Wednesday, April 28, 2010

While I'm on the subject

of pissing people off, here's a little something for your consideration.

(Stolen from my friend Stephanie)

Believe what you want. It's no skin off my nose or sweat off my balls. But I seriously don't understand how someone can believe something which is contradicted by fact or reality. How does that work?

And here's an additional fun activity to piss off the religiously-inclined. May 20th is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I'm starting now because I'm such a bad artist but I'm sure I can come up with something.

What could be more fun?

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.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It ain't rocket science

School is for everyone! Well, a percentage of everyone, anyway. In some cases a fairly small percentage of everyone.

Here's an interesting statistic about the graduation rates of the largest school districts in the U.S. Of the 50 largest districts, 14 have a graduation rate below 50%, with many more hovering around the 50~60% range.

Graduation Rates [N.B. This is the percentage who DO graduate, not the percentage of NONgraduates. That's right; Detroit has a failure-to-graduate rate of nearly 80%.]

21.7 Detroit
38.5 Baltimore City, Md.
38.9 New York City
43.1 Milwaukee
43.8 Cleveland
44.2 Los Angeles
45.3 Miami-Dade County, Fla.
46.3 Dallas
46.5 Pinellas County, Fla.
46.8 Denver
48.5 Memphis
48.7 Broward County, Fla.
48.9 Fort Worth
48.9 Houston
50.4 Nashville squeaks over the 50th %ile and I won't bore you with the rest of the list.

Remember, folks, we're talking about ordinary people in plain-vanilla public high schools, not ordinary people trying to get a degree from the Robert Goddard Rocket Science Academy for People Who Sneer at Those Low-IQ MENSA Members, a scenario where it might be reasonable to see a significantly low graduation rate. After all, it is rocket science. (Apropos, I attended a seminar there once. It's a very nice campus but the food is terrible. It all tastes like hydrazine. Yech! Except for the Tang, of course. The Tang is still good. Tang is always good.)

The student union and cafeteria at RGRSAPWSTLIMM

But educators are gonna lambaste unschooling for failing to adequately provide for students? As they say in Cajun country: Donnez-moi un break!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Modest Proposal (a la Swift but not as draconian)

All this recent churn about unschooling vs. the "standard" experience of school/college/job/marry/reproduce/retire/die (Not much room for "fun" in that list. And just how "standard" is it, anyway? Ahhh, that's a different essay.) has spawned the usual suspects of knee-jerk anti-unschooling commentary. One of those which is on my mind is "unparenting." That accusation gets levelled against unschoolers with some regularity. There is no rigorous definition of this term but it seems to generally mean benign neglect. Parents who don't torture their kids, or neglect to feed and clothe them, but who simply let them "run wild." If you believe human nature is some version of a Hobbesian "brutish primitivism," as depicted in Lord of the Flies, then that would, indeed, seem a bit scary. Of course, if you lean more towards Dryden's "noble savage," the French "le bon sauvage," then a condition of "benign neglect" wouldn't really be so terrible.

Anybody who knows shit from shinola, knows that unschooling actually requires a great deal of parental effort and involvement, so I don't intend to defend unschooling against the charge of unparenting here. What I wanna do is look at "unparenting," defined as benign neglect, as a stand-alone and compare it to the standard public school experience. Please note that I carefully and specifically stated that I wanna compare it to the "standard" experience. People who attack unschooling tend to compare their concept of the worst aspects of what they perceive as unschooling (no books, no responsibilities, unlimited self-indulgence) to their Platonic ideal of "school" where all the kids are being taught important, necessary things which will help them follow that societally-promulgated path from kindergarten all the way to dusty death. All of you who, at the beginning of this paragraph, knew shit from shinola still have that ability to discern the difference and it should be obvious to even the most casual observer that the "typical" school experience is far from congruent with such an ideal.

Putting aside theoretical, philosophical beliefs, science and real-life experience have shown us that Hobbes was essentially wrong, given a society which provides a sufficiency of basic necessities. There's a lot of research which shows that humans are naturally curious and that acquiring knowledge and information (learning!) is our natural state. In the workaday, experiential world, A. S. Neill relied on "boredom" (defined as no outside pressure or external demand to be doing something) as one of his core motivators for the kids at Summerhill, which has been in existence for close to a century. Seems to work.

