Rebirth of Reason

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Post 140

Saturday, May 14, 2005 - 2:23pmSanction this postReply
This is my first post here. I arrived via a link on http://www.endervidualism.com/ which pointed to Kelly's article.

We have two daughters, Ayn 12 and Ada 9, who have been unschooled all their lives. I will speak a bit about my experience below and answer some points raised in a few of the posts.

First of all I want to state that I agree with Phil on at least one point. I wish libertarians and objectivists, along with others, would get the facts, and I add, the context, straight. To quote statistics from John Taylor Gatto in support of unschooling is a stretch. Gatto is a strong opponent of state compulsory education but he is against unschooling. He does give references for his statistics in the book, but the context is compulsory state schooling. His argument is that there was plenty of schooling that worked very well, before the state got involved, not that literacy rates were high without schooling.

Secondly, there are very few references to adults that have been unschooled. The only one I can think of is “Homeschooling for Excellence” by the David and Micki Cofax, which, despite the title, is about unschooling. They raised four sons, three of which went to Ivy league schools (a doctor and two lawyers, if i recall correctly) and one who became a chef. Also on the Home Ed list (http://www.madrone.com/Home-ed/helist.html) there are occasional posts about unschoolers being admitted to university, including one about a 17 year old who received offers of full scholarships to both MIT and Cal Tech. All anecdotal. I will add to the anecdotal evidence later.

The statistics relating to homeschoolers being admitted to, and graduating from, university are impressive. These numbers say nothing about unschoolers. Unschooling parents who want a university education for their children are in mostly uncharted waters.

Finally, both Sudbury and Summerhill could help themselves and unschoolers in general by posting statistics regarding things like admission to university, or the number of presidents of major corporations that attended the school, etc. What most private schools do as a matter of routine. If this is not part of the school's goal, then they should post statistics that demonstrate success in the areas they are interested in.

A few people have asked about resources. The list is way to long, but here is a start:

Zome Tool (http://www.zometool.com/)
WFF 'N PROOF (http://thinkers.law.umich.edu/files/HomePage.htm)
24 Game (http://www.24game.com/)
Set (http://www.setgame.com/)
Board games of every description.

Cartoon History of the Universe (3 books) by Larry Gonick, and just about everything else by Gonick
Comic books
Cartoon collections (Garfield, Sherman's Lagoon, Dilbert, Mafalda, Astérix, etc). These are especially useful for foreign languages so get Mafalda in Spanish and Astérix in French.
The Way Things Work, David Macaulay, book and software
The Eyewitness series, books and software
The Brain Game by Aero & Weiner

We have found most “educational” software and videos to be useless. There are a few exceptions, but most materials that explicitly designed for teaching children insult the intelligence of a half way curious child.

Here are a few replies to questions/statements:

Post 127
>> 6. You can go back and get your basic math and learn it in just weeks.
> Absolutely false. On what do you base these bald assertions? Have you *taught*
> multiple levels of mathematics - as I have? Several weeks, my ass!!

In “Learning all the Time” the late John Holt says it takes about 30 hours to learn how to read effectively and goes on to give many examples. In the chapters about arithmetic, he say it takes about the same time to learn as reading.

I read this long before my children were ready to learn. When Ayn was I decided to track the time. Guess what? About 28 hours for basic reading, and 32 hours for arithmetic, including long division. This was one-on-one, with a very willing student over a period of three weeks for reading and 11 days for arithmetic. These happened years apart. She learned how to read at age four but did not become interested in math until age seven.

Post 100
>> "Why can’t he decide what is a better use of his time?"

> don't know, but he can't. I suspect it's because he's a kid. ;-)
>You probably meant "Why don't you allow him to decide". I have experienced week-
>long school breaks, and have seen what Peter does with his free time when he is not
>guided. One thing I do to get him to come up with his own activities is to suggest that
>he make up a List of Things to Do for the day. This seems to help him to balance his
>time and get in some of those endeavors that I consider "productive." Then, at the end
>of the day, he doesn't have that sinking feeling that the day is gone with nothing to
>show for it.

Two other possible reasons: 1) He is so used to having his day organized for him that he has lost the capacity to do it for himself. 2) He needs some down time from having to “do something” all the time.

There is nothing wrong with spending a day staring at the ceiling. Or several days for that matter. Especially when coming off an extended period of school.

Post 101
> Phil said:

>> If you think children should be given unhindered right to pursue whatever interest they
>> want, what if they want to not eat their vegetables or to eat only sugary foods, should
>> you force or 'encourage' them at an age when they truly cannot grasp the reasons and
>> would only be doing it to please you? And if you encourage them to do something or
>> they do it to please you, what is wrong with encouraging them in the area of education
>> or subjects to read about?

> I think this is an interesting question. Do Kelly and David let their child choose what
> food she will eat? If not, what about volition? Why should they decide what's best for
> the child?

> To continue the analogy, suppose the child only wants to eat food that is not nutritional
> and is fattening? (This is an analogy with the boy who only wanted to fish all day.)
> Then, at age 9 or 10, when she is 4 ft 5 in tall and weighs 300 pounds, she develops a
> passion for running marathons, all she has to do is lose the weight and make up for a
> "lifetime" of physical unfitness (after, of course, learning to read so she can study up on
> how to be physically fit).

Our children have always been able to eat what ever they wanted. Always. Of course this assumes they can get it or prepare it for themselves. Our policy is simple. The person preparing the food decides what we are eating. If you don't like it, feed yourself. For years, especially when they were younger, we never had sweets in the house. It is only in the last few years, now that both of our children clearly understand property rights, that Annie has been giving into her cravings for dark chocolate.

Now that they both earn their own money, they can buy all the junk food they want. They very rarely do. The last time was four months or so ago when they split a big bag of Oreo cookies, which lasted at least five weeks. They know the value of money.

