Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Learning and the Extended Family

We attended the Northeast Unschooling Conference in late August; Amy has written an excellent blog post here about the experience. I would recommend a conference to anyone who is entrenched in unschooling, as we are, or who has unschooling questions or is just starting out. The most valuable things I took from the conference were:

  • Well-grounded kids find their own limits, and need the freedom to find those limits. I think Amy and I knew this anyway, so we needed to remove a few restrictions (bed times, mostly) for the conference, and it worked really well for all of us. We were really tired by the end, but it was worth it.
  • Chestnuts don't help anyone: "It will all work out." "Trust the process." These sayings don't reassure, they add stress when you have a real question. People on the outside of our social revolution in education usually don't ask the really tough questions, but we can come up with them: "Will my child be happy?" "Will this really work?" Several of the speakers hit these tough questions head on. I've known that unschooling is the best form of education for everyone and I heard that echoed back to me by the diverse presentors and participants at the conference.  That makes me happy and does more to quiet down those tough questions than some trite saying.
  • Our history is full of learning by doing. Peter Gray spoke on Hunter-Gatherer Bands, and how unschooling and self-led learning are a key part of our history. It has even started me down the path of questioning the common terms: "Child" and "Play" but that will have to be for a later blog post.
  • The most important part of the conference was finding an extended family or band of people that we could connect with. I recommend this for anyone who is trying to live the examined life, and in particularly exploring the best learning environment for your family. You cannot do it alone, you need friends in real life or online who you really truly connect with. Blood relatives may not make the cut in many cases.

For my family, this last one has been a challenge, always. We do not make friends easily, although I'm pretty good at social events. I'm after a deep connection, so why waste time trying on friends who won't fit? Other criteria:

  1. You have to be self-aware. Be who you are.
  2. You have to be smart, I don't suffer fools. At all. Ever.
  3. You have to be kind. To yourself, to your spouse, to your family, to mine.
  4. You have to be funny. Dry humor and sarcasm are welcome.
  5. You can have faith, but you had better be solid with #1.

We ran into a whole group of self-aware, smart, kind, funny people at the conference, and I hope everyone who goes to one of these events does too. 


  1. Dude, I'm totally with you on all your points. Having a community of unschoolers is important - relatives don't often cut it. And in real life too - it's so nice to be able to keep in touch with a fellow tribespeep even if they're miles & miles away. We went you our first conference in June (GBHL) and I *loved* being around other unschooling dads.

  2. Hi Alex, I have had the pleasure of meeting Amy and the kids. I'm sure I'll be meeting you at a gathering in the future too. I was wondering if you wanted to blog more about family/friend relationships? I'm thinking when or if you've had to decide if continuing one is worth it, or even healthy when lifestyles really begin to clash. Or more commonly for me, when with much effort, you keep from clashing by keeping your lips zipped. I'm pretty worn out from going places just to please others, but not being able to be myself. And the holidays are coming! Jessica

  3. Its hard to be one's self in our society, especially with certain family members. Finding the balance between when to "zip it" and when to be my outspoken self has been difficult. I'm brand new to the unschooling world and what an amazing journey so far. Thanks for the blogs!