Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Unschooling Meme

This came from Frank Maier. The unschooling version was written by someone named Linda Wyatt, who deserves proper credit even though I don't know who she is.

1. Original question: What time do you get up? Unschooling version: What sleep schedules do people in your house have? Do you all have fairly similar schedules, or not? Are you the kind of people who wish things were open 24/7?

Neither my mom nor I keep the same schedule all the time. There are times when I sleep 9pm-4am and times when I sleep 9am-4pm, and everything in between. Basically, I sleep when I'm tired of being awake, and I wake up when I'm tired of being asleep. I do wish stuff was open 24/7, not only for my convenience but also because a lot of people would prefer to work at night if given the choice.

2. Original question: What do your children wear to school?Unschooling version: Do you know any good sources for great stuff to wear? Some examples: vests with lots of pockets, good boots, lightweight jackets with a sleeve pocket for pens, comfortable cotton tees with interesting designs. Anything you have that you love that other people might not know about?

I like t-shirts, the geekier the better. Busted Tees, 80s Tees and Teenormous have some great ones.

3. Original question: What curriculum have you tried and hated? What have you tried and loved?Unschooling version: Any good references to suggest? Websites, catalogs, whatever? Any that you have found that tend to be suggested by folks, that you really didn't find useful? Favorite books?

I'm going to focus here on websites and books, with the caveat that everything in the whole world, except drugs and Fox News, is a potential "resource" to me. I learn a lot from The Straight Dope and Cracked (the latter is sometimes adult-slanted, although I personally follow the theory that if you're old enough to get the joke, you're old enough to hear it). The quizzes on HelloQuizzy and Mental Floss are a lot of fun and sometimes informative. Dave Barry books are very funny and a great source of obscure trivia and 20th-century history. America the Book is great, though some of the jokes might pass by people who haven't been exposed to crappy history textbooks. Of (slightly) more serious stuff, I loved "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker (don't touch his non-language books, though, they're pseudoscientific garbage), and "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson. Also, for anyone interested in comics or manga or art or even psychology, Scott McCloud's books are fantastic.

While I'm at it I'd like to put in an anti-recommendation for the National Geographic Knowledge Book. It looks so completely awesome until you crack it open and find unfinished charts, random deletions, and errors ranging from the trivial ("heavy metal bands, such as U2 and Prince") to the glaringly, I-can't-believe-that-got-past-the-editors bad ("many people still die of smallpox today").

4. Original question: Who is your most inspirational homeschooling role model?Unschooling version: How did you decide to unschool? Do you have any good sources of info to share? Anyone in particular who helped you make this choice?

I reached the point where my only options were quit school or self-destruct. I didn't want to self-destruct.

The longer version is, I had mono, for the second time, in 9th grade and missed a month of school. I was depressed and angry at a school system that cared more about my physical presence than my physical - and mental - wellbeing. My mom called the school and asked if I could just stay home the rest of that year. They said yes. Somewhere in that time I decided I wanted to register as a homeschooler, but when my mom called the school she was told that since I had already turned 16 (September birthday, plus I'd repeated 7th grade due to the first bout with mono) I was too old and had to just drop out. I suspect this may have been bullshit, but in either case I decided to just quit. In the fall I went back because I missed marching band, but as soon as the season was over I quit. Rinse and repeat the next year, except that time I didn't even finish the season. All totaled I spent less than a full school year in high school, and was only in it for band.

We didn't know what I was doing was unschooling. I thought I was a dropout, albeit one who intended to go to college somehow, and one who spent her free time reading up on genetics and religion and linguistics, and whose parents were okay with whatever she needed to do, even if that meant chatting with Australians all night and sleeping till dinnertime. I didn't learn the word unschooling until last year. I wish I'd known it sooner; I might not have wasted five years on wanting to become a teacher because I thought I could fix the system.

5. Original question: Abeka, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, or Classical?Unschooling version: What kinds of ways do your family members learn about stuff these days?

The internet. Talking to people. Trying new stuff. Turning stuff over and over in our minds. (I suspect I do that one a lot more than my mom, but she has disabilities stacked against her, plus she was raised to obey, not to think. I was raised to think.) Watching TV. Playing board games.

6. Original question: Favorite response to “What about socialization?”Unschooling version: How do you talk to people who ask clueless questions about unschooling? Any favorite stories? Suggestions for dealing with family members who are fearful or critical?

I'm past the age of compulsory schooling, so I don't get questioned much. If people ask why I don't have a job right now they can piss off, it's none of their business. People close enough to me to actually hear me use the word "unschooling" get a link to Sandra's website, because she explains it better than I do.

7. Original question: Favorite subject?Unschooling version: What are you guys up to these days? What are you doing that is so terrific that you think others should hear about it?

