Thursday, November 30, 2006

Off the Farm & Unschooling

There are times when life sure enough calls you off the farm. Like when you happen to have a friend who knows more about steam engines than God and he picks a warm early winter day to invite you and your family for a day on the launch. Pack a quick lunch of home made bread, home made cheese, apples and celery, a bag of coats that you won’t even need, and be off.

View from the Top
Originally uploaded by
Contrary Goddess.

There are more photos on flickr if’n you’re interested.

I don’t end up talking much about unschooling on this blog because, after all, unschooling is about what we aren’t doing and this blog is about what we are doing. But our day out combined with a conversation with a born again schooler highlighted the whole unschooling thing.

My kids, out on that boat, were able to convert feet to fathoms, determine direction of travel (roughly) by position of the sun, calculate speed by throwing an apple core in the water near the front of the boat and counting seconds until it was at the back of the boat, so many things. One daughter spent most of the day in quiet contemplation, looking at what we didn’t know. Until she quietly took her dad aside and explained wave mechanics to him. I was impressed with the way eldest confidently took the helm as though he were born to it. Our friend commented that our youngest was more subdued that usual, which was true -- Mr. Talking Action Figure sat quietly for the most part. And watched every adjustment our friend made to that steam engine. Eventually he asked, “What did you do to that engine?” I do not know how much of it he absorbed, but I bet it was more than we’ll ever know.

And then husband was explaining all this and more to a confirmed schooler and no matter what he said, she had an objection such as that the calculations were not advanced enough nor were they couched in the proper terminology. When it was pointed out that the majority of people who can describe sine waves through schooling don’t actually understand that sound waves are not really invisible little waves that look like that . . . she wondered how we knew that.

Hey, hello. We didn’t learn it in school. We all learn best by teaching ourselves. By having an interest, a need, a desire, and using resources (books, people, even classes although they waste inordinate amounts of time generally, the internet, experimentation) to figure it out, to get better at it. Our friend, who already knew more than God about steam engines, refitted that boat of his numerous times before he had it the way he wanted it. That is life. That is creativity. That is art.

When the confirmed schooler ran out of other objections, she raised the spectre of our children being overconfident. Oh, yes, the government-schooling-industrial complex would hate to have folks be confident in their ability to figure things out for themselves, wouldn’t it? People who are secure don’t have to buy a new self-image every few days, don’t have the gnawing discontent that is the fuel of consumerism. Yes, that and I’m sure that her goal had been to raise her children to grow up to be insecure nincompoops.

You know, as in so many things, it comes down to what we value. And we don’t all value the same things.


Susan Gets Native said...

My kids are just now entering preschool, and we plan on sending them to "conventional" school, but I see the positive aspects of unschooling. The person I am, involved in nature and conseravtion, I am already teaching them in much the way unschooling works.
Everything becomes a lesson, whether it be turning rocks over to ID the critters, to why the sky is blue and how the moon phases work.
I just hope they turn out decent!

H. Stallard said...

What happened to the steam engine with the cracked boiler?

Madcap said...

...the calculations were not advanced enough..

Advanced enough for what? I don't have need or desire for learning that particular information, but it sounds relatively sophisticated to me.

H. Stallard said...

"the calculations were not advanced enough nor were they couched in the proper terminology"

When someone doesn't have a legitimate objection/observation/criticism to make they resort to nit-picking.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Susan, I'm very sorry but it doesn't sound to me like you get unschooling at all. NOTHING is a LESSON in unschooling. I don't TEACH in unschooling. Etc. I would simply recommend that you read John Taylor Gatto's essay The Seven Lesson School Teacher (easily searched out) to begin to grasp the harm that schooling does to all of us.

And MC, "not advanced enough" meant that it was just simple "algebra" and not "trig" and without "trig" he couldn't circumnavigate . . . or something or the other. It was a crazy conversation to me.

Schoolers are like that. Every objection they raise to home/UN/schooling, the same can be said about kids in school (what if there are *gasp* GAPS in their knowledge? what if they don't learn to read?) and yet that doesn't matter.

It comes down to that we do not all want the same things for our kids, we don't have the same values. Folks who want their kids to "perform" -- hey, I've seen classically schooled kids (homeschooled) jump through all sorts of impressive hoops. Go for it. I'll take radical lunatic fringe unschooling's results thank you.

H, we still have the steam engine. Still need a new boiler for it.

Eleutheros said...

Susan:" I am already teaching them in much the way unschooling works"

Our household is also radical, rabid, lunatic fringe unschoolers.

Your comment caused my brain to short circuit for a moment.

Do you know people who don't vaccinate their children? Can you get your mind around someone who vaccinates their children saying, "We vaccinate our children in much the way those who don't vaccinate their children works."


