Saturday, April 24, 2010

You obviously mistook me for someone who gives a shit

My basic life flag would be something like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. sitting in a field of flowers on a peaceful field of blue. Attack me or mine and that one comes down in favor of the No quarter! blood-red "Jolie Rouge," older and more deeply portentous than the pale derivative English version, the black-with-skull-and-crossbones "Jolly Roger."

Confusion is running rampant on the net. (So what else is new?) Lemme state my position as clearly as I can and then I'm done talking about this. I (we) unschool. I don't care what you do. I expect you to return the favor. I have no interest in proselytizing unschooling. Honestly, I'm almost at an intellectual ad-crumenam-for-unschooling position on that. If you haven't come to Holt, unschooling, et cie on your own, don't look to me to distill the collected thought and effort behind that philosophy into a few paragraphs on a blog post for you and then labor to convince you to buy my goods like a streetcorner whore or storefront preacher. (Was that redundant? Nah, I don't think so. The whore actually gives you something for your money. That's a significant difference.)

But there is something I want from you. I want you to know what you're talking about before you comment. I know that goes against the grain of human nature and certainly against common net practices but I have higher standards.

In the context of trying to reduce an entire philosophy down to a blog post, I offer this excerpt from a longer post I did a while back differentiating unschooling from other educational philosophies. It ain't much and it ain't exhaustive, but it's more information than a lot of people seem to possess before they pontificate.


If you remember nothing else from this polemic, remember this: Choice matters. Distilled to its sui generis, unschooling is unique by virtue of the fact that it is purely autodidactic or learner-controlled. Every other pedagogic process is didactic, authoritarian, homilectic, autocratic, and any other synonym you can think of for teacher-controlled. Every one of them. Yes, some more than others but, at the core, every other system is rooted in control of the student by an authority figure.

It may be the teacher. Socrates is famous for his elenctic method which I consider a prime example of education in its most Latinate meaning – to lead or draw out from. The teacher leads the student to the conclusion the teacher wants the student to accept by drawing the student out with a series of structured (leading) questions. It seems like the student is engaged in a meaningful intellectual exercise but it is, in fact, carefully choreographed and completely controlled by the teacher.

It may be the curriculum. Look at the nearest public school for this one. All teachers must teach to the curriculum, no exceptions, alternatives, or workarounds. And in recent years the curriculum has been strongly driven by standardized tests and the need to score well on them. This is even more pathetic than the basic idea of curriculum design where a bunch of soi disant experts get together to arbitrarily decide on what goes into the curriculum and what doesn't. Man! I am so reminded of the Council of Nicea, huh? Orthodoxy, orthodoxy, is our cry. O-r-tho-dox-y. Are we in it? Well, I guess! Orthodoxy, orthodoxy, yes, yes, yes!

It may be the structure or process. Steiner-Waldorf anyone? Not nearly as arbitrary as the public school system, geared to a realistic approach focused on actual child development stages unlike the public school system, and more focused on integrating the whole person into the learning system than the public school's concentration on memorization-type, abstract intellectual work. It is, nonetheless, structured, arbitrary, and ultimately controlled by authority figures. Plus, it's rooted in Steiner's anthroposophy, which is just kinda silly.

"But what about Montessori?" you ask. The Montessori method proposes that the focus is on the child, that the child learns with little interruption from the teacher (director), that children have rights, and that children should not be subjected to measurements like grading and testing. Well, that sounds pretty autodidactic and unschoolish, doesn't it? Except that all of those "autodidactic freedoms" occur within a rigidly controlled environment.

Children must learn according to the Montessori curriculum, using Montessori pedagogical materials in the way specified by the method and curriculum. Learning a Montessori activity only takes place after a teacher demonstrates it and activities using a Montessori device are restricted to the process demonstrated by the teacher according to the curriculum. Experimentation is discouraged. Play is strongly discouraged. Student use of Montessori devices and activities may resemble play but it is intended to be useful work; Maria Montessori insisted that her materials be used only for their designed purpose. Cleanliness and maintenance of the classroom by the students is required.

Certainly this method is less rigid and more child-centered than the basic public school concept of classrooms of students working through an inflexible curriculum in lock-step but it is only child-centered and child-controlled within the larger context of absolute despotic control by the Montessori teacher and curriculum.

I could go on and on for method after method. In every case, it's one thing or another and that thing is always ultimately that the control of the student rests in the hands of an authority figure who is not the student. Unschooling puts control into the hands most capable of exerting that control in the absolute best possible manner – the student's.

If ya wanna read the entire post it's here but the vast majority of it has nothing to do with specific information about unschooling. It's a lengthy science-fictionish ramble. You've been warned.

I am always willing to discuss educational philosophy, openly and honestly, intellectually and sensibly, but never illogically, e.g. I know some-horrible-parents whose kids are totally fucked up and ignorant monsters because they "unschool." If that's your position, keep your tongue behind your teeth and keep your verbal diarrhea off my blog. I will not respond and I'll probably just delete your comment(s). Educational theory is a fascinating subject area and one which is significant to all of us. I enjoy discussing it, especially in a lively give-and-take. Conversely, I will not abide ignorant attacks; I will respond forcefully.

'nuff said.


  1. wooohoooo!

    i do think i may be one of the only unschooling parents who have not blogged about the media frenzy this past week.
    thanks for taking care of that for me. :P

  2. Thanks for posting Frank! I LOVE this and YOU! I too have not blogged about unschooling this last week :) I have been too busy learning from my newly 8 year old! :)

  3. I love the way the Jolie Rouge plays off the colors of the MR2. Nicely done.

  4. Brian
    I am totally new to unschooling. My wife does it with her boys and it works. I am trying to learn as much as I can about it so I can interact better with my family. If you have any advice for me I would love to hear it. Find me on myspace. Tks.