I like Frank's response to this: "Why should we be doing something so terrific that others MUST hear about it? It (slightly) implies that unschoolers are superior beings who are doing superior things in superior ways." On the other hand, I'm self-absorbed enough to think most of what I do is interesting enough that other people should hear about it, otherwise I wouldn't blog.

Lately I've been devoting a huge chunk of my time to watching Star Trek, which is hardly an extraordinary or even interesting (from an outside perspective) thing to do. But some of the directions that interest has taken are unique. There's Nimoy's other work, for a start: art and poetry and documentary voiceovers and one-man plays. There's all the stuff I've learned from curiosity sparked by the show, stuff ranging from Orthodox Judaism to theoretical physics. But even how I watch the show is maybe unexpected. I don't just take in the story, I analyze the ethics and the motives behind each decision. Violence, for example - on the surface it seems like a violent show, but underneath there are principles at work. Kirk doesn't use a gun when a fist would do, he doesn't use a fist when a threat would do, he doesn't threaten when negotiation would do. Free choice is a big thing, too. One episode contained this quote: "Without freedom of choice there is no creativity. Without creativity there is no life." This is a huge, huge unspoken (sometimes spoken, in different words) principle at work behind unschooling.

So I've been analyzing the show's principles, and holding my own principles up to the light and comparing the two. Sometimes the show (being a fictional story and all) is wrong. Most of the time I agree with it. Occasionally, in the process of comparing principles, I find out I was wrong. Analyzing principles is an intense, complex process and one that many people don't get to until later in life, if ever. I'm glad Star Trek is giving me a springboard for that.

Of course, from the outside, it just looks like I'm watching a whole hell of a lot of TV.

8. Original question: Favorite field trip ever?Unschooling version: Been anywhere cool? Where? Have any stories to share about adventures you've had? I'd be especially interested in hearing about adventures to places that few people know about. Pictures, too.

The places I go aren't that interesting. I've been to Miami and Atlanta, which isn't very unusual for someone who lives in Florida; I've been to the Grand Canyon but so many people do that. What's more interesting is the people I meet. In Miami I got to hang out with Fez, who lives in Singapore. In Arizona I stayed with Roni and Lyle for a week, and for another week with Bobbie and Lin (Mama's cousins). Spiffy came from New Jersey to go to JU with me (this lasted a semester for her and only about a month for me, but it was fun). Tim visited here all the way from Australia. Lots of people come here to see me, but when I travel I plan it around people and events more than places.

9. Original question: Best thing about homeschooling?Unschooling version: we can pretty much leave this one as-is. What have you found to be the most rewarding about how your family lives?

Sanity, for one. Trying to force myself into a conventional life drained all the joy out of me and made life not even seem worth it. That was depression, but it was logical depression. What's the point of a life you have no choice in? So unschooling gave me sanity back, and from sanity I was able to springboard to joy and fun.

I get along with my mom. We have a symbiotic relationship and both help each other. It seems strange to have to point out that a parent-child relationship is symbiotic, but I've learned from the painful stories of others that parents are often unwilling to help children and the children are (unsurprisingly and understandably) not particularly willing to help them in return.

I've sought out friends who I truly have things in common with and who accept me as I am, instead of forcing myself to get along with the people I went to school with. (Many of whom are lovely people, I should add, but most shared no common interests with me beyond being band geeks.)

I get to really pursue my interests with as much or as little intensity as I want. When I get absorbed in something I can spend months just soaking it up and enjoying it. When I get bored I can drop it like a hot potato without consequences and embrace the next new thing that sparks my interest. All of this adds up to a life where I am always interested in something and everything I do has value and meaning. Some people go crazy from the unmet need for a life like that.

10. Original question: Sports, music, or art?Unschooling version: I still don't know where to go with this question. Care to share any interesting things you've done or are doing in any of these fields? Anything you've had time to delve into that you might not have if you were busy doing schoolwork?

When I was busy doing schoolwork I didn't have ANY time for any kind of art or music or sports, other than what was included in the schoolwork. Now I dabble a lot. I have a clarinet, a piano, a keyboard and two guitars. I have lots of art supplies which I use mostly for abstract/geometric art, especially mandalas. I make some of my own jewelry. I'm not into competitive sports, although I did play badminton for the first time at Gail's the other week. I've participated in a drop-in yoga class, a community college canoeing class, and a bellydance class. I play DDR. I take lots of photos. I make collages.

11. Original question: Beautiful script handwriting, or lightning fast accurate typing?Unschooling version: Don't know where to go with this question, either, since I don't really understand why it was even asked. Make something up.

I can type fast even though I do it "wrong". I use only my right index finger and left middle finger, but I can type around 75wpm, faster without caps. I have years and years of instant messaging to thank for that. I can't do homerow and I have no use for it since it would only slow me down.

I've found my handwriting has improved some, without school forcing me to rush. I can write more slowly.

