As many of you know by now, my family was on The Today Show yesterday, October 14, 2011. Many people have sent me private and public messages about our appearance. Some sent congratulatory messages, some wonder what kind of feedback we’re getting, some want to know our thoughts about the segment, some want our advice about Unschooling, and some want to tell us that we’re crazy or other such sentiments. I’ve appreciated all the feedback I’ve received, both positive and negative. It’s been useful information to me as my family continues being Unschooling advocates.
To make our views public, we’ve decided to write up this blog post saying our views about the segment. Although this is in first person, my entire family had input on this post and agrees with it.
Overall, we found the segment and the entire experience to be very positive. The producer, camera crew, and in-person producer were competent, inquisitive, and respectful (and interesting). I can’t say a single thing negative about any of them. See Having The Today Show Film Us for more information about this experience. Plus, some of the editing was really nice (like the part where it went from my recording Zoe to Zoe on her website showing a Geo Party! clue). We did not meet the reporter, the experts, or Matt Lauer in person, nor have we talked with any of them in any way before or after the show aired.
Now to our deeper thoughts on the segment: As often is the case, the media didn’t get their facts exactly right (but they were very close to correct on this near-to-my-heart topic). In addition to my family (myself-Lisa, husband-Greg, Zoe, Teagan) on the segment were two “experts” and Matt Lauer, and seemingly random stranger children (who I’m sure had no idea footage of them was used like this).
The first “expert” didn’t have any of his facts correct at all, and it’s disappointing to me that he was interspersed so much into my family doing things. Other than showing an “anti-Unschooling” viewpoint for balance, I’m not sure what the purpose of having him in the segment was.
The second “expert,” Dr. Robyn Silverman, clearly did her research and made a solid attempt to get the facts straight. She’s obviously very good at what she does (see her website for more details on this), and I respect her a lot for the great work she’s doing and the help she’s giving parents, children, teens, and educators. Unfortunately however, by the first two lines in her blog post about the topic, it quickly becomes evident that she hasn’t researched Unschooling enough to be considered a real expert on this particular topic (at least not yet, although she seems inquisitive enough that I believe she could become an expert on it some day). She writes in her blog: “Unschooling is a radical form of homeschooling that throws the books out the window on traditional learning. School takes place out of traditional school doors and on the child’s own terms.”
As Unschoolers know, the whole point of Unschooling is that there is NO school, hence the name of “Unschooling.” School doesn’t take place at all in an Unschooling home, but learning does–LOTS and LOTS of learning. This may sound like an issue of semantics. It’s not. Understanding the differences between the words learning, educating, and teaching is vital to comprehending what Unschooling actually is. (See below for more on this.)
Robyn is also incorrect about a few other little things that I’ll mention below, but she definitely understands the gist of Unschooling, and explains a number of things correctly. We loved her last line in the segment itself: “The passions are fostered here and that’s something we can all learn from then, can’t we?”
Overall, I’m impressed with how quickly and succinctly Robyn was able to answer the questions addressed to her, and I think she did a good job answering the questions considering what her background is and the fact that she’s never actually met with any Unschoolers in real life.
I’ve received a lot of messages empathizing about Matt Lauer’s comments and questions. Honestly, I laughed when I heard him talk. It was obvious that he was trying to speak as “the common man who had only first heard of Unschooling that day” and only for three minutes. I could see the effort, but it didn’t quite work, especially using my family as an example, as we don’t fit any of the molds he was trying to shove Unschoolers into. As for the “Unbathing” comment, well, I just feel sorry for him if he truly believes that and felt the need to insult his family in that way. My guess is that he was just trying to get ratings by that “clever” correlation of words.
CLARIFICATIONS WE FEEL THE NEED TO CORRECT:
- None of us ever said that our children were their own teachers. Quite the opposite! They don’t have teachers at all. In Unschooling, parents are not the teachers and neither are the children as I explicitly said during filming. Having these words put directly in front of my line about being the facilitators to my daughters’ learning was extremely disappointing, especially since it was an untruth. The reason we didn’t like this is because it enforces the notion that there have to be teachers in order for children to learn.
