What is unschooling?

First off, let me clear up any confusion by saying that we are not simply homeschoolers, but unschoolers. We have always been unschoolers.

I realize that for many people reading this, the confusion has only just begun!

Many people have no idea what unschooling is–and a lot of people think they have it all figured out, but are actually in varying states of misinformation. Even among homeschoolers, there’s a lot of confusion about what the point and aim of unschooling is, and what it might look like on a daily basis.

So I’m going to give you one perspective–my own.

Unschoolers tend to believe similar broad concepts about the nature of children and of learning, that set us slightly apart from other people. There are plenty of unschoolers who may disagree on some of the finer points, but the core beliefs are, in my opinion, fairly common ground:

Unschoolers believe strongly in the innate capabilities and curiosity of the human spirit from birth. We do not see children as inferior to adults, and we strive to treat people of all ages as primarily competent, well-intentioned individuals who possess sufficient internal motivation and drive to learn and grow throughout life. In short, we believe positive, life-affirming things about human nature, and we have (or cultivate) a large amount of trust in our children as people. We honor our children’s feelings, needs, and capabilities as much as feasible, and we strive to balance these legitimate needs with the needs of the rest of our family.

We do not use punishment or try to control our children, and we strive to create an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect in our homes and families. Of course we’re human, and we don’t pretend otherwise. Sometimes we yell, or lose our tempers, as do our kids. But when we’ve overreacted or are wrong, we apologize and make amends. Everyone in our family is deserving of mutual respect, and we work daily on facilitating cooperation, understanding, and love.

Unschoolers believe that absolutely everything–every interest and experience–has value, and that learning happens best when it’s not confined to a classroom or a book. We believe that the desire to learn is nearly insatiable, inherent in a child’s being, and if left to develop naturally (without the use of coersion, punishments, bribery, grades, gold stars and the like), it will flourish and continue throughout one’s life. Unschoolers believe that grades and rewards dampen one’s internal motivation to learn for the sake of wanting or needing to know. We believe that dividing life up into subjects – and then labeling some of those subjects as universally important to know, and others as trivial or irrelevant – is a terrible disruption and hinderance to the natural flow of learning.

The end goal of unschooling is to raise children adults who are “succesful” in the sense that they have the tools necessary to make their way in the world, of course. But there’s a deeper meaning of success that’s also applied here, versus what’s applied to society in general.

Unschoolers are more likely to measure success in non-quantifiable terms.

We want our kids to grow up knowing what it means to live for themselves. To be truly happy and fulfilled, however they choose to define that. To not be afraid to go against the grain in some circumstances, yet flexible enough to go with the flow in others. In short, we strive to give our kids the tools and the opportunities to be freethinkers. To carve out their own destinies instead of being bound by expectations or someone else’s life plans for them.

Unschoolers can and do do “schoolwork”, and they can and do go to college and beyond–if they desire to. They are much more likely to possess the rare gift of believing in themselves, instead of believing what others (“experts”) have told them about themselves throughout their childhoods. They have been trusted enough that trusting themselves comes naturally. They have been able to experiment and follow the threads of their interests deeply and often, and those threads are likely to lead to consuming passions with unique, marketable skill sets.

They are often in the uncommon position, by young adulthood, of being able to create abundance by following the natural flow of their passions, having boundless enthusiasm to learn new skills, and honing skills they already possess.

I will be writing much more on unschooling theory and thought in future posts. I have kept silent long enough–the world needs to hear about this.


Gasoline, Greenhouses, and Other Consuming Topics of Madness

It’s been a very strange few…days?  Weeks?  Months?  All of those would actually be correct, albeit in different ways.  I have had very little time or inclination for art lately, because of all the odd, busy, and amazing things that have been happening around me.  Every time I think I’ve got a handle on things, some semblance of “what to expect”, life throws me a half-dozen fabulous curve balls…which I am of course accepting with gratitude and love.  (You hear that, Universe??–!)

I’ve been very absorbed with our backyard greenhouse…which is now finished except for a door, and already over 1/4 filled with various plants and seeds.  Here’s a slightly similar greenhouse model, so you can get the full imagined effect.  My husband actually googled for a while, and then made up his own plan, in his head.  He plans to blog about that, and many other topics, in time.