  5. Hehe... Frank, always the best with the pithy in your face mojo full of words most folks have never heard of let alone used correctly in a sentence. I too have resisted the siren call of click through in favor of ignoring the GMA debacle. The debate - and I use the term in its most loose possible meaning here - is too similar to any other 'ology' discussion, devolving quickly into theological rants and anecdotal sophistry.

  6. big round of applause for Frank! thank you thank you thank you!

    i am of the same mind that i stay out of people's business and they should return the favor and stay the fuck out of mine. :)

  7. Brian,

    I tried to email you but got a mailer daemon. Here what I tried to send:

    Hi, Brian,

    My first recommendation would be to hit your local library and get whatever John Holt books they have and read those. More immediately, you can cruise the net for Sandra Dodd's site, there's even a specific dad's section there and Joyce Fetteroll's site. A lot of dads respond to Joyce's style because she's an engineer (or something like that). On both sites you'll see stuff from Pam Sooroshian. She's another one who kinda speaks to dads because she's a mathematician/economist. While you're online, go to Yahoo!Groups and join SSUDs (Secret Society of Unschooling Dads). There's usually not much traffic there but experienced dads do read it and if you ask a question or make a comment, you'll get responses. Finally, I will be happy to personally answer or respond to you from my perspective anytime you wanna query me. I got a degree in Education in 1970 and currelty have two daughters (16 and almost-18) who started in public school but have been unschooling since 3rd and 4th grade, respectively.

    Lemme know what you're thinking!


  8. As a fellow unschooler, I usually retort back, it's a refusal to formally educate my child. It's NOT a refusal to parent. If a child is running wild and a terror, then that is an unparenter. :)

  9. well said frank! i'd like it summarized, printed on a sticker so i can slap it on my head for all the naysayers to mind their own business, or to at least stop asking stupid questions because they are so clueless.

  10. Shaw emailed me cuz his comment wouldn't fit in one box:

    Frank, I love reading your stuff. I, however, want to express a different opinion in regards to one point that you made with which other commenters on your post have concurred. It relates to an argument often adduced by some on the Left, "greedy" multiculturalists, relativists, and postmodernists. Not that you are any of these.

    As not just a radical unschooling parent -- but also as a radical progressive/liberal and a holder of other radical/progressive positions on other important human, scientific, and planetary issues -- I indeed DO care how someone raises or educates their kid. I think the world would be a more democratic and peaceful place if more kids grew up in freedom -- either by unschooling, or free schooling (in the tradition of A.S. Neill and in the tradition of Emma Goldman, et alia). So I am not averse to "evangelizing" (Is there a better, i.e., more secular synonym?) my position on education. To quote a great activist: "Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind -- even if your voice shakes." And: "When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say." -- (purportedly) Maggie Kuhn

    Of course, people should be free to live their lives as they see fit. But no free life and no free speech is off limits to criticism. (As religionists of multifarious sorts like to complain, "Stop hurting my feelings by pointing out my inanity." "Stop drawing pictures of my prophet, or I'll kill you.") So in the "public square" the discussion and debate must supervene. I care enough about kids and posterity that I will criticize the way our society raises and educates kids. So if I can criticize them (their authoritarian parenting and schooling) they can criticize me (my Unschooling). Sort of like how the scientific community works out the kinks in their hypotheses and theories.

    For me, A.S. Neill's dictum, "Freedom, not licence," says a lot in only three words. My kids are free up until the point that their freedom steps on mine (Not really, I let them step on mine quite a lot. And it is my pleasure and my choice. But, you get my drift.) Same for society as a whole. But criticism never steps on freedoms, it may in fact create more. History shows the examples of the iconoclastic "Left" criticizing authoritarian institutions and the resulting evolution and liberalization (not to be confused with "neo-liberalization") of these institutions. Some of which still need to be criticized -- some out of existence. Needless to say, we have a long way to go; there is much more work to be done. Part of this work is caring and critiquing/criticizing the way we behave in the world.

    If parents and society continue to raise polluters, plunders, imperialists, ad hominem spewing demagogues, conspicuous consumers, and bigots,... then they are stepping on my and posterity's freedoms -- indeed our and posterity's very survival may be at stake.

  11. ...more...
    As you know, our schools are not training democrats they are training followers, consumers, obedient workers. Therefore, our electorate is not very well informed about real issues that really matter. We already know what needs to be done to save humanity on this planet and how to make life more just, but we lack the "political will." Why? Mainstream eduction and mainstream media. Education and media are the oxygen, as Naomi Klein put it, of our democracy. The "Mainstream" (i.e., Corpocratic) part of the two is choking off the information that the public needs to make enlightened decisions about how we are to get along on this planet in a sustainable manner. Unschooling is only part of the solution, but a very important part. Yet unschooling does not guarantee a salubrious political position in those who are unschooled.

    A less pithy version of A.S. Neill's dictum might be: Live and let live only as long as your living doesn't impose itself on my living. Or, I like to add, posterity's living.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog, maybe we'll touch bases on SSUDs. It is hard for me to post on SSUDs because I can't keep my politics out of my Unschooling. For me the two are inextricable linked. Isn't all knowledge? (Rhetorical)

    Shaw Mitchell (aka, Shawlatan or Posttheist)

  12. I like your style! If you lived nearby, I would love to hang out with you.

    Unschooling mom of two.