- People do not have to be taught in order to learn. Knowledge is not something that must be bestowed from one person to another; it can be gained independently.
- Zoe was quite upset that a sentence she said was split apart and used completely out of context, giving the “phrase” an entirely different meaning than her intention. We digitally recorded the entire day, so we’re very aware of what was actually said vs. what was used on the air.
- Zoe actually said, “Unschoolers often say, ‘I get to learn whatever I want, whenever I want,’ but this is often misinterpreted to mean that Unschoolers don’t learn anything. This is not true. What it really means is that I never have to stop learning.” But, she was quoted as having said, “I can learn whatever I want, whenever I want.” See the difference? It’s big. Zoe was talking about the artificial constraints of class periods in schools and how she doesn’t have to stop learning about something just because a bell rings.
- Personally, I actually agree with how the segment parsed her words because Zoe can learn whatever she wants, whenever she wants, she has that freedom (but it’s wrong to use people’s words out of context).
- Greg was a little disappointed that the words “Unschooling is never less, always more,” were taken out of his mouth and put into the reporter’s.
- Zoe has been a part-time college student for over two years now (since right before she turned 13), and has had no difficulties getting in, fitting in, or getting good grades.
- We have not met a single Unschooler (and we’ve met thousands) who has had a difficult experience accomplishing any goal they’ve had, including college. Matt Lauer should have been informed of this, and his college question should have included this information. (For the record, we answered that question and every other question Robyn was asked when we were interviewed.)
- No, Unschoolers do not always need to follow the same steps as public schooled individuals. They are living more complex and interesting lives than that. They can choose to follow along similar paths if they desire, but their enthusiasm for learning and life is so contagious that they are often sought after as colleges and universities are excited to have them bring a spark of life into their classrooms.
- Simply put, getting into college, and succeeding, is a non-issue for Unschoolers. They are highly motivated, goal oriented, individuals.
- Grade levels, testings, assessments, metrics, and all that “school jargon” is nonsense. Testing how other people perform within a 12 month age bracket of you is simply ridiculous. If you don’t think it is, then consider going out right now and finding all the <fill in your age> people you can find, and sitting down and doing standardized tests together… Silly, huh?
- If you believe that testing and metrics are important, then you must also believe that either adults must continue to stay “at grade level” with other adults within 12 months of them, that people stop learning at age eighteen, or that all of a sudden “grade level” stops being applicable. I don’t believe any of these.
- What is the actual goal of testing anyway? To become successful? Who measures that success?
- Learning how to take a test is not a challenging thing, and homework doesn’t help children become smarter. Seriously, just talk to an Unschooler sometime: the proof is in the pudding.
- The problem with core knowledge or “fundamentals” is: Ask people what they think core knowledge is and they will respond with the things that they learned while they were in school. Then ask them how much they remember of their classes. I bet the two differ drastically. Unschoolers, on the other hand, remember what they learn because they’ve truly learned it and it’s ingrained in them as part of who they are.
- Think our children might be “behind”? Well, Zoe needed to learn math terminology and symbols in order to score at college level in order to pass an entrance test to get into college (she was required to test at “college level” in order to enter since she was taking the entrance tests at age 12). We took a look at a practice test together and through talking with her it was obvious that while she already knew the concepts, she wasn’t familiar with all of the math terminology and symbols presented on the test. We took a little time to explain what various symbols meant, and she then correlated the concepts that she already knew with these symbols. It took her two six-hour days of studying these symbols as a 12 year old in order to get up to a second year in college level of mathematics. I wouldn’t call that “behind”.
- As for the reading and writing tests? She received perfect scores on those tests with no studying at all.
