I don’t want to be just like everyone else

After Home schooling, Pomp and Traditional Circumstances

My friend sent me this New York Times article. She pointed out that it concludes with the words “…just like everyone else.”

See look, the article seems to be saying, they want to be just like us!

Or maybe it’s saying, homeschooling is so normal now, they are just like us.

Or, probably, it’s saying both.

I know that what I’m about to say is radical and possibly unhealthy, but here it is:

As an unschooler, I did not want to be like everyone else. Not at all. I really, really liked being different. I wanted to be Stargirl, not the kids in her class. I wanted to be the one who stood out. Not because I was weird, but because I was weirdly awesome.

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Unschooling skills in the adult world

Note: I was on The Unplugged Mom today, where Laurette Lynn and I talked about unschooling. If you don’t know who she is, go listen to her now! She is what everyone wishes they could be: great at talking.

Non-schoolers learn a lot of things that end up being important in the adult world. When I was a kid and people asked me questions about my education, it was clear that they were concerned about my eventual ability to “make it” in a harsh, unforgiving world. A world for which, they imagined, I must be totally unprepared. What if I couldn’t do math fast enough in my head? What if I didn’t have enough friends my age? What if I’d never had to take tests and be told it was weird that my arms were that hairy and develop the self-discipline required for night after night of homework?

There are plenty of things I don’t do well. Math is one of them. If someone asks me to multiply one big number with another big number in my head, I will definitely fail. And then I will stand there for a long time, blushing and looking totally awkward. And then I will laugh.

But here are some things that happen all the time in the world I now inhabit that remind me a lot of unschooling. And when I spot them, and I think about my education, I feel kind of proud:

1. Seeing the big picture

How are things connected? When you’re working on a task, how does it contribute to a larger project, and how could that project be improved? Everything I did as a kid felt interconnected. When I wrote a sentence it was part of a chapter which was part of a book. The people who do well in the adult world aren’t just following instructions and completing little tasks. They are working towards something more meaningful, and they can shape the way it develops.

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Boys Will Be Boys—Even When They’re Unschoolers

This is a guest post by Peter Kowalke, editor of The Unschooler Experiment Peter Kowalke is a 32-year-old grown unschooler and host of the biweekly radio show, The Unschooler Experiment Podcast. He also is producer of the critically acclaimed documentary about the lasting influence of home education, Grown Without Schooling. You can find more of his work at unschooler.com.


When I was born, my mother had this noble idea that she would raise me free from the clutches of societal gender roles. I would play both with trucks and dolls. I would be comfortable in the kitchen and in the garage. I would cry but also be strong like a rock. You get the picture.

This would be possible partially because she homeschooled me; I wasn’t in an environment that forced gender roles on me. Like Rousseau’s Emile, I would develop naturally and unmolested by the silly notions of gender usually foisted upon us by school and other institutions.

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Work and play can be the same thing

I think I’ve written before about the relationship between work and play that a lot of people believe in very firmly. I may have written about it embarrassingly recently, but I have a terrible memory and I don’t feel like checking, because I’m really looking forward to talking about it now!

One of the biggest differences between going to school and not going to school is that when you go to school you have the summer off. Which sounds pretty great, right? Having a couple free months to do whatever you want. (Not that this always happens– plenty of kids I knew growing up were shipped off to camps and summer school programs.)

When you learn outside of school, there are no breaks.

And I don’t mean that like “You will sit there and work on that calculus until you memorize every single rule in the book. I don’t care if it takes you a year.”

I mean, life isn’t structured in terms of work and non-work, effort and relaxation. These things blend together.

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Phi Beta Kappa

When I started college, there were a lot of things I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to sit still for an hour without talking, so I always talked in class. I didn’t know that other people thought talking a lot in class meant that you were arrogant or sucking up or just annoying. I didn’t know that people expected to be bored in class, or even that class wasn’t the point of college. I didn’t know what Phi Beta Kappa was.

There were a lot of frats on campus, and plenty of sororities, too, and sometimes I got notices from them in my mailbox, inviting me to parties or events. Spelled out Greek letters meant a frat, and I threw the notice away.