They learned how to cook early on, so they could make their own food. Also so they could eat when they wanted to as opposed to when their parents wanted to.

Now we often have the problem of more than one person wanting to cook.

post 91

> "The essence of parental responsibility is: to equip the child for independent survival as an adult."

> Elsewhere in one (or perhaps more) of his books NB has defined maturity in people as
> the ability and the confidence to know that they can find out anything they need to
> know to solve any problem they encounter on their way to achieving their life goals.
> Not that they know everything, but they can can find information if they need it and
> they have the intellectual tools to understand it. Somewhere in between birth and this
> mature state it seems to me that the parents responsibility, to the best of their ability, is
> to provide the opportunity for the child to develop this maturity. Leaving the immature
> child to totally decide themselves, their education is a "sink or swim" attitude that
> seems a little callous to me. It may work in some isolated cases with a particular set of
> parents as role models and certain gifted children but only as exceptions not the rule.

I couldn't agree more. The question then becomes “what is the most effective way of doing this?” I contend the answer is unschooling. Unschooling is certainly not "sink or swim". It is precisely providing the opportunity, without coercion, to develop and learn.

Post 92

> Jenn, it could be that we're exaggerating when we say that Kelly wants to treat children
> as little adults. To me, it seems to be what she is saying.

I must admit that this is what it seems to me as well. And I do not agree with it. Parents need to provide direction without coercion. This means making suggestions, providing examples, involving children in your activities, encouraging behavior you think is correct, showing disapproval when you don't like something. On and on. All without coercion.

> I think that children need a push to get them going, even when they have stated that
> they have a particular interest. Let's take summertime for schoolchildren as an
> example. I currently telecommute, so in the past I have put Peter into summer
> programs so that I can work without being bothered. At his age now, I wouldn't really
> need to do that; he can entertain himself. However, I still feel that more structure can
> help him to make better use of his time in the summer. This year, I asked him, "What
> are you interested in learning this summer? Any special skills you'd like to pick up?"
> Kids have all this free time in the summer; I figure they should spend it focusing on
> what's important to them. Peter's answer: "I don't know." So I signed him up for a
> writing workshop and some tennis lessons (he's totally not a team-sports kind of guy,
> but I think it would be good for him to learn a "lifetime sport" of some kind). Peter's
> reaction: "OK."

Perhaps he just needs to detox from school. After being forced to go through nine months of school, a break of doing nothing is just what is needed. He may go along with the suggestions because he has be constantly taught (indoctrinated?) to obey adults without question and to follow their lead instead of thinking for himself.

> In a nutshell, I think that young children need some degree of artificial motivation, that
> they should be taught the things adults think are important, that they sometimes are
> naturally lazy.

I disagree completely. Simply by by doing things you are truly interested in and sharing them with children, they become interested. That interest then spreads to other things they find on their own. If they are allowed to. If the initial interest is real. Artificial motivation is a very poor substitute.

> Also, it's not a on-off switch: I will not control every aspect of Peter's life until he turns
> 18, at which time I will throw the switch and expect him to make his own decisions.
> It's a gradual process of increasing responsibility and freedom over the years. We need
> to provide an environment that eases the child into responsible, self-directed, self-
> motivated adulthood. Along the way, there will be artificial motivators. Babies do
> things to make mommy happy. Young children do chores in exchange for money or
> favors. My goal is that once he turns 18, Peter will do his own laundry and dishes
> without me paying him, and will make his own choices and pursue his own goals for
> his own reasons and not just to please his folks. I don't think that Kelly is right in
> thinking that this can't happen unless you let your two-year-old make all of his own
> choices and pursue his own goals.

Our children do laundry, clean house, cook, take care of the rabbits and chickens, kill and clean rabbits and chickens, help in the garden and many other things. All without cash payment. They do not receive an allowance. Their money comes from their own business and occasional gifts, mostly from grandparents. They know very clearly that if they want the benefits of the house they have to work to support the house. This also gives them input into the decisions of the house. From very young they have worked and we have involved them in the decision making process. This is the best preparation we can give them.

Post 99

> But most kids do not have that fire. To wait for such a kid to discover their own
> direction without "interfering" can not possibly be the best decision. That would make
> parenting years a total bore for one thing. "What's little Susie up to? Studying her
> calculus?" "No, she's just sittin' there. Sittin' in her chair."

I would argue that most do not have the fire because it has been put out by school. That left uncoerced most children will learn naturally. Every once in a while they will vegetate, or space out on TV and computer games. Then they will tire of that and do something else. At least that is the case with my children and most other unschoolers I have known. The fact is that it takes very little time to learn what is taught in schools. A lot of time is simply wasted in schools. Line up for this, moving between classes, listening to announcements, waiting for the teacher to finish with another student, etc.

> I think the best course of action is to clearly present the child with a catalogue of
> options. Soccer, chess, golf, karate, violin, chemistry, whiffle ball, Latin, etc and have
> the child select 3 (or whatever number) of subjects to study intensely. And then
> introduce new subjects as the child progresses. An idle child becomes a wretched and
> needy adult.

One does not have to be busy all the time. Relaxing has value as well. A child does not have to be forced to choose an arbitrary number of subjects. Give them lots of options and your opinion on them, and let it go from there. They may choose zero today, but come back in a month and want to do something you suggested, or they may find something completely different. Let them.

post 47

> I wonder if many of the 'unschoolers' have ever had a truly great, transforming teacher
> in a traditional classroom and have viscerally experienced how much difference such a
> charismatic person can make in a young child's or adolescent's life. There are many
> movies and stories that tell of this, from "To Sir With Love" to "Stand and Deliver".
> (And I can attest that it makes all the boredom worthwhile and unimportant.)

I had one such teacher and can attest that it did not come close to making up for all the boredom and pain of school.

