Monthly Archives: May 2012

down on the right column, under “influences” there is a link to a talk astra taylor gave in october 2009. after seeing it for the first time a couple years ago, i took another big step toward the unschooling life. she immediately became my poster child. i watched her film examined life and decided that i loved her mind. i recently looked for a sign of her out there in the slipstream and found she had published an article in n+1. i ordered it immediately. it arrived today. i just finished reading her essay titled unschooling.

n+1 (issue thirteen, winter 2012) – some of it is from her talk at the walker – she asks important questions about privilege, race, politics, action and emotion. she gives a birds eye view into the albany free school whose unofficial adage is : “never a dull moment, always a dull roar.”

she paraphrases rebecca solnit: “politics of prefiguration” – one tiny corner of the world – one small community, one co-op, one school – models a different way to run things, embodies principles we want to see more of: democracy, egalitarianism, compassion, creativity. “activism in this model, is not only a toolbox to change things but a home in which to take up residence and live according to your beliefs,” solnit writes, “even if it’s a temporary and local place, this paradise of participating, this vale where souls get made.”

“many people, liberal and conservatives alike, are deeply offended by critiques of compulsory schooling. every day we’re told that schools hold the key to equalizing opportunity, that the proper credentials will allow poor and marginalized people to participate fully in society, and that education provides the only legitimate path out of poverty. the question is a difficult one. are schools social levelers or do they reinforce the class pyramid by tracking and sorting children from a young age? presumably they do both.” (n+1, p.77)

“growing up i experienced unschooling as a compromise, the more appealing of the two extremes available in georgia given my family’s modest budget: staying at home and teaching myself, or going to public school and having my spirit crushed. what i really wanted – what i still want, even now, as an adult- is that intellectual community i was looking for in high school and college but never quite found. i would have loved to commune with other young people and find out what a school of freedom could be like. but for some reason, such a possibility was unthinkable, a wild fantasy – instead, the only option available was to submit to irrational authority six and a half hours a day, five days a week, in a series of cinder-blcok holding cells. if nothing else, we should pause to wonder why there’s so rarely any middle ground.” (n+1, p.78)

order now – support this publication. accolades to n+1 for printing such a piece.

then read:

astra taylor!


“Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives.”


“By “doing” I do not mean only things done with the body, the muscles, with hands and tools, rather than with the mind alone. I am not trying to separate or put in opposition what many might call the “physical” and the “intellectual.” Such distinctions are unreal and harmful. Only in words can the mind and body be separated. In reality they are one; they act together. So by “doing” I include such actions as talking, listening, writing, reading, thinking, even dreaming.”


“…we are very unlikely to learn anything good from experiences which do not seem to us closely connected with what is interesting and important in the rest of our lives. Curiosity is never idle; it grows out of real concerns and real needs. Even more important, we are even less likely to learn anything good from coerced experiences, things others have bribed, threatened, bullied, wheedled, or tricked us into doing. From such we learn mostly anger, resentment, and above all self-contempt and self-hatred for having allowed ourselves to be pushed around or used by others, for not having been smart enough or strong enough to resist and refuse.”

as vivian started to reach school age, we started to fantasize about the ideal situation for our family. in order to have as many options as possible, we planned on “playing” the school lottery for public school. the unjust reality of the school lottery placed our family in an “ideal” position. we live in a neighborhood whose location, because of its “low test scores”,  guarantees we would receive one of our top three choices. because of this, and our non-attachment to the outcome, i almost chose not to bother visiting the schools. i figured that the friends i trusted who had gone through the process before me had done the ground work. spanish-immersion informed our top two choices and the “alternative, art-infused” highly acclaimed school was our third choice. while this order never really changed, at the last moment i felt a strong urge to visit as many schools as i could. it was a mad dash that boggled my mind. mentioning my reflections seems unnecessary – i am sure you can imagine, based on the many posts surrounding this, that i was not impressed. so once we turned in our list i pretty much put it out of my mind.