Unschooling isn't a technique or a method or an approach. It is a philosophy and a view of what children are that leads the unschooler to NOT do something, that is, schooling.

laura said...

i could say an enormous amount about unschooling. but what i was left with from this post was the last comment about what we value. and what i'm thinking right now in this moment is how much i value getting to read this blog today. that's it. sometimes, i just don't go much deeper than that.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I love you la!

Susan Gets Native said...

I obviously DON'T get unschooling.
All I know is that I made these children, and it's my duty and pleasure to help them find their way in the world. I personally don't care if they turn out to be doctors or farmers or models. I want them to be happy. Period.
Question: In unschooling, what happens if a child wants to go for a career that requires college? And if they have never been "schooled", how do they get into a college and stay there? Seems like it would be quite a transition for them.
I have to disagree with some of what you guys think. But that's the great thing about blogging. We get to see all sides.

Eleutheros: I'm sorry. I don't understand what you meant. I didn't think vaccinations were being discussed. I "short-circuited" you? What did you mean?

I show my kids any part of the world that they seem interested in. If they aren't interested, I move on.

I was schooled conventionally, from kindergarten through college, and I am grateful for it. Example: I never would have be able to get philosophy unless I had my professor help to dissect it. Or math, or sociology. Etc. It does come down to what we value. I don't wish that my kids turn into mindless consumers. I can only do my best, like everyone else.
I read your blog frequently, CG. I just wanted to say that I think you are doing a good job with your kids, even if it's not exactly what I would do with mine. That's all.

Eleutheros said...

SGN:"Eleutheros: I'm sorry. I don't understand what you meant. I didn't think vaccinations were being discussed. I "short-circuited" you? What did you mean?"

It's an example to illustrate the point. I don't know, maybe it's just an unschooling thing now of days, I'm pretty out of touch.

I'm not one of them, but you surely know people who do not vaccinate their children. How much sense would it make to say, " I am already vaccinating [my children] in much the way non-vaccinators do."

Or what if someone was trying to tell you about their vegetarianism, would you say, " I am already cooking meat in much the way vegetarians cook meat."?
(That, by the bye, is another example, I know we aren't discussing vegetarianism).

Unschoolers don't school. It's something they DON'T do just as some people don't vaccinate and some don't eat meat.

SGN:" I never would have be able to get philosophy unless I had my professor help to dissect it. Or math, or sociology. Etc."

I am curious as to how you could possibly ever know that. You were confined in a classroom for most of your waking time for, what, seventeen years? You were with a limited number of other people more or less exactly your own age and exposed to very few adults again and again. You passed your days confined to a relatively small space hopelessly removed from the real world.

How do you know you would never have been able to get philosophy, sociology, or math?

Susan Gets Native said...

For goodness sake...
I only wanted to leave a nice comment on a blog that I thought was interesting. I didn't want to get preached at.
I don't like being told that I am in some way defective because my parents stuck with convention and sent me to school. I received a well-rounded education and when I became an adult, I followed the paths that were of interest to me. Nothing wrong with having a solid foundation on which to build your house.
Sorry I got everyone's feathers in a bunch. Have a good one, guys.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Susan, you might want to just understand that you mentioned unschooling to serious unschoolers, and then don't only do you not have any grasp at all on what it is, but don't value it at all. And *then* you are hugely defensive about your own schooling and schooling decisions to boot. I mean, really, Eleu didn't tell you you were deficient at all, just that you wouldn't know what you might have been able to do without institutionalization.

As I said in the post, we don't all value the same things. That was the whole thing there. I don't value schooling. You don't value unschooling. It is ok. But we aren't going to agree on it.

As to "what if the kids want to be a doctor?", well, what if your kids grow up and want to be unschooled? Mine can always be a doctor but yours can never be unschooled. How do unschoolers get into college? Most who are actually unschooled never decide to go to college because, again, they value something other than that which institutional education provides. But getting in to college is not that hard. Just be exceptional in something and it is easy. And for the non-exceptional? Go to community college for two years and make decent grades, or get a decent ACT score, or something else regular that simply is not difficult to do.

And Susan, thanks for reading and the nice comment.

Ren said...

I've got several stories about unschoolers doing well in college. But part of me cringes at using them in the spotlight because it's pacifying fears for people that haven't let go of the idea that college is somehow "better".

An unschooler in college is a different creature all together. They are there for their own reasons, they are there out of pure choice and they know it is just another tool amongst many they could choose in life, NOT the end-all-be-all that so many seem to think it is.