- Since Unschooling doesn’t force artificial constraints like school does, Unschoolers are allowed the freedom to explore the depth and breadth of topics as much as they desire. They realize that all topics (subjects, if you will) are intertwined and connected in the real world, and this knowledge makes for very “well rounded” individuals.
- Unschooling is about what we do, not what we don’t do.
- Unschooling isn’t just for self motivated children, it’s for all children who have at least one adult in their life who is committed to giving them the time and attention that they need.
- Unschooling allows children to use the motivation that they personally have on their own time schedule, in their own unique way.
- I have never met an unmotivated Unschooled child (but I’ve met lots of public-schoolers who are unmotivated!).
- Unmotivated children simply do not exist until other people’s indoctrination (school) is forced upon them.
- Think of the thing you hate the most. Are you feeling very motivated to do it? If a naturally unmotivated child existed, then we’d have children in this world (assuming nothing was physically or mentally wrong with them) who wouldn’t know how to walk, talk, or even eat.
- People are born with an innate motivation and desire to learn. If you believe that your child is unmotivated, it’s because you are putting your goals and priorities over your child’s and not allowing them to pursue what they are passionate about. It’s really that simple. A child’s job is to learn and grow. When we step out of their way and let them, they flourish.
- Everyone has something they are passionate about. Allow your child’s passion to come to the surface, and perhaps you’ll even find yours (I did!).
- Unschoolers give their children LOTS of guidance–much more guidance, support, and encouragement than any other type of parenting. Guidance is essential to all successful homeschooling.
- Unschooling is a 24-hour a day job, not a part-time sometimes thing.
- All children need guidance and time devoted to them. To not give them guidance is called neglect and “unparenting”, the opposite of what Unschooling is. I have an entire one-hour talk on this topic.
- Unschoolers use strewing as a way to bring more into their children’s lives on a daily basis.
BEING ABLE TO COPE AS AN ADULT:
- The fundamental disconnect here is that the “experts” seem to imply that school is the “real world”. The interesting thing about this is that school is the artificial environment.
- Unschoolers spend their time living in the real world so much, that we sometimes forget that people who spend their time in the school environment (this includes parents of children who go to school) don’t see this obvious distinction. When I backed away from school-thinking and deschooled, this concept amazingly became so obvious that I had a huge paradigm shift that changed my entire outlook on life permanently.
- Another beautiful thing about Unschooling is that our children are with us adults as we cope with all the things we need to cope with: coming up with money to buy a house, paying the bills, grocery shopping, taking care of a household (laundry, maintenance, etc.), taking care of taxes, handling career issues, dealing with other people, and all the other “adult things” that adults have to do to survive in this world. They not only already know how to live in the real world as adults, but they can do it at a much younger age because they haven’t been sheltered from what adult living is actually like. Plus, they’ll know who their resources are for help if they ever need it, which all people do at one point or another in life.
- As for being able to support themselves and get jobs, with or without college degrees, this is also a non-issue. There are thousands of grown Unschoolers out in the world thriving and doing amazing things [I was going to list a few here, but my list got ridiculously long and I didn’t want to leave anyone out, so do your own search on this!].
- My younger daughter has been running her own business for nearly two years now, both of my daughters are authors, and their ambitions are so high that I’m certain their entrepreneurial integrity will take them to amazing places. It already is!
- Through being actively involved in life, my children have both had to deal with real deadlines, such as preparing a speech to give at NASA (or a conference or a writer’s meeting), finishing their edits of a manuscript, planning a Girl Scout meeting, practicing for a performance, and preparing for a book signing. These types of events happen all the time in our lives, with real consequences and rewards for real reasons.
- In regards to the question, “How will we judge these kids and compare them to students their age?” Our answer is simple: We don’t, we won’t, and we shouldn’t.