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We weren’t scared

Note: Thank you everyone for the amazing comments on Katie’s guest post! I am thrilled, reading them. I’m also kind of proud, because you guys are here, on my blog, being awesome and smart and eloquent. I know I can’t take a huge amount of credit, but I am pretty tempted… :) I want to write a response to the guest post, too, and to the question “what about everyone else?” But I’m running all over the country for three weeks, since Bear’s new job doesn’t start until the beginning of June, and we are trying to see all of the relatives we’ve missed, and some of the places we fantasize about. So that’s my excuse. I’ll do it when I get a chance. But for now, here’s a post I wrote while waiting for a delayed flight in the Columbus airport:

(view from the airport window)

No offense, Mom, but in a lot of ways, we were better homeschoolers than you. I know why. It’s because we weren’t scared.

As a kid, you aren’t scared of messing up all the time. At least, I wasn’t. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how I might not be acceptable, or I might fail, or I might not be as good as other kids at things. I knew I was awesome, and I had big goals, like playing Carnegie Hall at fourteen. I thought I was totally capable of that. I was going to publish a lot of books too. I thought the hardest part of getting published was writing the book. So I wrote the book.

My mom was worried that we might not get everything we needed. Parents are like that. They’re always worrying about their kids. And when you’re a homeschooling, or an unschooling parent, you might feel especially responsible, because, you know, you can’t blame a lot of other people for stuff.

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What about everyone else? Is homeschooling elitist?

This is a guest post from Katie Traylor. She wrote to me a couple weeks ago with a concern about homeschooling. Her concern was so well articulated that I asked her to write this post. It’s a concern, after all, that comes up a lot, and requires some discussion. Here she is:
Homeschooling my (future) kids was not even on my radar a year ago.

My public school experience was mostly good, and I’ve grown up to be a huge supporter of the public education system. It is the reason why a child born to a poor, uneducated family can grow up to become a leader for social change, a successful businessperson, or an emergency room doctor.

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I got interviewed in HEM

Click here to read my interview with Helen Hegener for Home Education Magazine. I had a really good time doing it. Thanks, HEM!

I want to write an actual post, but I keep looking over my shoulder out the window, and the sky is that uninterrupted blue that can’t imagine clouds, and the river looks almost unpolluted. So I think I have to go outside instead.

I may blame it on unschooling. I got to spend a lot of time with the sky, as a kid.

But then again, maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s just human. Like how good pizza tastes. That’s just human, too.

I don’t know why I have the urge to write about pizza so much.

:)

Are homeschoolers idealists?

Peter Kowalke, over at Unschooler.com (why is it that we all have the same blog name?! I really have to get around to changing mine), is asking the world if homeschoolers are idealists. He writes:

Are we a bunch of idealists? This really is a tweet and not an essay; I’m throwing the question out there more than feeling like I have an answer to it. But my gut says unschoolers are idealists.

We’re idealists in that we don’t accept human frailty and the ills of the world as unavoidable fact. We try to change things, to better ourselves, to live up to ideals. We want to actually BE our ideal, not just worship it, and we go out and make it happen.

Is this good, or are we spinning our wheels and fighting battles we can’t win? Do we ultimately come back to the status quo after a long struggle trying to be better than the norm, or do we somehow avoid being THAT kind of idealist?

I don’t know. Maybe we’re practical. We see another way to do things that makes a lot of sense, so we try it.

Often, people assume that the presence of homeschooling is, at its heart, a critique of a broken education system. You could make a pretty sturdy argument there. But on an individual level, and speaking as an unschooler myself, staying out of school seems more like having the space to make your own choices than a cry for revolution.

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The guy I will never convince

I may have told this story before, but it’s one of my favorites.

I was taking a nonfiction writing class at Columbia, during grad school. It was a big deal for me, because it didn’t fit into anything related to the stuff I was officially studying. I had been pretty strict with myself up until then about focusing, but I really, really wanted to take a writing class.

It’s a good thing I took that class, because I met two amazing friends there, and now we have a writing group. But that’s not the story. That would be a sort of boring story.

So I was working on the memoir that I’m always sort of working on about homeschooling/unschooling, and some other girl had been an escort all through college, which is how she paid for Columbia, and some people were writing individual essays in which the words all sat in exactly the right places. I felt like I should figure out a way to include more sex in my story. But there wasn’t really any sex to include for a lot of  it, and when there was, it wasn’t very relevant to the plot.

And meanwhile, everyone was asking me about homeschooling and I was trying to clarify things. And this one guy, who was otherwise perfectly intelligent, kept asking me the most frustrating things.

“So was it just that your parents were social outcasts in high school?” he said, with a straight face.

Continue reading The guy I will never convince

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