Thursday, September 23, 2010

So sorry for the lag in updating; it has been oh so crazy around here lately. I've been trying to simultaneously step up two big challenges- getting more of my writing published as well as improving my photography (and thinking of doing some professional work). I really want these things for myself and I also really want to show my kids that dreams should be big and be chased! Unfortunately that leaves little time for blogging about my favorite subject, unschooling. We're leaving for a much anticipated trip to Walt Disney World tomorrow and I am definately going to make time when we get back! Until then, I thought you might enjoy this link...

Fellow unschooling mamma Anna Kiss shared this short but oh so sweet documentary about unschooling. It's so nice to see a fair and positive image of unschooling so I just had to share.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Just thought I'd share that I pitched a slightly modified version of my blog post titled "But what would you do?" to Life Learning Magazine and they accepted! It will appear in the Nov/Dec issue right along with the 'real' writers. :-D

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A while back I wrote a post about college. I was interested in college at that time for reasons explained in that post and I also wanted to illustrate that it is possible to go on to college after unschooling. However I did not address a fundamental tenant of unschooling philosophy- not everyone needs to go to college.

I can hear the gasps and see the heads shaking now. There is a prevalent myth in our culture that college is necessary for success and happiness and that without a college education your children will end up 'flipping burgers' for the rest of their lives. As tuition costs continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation many universities are banking on you believing that myth; but what are the facts?

The cost of a degree varies significantly depending on the school chosen. Earning a degree at state school costs about $30k on average and averages about $100k at a private school. The amount of time spent earning a degree also varies by school and course of study but on average it takes about 55 months.

That's a lot of time an money, so what's the payoff? Well, lets look at some statistics on earning potential:

Level of education/ Median salary
Advanced degree/ $69,056
Bachelor’s degree/ $53,300
Some college/associates’s degree/ $37,752
High school diploma, no college/ $32,552
Less than high school diploma/ $23,608

At first glance it seems pretty obvious that earning a degree is worth the time and money invested. However statistics can only show us part of the story. I have a bachelors degree and after ten years in education my salary was hovering near the top of the median for those with only a high school diploma. My husband on the other hand, who has no post-secondary training, has always earned more than me. Obviously, the field one chooses can play just as significant a role in salary as level of education. So, when analyzing this data keep in mind that these are MEDIAN salaries- so half the people in these categories are earning more and half are earning less.

In the recent economy it also seems wise to consider how level of education affects job stability.

Level of education/ Unemployment rate
Bachelor’s degree or higher/ 5.0%
Some college/associate’s degree/ 8.0%
High school diploma, no college/ 10.5%
Less than high school diploma/ 15.6%

Again, compelling statistics that show job security increases with level of education. Higher salaries and lower unemployment rates- college should be a no brainer, right?

Not so fast! After looking over these facts it becomes quite clear that while a degree offers statistical advantages for a higher earning potential and job security it is neither a guarantee or a prerequisite for either. Furthermore this data can only measure tangibles such as level of education and income. Intangibles such as drive, passion and job satisfaction are ignored. The statistics also can not take into consideration that while most people finish college for the same reasons (in pursuit of a specific job, income level or status) the reasons NOT to go to or finish college are vast. When it is an educated and well thought out decision it doesn't have to be a hindrance at all.

You may be wondering at this point, what are some educated, well thought out reasons not to go to college? A few instantly spring to mind though I'm sure there are many, many more:
-a passion or drive to pursue a career that isn't offered as a major course of study
-a learning style that isn't conducive to a college setting
-a unique opportunity to learn a trade in a non-traditional setting

What does this mean for unschoolers?

It will mean various things for various unschoolers. For us it simply means that there are many paths to success; including but not limited to college. When the kids are older and ready to start making decisions about their career paths we will guide them in the process of asking some important questions:

1- How do you want to earn a living?
2- What type of schooling and/or training will be necessary to make that happen?

