4 Weeks In: The Public School Update

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When I was pregnant with Zeb I had several Wise Women approach me…you know the kind that just seem to have a spark of knowing something? Women from my mom’s church, my mom’s best friend on her death bed, strangers in the grocery store…they would tell me I was having a boy, they would say there was something this child was in this world to do, they would tell me that he was here to make a difference. And each time they would talk I’d have this image of a man, a leader, but without details of what that would mean or what he might be doing.

Earlier this year Zeb excitedly came to me with, “Mom, I finally know what I want to do when I grow up.” Because you know, this was something that had been weighing heavily on him. When I asked what that is, he replied: “I’m going to change the world.” Well then. 🙂 When I asked what that might look like he told me he didn’t have that part figured out yet, but at least he knew what he was meant to do.

These past few weeks as I’ve watched him so quickly step into what feels like his whole self, and step out of what felt like a 4 year funk, I’m reminded of these things. I feel like he’s no longer at the foot of the mountain looking up at what he feels his role is and feeling overwhelmed. I feel like he’s on his way. And like Life is coming together to take him down the exact roads with the exact people and the exact experiences – fun or challenging – that he’ll need to show him the answer to that question, of how exactly he gets to take part in changing the world.


Today is the 1st day of Zeb’s 4th week of high school, and I’m being asked left, right, and center how things are going. And I have to say, they are going really well. Challenging at times. But perfect, too. There are so many big and little moments to share, so many things he’s encountered, or we’ve encountered. So many learning curves (again, his and ours). For those that are as curious as I always was, yes…I’m going to break it all down. Just know that this is hardly 2% of the amazing picture unfolding for this amazing kid of mine.

I think the first thing I’m surprised about is the morning routine. From infancy, this boy has not been a morning person. In the 2.5 years he went to school as a little kiddo, every single morning was hell on earth. Getting him up and ready resulted in a daily argument. So I was more than a little nervous of having to drag him out of bed every morning. We had talked about it over the summer, and he had been working to get into an early morning routine without much luck. I had told him quite adamantly that I won’t be having stressful mornings trying to wake a sleeping teen, so we got him using an alarm clock.

It hasn’t been an issue once. He is up and out of bed the moment his alarm rings at 5:55am. He jumps right into the shower before I even have a chance to say good morning (probably safer that way anyway), and he’s dressed, packed up, eating, and waiting to leave about 15 minutes before he needs to be. He also goes to bed by 8:30 every night, so that he’s asleep by 9:30. (He’s got to be one of the most self-disciplined people I know. Even when we try, he won’t budge on his sleep schedule.)

Of his 4 Honors classes, he’s kept only 3 so far. We dropped Algebra Honors after the first week. It wasn’t AT ALL like described, and he was stressing out. Add to that a condescending comment made on the part of the substitute teacher, and he was not at all confident in sticking it out.

He’s still not digging Algebra 1, and he got a 55% on his first test to prove it. But his second test was a 90%! This was SUCH a huge boost to his confidence after feeling so embarrassed and frustrated at first. We will likely still be working with a tutor (a former math teacher and unschooling dad! yay!), but I think most of what he needs is just a little extra hands-on time and some help with study, note-taking, and test-taking skills. And to not have his mom try to explain it. Because that’s a recipe for disaster. Overall though, we all agreed that as long as he passes Algebra, just so he doesn’t have to retake it, we don’t really care.

Why? Because Zeb is VERY clear on his strengths and what he’s wanting to do as a career, and math plays a very minuscule part in it, if any part at all. His goal has more to do with politics, or social change of some sort, so that’s what we’re helping him focus on and get from the classes he’s in.

Can you spot an *excited* Zeb?  #zebturns15 #zebgoestoschool

He LOVES Debate for this reason! The class is very interactive, with lots of discussion and each person gets a chance to speak publicly at least once a week. There are improv exercises, and opportunities to share opinions on the topic of your choice, and they’ll be debate matches in his future. This is probably one of his favorite classes, because he sees the need for oratory skills in his future, and wants to hone them. He’s also in a class of mixed ages, freshman to seniors, and he enjoys the maturity level of the older students much more than what he deals with in other classes. 😉

He’s bored in Art so far, mostly because there’s not a lot of room for artistic expression yet. (A fact he finds ironic.) He enjoys Geography, since it’s a lot of current affairs. He comes home talking about Isis and Middle Eastern tensions, and although it’s a little heavy on the patriotism/”We’re the greatest!” for his tastes, he’s still really enjoying the class (the tests, not so much).