The steam engine sounds really cool. And it sounds like your kids all got different and very interesting information that day. That's the problem with "teaching", it forgets that learning is the important part, and that what each learner needs is hugely different.

If CG or her husband were trying to "teach" those kids all about what THEY thought they should be learning on the steam engine adventure, it might have caused those children to miss making their own (more important) connections.

Unschooling is all about the learner, trusting that only they can know what information is important for their own life journey.

There's no way any of the people teaching me, in those many wasted years of "building a foundation", could have ANY idea what MY foundation needed to look like. I built that myself. We all do in the end....or not. But schooling just gets in the way of real learning most times.

laura said...

ren, you know i was thinking the same thing about this....that some parents might turn this lovely outing into a FIELD TRIP...yikes. that they might look over here and let me tell you all about this thing over here that i think you need to know, don't look over there, look over, you cannot stare at the waves and make your own conclusions at the end of the day...let me tell you all about waves...etc, etc.

i think leaving kids alone is just about the best thing a parent can do.

in the past (before kids and early kids) i had all these ideas about what i would one day "teach" my kids...somewhere along the line all that just went away and i learned to leave them be. to discover things on there own. now, if they ask me for information, i give it to them...but i do not feel the need to direct their learning anymore. it is good for us both...but especially them.

laura said...

i just visited susan gets naive's blog...OH.MY.GOSH. you all gotta go check that out!! i almost left a comment...but then i just didn't. i'm like that sometimes...full of words...and then just not. plus, i wasn't in the mood for ganging up on anyone...or getting ganged up on. i'm loosely using some of their terminology btw.

Eleutheros said...

Thanks, Laura. Really needed some entertainment this morning.

The best part was where we are all "self proclaimed unschoolers". Ah. Yes. As opposed to ..... what? Certified unschoolers, licensed unschoolers?

Touch an educator where you will and you will find the indoctrination ('brainwashing' would be pejorative, wouldn't it). It is somehow inferior and dismissive if it's 'self' such as 'self motivated' or 'self educated'.

But why am I telling you this, you're proably a self proclaimed blogger!

the Contrary Goddess said...

And I'm a self-proclaimed cowgirl!

You know, I had thought, when she made the comment "I think you are doing a good job with your children" -- my thought was, damn girl, you are a blogger, what the hell do you know? I mean, that people would allow someone else (Eleu in this case, toward Susan) to define them . . . gosh, got to say that's the epitomy of needing the approval of others that is one of the seven lessons of schooling.

That is the comment I didn't make. So much for being nice. Susan & friends, get a life. If all you have to blog about is what happens on my blog, well, that is pitiful. I don't guess much happened in school today.

David Houser said...

I wanted to leave a comment on the other blog, but where do you start with wisdom like this floating around:

"Growing you own potatoes will not help you in retirement. Ladies and Gentleman meet the next generation that we will... have to support ... just seems to be the lazy way out of the real world)." ?

I guess one shouldn't expect too much from "educators".

the Contrary Goddess said...

ok quexalcote, you have to come and clean off my computer screen. I laughed so hard and the milk (that I milked) flew all over the screen. We happen to be having potatoes for supper tonight.

Eleutheros said...

Thanks to CG and Quexalcote I put down the tea before I went over to Susan's blog and read the comments.

Good thing too. I haven't laughed so hard in months.

The bit about having to support the likes of us backwoods unschoolers in our, ahem, "retirement" was rich. People who work in government schools get their paycheck from where? Right, boys and girls, the GOVERNMENT. It is we who are supporting them right now.

Here in the backwoods we're not equiped to see broadcast or commercial TV, so it's been years and years since I've seen many TV commercials. When you happen on one on the TV in the mart or a friend's house, the affect is stark. Are people really influenced by such childish drivvel? People actually pay other people a lot of money to come up with and broadcast this utter crap?

It's the same way with the comments from the brainswashed shcoolers on Susan's blog. I know all the arguments and misgivings, I've been there, done that, tied the T-shirt around children's eyes. But to witness people actuall saying those things and actually believing them ... it's like talking to drug addicts or religious fanatics .... or religious fanatics on drugs.

Susan Gets Native said...