However, you are correct. To find a individual like that is worth a lot. It does not have to be in school. For example, Ayn acquired a dog and decided to train him. So she found a dog trainer to study with. Did not like him so found another one. Who she really liked and learned a lot from. So much so that she started assisting him with his group classes.

Note that she chose her teacher. A teacher is just another merchant selling a product. The student is the customer. School places the teacher in the position of a master. This is wrong. The relationship should be client/vendor.

> The reason a good teacher and mastery of a core curriculum -- English, Math, Science,
> History -- is vital (as is finding good schools, which DO EXIST) is that you can't just
> "snap bang" pick up all the stuff you didn't find interesting years ago. It is often
> hierarchical and slow to learn requiring many problems and can't be crammed into
> weeks but takes trial and error, step by step. Hierarchy refers not only to the way we
> store knowledge. It refers to the way we do and logically must -learn- it. You can't pick
> up algebra if you never mastered fractions, long division, certain aspects of logic, pre-
> algebra, etc. You can't learn to substitute letters for numbers in equations until you have
> thoroughly mastered -every single one- of the operations of arithmetic. Advanced or
> formal science won't make much sense unless you mastered general science in
> elementary or middle school. It will just be floating abstractions without concretes.
> Modern political issues in America about religion, race, gender won't fully make sense
> unless you have not just memorized but understand the Protestant Reformation,
> Reconstruction, etc.

We are never going to agree on the above. My experience, from both observation of other unschooling families and from my own home is completely different. I know a young man who was well into calculus without knowing trig. When he realized he needed it he picked up the books and had it down in three weeks. My niece, currently 18, learned US history “backwards”. She volunteered at a veterans hospital and heard about WWII for some of the patients. That got her interested in the history of the war. From there she became interested in the reasons for the war. She worked back through US, Chinese, Japanese and European history to the dark ages. She has a much better understanding of history than most people. Especially those that have attended US public schools. Ayn was well into algebra before she learned fractions. She realized she need them, found a web site and spent 16 hours straight learing them and doing drills. Done, fractions learned.

> The reason you need a teacher to (gently, inspirationally) guide your children through
> this material is that it is too vast and the good stuff too hidden to think you will stumble
> on it via library search or internet googling. And you don't know what you don't know.
> Nor do you know when knowledge is floating or out of context or requires a base.

I mostly agree with the above, but note that it applies to adults as well. As long as it is non-coercive, I have no problems with it, as long as the individual being taught can say, “no, not interested” and not be forced to continue.

> You'll never get a fraction of what you need in order to be well-rounded without
> guidance.

I do not see value in being “well rounded”. Especially since it is such an ill defined concept. Why learn Palmer Ovals and not high energy physics? Why Latin and not classic Chinese? Why the Bible but not the Koran? Social Studies but not Game Theory?

> Parents, themselves not always well-rounded Renaissance people, are just as likely to
> mis-guide the child as not.

I have to completely disagree with this. The job of parents is to teach their children values. Their values. Not your values, not my values, theirs.

> And being well-rounded -is- vital to being as successful, and even as intelligent as you
> can be. (Genius and intelligence grow out of vast knowledge.) While there may be
> exceptions to this, people who need to do nothing but pursue one thing for a lifetime or
> huge sections of one, they are the exception not the norm.

Once again, I disagree, but even if you are correct, an individual can become “well rounded” by reading a great many books and discussing them, either in person or online, with other people. If they really need to, they can hire a tutor. School is not necessary for to achieve this goal.

> Don't let yourself remain a philistine, if you are or refrain from giving your children the
> guidance that will let them remain narrow specialists who, if they are 'creative' types,
> don't deeply and thoroughly understand science and the vast new world it has created
> and, if they are 'technical' types(or professional or businessmen, don't fully and
> thoroughly know who Freud and Herodotus and Constantine and Stowe were or what
> implications Thermopylae had for western civilization and for us today.

I guess I am a philistine. I had no idea what Thermopylae was until I looked it up on Google, although I did know the others. I have read biographies of Freud and Constantine, have read some of the works of Herodotus and if you mean Harriet Beecher Stowe, then have read “Uncle Tom's Cabin”. With the exception of Stowe, all after I left school. Now I know something about Thermopylae as well but admit that I have no idea of what implications the battle had for western civilization. However, if I am really interested I can research further.

However, why the above? Why not Julius Caesar, Han Fei, Schrodinger, von Neumann, Sun Tzu, Celini, Tolstoi, Cheng Ho, Muhammad, Buddah, Wagner, Einstein, Jefferson, Musashi, and on and on. All are worthy of study, and studying them takes time, In other words, has a cost. What is the cost benefit ratio of studying each one, and more importantly, how is it determined?

Post 69

> 2. On the point about a well-rounded education, my view is not that it is *necessary*, in
> the sense that a happy life, career , etc. are impossible without it.

> My point is that it *adds* to it. And -sometimes- you will miss things, make wrong
> choices without it. It's possible to be happy if you are a narrow specialist, and never
> learn history, develop a love for literature, etc. There are people who, given the nature
> of their career choices are. But it's not the way to bet. And why would you be in -favor-
> of not understanding our culture and other important sections of reality or be arguing
> for it?

Add to a happy life and a good career? Possible. But at a price. As you point out, “no such thing as a free lunch”. Is the price worth it? Everyone has to decide that for themselves, don't they?

As far as making mistakes without it. Maybe. Making mistakes with it are just as possible as I can attest to when one of my “brilliant” degree loaded employees cost me a whole lot of money because of an incredibly stupid decision. But he was no philistine, just a clueless idiot. I have been less than impressed with Liberal Arts “education”. I have met many people that would be better off using their university degrees as toilet paper for all the good it does them.

