Wednesday, December 2, 2015

On Being School-Smart

When I was in school I remember it being very much understood -- I can't remember if it was even stated outright, or just implied so strongly that there was no need -- that doing well in school meant that you were smart, and doing less well in school meant that you were... less smart. It was a given.

I did well enough in school, even took a honors class or two, and got decent grades. But many of my friends were better at school than I was-- they had higher GPAs, they got near-perfect scores on their SATs. They were clearly Smarter Than Me. Which didn't bother me much, I just kind of accepted it... and part of that acceptance was trusting my own thoughts and opinions less, and assuming that these other, smarter people knew better than me and thus I should trust their assessments of things more than my own. This is something I'm still working on reversing now, decades later.

And I don't know if it's come up more lately or I'm just noticing it, but in the past few weeks I've been met with several reminders of how there really are very different ways to be smart or intelligent, and possessing one does not mean you possess them all. Moments where I realized I grasped a concept more thoroughly, or noticed something that another missed, or helping a friend who is by all means incredibly intelligent and capable but needs assistance in particular matters. I'm being extremely vague kind of on purpose, as I don't want this to be about putting anyone else down, just a reminder that there are many ways to be intelligent. Which seems like an obvious thing to say, but I feel like this is one of those things that collectively we "know" it in an abstract way, but don't REALLY believe it most of the time, or in most instances anyway.

I mean, if we really believed it, we wouldn't equate doing well in school with the One True Path to becoming successful.

I want to read more on Howard Gardner's theories of multiple intelligences, as that's part of what I'm touching on here. But I suppose the other part of this that's also on my mind is thinking about how easily and thoroughly I accepted this idea that I wasn't as intelligent (and thus my opinions and thoughts as valid or sophisticated) as other people simply because they were better at Doing School or Taking Tests than I was. How that has stayed with me, long past the time when we were in school. How hard it can be, even now, to break away from those imaginary constraints. And, looking forward, how I don't want my children to fall prey to the same sort of thinking, to evaluate their whole worth based on this one metric that we have somehow as a society decided matters more than almost all others.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


This is another one of those links I keep around handy to look back on as needed: In Praise of the Unexceptional

I think often home/unschoolers feel the need to highlight all the awesome things our kids do, as "proof" that what we're doing is "right" and "working" and "better than school." The thing is, it doesn't need to be better than school or other alternatives-- it just needs to work for us. There are many paths to raising kids, and this is just one of them.

Yet it still is so easy to fall into that trap of comparing, or seeking reassurance... The rational, logical part of my brain looks at the things my boys are doing and knows they're doing fine-- they seem happy. They continue to grow and develop and learn.  Yet that other part of me still freaks out from time to time. We all want our kids to be Exceptional, don't we? We want them to be ahead of the curve, be super creative and innovative, driven, etc.

The funny thing is, when I look at myself I've never been super driven or ambitious. I prefer a quiet life. I did well in school, but I never saw the point in losing sleep to finish a project or study for a test. I went to college, because it was expected, but chose my school based on size and proximity to my parents' home. I majored in psychology because I couldn't figure out what else I might want to do with my life. I've never felt driven by career goals, pretty content to make my home and my kids be my "career."

I remember when I was younger, in middle and high school, and everyone would encourage us to be Leaders, and I'd think "What if we're not all meant to be leaders? Doesn't someone have to follow?" Or maybe not follow, but blend into the background, I guess?

So yeah, I would describe myself as fairly unexceptional. I don't think that makes me uninteresting, or unworthy. I have no idea what is in store for my kids, what they will choose to do with their lives. But I don't want to put big expectations on them that don't fit. And I hope to be able to support them fully and unconditionally, whatever their goals may be.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

NPR TED Radio Hour: Unstoppable Learning

I stumbled upon an episode of NPR's TED Radio Hour show that was about learning, and it's not about unschooling (or doesn't mention it outright) but the ideas definitely support it... especially Sugatra Mitra's segment at the beginning, and his remarks again at the end of the show (starting around the 45ish min mark).

Really fascinating stuff here, good for anyone who's into education in general.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Role of an Unschooling Parent

 A list a friend posted online. I want to print this list and keep it within easy eyesight. I'm working on trying to embody each of these, I often feel like I'm not interesting or providing enough variety of experiences, but I'm working on it.