Sometimes it will become clear that college is necessary and if that is the career path chosen then it is the responsibility of unschooling parents to assist and facilitate their child/ren in making that goal attainable. Other times it will become clear that an apprenticeship or entry level position with a company is a more realistic path for the goals chosen. Still other times practice and small scale freelance work might be the first practical step on the path to success (such as with a writer, photographer or musician). The important thing is to approach the process with an open mind and be ready to continue challenging the status quo. As an unschooler you probably already have lots of practice at this. ;-)

Source for statistical data can be found here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I suppose some of you have noticed that I haven't been meeting my self-imposed deadline. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all life has been busy lately with lots of summer activity. Second of all I haven't been inspired by a topic and I really don't want this space to be over-run with filler just so I can post something weekly. I need to rethink and regroup my strategy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Education is, as always, a hot topic in the political landscape of America. It seems everyone has an opinion about the best way educate our youth and for every opinion there are studies and experts to back them up. I see the range of possibilities and understand how it can be confusing for parents to know who to believe and figure out which method is the 'right' method. I don't think there is a 'right' method for everyone and that it is important for each of us to know the choices available and use that information to help us find the direction that our instincts point us to. Unfortunately I think many parents are not aware of the wide variety of choices they have or are overwhelmed by them and therefore stick to the status quo, no matter how stressful or maddening it seems to be.

There is a documentary called Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of America's Achievement Culture that explores the growing amount of pressure placed on teens in America to succeed. I follow the filmmakers on Facebook as do many other parents. I am astounded by the amount of stress and pressure that parents are posting about but am even more astounded that they accept it as inevitable and see themselves as powerless against it. Students with hours of homework, no time for family or friends, being bullied by teachers and other students, the sad list of concerns facing parents is long and many feel hopeless and trapped within the system. Many of them are counting on the documentary, activists, and government leaders to enact change; I agree that all of those things need to happen. However in the meantime kids are suffering while we are waiting. Change is available right now in many forms. The beauty of choice is that we can all look at our unique children, families, financial needs/ obligations and decide what is right for us. But no matter what your situation you do have choices.

Choice #1: Homeschool
Unschooling falls under the umbrella of homeschooling but there are many forms of homeschooling. There are school-at-home types who have classrooms in their houses and strictly follow the school model all the way to the radical unschoolers like us. Most homeschoolers fall somewhere in between and find their own balance and rhythm. Many parents feel they can't homeschool if both parents need to work but there are a lot of people who make it work. Their kids are in daycare (cheaper than private school), family members help out or parents work different shifts. These may not be realistic possibilities for everyone but it is an option worth exploring if you are unhappy with your current situation.

Choice #2: School Choice
Private school, charter schools, magnet schools, or even paying tuition for your child to attend a different school district. Charter and magnet schools are public and therefore free but can be difficult to get into. Private schools and choosing another district may be expensive. None of these options are perfect but are worth exploring. If you look at your budget or find charter/magnet schools in your area and find that you are interested don't just assume that different equals better. Look around, meet with not only school personnel but parents and children who attend these schools. Come to these meetings armed with a list of questions that outline what is important to you.

If you are concerned about time for creativity and play, ask not only if it exists but how the school defines these things. Ask about the things that you wish were different in the school you want to leave as well as the things you'd like about it. Class sizes, teaching methods, discipline policies, grading systems and homework policies are just a few things that you should be interested in. Decide what you can compromise with and what are your deal breakers.

Choice #3: Guerrilla Learning
I've linked this choice to Amazon where you can find the book by this title. The authors lay out ways to take back your kids education and use school as it was originally intended- a resource for education, not the whole of education. Guerrilla learning is a great option for parents who simply don't have the resources for home or private schooling. It is a way to utilize the current system without becoming enslaved to it. It is more about a change of attitude than anything else. One of my favorite quotes from the book:
Like many other things in life, school can be a poor master but a good servant. As flawed as school is, it still wouldn't be such a problem if parents and kids didn't perceive it as the only source of learning and the final authority on education.