Acceptance is the experience of a situation without an intention to change that situation. (Also known as disambiguation)

I do not speak for my readers. I can speak only for myself. My intentions on this blog were to hand over a bit of goodwill and maybe learn something about what I didn't know. Not ONCE did I call anyone a derogatory name ( you called YOURSELVES rabid unschoolers) or try to change anyone's mind about anything. But my readers and I have been called brainwashed, and compared to drug addicts and religious fanatics?
I am an accepting person, and even though your commentors have attacked me, and my chosen profession (educator) personally, I accept that you have made choices for your children that differ from my choices for mine.
CG, why did I say that I thought you were doing a nice job with your kids? Because you made a choice for them, and you are sticking to it. That is admirable. And it's the same thing I am doing. I made a choice to send my kids to school.
Ever heard the saying "you attract more bees with honey"? Why do you think there is an negative connotation to unschooling? (at least in the majority, which you don't seem to care about anyway) Maybe because of all the bile that has been spewed my way?
I don't care what people think of me. All I ask for is acceptance. (see above definition). I don't want to change anyone's mind about what they believe, and all I ask is for others to do the same for me.
These words may be wasted on your readers, but as an intelligent woman, CG, you should see what I mean.
Keep on doing what you do. May your kids grow up straight and tall and smart and all that they can be.
Time to move on, right?

David Houser said...


I'm obviously not speaking for CG here, but one very important difference between the choice you have made and the choice that CG has made is that CG's choice doesn't suck any money out of anyone's wallet. And that, combined with the fact that I see the actual results of what educationists do every day in the form of self-centered people who never seem to have read a book, heard of much of anything, or questioned any of the assumptions behind that system, all of whom went to schools paid for with stolen money, gives me a very low opinion of "educators". I was also in that system myself, and know that I learned almost nothing of value while in it except what I could get away with.

I'll take people who can grow their own potatoes any day.

Eleutheros said...

Quexalcote:" I was also in that system myself"

I was too. I was a "professional" educator for many years. But as Maya Angilou said, "When you knew better, you did better."

This is an important point, Susan. Look over the comments of your readers. They are full of unfounded assumptions about unchsoolers, homeschoolers, and education in general. Look at the underlying assumption that if you don't teach the "foundation", the child won't have it.

Most all of us have been there as "sudents" and some of us as teachers. We know the other side of it. It is very, very obvious that your readers are clueless about the realities of how children actually learn.

For all of us that "got better" it was a bitter pill to swallow that we had dedicated so much of our life and attention to becoming a tax swilling parasite on society indoctrinating children to be fit fodder for industry and government.

Our compassion goes this far at least, we know what a very long change of view it is to be able to see the harm we were doing. We know what a hard decision it is to not be part of it any more.

We have separated out what people "do" for a profession from what they are. You haven't, and that's due to your government school brainwashing. I have several friends whose "chosen profession" is raising tobacco. I don't dislike them and I'm not hostile to them, but I also am under no compulsion because of that to have to agree that tobacco is a good thing. The same applies to you, you would be able to feel your reception was warmer if you could see past the government school indoctrinated reaction that an attack on the institution of schooling is an attack on you.

Schooling is a bad thing and unschoolers will always attack it the very same as health advocates will always attack smoking even if the person they are talking to is earning their living growing and selling tobacco. The choice is yours how you react to it.

But don't expect those who have shaken off their government school indoctrination to tell you with warm and fuzzies that you are so good and so right to be an "educator" and the choice to not be indoctrinated isn't for everyone. As well to say that not smoking might be good for my health, but it is very good for yours.

Discuss education and schooling from the basis of facts and reality, and not as a cheering section for government indoctrination and a bid to glean kudos, and see how well you will be received.

the Contrary Goddess said...

It is interesting to me that you so personalize Eleu's remarks.

There will be no professor to disect it for you, but if you want to get into some deep philosophy, let me direct you to Eleu's own blog. Philosophy ought to challenge one, and I think Eleu's has already challenged your comfortable view of yourself.

Likewise, no ill will Susan.

Ellen in Conn said...

Wow. Bile, indeed.

the Contrary Goddess said...

Wow, cowardice, indeed.

laura said...

i just wanted to say that when i typed above...susan gets "naive"...i was not trying to be cheeky (i know because i usually am it could have been taken that way:::::grin:::::::::)...but seriously that is what i always thought it was...i recently noticed when i pulled up her blog that it was actually "native"...for some reason when i look at those blue letters above, i just didn't see the "t"...really!!! i haven't looked at her blog since then so i'm off to do that now...just to see if anyone else over there caught my freudian slip and screamed at me for it.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I thought it was a pretty good Freudian slip myself.

This could perhaps be a post, but ever since the tirade over there, I've been thinking, where did I learn this (or that), and also about what is a complete education. Splitting a big knotty piece of oak yesterday, I thought a complete education must include how to get a stuck ax unstuck, and also the strength to get it stuck to begin with -- more than the gym and turning up the thermostat.


the Contrary Goddess said...

Thanks friends, I think you were all very nice and very articulate.

the Contrary Goddess said...

in case anyone is still here, here's a great link -- I have this guy linked on my sidebar but this is to a specific entry by him on unschooling.