- We Unschoolers view individuals as, gasp, individuals. We find that every single person in this world is unique and incredibly talented and bright in their own individual way. When you take the time to view people as PEOPLE, rather than cogs in a machine, you’ll discover that finding the hidden (and not so hidden) talents of each person is what makes the world so incredibly special. School does not allow this type of individuality to reach its highest potential.
- Again, the school environment is not the real world. The real world is where we, as a society, are productive, healthy, happy, and thriving and coming up with new ideas and acting on them collectively and individually. The real world is where we can actually make a difference and impact people’s lives.
- Ultimately if my family compares ourselves to anything or anyone, we compare ourselves to the perfect version of ourselves that we have in our heads, and the most impressive person in the world who has the particular quality/ability/talent that we aspire to have. We compare ourselves with the best, not the “average,” because we want to be our best, not a watered-down version of us or a duplicate of everyone else who is the same age as us.
- If Matt Lauer’s real question was “How do we know that Unschooling works?”, then see the above section on testing.
- We consider children whole people, capable of thoughts, feelings, and desires of their own. Sending a child to an environment where they are not respected seems archaic. Many of my friends who send their children to school advocate for racial rights, women’s rights, sexual orientation rights, etc. I believe these are all important things to promote, however I choose to advocate for ALL human rights, especially the most neglected: children’s, as their rights are so far taken away from them in our society that most of us don’t even see it–we just treat it as normal.
UNSCHOOLING AS A “NEW AGE” IDEA:
- Unschooling is not a new concept, nor is it “hippy” or “wishy-washy”. It’s a well thought-out parenting concept that has been around for more years than any of us have been alive (although the term Unschooling has only been around since 1977 and was coined by John Holt). Please read this Pat Farenga article for a nicely detailed blog post (and entire website) about this.
- Again, Unschoolers live in the real world. People have mistaken notions about what the ultimate goal of “socialization” is. It’s not to learn how to interact with people your exact age, while excluding everyone else. That’s behavior that most people need to unlearn as they become adults and have to deal with a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, educational levels, and temperaments in their everyday work and personal dealings. Unschoolers have chosen to skip over that initial misstep and start dealing with real situations now.
- Unschoolers don’t need to belong to clubs for socialization (although they often choose to). That’s just silly! What they do is participate in life as their interests take them, interacting with people of all ages. This is real socialization.
- Unschooling is considered a type of homeschooling in all 50 U.S. states. Information about this is simple to look up online.
- Yes, it’s true that my family has traveled a great deal. We’ve been to seven countries and forty U.S. states. Traveling is not a tenet of Unschooling, but it has been an important part of my family’s Unschooling adventure, and we all love it a lot.
- The truth of the matter (that I’ve never opened up about before) is that we’re by no means affluent, well-to-do, or rich. It’s actually something that we’ve been actively working on–as a family–for fourteen years now. When I compare my family’s finances with the mainstream public, we’re actually currently in the lower middle class (with our dreams of Do Life Right, Inc. and ZenActOS, Inc. making it big, we hope to change this in a very big way for ourselves and many, many others–the whole world, actually). This means that we’re currently living paycheck-to-paycheck. We’ve even moved away from our beloved home in order to become more financially stable (and we’re currently sitting on $6 folding chairs in the living room since we don’t have the money to buy real furniture right now). It wasn’t always this way, but our savings have dwindled to nothing as we’ve had our own setbacks that have put us years in debt (like a simple hernia surgery that our previous health insurance wouldn’t pay for). Yet, we’re choosing to invest the money we do have in our children’s upbringing. Learning how to get through financial struggles as a family has been very real-life hands-on experience for my children.
- So, how do we manage to travel and do all these amazing things with our kids? Through a lot of hard work, a crazy amount of negotiating great deals, the generosity of our friends and family (my daughters and I have spent the night at friends’ houses on trips), and through having working trips (we’ve been on four trips this year that were all working trips, not true vacations; even our month long trip to Europe only happened because my husband worked there for part of the time).
