if it wanted to. I'd supervise all contact until I was certain there was no danger- similarly to how, when we got a pair of kittens recently, we did not allow the dog and kittens to be together without us right there, until the kittens were older, and the dog calmed down. We knew the dog would not intentionally hurt a kitten, but he is so much bigger that it would be easy to hurt one accidentally. The time period of supervision was months, not hours or days. And the process is the same every time, evaluating and preparing for a new addition to the family, even with it having gone well every time before, even with a house full of adults.

If, after all that, something happened that demonstrated that my child was not able to be safe with a kitten yet, I'd find a new home for the kitten. It is not fair to either kitten or child to put them in a situation they cannot be safe in. If I've done my work well, this is unlikely to happen. But with this, as with everything, I have the continued responsibility to be aware, and to invest time, effort, and physical presence, to be sure that things are safe and appropriate. Being proactive is KEY.

Unschooling does not mean "never saying no."
It means partnering with your children to find ways to say yes- including whatever it takes to set that up.
It isn't only about the "yes," it's about everything that leads there.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Tactical Retreat

I've been unschooling for a while now. Longer than most people out there, only because my kids are older. I started before the internet, before facebook.

In the beginning, most unschoolers didn't have a lot of support, I think. I found some like-minded people in La Leche League, but even that group of people included some who were unschooling out of a feeling that they were somehow "supposed to," rather than because it was what they truly believed, or how they really wanted to live.

Most of those people didn't unschool for long.

Then the internet happened.
Homeschoolers, in general, including unschoolers, started to find each other online. Discussion groups started. Chat rooms on AOL.

With the chat rooms came arguments.
Disagreements about what unschooling is, how people should do it, what "worked."

As the access to such forums increased, the level of discourse decreased. Much more time was spent explaining, arguing, and getting rid of trolls, than was spent helping each other. This was not only the case on AOL, but on e-mail lists as they became popular, and now, on facebook.

As the internet became more popular, I started out very active on a variety of online forums.
I stopped writing about unschooling online several years ago, when there was more stress involved than there was real communication.

Not very long ago, I realized that there must be unschooling pages and groups on facebook, and indeed, there are.
I started posting about unschooling again.

To my great surprise, there were people who recognized my name from things I had written years before.

I've spent part of the last while posting on several unschooling forums, in an attempt to help clarify for people what unschooling is, how it works, THAT it works. My kids are adults now. In the unschooling world (I'm not going to say "community" or "movement" because I don't think either thing really exists), adults who were (and are) unschoolers their whole lives are a fabulous resource. I thought my family might be able to help others who are just starting out.

I think we probably have, to some extent.
Some of the forums have had good conversations.
I've become acquainted with some really cool people, all over the place.


That is not all that has happened.

Lately, I've noticed that those forums seem to have more people in them who are not unschooling, than who are. That would be fine, if those were people asking questions, hoping to learn more about unschooling. Instead, they are ANSWERING questions. Giving advice. Advice full of curricula, worksheets, online schools, etc. Any attempt to redirect the conversation, or to point out that unschooling generally isn't about those things, is met with accusations of "jumping on people." There is no way for the readers to know whose advice is legit, who has years of unschooling experience, and who is, quite frankly, talking out their ass.

But that isn't what bothers me most.

What bothers me is that many of the people on those pages don't really want to unschool.
They want to "BE unschoolers."
They want the label.
They want someone else to figure it out for them, and give them all the answers- the techniques, the materials, the jargon.
They want validation for their choices, whether they are unschooling choices or not.
They want to give advice, explain things, and defend their choices, even if they aren't helpful at all to someone who is honestly trying to make changes in their lives.

It makes it tedious to read, and unpleasant to deal with.
Between the stress of being accused of mistreating people, and the necessity of repeating the same things over and over and over, whether anyone is listening or not, along with some things in my life demanding more time than is available, I've decided it's time for me to step back again.

I won't be reading or responding much, if at all, on facebook anymore. At least not for a while.
I'll write things here, on my blog.
If people want to read it, great.
If they find it interesting or useful, great.

I'm not saying that facebook forums might not be interesting or helpful for anyone, but they currently are not so for me.
I think I have a lot more to offer by simply writing about my experiences here.

I have a backlog of things I've been wanting to write about, with little time to do the writing.
I'm hoping to use the time I had been spending there, writing here.