So, if you believe that an uncoerced child would sit and watch tv all day, every day, forever and ever (Amen!), you are simply wrong. It's not a matter of differing opinions, you are flat-out, unequivocally incorrect in your belief vs. reality. (Approximately half the population of the U.S. believes that dinosaurs and man coexisted. No matter how strongly they believe this, they're wrong.) Depending on just how forbidden/restricted tv had been before said child was left to "run wild," s/he may indeed watch for a very long time. Initially. Please refer to research on the law of diminishing marginal utility for some idea of the curve of how desirable a thing is, and how restricting it makes the curve steeper (makes it more desirable), and how the tangent to that curve determines how long a time interval there will be before the item is re-desired. Hint: The more restricted a thing is, the steeper the curve is and therefore the shorter the time interval is between periods of strong desire for the item. Besides, what's wrong with tv? (OK, that's yet another essay for another time.)

Thus, at long last, we come to my proposal. I propose a thought experiment in the grand tradition of the fathers of quantum mechanics. Let's compare and contrast the life of a typical schooled kid against that of a kid who's being unparented. This is my thought experiment. Feel free to imagine your own.

By the end of grade school, the schooled kid has lost his spark. He has been taught that originality and creativity are unwanted. He has been taught that his primary goal is to regurgitate what the teacher feeds him, which is typically an endless litany of unimportant and useless factoids. He is constrained to a desk most of the day and his social interaction is limited to a few minutes of recess exclusively with people his own age, some of whom are bullies. His life is so filled with externally-created structure that he is jealous of those rare and short opportunities to indulge in the things he wants to do and he therefore appears to outside observers to obsess about "stupid" and "meaningless" things like tv and videogames.

During the same period, our unparented bon sauvage has had that time to explore his universe. He learned math, especially calculating fractions, while grocery shopping and looking for the best bang-for-the-buck in the candy aisle. He learned to read because he wanted to enjoy books, the way he saw others enjoying them. He has interacted with people of all ages and has learned to function in "real life" by functioning in real life.

High school is more of the same but with worse bullies and even-more-meaningless crap for our schooled subject.

By the time they're 18, both our schooled subject and our bon sauvage are ready to move into the "real world" of adult society. The schooled kid has been controlled his whole life and is no more ready for this than an oyster is ready to go for a stroll on the beach. Reading, writing, math, et al. have been shoved down his throat for a dozen years and he is sick of that shit and never wants to look at another poem or word problem ever again! Our unparented savage has spent his life making his own decisions and choosing his own path and this next step is just more of the same for him.

So, I gotta ask. Unparenting may not be the most desirable of conditions for a child but is it really worse than sending them to school?

I propose that even the dread and fearsome vale of unparenting is still better than subjecting an innocent child to the horrors of the school system.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Letters to the dead: Rich

My friend Ren has started a blog where she posts letters to the dead. It's an interesting concept. I wrote one to my sister Marjorie and sent it to Ren. Here's another for my friend Rich Caronne which I also sent to Ren. I met Rich when we were members of the gymnastics team at the University of New Orleans. I dug through my old photos but sadly couldn't find one of Rich. Here are a couple of general ones from those halcyon days of yore and a writeup with Rich's name, incorrectly listed as Garonne. Rich Caronne was my friend.

And the letter itself:

Rich, mon vieux! Wherey'at, bra?

Bob and I were talking about you the other day. We still talk on the phone regularly and you come up several times a year when we're reminiscing about our (vain)glorious days together on the gymnastics team, the time you came to Seattle for a ski vacation, and various other times and adventures we shared. We laugh with you then, alive and vibrant, an energetic triumvirate striding boldly through the halls of memory.