- We (myself, Zoe, and Greg) are open to speaking engagements and other opportunities that take us around the country (and world), and plan to do even more of this in the future. This is one way that has helped us do the traveling that we dream of, all while helping other people learn how to live their dreams. [Within the next two years we plan to go to: Hawaii, Alabama, South Carolina, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, Florida, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, and Washington D.C.; After that, or possibly interspersed with those, we plan to go to every continent on Earth.]
- The most amazing thing of all is that when I compare our finances to other Unschooling families, we’re actually doing a little better than most of them. Yet, many of them are actually traveling and going on even bigger adventures than us (we know many Unschoolers who live in RVs and travel as a lifestyle).
- Unschoolers are notoriously creative and inventive when it comes to making their dreams come true, especially when it looks like money is the only thing stopping them. They don’t use money, or rather, lack of money as a reason to stop a passion, dream, or goal. The stories that I hear every day in the Unschooling community about how passions and dreams are being fulfilled continue to astound me, and very, very few of them are in the upper middle class or higher in regards to financial wealth.
Overall, we’re very happy with how we were portrayed on The Today Show. I’ve received a lot of feedback, and I’ve appreciated receiving it. It’s one of my life goals to be able to help people “Do Life Right” and live in their own best way possible. Showing people that Unschooling is a realistic option for their families is important! It’s always important to know your options in everything you do.
It’s unfortunate that a real Unschooling expert wasn’t consulted during the actual show (I can list at least a dozen without even thinking too hard; Unschooling experts do exist and they have actual experience with actual real-life Unschoolers). I do realize that The Today Show is a mainstream television news show and that Unschooling needed to be explained in such a way that the general public could understand, as well as be given an unbiased two-sided perspective on. I respect this, however actual facts should have been used in every instance, rather than anecdotal misconceptions. By cutting one word in a sound bite, a phrase can turn inaccurate quickly. I am making a promise to myself to try and remember this as I interpret my own feelings about new-to-me topics in the future.
Do we have regrets about being on the show? No way! We loved the whole experience. We feel very proud that we were able to explain what Unschooling is, why we are Unschoolers, and why we believe Unschooling is a wonderfully successful and more customized way to live than a public-school lifestyle. We weren’t able to explain even 1/4 of this during our seven hours of filming, so we didn’t expect all of these answers to be given in the three minutes that we were on the screen. That just isn’t possible! Unschooling is much too deep of a topic for that to have happened. What we do hope for is that more people are now aware of Unschooling as an amazing option for their families. There is a lot of information out there that anyone who is interested in the topic of how children actually learn can find.
On a personal note, it’s disappointing (but understandable) that more of what was filmed wasn’t shown:
- Teagan talking about her published novel (Novel Concept) and the novel she’s currently writing (I won’t give away the plot now 😉 )
- Zoe talking about her experiences with NASA and getting a standing ovation after giving a presentation at JPL
- Zoe’s dream of working for Jeopardy! on the Clue Crew and why she’s started her own online daily video trivia game (Zoe’s Geo Party!)
- Zoe’s upcoming collaborative novel (Fractured Fate)
- Teagan and Zoe’s upcoming collaborative novel (The Epic Story of Me)
- Me with my Wright on Time series of children’s chapter books about a homeschooling (roadschooling) family who travels the U.S. in an RV
Making the decision to become an Unschooling family wasn’t something that we decided in one day, one week, or even one year. It was a well-researched decision for us. I don’t expect anyone to come to a similar life-changing decision without a lot of thought, external research, internal questioning, and family discussions. I do, however, believe that Unschooling is the evolutionary path for the future of education in this world. You can do it!
Our many thanks to The Today Show for bringing up another option for the future of education in the world! Unschooling is an amazing lifestyle choice! Please see my sidebar, or click on any of the embedded links in this article (or the hundreds of posts I’ve written about this topic), to learn more about Unschooling. Want to read about more “real life” Unschooling families? Click here.