#1: Show respect for all of a child's interests equally.
#2: Keep the child in mind as I go through life, so that I notice things that might be of interest to that child.
#3: Find ways to include the child in my own daily life - live a more"open-book' life than the norm.
#4: Follow up on things the child is interested in - and do this in a wide variety of ways, not only by "getting him a book on it."
#5: Live a family life that is rich with experiences of a variety of kinds both at home and outside the home.
#6: Have resources around the home that are interesting and stimulating - things that will encourage exploration of ideas.
#7: Discuss things - spend time in conversation. This is probably overall the most important parental"action' involved in unschooling.
#8: Have a"playful' attitude - play together, have fun, appreciate the amazing world around you. Don't be cynical, be able to be amazed and find the world a fascinating place. THIS is the most important"attitude' for an unschooling parent.
#9: Be self-aware of your own thinking and behavior. Purposely stretch your imagination - question your own assumptions, check your own automatic impulses.
#10: Be very observant of what your child is really doing - don't view him/her in a shallow superficial way. Recognize that there is a reason for a child's actions, that a child is"born to learn' and is always learning. Get to know your child's own special favored ways of learning.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Fear of Missing Out, and Trust

It was during my husband's time in business school that I first encountered the term FOMO or the "fear of missing out"-- worrying that you're missing out on some awesome opportunity or event happening elsewhere, without you. Zach is much more prone to experiencing FOMO. Me, not so much. I worry that things won't turn out the way I want or expect them to, but I don't worry much about what I'm missing out on. That sounds almost braggy, but it's just that among my worries and anxieties, this particular one hasn't bothered me much.

But I'm realizing that FOMO is rearing its ugly head in terms of homeschooling-- I worry much more about what my kids are missing out on, especially now that I feel so much more responsible for their education. Do they miss having classmates, a steady stream of other kids their age that they see every day? Are they spending too much time at home, not exploring in "the real world" as much as they could/should be? Unschoolers often talk about how their children discovered this incredible passion sparked by a particular experience... Would they develop a love of puzzles, or coding, or electronics, or godknowswhat if only I presented it to them in the right way? Are there passions or interests that my boys will be robbed of discovering if I don't happen to introduce them to some specific experience, at some specific point in their development?

Like most fears, it starts sounding kinda silly when I write it out like this. I also don't want to allow fear to dictate my actions or decisions. Fear is a shitty reason to do anything (unless you're in pressing physical danger or something, I mean, by all means run away from the lion if it's chasing you).

I think this fear also gets mixed up with comparing what my kids are doing to what others (esp other home/unschoolers) are doing, which is a really terrible idea and I try my hardest not to do it but sometimes that voice just sneaks up without me realizing that's what it is. I'm working on recognizing these fears when they pop up, acknowledging them, and figuring out if it warrants action on my part, or trust. Is there more I could be doing to expose my kids to a variety of interesting things? Maybe I could plan more daytrips to cool places, get out of the house more. Maybe I could make a list of projects to try during those moments when the boys seem a bit bored, and open to my suggestions. Maybe I could try to set aside my prejudices about what are "good" vs "bad" ways to spend their time, and really see what it is they are spending their time doing, to see the value it holds for them.  Maybe it is I who need to find some new, interesting things to do and learn about, as a model for them (and also because it's fun and stuff).

Sometimes the answer is trusting the process, trusting them. Looking to them--  are they happy? Are they curious? Are they excited about what they're doing? -- for guidance, rather than fears.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Optimal Context for Self-Education

Today was the first day of the HSC homeschooling conference, here in California, and this year Peter Gray is the keynote speaker. Tomorrow morning is his big keynote talk on learning through play, but today he gave two other talks. One of them was on the biology of education-- looking back at anthropological research on human evolution, and combining that with modern studies on learning and current research on unstructured child-led learning in democratic schools and unschooling families. He came up with a list of six key elements that provide an optimal context for self-education:

  1. The social expectation (and reality) that education is children's responsibility.
  2. Unlimited freedom to play, explore, and pursue own interests.
  3. Opportunity to play with the tools of the culture.
  4. Access to a variety of caring adults, who are helpers, not judges.
  5. Free age mixing among children and adolescents.
  6. Immersion in a stable, moral, democratic environment. 