Actually, the greenhouse project is spilling over into the rest of the yard, since we have also been clearing brush, planting flowers and vines, and generally trying to make the yard a bit more habitable for people (and less so for the hundreds of wasps and hornets that were, until recently, holding it hostage!).  The hippie in me was so excited to find a patchouli plant at a really amazing local nursery the other day.  I was having visions of making my own organic oil infusions and perfume solids before we even hit the checkout!  I also have big plans for a moon garden area, complete with a vine-covered bower, birdbath, and meditation bench.  In all actuality, our main goal is really just food production, but, well….you might say I have a tendency to get carried away…

Another thing we’ve been consumed with is the quest for a larger vehicle, and all the difficult trade-offs and concessions to be made in such a decision.  When we bought our MINIvan, we thought it was plenty big, but  fast forward three years:  With six seats, and six in the family, there’s room for little else.  Now, if we were going to stay a family of six, we would most likely press on with our MINIvan, and maybe buy a roof rack for it.  The gas prices are making me wish I didn’t have to own a vehicle at all lately, but in Texas, it’s an unfortunate necessity.  I thought we could hold out for a new hybrid minivan, but alas–they’re still not sure if the American version will have five or seven seats.  America, you lose major coolpoints for being statistically fatter than the Japanese.  Why won’t they make an affordable hybrid for the demographic that needs them most (aka growing families)??  Because it’s apparently not lucrative enough.  *Sigh*

Now, my dream ride is a 1970’s V-Dub bus, which seats 8, and could theoretically be converted to run on biodiesel fuel.  But hamburger-grease-smell-emanating-from-the-vegetarian-chick’s-car issues aside, I just don’t think that’d be practical for our needs right now.  I mean, I have kids–I need a dependable vehicle, not something that might break down and be out of service, long-term, due to unavailable parts; mechanical who-knows-what; or worse.

This left us considering the potential of one of those 15-seater utility van things–you know, the ones that last forever and are always painted white?  This could be an art project of epic proportion!  Paisley curtains and some green-and-yellow abstract art on the sides, and it might pass for something simply weird instead of plain and *uuuuugly*.  =)  But then the spectre of $5+ gallon gasoline is looming in the back of my mind, making me fear that we’d only be able to afford a grocery trip once every month to offset the cost of gas for a behemoth like that!  I’d be even more concerned with my garden’s productivity, then…!

We’ve even toyed with the idea of “homebrewing” our own ethanol, but again….potentially risky, and potentially vehicle-ruining if you mess up.  Then again….40 cents a gallon sounds fabulous.  I could go visit the mountains in New Mexico again…ahh yes…  Incidentally, it didn’t escape my notice that the article I linked was from 2006.  I just wanted to point that out for salience.

If that’s not enough goings-on for you, I’m also pregnant.  Due 11/11/11.  How’s that for a sign??  =)

Living a Theoretical Life vs. Just Doing It: Caffeine

It occurred to me recently that I am living a largely theoretical life.

I may have clever or even divine inspirations, but I hesitate to act on them. I think of doing amazing, life-changing, progress-oriented things, but it seems that too often, I don’t follow through, or external things get in the way and for whatever reason, the progress is stunted.
For example, I have sworn off caffeine more times than I can count, yet at this very moment there is a half-empty bottle of soda nearby. I think about how other people do not need caffeine to function throughout the day, or how lovely it would be to start the day with a cup o’this instead of nasty, tooth-yellowing coffee. On a deeper level, I think about how the pathology of addiction is present, about how dangerous chemicals like phosphoric acid and HFCS are, and so on until it would be absolutely ludicrous for me to imagine touching another drop of any caffeine-containing beverage, for any reason. And then…inexplicably, I end up with coffee or soda in hand.
Now, I am also old enough to be able to look back at my adult life and realize that were it not for this unfortunate tendency, I would be happier and better off, all around. This problem goes far deeper than just beating the caffeine addiction. It’s really about how to Just Do It instead of forever languishing in the realm of theory and probability.
By nature, I am an analyst–I must dissect and cross-examine nearly every bit of relevant information that I come across. While this is generally a good habit to have, I am starting to recognize that this tendency is no longer as helpful as it once was in my life. I am no longer swimming (drowning?) in the vast seas of possible life-options–I have lived in this world long enough to be fairly sure of who I am, what I believe, and what I want to achieve. I don’t need to shuffle along the walls of every maze of information I come across, for fear of missing some crucial piece of information that might unlock the puzzle of my life’s purpose.
To move forward, from the realm of theory into actualization, I need to shift away from my tendency to over-think my actions and inactions. Instead of imagining how good it would feel to be caffeine-free, I need to just face facts: Namely, that it’s hard to go through withdrawal symptoms, that caffeine is everywhere and I should be forewarned and forearmed to deal with this fact, and that it might never be easy to live a caffeine-free life. But–and here’s the kicker–if I value being caffeine-free as a worthy life goal, as a positive thing to align my life with, then I have to Just Do It. No excuses, no rationalization, no backtracking or coddling myself mentally. If I absentmindedly spend my last few dollars in change on a delicious soy caramel macchiato (and yes, they are delicious), I should pour it out as soon as I catch myself–even if it’s before leaving the counter.
Better to berate myself for money wasted than for money wasted AND for allowing a goal to slip out of my reach yet again.