I want you to be alive right here, right now, so I can smack you upside your stupid head. Ok, maybe I'd need a stepladder, a small one anyway, to reach. I was always the little fireplug of intensity from "da Jeswits" and you were the tall, elegant, good-looking "Sheik of Arabi." Remember when we left Leon Redbone's version of that song on your answering machine? Bob and I laughed ourselves nearly to the point of puking over that one. I know you felt inferior because of being from Arabi, down in "da parish," and because you were the designated target for your father's endless rage and disillusionment with his own lot in life and you accepted his contention that you were weak and worthless.

You were better than that but you never believed that you were. Is that part of why you got seduced into *belonging* to that charlatan preacher so much that you committed suicide, disguised as an accident, so that she could collect the large insurance policies she had taken out on you? Because she (pretended that she) cared about you? Because she told you how wonderful Heaven was and you were tired of the disappointments in your life and wanted something wonderful so desperately that you suppressed your critical faculties and chose to believe in her? Hell! I'll never know with any certainty, will I?

Yes, I am still mad at you, you dumbass. Make no mistake, I love ya, bra, and I hold you in my heart still; but you really pissed me off pulling that shit. You remember Ray from the gymnastics team. At the time of your death he was a Major in the N.O.P.D. and Bob got him to look into your death rigorously but there was never enough for them to act on, even though they agreed that the circumstances were suspicious enough that several of the insurance companies didn't pay.

Ahhh, shit. I don't want to write you a letter where all I do is yell at you, so that's enough of that. No more. I choose to dwell on the good memories, the fond ones, the amusing ones.

I always smile when I think of the time you hurt your tailbone and had to wear that big foam pad under your gymnastics uniform. You were so tall and lean and you body formed such an elegant line… except BOOM! There was that big square shape sticking up and distorting the top of your ass. Oh man! What a crackup.

And your (in)famous open-top car! You survived that nasty wreck with the pipe truck which tore the roof off that POS Chevy but couldn't afford to get it repaired so you drove around with no top and just wore a heavy coat in Winter and a raincoat in the rain. You had a mold and fungus garden in the back seat of that thing! I remember riding with you and other drivers would be yelling at us, "It's raining. Put your top up!" and we'd just laugh.

You and Bob came to visit me in Seattle for a ski vacation and for one of our breakfasts I took you to Beth's Café, famous for its HUGE omelettes, and I warned you that maybe you'd just wanna split one but you insisted that you were hungry and you could eat one yourself. Then you saw it, a 12-egg omelette stretching to the edges of the platter on top of a full load of hashbrowns. Your expression was priceless.

That's the face I have fixed in my memory when I think of you. An authentic mix of surprise, joy, amusement, and a little bit of shock. No artifice. No practiced expression designed to amuse and entertain others. Simple, genuine Rich. That's the guy I always knew was inside your skin, even though he didn't reveal himself often enough. I miss him. I miss you.

This evening we had some New Orleans-style boiled shrimp (or as they say in da parish "berled swimps") for dinner and I thought of you and came back to finish this letter which I'd started a while ago but couldn't seem to make any progress on. I decided it didn't have to be thematic, or logical, or consistent, or even sensible; it just had to be to you from me. So here it is.

Hope dey got dem dressed eryster poboys in de place where you be stayin' at now. Love ya, bra.


Friday, April 02, 2010

Yet another music-related post -- redux

I bragged about buying a new mike here. List price on those suckers is $900 and they usually sell online for around $600. However, being the frugal shopper that I am, I beat that $600 by a lot. A whole lot. Bwah-ha-ha-etc. At the price I paid, shipping took approximately the gestation period required to produce a baby rabbit but I ain't complaining (Ok, I ain't complaining a lot, just a genteel whine.) cuz I absolutely LOVE my new mike.

With the girls, including Ronnie, at Sakura-con, I've been practicing our Greybeards playlist for LIFEisGood most of the day and I'm really lovin' it. On songs where I have no keyboard part, I wander the house aimlessly, singing into my beautiful (NEW! Did I mention that it's NEW?) mike and listening to my voice emanating from the speakers in the (somewhat grandiosely over-named) music room. Ahhhhhh!

I am Singer, hear me roar!

And because "Tacky" is my middle name, well, one of my middle names, anyway, I also bought a microphone skin in "red shattered glass":

It's so shiny!