> David does the same thing in another post when he mentions he would simply pick up
> an encyclopedia to learn things. I suggest that you both seriously underestimate the long
> chain of skills and literacy and factual knowledge in a wide range of areas that you need
> before you can understand fully encyclopedia articles (just to stay on that one example.)
> Do you know what level kids have to be at before reading an encyclopedia for pleasure
> and enrichment is possible to them?

Age 11. That is when Ayn started reading the Wikipedia on a regular basis. Of course others will start earlier, some will start later and some will never be interested. Note that mechanics, farmers and a host of other occupations are also necessary. If they derive pleasure from reading an encyclopedia, fine. If they prefer to vegetate in front of the TV, fine as well. But I am a philistine.

Post 13

> My eight-year-old son is quite gifted, but if he were "unschooled", he would spend 14
> hours a day in front of the computer playing the free games on wonka.com,
> pfgoldfish.com, etc., etc. He wants to be a writer when he grows up. But he needs
> encouragement to make that more than an idle desire, to actually DO some writing.
> And, in order to have some CONTENT to write ABOUT, he needs to study other
> subjects. Even he recognizes this. We discussed this article, and when I asked him
> what he thought, he said, "I think she's crazy!" An example he gave was, "Who's going
> to learn social studies without somebody making you learn it in school?" He
> understands that it's important to learn about many different subjects, not only to make
> you a competent and well-informed adult, but to help you determine what you are truly
> interested in.

He might spend 14 hours a day playing now. If you take him out of school he certainly will for a while. There tends to be a “detox” period which is different for every individual. After which he will get bored with computer games and find something else to do. However, even computer games teach. To keep people interested they must be challenging. This means the players need to keep thinking.

It is a pity that he thinks Kelly is crazy, but it is a predictable reaction from someone who has had their life arranged by school. He cannot imagine doing some things without being coerced. This is sad. It is also odd. He recognizes something is of value, but will not learn it unless forced. When my children think something is worth learning there is no stopping them.

This message is very long as it is, so I will stop here. I will post another one with our specific experiences and our reasons for choosing this path.


Post 141

Saturday, May 14, 2005 - 6:19pmSanction this postReply

Enjoyed your post. I have a nephew in Alaska whose wife and he decided to homeschool their three kids. So this subject interests me. Thanks for the references. I like the part where your kids do their own cooking. It reminded me of a friend years ago who was teaching her daughters to cook when they could barely see over the stove. The small one, about four, would pull a chair over to stand on to use the stove. I was surprised but they seemed very competent. It's amazing to see young kids so focused and intent on what they are doing which was obvious. You may enjoy one of Jennifer's articles here:


At the end of the article is a link to Jennifer's awesome website, which you don't want to miss.

Post 142

Saturday, May 14, 2005 - 7:21pmSanction this postReply

Thank you so much for your post. I really enjoyed it. If you and your family are ever in Georgia I would love to meet you all. In fact if your children ever developed a passion for history,  philosophy, or psychology THEY just might be the type of intellectuals I am looking to support in their intellectual endeavors.


Post 143

Saturday, May 14, 2005 - 10:05pmSanction this postReply
Jorge, you certainly know how to make an entrance, don't you?!

I'm very glad that somebody such as yourself (a Philistine, that is), with so much experience, decided to post on this matter. You have great insight and terrific evidence (12 years' worth).

The anecdotes concerning your children cracked me up. Could I borrow them for a couple of weeks (if the agree, of course) to maybe do some cooking at our household? Well, on second thought, I better find out what it is they LIKE first!

I look forward to your next post. Take care.

Sanction: 2, No Sanction: 0
Post 144

Saturday, May 14, 2005 - 11:18pmSanction this postReply
Mike, thank you so much for that wonderful endorsement.  :)  And Jorge, welcome.  I am eager to hear more about your cooking adventures with your children.

I have 4-year-old nephews (twins), and they have started joining me at the stove to cook.  For Mother's Day, we made a cardamom rice pudding, and it was very easy to teach them about stove safety.  They are learning to measure things out, and love when I teach them the big words like "cardamom" (hilarious) and "gastronomy."  They are also learning science, as they now know what boiling is, and how to spot it, or how rice absorbs liquid. 

Their minds are extremely active, so when they visit and start to get bored, I start whipping out spices from the cabinet so we can do a smelling session, and learn where the spices come from, or I show them my herb garden (they are sent out to pick fresh basil in the summer). 

Cooking is a marvelous way to teach kids.  Of course, the best part is the tasting.  :)  The twins are picky eaters, but they gobbled up that puddin'.

And, in a moment that was shockingly hilarious, I said to them, "Well, it's no fun if you don't get to taste it!"  And one of them replied, "Yeah, it sucks when you don't get to taste it."  I nearly fell on the floor.  :) 

Keep up the good work.  :)

Post 145

Sunday, May 15, 2005 - 12:08amSanction this postReply
Jorge, most of your post and those of the other unschoolers, where they are not merely flat assertions, consist of -underestimation- of what is involved in a really first class education and a consequent -overestimation- of the ability of children to navigate this thicket without formal classes.

You all make it sound just like rolling off a log. Become a nuclear engineer by age 11? :-)

I don't think it's yet possible to tell how well-educated your children will ultimately turn out to be when they are presently 12 or younger. Because of your post's length, and because I've already addressed much of this, I will only comment on a few points:

1. "A lot of time is simply wasted in schools...I have been less than impressed with Liberal Arts “education”. I have met many people that would be better off using their university degrees as toilet paper for all the good it does them."

How is a defense of the need for formal schooling (as opposed to unschooling) a defense of the current -state- of the schools - either K-12 or college - or the poorly educated idiots so often currently being graduated from them?

2. "Ayn acquired a dog and decided to train him. So she found a dog trainer to study with. Did not like him so found another one...Note that she chose her teacher. A teacher is just another merchant selling a product."