back to the fantasy. in our research we had decided if there was a school that was a good fit for our family, a “free school” would be the best. a place with the same democratic cooperative spirit as francisco ferrer’s la escuela moderna of Barcelona from the late 1800’s. since then, there have been many people that have attempted to recreate the same spirit in their places of education. without going into that history here, we discovered the modern day equivalents that exist are called democratic free schools. there is a sudbury valley school in the bay area, but it’s location marked it off our list immediately. we did not want to add a commute to our life. we also did not want a private institution.

then one day, someone i know, who knew what i was looking for, ran up to me on the playground and told me of a new alternative school starting in the city. a free school! with a pay what you can sliding scale! i could not wait to meet these people. without going into all the details of this wonderful and sad experience i will say that everyone involved had good intentions. what erupted shortly before the school opened was a result of a severe breakdown in communication and a struggle for power between the two founders. it was a free school vs. a start-up. when the dust settled we decided the environment was not one that would work for our family. that said, amazing things are happening there and i am very happy for the families that feel at home there.

when we gave up our spot, we turned to look at our options. we had gotten our third choice in the public schools, which was at the top of most people’s list.  we felt that we had to see for ourselves what all the accolades were about.  vivian also wanted to give it a try. after having had her hopes up about the free school, she felt compelled to give something a try. so we did.

this is another nine month story which i don’t need to go into micro detail about. i will sum it up by saying that the school has been resting on it’s laurels for too long. the community had broken down and the dysfunction up there was palpable. while things might be unbalanced up there, i do not blame it on any one individual. i think it is a sign of the dysfunction of the institution itself. viv loved school in the beginning. she had a great class full of great kids and families. what transpired over the course of the school year was emotional and behavioral segregation of the classroom. viv was on the good side of the class and started to see her friends on the other side treated quite poorly. she did her job at fitting into this structure and was praised. the classroom was controlled by idle threats. of course i did not like this. neither did jason. but we continued to interact with viv through this with all of our feelings and observations on the table. we were prepared for viv to chose to stay in school, the social stuff was very important to her. in the end, to our surprise, this is not what she decided. we are very content with that decision – to say the least!

we could not have planned these experiences if we had tried. these difficulties have lead us to a place of contentment that we might not have felt if we had made this decision over a year ago. we may have always wondered what it was others were experiencing. throughout we were forced to hold a space of not knowing for months on end. in a way, maybe it has trained us in spirit for unschooling our children. this choice is by no means permanent. we are all individuals collaborating together and anything is possible in the future. if viv approaches us one day and says she wants to give school a try again, we will do our best to field this possible desire.

for now, we are back to the natural rhythms of our family. all of us are much happier and currently quite content. we will see how it all unfolds….

“I would ask you to remember only this one thing,” said Badger. “The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be good story-tellers. Never forget these obligations.”

Crow and Weasel
North Point Press

the morning was nice and slow yesterday. found viv on the couch with a whale book – another thing dad can be counted on is cool, old, cheap books that he picks up on his way home from work at the thrift store, the used book store or on the street. she was particularly interested in the birthing page – a time lapsed series of a baby whale coming out of the mother. we talked all about the orifices of a whale and those of our own bodies.

we had plans to visit some friends in oakland. they are unschoolers too. we went to redwood park where we picnicked and communed with the trees. viv’s friend kaia showed her how to listen to the wind.

later, at dinner we talked with our friend charlie about intentional time with good friends. how important it is to make the time. intentionality can be tricky to make space for, yet so essential in our reflection on and appreciation of our days. we told him about unschooling – one of the only people whose initial reaction was affirming – “i wish i had done that for my daughter”. wow. it made me realize how much negativity we have fielded for contemplating this path. not one other person had reacted with such warm tones. i have become accustomed to people’s concern.

after charlie left i picked up a text from kaia’s mom. after we had returned to the city, kaia told her mom that she couldn’t explain her intention in words to ida and viv in the moment “because nature was in the middle of a sentence” – she had to show them.

“The physical landscape is baffling in its ability to transcend whatever we would make of it. It is as subtle in its expression as turns of the mind, and larger than our grasp; and yet it is still knowable. The mind, full of curiosity and analysis, disassembles a landscape and then reassembles the pieces – the nod of a flower, the color of the night sky, the murmur of an animal – trying to fathom its geography. At the same time the mind is trying to find its place within the land, to discover a way to dispel its own sense of estrangement.”

from Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape  – 1986