12. Original question: Best one stop shopping for school books?Unschooling version: Best place to get books? Or other things, too, like some of those fabulous websites that have all sorts of really cool toys and equipment. Where do you find cool stuff?

Best place to get books is the library, Amazon (I always get them used), or locally, Chamblin Bookmine. Chamblin is like a wonderland for people who like books. You can *literally* get lost in there; I'm always slightly tempted to leave a breadcrumb trail when I go in. I'd move in if they had chairs and a bathroom.

Best websites for toys are ThinkGeek and Fat Brain Toys. (Don't be put off by the "educational" label on that second one - they have real, actually fun toys.)

The most interesting shopping areas around here are Five Points (the few unique stores left that haven't been gentrified out of business) and the historic district in St. Augustine. Lots of little hippie-ish stores with unusual items and interesting employees.

13. Original question: One subject you didn’t get to this week:Unschooling version: What do you wish you had time for this week that you didn't fit in?

I have too many interests to do them all in a single week and ever get any sleep. I didn't play any musical instruments last week or do any yoga or visit any friends or study any foreign languages or read a novel or write a novel or beat any video games or go swimming or read manga or draw a mandala or make a candle or bake a pie. I did clean my room, blog twice, watch about six episodes of Star Trek, contemplate religion, play with my kitten, read some nonfiction, play the Sims, hook up the TV converter box, watch ants and aphids interact, give my mom a haircut, go grocery shopping, dance, plan a budget, and make vacation plans.

14. Original question: What will you do when you run out of kids to teach?Unschooling version: What ways have you found to continue your own learning? What kinds of things have you gotten interested in since having kids? Do you have any particular plans once fewer people live in your house, whenever that may be?

1) School never all the way dimmed my interest in learning, thank God. Even when I was in school, my home life was unschoolish enough that the question "how do you continue your learning" sounds a little alien and strange to me. The biggest way I learn is through the internet, which is the greatest thing to happen to unschoolers since vans and washable window paint. I also learn by just having a wide variety of friends who have interesting things to say.

2) I don't have kids yet, so n/a.

3) Currently two people live in my house, and I hope it's never less than that. I spend a lot of time in my room, but I'd hate to actually live alone.

15. Original question: Ever give school books as holiday or Birthday gifts?Unschooling version: What's the best book gift you have ever given? Gotten?

Gail gave me the Teenage Liberation Handbook just because she thought I should have it. That was sweet. An ex bought me America the Book, which is one of my favorite books, years ago. Other than that I've rarely gotten books as gifts, mostly because my mom is my primary gift-giver and she only shops at Walmart, where you can only get books if you're into things like cheap pulp fiction and Dr. Phil, which I am emphatically not.

Edited the next day: Since I said "other than that, nothing" I feel I should also include that Sandra sent me some cool, weird German books last year, just because she knew I was learning German and she wanted the books to live with someone who would find them useful. I didn't remember them when I was writing this because the word "gift" didn't trigger it. It felt more like long-distance strewing, which I thought was really cool.

16. Original question: Better late or early (delay formal education at home, or start as young as possible?)Unschooling version: Are there some things you find you prefer a class structure for? What alternatives have you found for learning things most people think can only happen in a class? Do different members of your family have different learning styles, and if so, can you tell me a little about that and how it has affected how you do things?

1) Things where I need to be physically shown what to do. Dance, yoga, sign language. My proprioceptive senses suck so I need the benefit of someone else seeing what I'm doing and correcting me when I haven't noticed something important, like that my knees are locked or my head is on backwards or whatever. Note this doesn't apply to musical instruments; I play those better when I do it my own way without a teacher breathing down my neck, telling me to pretend there's an imaginary aquarium light ready to burn my fingers if I lift them too far off the clarinet, or some other ridiculous thing.

2) Most people nowadays seem to think all learning can only happen in a class. It's ridiculous. I learn everything from everywhere. I don't even know how to answer this question.

3) My "learning style" involves getting totally fascinated with one particular thing at a time and learning everything that has anything to do with it, which often leads, paradoxically, to learning things that have nothing to do with it. Sometimes these obsessions last only a few days. Occasionally they've lasted a full year. Sometimes after the obsessive phase ends I'll want nothing at all to do with whatever the thing was, but that's rare. Usually it just fades into a normal, background interest and something else takes the foreground. This means that, even though on the surface I may appear to only care about the current obsessive thing, I actually have countless things I'm interested in all the time.


Frank said...

Hi! Thanks for playing along. How in the world did you find my obscure little blog? (grin)

Nice to meet you in cyberspace.

gail said...

Hi Bonnie...What a great blog post. Nice to find it and I'm linking it at my blog! See you soon!

Ket said...

Bonnie, I enjoyed your insightful responses! Great read - I learned a lot about you in the process.

Stella said...

I love this, do you mind if I steal it and fill it out myself? :)