In the case of a dog trainer it is quite easy to assess his quality very quickly. Even a young child can do that. The dog is either completely 'educated' or not within weeks and the dog is either responsive or not very quickly. This is not a straw man: it is a straw dog.

3. " why the above [long list of things it would be helpful to know]? Why not [another long list]?...What is the cost benefit ratio of studying each one, and more importantly, how is it determined?

This is not a short answer question.

4. "I looked it up on Google...Now I know something about Thermopylae as well but admit that I have no idea of what implications the battle had for western civilization. However, if I am really interested I can research further."

The problem with researching further something about which you have no knowledge or context, e.g., the implications of Thermopylae, is without knowing what they are and in what area ( military theory? philosophy? culture?) you don't know where it is advantageous to go. You could stumble around in the dark indefinitely without happening on the right connections. And if you had no clue that there -might be- momentous implications (had not read this assertion or sat down and had a discussion with me for example) you would have no reason or motivation to go further. And from the tone of your response, it doesn't sound as if you will be motivated to go further.

I wouldn't recommend that one study history oriented around curiosity about one event or interest in one person. That alone with no knowledge of the need to go further would provide too idiosyncratic and spotty a knowledge of history. History like other core subjects eventually needs to be learned in an integrated form.

Again, a full explanation of this would not be a short, email-discussion-list answer.

5. "My niece, currently 18, learned US history “backwards”. She volunteered at a veterans hospital and heard about WWII for some of the patients. That got her interested in the history of the war. From there she became interested in the reasons for the war. She worked back through US, Chinese, Japanese and European history to the dark ages. She has a much better understanding of history than most people."

That last sentence is quite a sweeping claim (as are the claims about being able to learn entire disciplines in a few hours). Do you base it on a few conversations in passing on a few occasions seeing your niece or on a systematic test which you can vouch for and you saw her take?

6. "I know a young man who was well into calculus without knowing trig. When he realized he needed it he picked up the books and had it down in three weeks.

With a Master's in Math and having taught and tutored this level of math, I actually think you can learn trig in far less time than the average high school course. But how do -YOU- know this and in the case of this person? How well do you know him and how do you know he "had it down", the entire subject, as opposed to a couple formulas on sines and cosines needed to solve the immediate problems in his current chapter of his calculus text? Because he bragged, "oh yeah, I know all that stuff no problem"?

7. "I do not see value in being “well rounded”. Especially since it is such an ill defined concept. "

It's not ill-defined at all. I explained it in my posts in terms of core curriculum.

8. "One does not have to be busy all the time. Relaxing has value as well. "

I agree.

9. "Guess what? About 28 hours for basic reading, and 32 hours for arithmetic, including long division. "

Did you read my post about -level-?

10. Your approach of offering guidance for your childrens' education is better than Kelly and David's total hands off.

Perhaps you are closer to homeschooling (something I'm often in favor of) than unschooling?

You mention the educational accomplishments of your niece and a young man you know, but you don't say much about what knowledge, what fields of interest your own unschooled children have so far been motivated to at least begin. Beyond household and animal husbandry skills. If their curiosity and your guidance have led them to learn a lot about, for example - world or american history, good children's literature, general science, grammar, composition - in any kind of systematic way ... and if you administer tests or have them write essays or compositions, I for one would want to hear details.

--Philip Coates
(Edited by Philip Coates
on 5/15, 12:13am)

(Edited by Philip Coates
on 5/15, 12:23am)

Post 146

Sunday, May 15, 2005 - 5:41amSanction this postReply
Uhhh... I didn't know there is a difference between homeschooling and unschooling?! I mean, the child needs some guidance or it won't go over the first hard obstructions. I think by rearrangeing the environment, you can force such a step (example: to stuff the room with elementary learning stuff), but this is not volition, because it is intended by the parents.

I also agree with Philip about trig, which could be taught better in school and should have more emphasis, because its importance for further education (f.e. in Mathe, Physicsk, mechanical engineering, (especially) electrical engineering and so on).

However, I must also say that you can learn stuff like history/philosophy at home without a teacher (It might even be better, because you can apply your own objective standard to those works).

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Post 147

Sunday, May 15, 2005 - 10:58pmSanction this postReply
Thanks for the welcome. This is an interesting group. Hopefully I can contribute something to the various discussions.

In this post I will write about our experiences. Some of Phil's points/questions will be addressed. The rest in another post.

First some background: I graduated high school two years early, because the school wanted me out and did not want me to drop out because it would look bad. I hated school, considering it a huge waste of time. I did not go to university. My wife is Malaysian Chinese. For those of you familiar with the English system, she finished O levels.

She had to stop at that point and work to help put her younger brother through school and university. Boys being worth more than girls and all that. She enjoyed school a great deal. What we have in common, regarding school, is that we both left at age 16.

My sister was unschooling her children and had been always. She divorced soon after her second child, who is now 16. Despite being a single mother with no support from her ex, her children always seemed remarkable to me. They were well behaved, curious, intelligent and in general fun to be with.

So I started reading about unschooling before I met Annie. I found a philosophy which very closely matched my objectivist/libertarian views. Specifically, unschooling recognizes the primacy of the individual.

I hold that all individuals have the same rights, regardless of age. The capacity to recognize, exercise and defend those rights is another matter. Since all individuals have a right to life, it follows that they have the right to liberty and property as well. It is the basis for the way our home is run. Not only in education, but in all aspects. As Phil said, this is a discussion for another thread.

I can appreciate Hong Zhang's position, as that is where Annie started. I spent many years convincing her that this was the correct approach. She is now as strong a proponent of this approach as I am. Sometimes more so.