There's more to be said about these, but I just wanted to quickly post them here as one place to remember them.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Those nagging voices of doubt

During the two years that we lived in New Hampshire, D developed a strong friendship with his best buddy, Ethan. They were practically inseparable. When we moved away, just over a year ago, it broke D's heart. He had a pretty hard time with the separation, spending the first several months super moody, not really wanting to hang out with other kids or do much at all outside the house. Things got better over time, and he really turned a corner after we got a chance to visit E in his home in October. We still haven't found another friend who comes close to replacing E's friendship in our daily lives, but D has become much more social and flexible again.

Last week E and his family spent a week with us here in CA. D had been looking forward to this visit for weeks, he was so excited. So it was a bit of a surprise for me that, once E was actually here, D seemed kind of aloof at first. He played with E some, but he also spent a lot of time playing on the ipad or his 3DS by himself. Part of this was because of getting to play some brand new games that E had brought with him, but still. It wasn't until the last couple of days of E's visit that D fully warmed up to him, and they played just like old times.

I didn't know what to make of this. I was disappointed that D was not spending more time with his friend, who we see so infrequently. He was also moody and at times really angry and inflexible about plans, demanding to go home when we were out. I worried that video games were taking over D and making him totally anti-social. I worried that being out of school was turning my son into a hermit, not wanting to hang out even with the boy he calls his best friend in the world. The voices of doubt in my head had a field day, questioning my approach to homeschooling and gaming and every other change we've made in the past year, worrying that there was something wrong with my kid, worrying that, basically, I was doing a terrible job and ruining my kid as a result.

Looking back with a few days of space and clearer thinking, I'm kind of embarrassed at how much I freaked out, how focused I became on a few trees over the larger forrest.

Interestingly, as soon as E left to go back home, D initiated all these new projects and activities. He painted some miniatures, made and sold lemonade on our block, dictated 4 pages of a new story for me to write for him, set up a new battle with his lego minifigures, watched youtube videos of medieval and ninja weapons. The games he had been so obsessed over, suddenly sat untouched. So I guess video games were not consuming all his brain and attention. He has also shown moments of being so caring and considerate about others' feelings or wishes. In other words, he was acting fairly un-ruined, as if he were actually a happy, thriving child.

And maybe my kid is just sensitive. And needs a break from even the most fun friend during the day. When I step back and look at our time together again, I see that there were times throughout each day when they played well together, but I glossed over those and focused on the times when D set up his own boundaries and time for himself. I looked at his game playing as a solitary, socially isolated activity when at least part of his gaming time was spent unlocking a few new levels on one of E's games, which he felt proud of and I think viewed as a favor he was doing for his friend. Maybe I should have guided or pushed more for him to connect with his buddy, but maybe also D was doing a pretty good job of determining for himself how social he wanted to be, and how much time he needed on his own to process having extra people in his home, in his space, all day for a week.

I worried that homeschooling was making him into more of a loner, but then again am I just falling prey to the idea that everyone has to be super outgoing and social all the time? D has some pretty serious loners on each side of his family, people who are quite happy and well-adjusted and simply enjoy having lots of time to themselves. That may just be his nature, either for right now or more permanently.

I'm still working on processing the trip, trying to figure out what lessons I can learn from it. We have a big trip planned with a bunch of my family in a week, where he will likely feel overwhelmed by so many people sharing one house, and I want to align my own expectations to how to help him deal with that. I still feel a little bummed at some of D's behavior last week, but I also realize that he is human, and we humans (even is oh-so-mature grown-ups) have moods and sometimes lose our temper and sometimes just need more time alone, and sometimes have a harder time identifying let alone voicing what we need.

Questioning and doubting yourself is surely an issue for most if not all parents, and I kinda think there's a whole other level of it for those of us who question what most people take as givens, and decide to go against the grain. I've also always had a problem with not trusting my own judgement of things, assuming that others must clearly know more or know better than I do. I've gotten better at trusting my gut at least when it comes to parenting, but I still occasionally have these boughts of worry, where I swing between feeling like I am totally blowing something small out of proportion, and that also too I am missing some obvious red flags that any other competent parent would see and know to do something about them. I want to be aware of my kids and be able to adjust and tweak things in response to their needs, without letting that spiral down to doubting myself and losing trust in my own wisdom.