In other words don't be enslaved to the system- it isn't and can't be everything. You have a choice to limit the amount of homework your child will do each night, of how many extra-curricular activities they will join, how many advanced classes they will take. Don't assume more is better- talk with your children and establish goals for their education beyond diplomas and awards and then make informed choices based upon those goals.

I'm sure there are more options that I haven't mentioned or thought of and I'd love to hear them as I'm sure would other parents. The important thing is not which choice you make but that it is mindful and takes the needs of your family into consideration. Too many people are choosing by default and their families suffer for it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A link you might enjoy...

On an unschooling forum to which I belong there was recently a discussion about unschooling being a privilege of the first world while families in the third world want nothing more than for their children to attend school. I couldn't possibly express my feelings on this topic better than freelearners did in this blog post.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Needs and wants

Distinguishing between needs and wants seemed really simple when I was child. We were taught the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, water and air and it seemed pretty straight forward- everything else is a want, not a need. But then I grew up. I realized that I had needs beyond basic survival and that I might have life but wasn't really living if those needs weren't being met. In college this understanding was given a name when I learned of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. There has been some research to suggest that the hierarchy is pure myth- needs are needs and one is no more important than the other. Others contend that Maslow had it right because one can't begin to think about 'higher' needs if certain basic needs aren't being met. Whichever side of the argument people fell on however, the one thing everyone seemed to be in agreement about was the actual needs Maslow had put forward. These include:

paraphrased from Wikipedia
1.Physiological Needs
These are those basic needs many of us learned as children. Maslow believed that all other needs were secondary to these. On this point I agree with the hierarchy theory. It's difficult to care about much else when you are starving.

2.Security Needs
The need for safety and security include a desire for steady employment, health insurance, safe neighborhoods, etc.

3.Social Needs
These include needs for belonging, love and affection. Maslow considered these needs to be less basic than physiological and security needs and this is where I depart from his theory. I believe that the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the unemployed have a strong need for relationships. Their friendships, partners, and families may become even more important in their time of need.

4.Esteem Needs

The term self-esteem has been devalued in our society but the need for esteem is still vital. This is our sense of self worth and our belief that we have value in the world.

5.Self-actualizing Needs
Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others and interested fulfilling their potential.

When I look at all of the needs I begin to think about how I parent a little differently. My children have these same needs and it is my responsibility to ensure that ALL of them are met, not just those basic physiological and security needs that are self evident in parenting. This becomes tricky because the line between wants and needs become blurry. When I make something for dinner that one of my kids doesn't like they don't need me to make something different but they do need to feel valued in the day to day decisions made for our family. Kya doesn't need dance lessons but she does need the opportunity to actualize her goals and dreams. The same is true for Jace's desire to build his own gaming system. These are not frivolous desires but yearnings to fulfill their innermost needs.

The line between needs and wants is further muddied for children. In a recent discussion on an unschooling forum a member known as annakiss had this to say:

I think that children cannot often distinguish between wants and needs and that this is a good way of considering their perspective on matters. It does not mean that all wants should be considered needs, but that the desires of children are very serious to them and the expectations of adults should reflect rather than deny that.

In other words, it may not be a need but that doesn't mean the request shouldn't be treated with respect. Imagine if you went to your spouse/partner and stated a desire to purchase something important to you. Instead of talking it through and seeing if it were possible, empathizing if it it's not your spouse begins to lecture you about how great you have it and that you should be grateful instead of asking for more. That would not endear my husband to me (to say the least). Eventually I'd stop seeing him as a partner and instead as an adversary. This is what happens when we dismiss our children's requests. It may seem frivolous when Kya asks for another American Girl or Jace wants a new video game but these things are important to them. I realize, just now as I'm typing this, that one of the reasons I've been dismissive in the past is because I feel guilty. I WANT to give these things to my kids and I can't so instead of acknowledging the desire I try to diminish it, thus diminishing my guilt for being unable to provide the object of their desire.

So, when it comes to needs and wants I'm trying to say yes more and I'm trying to be respectful and empathetic when I must say no.