We know five adults (age 18 or older) that were unschooled. One is the young man who learned trig after calculus, he is now in his second year of a combined BA/MA in Economics. He hopes to finish it in four years instead of five. A young lady is a freshman studying US Civil War history. Another man has graduated with an engineering degree and now works on a research ship, spending six weeks at sea, six weeks off, then back to sea. The other two have chosen not to pursue formal studies. My niece, 18, runs an animal shelter and is a professional show dog handler. She has been living on her own for two years. The other person, also 18, is a Marine presently attending technical training.

We also know several teenagers that are unschooled. While their stories are all different, they are focused, doing what they want and as far as I can tell are succeeding. We know one 15 year old girl who is a disaster, so unschooling is no guarantee for success, just as homeschooling and school are not.

We started the process very young. We taught them about property, starting with the concept that what was theirs was theirs. They did not have to share with anyone, although it might be a good idea to share toys if they wanted to play with the other person's toys. This taught trade. When someone broke one of Ada's toys I asked her what she was going to do. She said stop sharing with that person. No conflict. A clear understanding of value. At one point they tried temper tantrums, we ignored them. Ayn was the more persistent of the two, trying just about everyday for what seemed like an eternity, but was actually a bit more than three weeks. We never gave in. This stopped the tantrums. We never got whining. We put them to work as soon as they could carry things. Helping to clear the table, clean the house, and the like. We would always knock on their door and ask permission to enter their room, they learned to do the same. Whenever they did anything that encroached on others we told them in clear terms that it was wrong and why. We have almost always kept our promises to them. The very few (I can think of three) times we have not, we explained what happened and why we are unable to do so. If they did not keep their word, we would call them on it. This taught contract. All this without formal “teaching”. Simply a part of life. It is how we live today. There are very few rules in the house and they apply to everyone.

Our children have very different personalities which are reflected in their approach to life. In their business Ayn is the one who is always trying to figure out new things to make and sell, while Ada is the one who actually talks to the customers and finds out what they want. Ada also keeps the books since Ayn is like me in that department. She finds it really tedious and therefore puts it off. Annie is a self taught accountant, and has taught bookkeeping to Ada. Trying to teach this to Ayn, or me, is a complete waste of time. Both of us greatly appreciate that someone else is doing it.

It is kind of funny since Ada really can't read all that well. She handles GNU Cash fine, and can navigate both Windows and Linux with no problems, but has not really learned how to read. We are not concerned. We know individuals who did not learn to read until age 11 or 12. They now read fine. I was classified as “reading disabled” when I was 10. My parents were told that I would never read well and would probably be left back at some point. In fact, people learn when they are ready and not before. Trying to force someone to learn a particular subject is in my opinion worse than useless. It is harmful. The time that they lose is time that can be spent learning things they are interested in and ready for. Forcing someone to learn something works to kill the joy of learning.

Their business started about three years ago when Ayn commented to one of the women in our homeschool group that we had a lot of eggs from free range chickens. The women asked to buy some. Ada reminded Ayn that evening, and it went from there. Now they sell eggs, rabbit, chicken, Argentine style empanadas (rabbit, chicken or tomato basil), ravioli (same stuffing as empanadas), egg noodles, as well several types of bread. Their customer base has expanded greatly in the last three years. While they may drop the academics from time to time, they take very good care of their business, all the time.

We do not subsidize the business. The deal we have with them is simple. We get all the eggs, rabbit and chicken we want to eat, they get the excess, they pay for the animal feed and medicine when needed, we pay for infrastructure (cages, etc). They quickly figured out that selling value add products, such as empanadas and ravioli made them a lot more money than selling the commodities. Ayn has read Karl Hess' “Capitalism for Kids” twice and has read parts of it aloud to Ada.

Both Annie and I have helped them a lot with advise but that is about it. They realize that if they want money, they have to earn it themselves, and they know that the state will not allow them to work at a “regular” job, also it would be difficult convincing someone to hire them. Plus, they have a lot more independence with their own business.

Ada may not be able to read very well, but is the best poker player in the house. She excels at card games. She understands probabilities at what seems to be a gut level. We are trying to figure out a way to start teaching her statistics, but so far she has not shown any interest.

Ada's main interest these days is art. She can spend all day painting or working with clay. She and Ayn take a weekly class with a local artist. They started in the children's class, but didn't like it because of the distractions and petty bickering. After a few months they persuaded the artist to move them to an adult class, where they are much happier. The class is much smaller and people respect each other's work. So instead of being called “weird” they get, and give, real criticism, which improves their work. Ayn likes art, but not to the extent Ada does.

Ayn currently has a tutor for Spanish. I am fluent and literate but hopeless at teaching it. She went through several tutors over the course of six months before she settled with a woman she likes whose style matches hers. The same with her self defense teacher. She went through several before finding one she liked. Ada is not interested in learning Spanish or self defense at this point. I keep trying to interest Ayn in programming, which I really love, but so far no luck. I have suggested that she might want to start thinking about science but she is currently not interested beyond classification. When someone discovers a new insect on the property we are all interested and spend what ever time it takes to find out what it is. Ayn knows the internal organs of chickens and rabbits and knows what normal looks like. When she sees some thing out of the ordinary, she finds out what it is. At one point she killed several rabbits that had strange spots on their intestines. Ayn tentatively identified it but decided she needed a professional opinion, so found a local veterinary pathology lab and arranged to have a necropsy done. Then came and told me she needed a ride. She watched the process and asked a lot of questions. It turn out her diagnoses was correct, so she discussed medicines to give the rest of the herd with the doctor and how to prevent this in the future. All without my interference. But this is not the same as studying science. Ayn knows this but is not currently interested. Math she does on her own. She is well into algebra. When she has a question that she can't resolve from the Internet or our library she asks. When she doesn't ask for a while, I ask how its going. Sometimes fine, other times she has put it down for a while. Typically a couple of weeks.

We have a bit more than 8000 books, about 6000 in English, 1000 in Spanish, 500 in Chinese, and another 500 in French, German and Malay. I sort of speak French, but can read it well. Annie is the same with German. She is fluent and literate with both Chinese (Cantonese) and Malay. Annie and I both read constantly and Ayn is picking up the habit as well. She now reads the newspaper every day, along with some of the magazines we get.

Annie is big on testing, but I am not. She is constantly trying to persuade the girls to take tests. The girls mostly reject this, but occasionally agree, I think to humor Annie. However, about a month ago Ayn commented to me that she found a sixth grade test on line and took it. She failed. For example she did not know the founders of the major world religions. Being atheists, it is has never been high on our list of “essential knowledge”. I pointed out that we have the holy books of many religions in the library if she is interested. Math was no problem, 100%. Science she got half the questions right, Social studies 30%, she said it was loaded with questions about race and referred to a strictly left-right political model. History 70%, which I was very surprised at, because she hasn't studied it at all. She said she knew it from the Gonick comic books. I forget the rest. She had many comments on the test, including that it didn't test a lot of things she knows, like the anatomy of birds and mammals or logic or insects or Spanish. I suggested she find tests that did, to see if she really knows the subjects. I did point out that if she wanted to go to university at some point she would have to learn what would be tested. Also learn to write essays, etc. She said she knows, and if she ever wants to go, will deal with it then. We will see if she looks for other tests. She might and not tell me. After all, the information is for her.

Another concern of Annie's was that they will not learn proper grammar. A few months ago Ayn came to the table where Annie and I were reading with an English grammar book, sat down and started scanning through it. She then commented that English grammar was so much easier than Spanish. Annie and Ayn discussed the difference between English, Spanish, Chinese, German and Malay grammar. I stayed out of it as I know less than nothing about the subject. In fact I learned a bit just listening to them. Ada was there as well, drawing, so she also heard the conversation.

Basically, we provide a lot of material, and make suggestions, but they make the decisions. As long as they do violate anyone's rights the decisions are valid. If we do not feel the decision is optimal we will tell them, and tell them why. Always, they decide.

The question that tends to come up around now is “what about sex and drugs?” They know about both. We drink wine and beer. Occasionally the girls will want some. We let them. They recognize that it is our property and that if they abuse it, we won't give them more. Then if they want they will have to buy it themselves. About two years ago my nephew came to stay with us for two months. He immediately found a local pot dealer. As we have a large property, I told him, smoke it on the property, where no one else can smell it. If you get busted it's your problem. I also told Ayn that if she wanted to try, here was the opportunity. She declined. Last year I had some surgery. The drugs I was given for pain had nasty side effects. So I purchased some pot. For about a week I smoked a little pot twice a day. Enough to control the pain, but not get me wasted. I offered both the girls, Ayn tried a bit and didn't like it. Ada declined. With sex, we do not have to worry about it for a while, but Ayn doesn't have the peer pressure of school to wear makeup and sexy clothes, to flirt with the boys, etc. In fact she mostly wears clothes until they have serious holes in them. Also she is only a bit smaller than Annie right now, so can wear her clothes. Not fashionable at all. She understands the consequences that sex can have, including AIDS and death. When the time comes I am confident she will make the right decision, especially since we will keep talking to both of them.

Is everything perfect? No, we have to remind them to do their work around the garden, or to clean the house far more often than I'd like. Ayn is entering puberty, with all the mood swings and growing pains I remember my sister having. And both of them are capable of making decisions just to see how we will react. Testing the parents never seems to stop. Overall, it continues to be a lot of fun. A lot of work, but very enjoyable.


Post 148

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 5:54amSanction this postReply
Another terrific, factual post, Jorge. Thank you.

Do Ayn and Ada have any idea yet of what they might like to do when they become adults?

Post 149

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 6:33amSanction this postReply

Ada no. Ayn is clearly thinking about it, but has not reached any conclusions. She is certain that she does not want to work for anyone else.


Post 150

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 1:47pmSanction this postReply

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences here. As I'm learning about unschooling, I'm especially interested in getting a feel for the day-to-day stuff, and you've painted a fascinating picture of what life is like for your family. Please keep us updated. I'm learning a lot.

I think this is the most compelling, and probably controversial, sentence you wrote:

"Specifically, unschooling recognizes the primacy of the individual."


The whole topic of the rights of children has been brought up a few times. To date, nobody's been able to really pinpoint the difference between kids and adults and the possible difference in their rights. I think you summarized it quite nicely here:

"I hold that all individuals have the same rights, regardless of age. The capacity to recognize, exercise and defend those rights is another matter. Since all individuals have a right to life, it follows that they have the right to liberty and property as well."

This probably merits its own thread. But I wanted to point it out and say thank you--it's given me much to think about. More on this later.


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Post 151

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 2:47pmSanction this postReply
Jorge, what a great, informative post!

It's full of *details* and much explanation...and the devil is in the details in regard to child-rearing, human development, education. Leaving aside any areas where we disagree re: formal education, there are many very, very good child-rearing and treating your kids with fairness and respect points. Sounds like you are a very good parent.

In fact, by hiring tutors when they need them, taking weekly classes in art, etc. it sounds as if you may be doing some of the right things which compensate for lack of a more formal or structured education.

(Edited by Philip Coates
on 5/16, 2:50pm)

Post 152

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 5:57pmSanction this postReply
Phil said,

In fact, by hiring tutors when they need them, taking weekly classes in art, etc. it sounds as if you may be doing some of the right things which compensate for lack of a more formal or structured education.
You still miss the point, Phil. It's not Jorge who is the primary person "doing some of the right things," as you put it. The child CHOSE to have tutors. Jorge, to his credit, simply obliged.

Not only did the child choose, but she also weeded through the ones she didn't like.

The choice is the point.

Post 153

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 6:46pmSanction this postReply

Did you or the children pay for the tutors? Also who pays for any additional supplies that might only benefit the child's immediate "education" but don't have any direct value for you or your wife?

When you try to persuade your child or offer your opinion on some value they have chosen to purse, is there any concern that they might switch course just to please you or your wife?


I'm glad you reiterated the point about the child choosing the activities. That in essence is what unschooling is all about. The child choosing their values and through their independent judgement, taking the necessary steps to achieve them.


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Post 154

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 10:50pmSanction this postReply

Thanks for making the point clear. Choice is the key. Non-coercion is everything.


We pay. There are (at least) two ways of looking at it. Both lead to the same conclusion. The “cold” way says that since they contribute to the house with their labor they are entitled to the benefits of the house. These include tutors and educational materials along with private rooms, computers, Internet access, etc. The way I prefer to look at it is we are a family and as such we help and support each other in many positive ways.

What we do not do is give them things that in our judgment would be negative. I am sure we all know at least one spoiled child. Often the parents think they are making the child happy by giving them every material thing they ask for. In my opinion they are doing serious damage. Books, tutors, tools and other things are positive contributions.

Ayn buys books as well. We make used book store runs every once in a while and she buys a bunch, with her money. We never asked her to, she just started doing it one day. They are in the library along with the rest of the books. When she leaves the house, we'll see if she takes them.


I do not agree with the need for a formal curriculum or a structured education.

Putting that aside, and putting aside the problem of objectively defining the required body of knowledge, how would it be implemented without coercion?

You have a grand body of knowledge, and a specific plan to communicate it. You start the process and the student says “No, not today, I'm not interested in Greek history today, I think I'll go watch the termite mound.” What do you do? What do you do when the student decides to watch the termites for a month? Especially when the study of termites is a year away, after they have learned the “necessary basics” to full appreciate termites.

I do not see how it is possible to implement a formal curriculum without coercion.


PS. Ada discovered a termite mound today, being built in a very strange way, such that a good portion of the internal structure is visible. Both of them spent most of the daylight hours filming it and trying to identify the queen. I suspect this is going to keep them entertained for quite a while.

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Post 155

Monday, May 16, 2005 - 11:09pmSanction this postReply

You asked:

> When you try to persuade your child or offer your opinion
> on some value they have chosen to purse, is there any
> concern that they might switch course just to please you
> or your wife?

You don't know Ayn and Ada :). No concern what so ever. It takes strong arguments to make them change their minds. They have to be convinced we are right.

Ada does not really argue. She just thinks about it and says "ok" or "no". And that is that. If you keep pushing she leaves the room.

Ayn, on the other hand, loves an argument, and knows logic. While you are telling her why you think she should change her mind she is thinking of the reply. I am convinced she drags these things out as much as possible, simply as a game. But this sharpens debating skills, and the more she makes logical arguments the better she gets at it.

BTW I strongly recommend WFF 'N PROOF to anyone who wants to teach or learn logic. It is a fun game.


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Post 156

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 12:02amSanction this postReply
"You still miss the point, Phil. It's not Jorge who is the primary person "doing some of the right things," as you put it. The child CHOSE to have tutors. .. Not only did the child choose, but she also weeded through the ones she didn't like."

Okay, now I'm getting really tired of this!!!

I didn't miss the point, but -addressed- it in #69. Point 4 of that post. I also find that when I make a point by point numbered response and show mistakes that one of the 'unschoolers' has made I am met with silence. (Or told that I missed a point which I have already addressed.)

I also indicated why a child is not in a position to choose a tutor in -every- case, especially on subjects they don't yet know. Which clear and almost obvious point each of you have blithely ignored. Joe Rowlands gave you and entire post explaining to you in clear and unassailable logic why and how kids don't always know WHAT THEY DO NOT KNOW. Laure also made this point in other ways which each of you has also blithely failed to respond to. Except to say "well, I just disagree". As if this were a stronger logical argument than "sez you."

If they can't reach you and I can't reach you...or even get you to directly answer our points, is there any value to debating further with you on this thread?

--Philip Coates

Post 157

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 4:28amSanction this postReply

I'm still working on some of y'alls points. I have been fascinated by Jorge's story and I've been working a lot but I will get back to addressing  your objections soon.


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Post 158

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 6:30amSanction this postReply

There was no need to address Joe R. or you or Laure on the topic of children allegedly not knowing when they don't know something. With good parents as information guides, that issue simply doesn't arise.

Joe brought up philosophy and history in his post as examples of what children don't know they don't know. Of course that's absurd with objective parents telling them what they don't know and living a life that helps guide the children.

But all of this talk of "don't know what they don't know" is absurd anyway because it still misses the point -- which is that the ONLY primary role the parent has in a relationship with a child (outside of safety) is to preserve the child's right to run his own life -- and that means letting the noncurious child be ignorant and ill-informed, if the child chooses that path.

THAT'S the point you KEEP missing, Phil. This thread is not scientific; it is philosophical. It's about volition, NOT information. It's about what the CHILD wants, not what YOU want. Your primary responsibility as a parent or educator is to protect, NOT inform.

Will you ever revisit the idea emblazoned in your brain that YOU or some other EDUCATOR must force the child to do your bidding for their alleged benefit?

If you wish to build an education model, I suggest you do so with noncoercion in mind; that would be moral and hugely beneficial to children -- and yourself.

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Post 159

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 9:11amSanction this postReply
I do not think it is possible to build a non-coercive formal education program, but I am interested in Phil's response to this question.

If Phil insists that using coercion is a valid approach for education, then we really should drop this thread and start another one on the rights of children. In fact we could start two, one (the most important) about rights, and the other on the utility of coercive vs non-coercive means.

On the other hand if Phil presents a non-coercive formal model, then we have something to debate in an educational context.

Phil, the ball is in your court.

(Edited by Jorge
on 5/17, 9:24am)

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