He’s NOT a fan of Biology, but I AM a fan of his teacher. We went to speak with her because he wasn’t sure if he should stay in Honors, especially if Biology isn’t his area of focus. When she heard what his area of focus is, and his passion for environmentalism, she made the point that to make a difference in those arenas in politics, you have to be well-informed on the topics. This really spoke to Zeb, especially since she’s also passionate on non-GMO and sustainability. I mean, he’s not enjoying the boring parts they are currently working on, but he’s sticking it out. She was also really helpful in letting him known if he’s feeling stressed or overwhelmed that he can step away during class, or come to her with anything. I really like her. 🙂

English Honors is the other class we weren’t sure he’d enjoy and he actually really does. He came home the first day so excited because another student had made an ignorant, homophobic comment in class, and his teacher had such a swift response of zero-tolerance for bullying, or inequality in all forms. He said it was the best part of his first day. 🙂 He’s liking the reading they do, and he feels like honing his writing skills is going to serve him when he is working to save the world from itself. We even had this amazing conversation about the use of poetry in social change by the likes of Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King Jr. Plus, his teacher likes comics. So there’s that. 😉

The last thing he had was cross country/track, which we dropped last week. 2-3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, plus fundraising and competitions, a whole lot of condescension, and even social shaming is NOT his thing, nor ours. Instead he found a regular study hall, a Japanese Club, and is considering a volunteerism club, as well. This actually feels way more of a fit for him.

There have been some adjustments. Test-taking and note-taking are still a learning curve. He’s not thrilled with the maturity level of many of the students, but he’s branching out. He’s not thrilled with the fact he can’t wear a hat, but he’s learning to play the game to get what he wants from the experience. He’s not thrilled he had to get a smartphone (he’s kinda anti-cell phones, except maybe a dumb phone), but he went along with it for the classes that needed kids to have a device that would access the internet. And I kinda love that they are so pro-technology.

Mostly, the things I thought would bother him, don’t. The craziness of pep rallies or the lunchroom don’t phase him. Asking to go to the bathroom is a non-issue outside of homeschool discussions. He just doesn’t care like I did. Dealing with immature students is a pain, but he’s cool with ignoring them and has had no problem speaking his mind on issues that matter (thankfully only that one homophobic comment; overall this school really doesn’t have a lot of bullying or social stigma). Homework still sucks though. No getting around that one.

But he’s showing up, and fully. He comes home and gives us a full recount of every highlight (good or bad) of every class. He’s meeting friends and making weekend plans. He’s exposing himself to the resources he’s wanting for his goals, despite the fact that some compromising has to be made to do so. And he’s cool with that. I see it actually making him more confident and stable in his convictions, showing him what to fight for and when to spend his energy elsewhere, if that makes sense. (Acceptance has not been a strong point of his personality, which I equally love and worry about.)

From my end, I’m really happy for him. Mine and Justin’s high schools SUCKED compared to this one, and I’m glad I haven’t let our hangups become his. And maybe it’s because our perspectives have evolved so much, but we all are seeing and experiencing high school as the resource is should be, rather than the nightmare it can be. We’re taking what we want from it, like we try to do with all of life. And Zeb is stepping into that arena and wringing it for all its worth.

He’s also coming into himself more fully. The timing and the classes and the people all seem so perfectly aligned to give him the experiences he was hungry for. In just a few short weeks I see him growing in his opinions, standing taller, putting himself out there in bigger ways. I was terrified that he’d be terrified (or frustrated or any of my other preconceived notions of what his experience would be) and I’m humbled by such a ridiculous assumption as that. I projected my own nerves and my own experiences onto his, instead of standing back and allowing Life to guide him in his own way.

It’s been a beautiful experience. It feels, just…right.

Inspiration Monday – The (Official) Birth of a Family

Justin + Zeb

It’s been a busy few weeks. Two spent in Southern California, visiting, meeting, working, creating and exploring. And then we headed back to Nevada for a very special court date.

Yes! It’s official! Justin and Zeb’s adoption has been finalized! 😀

It feels good to call official what we’ve known for almost a decade. It also felt really amazing to see my 11 year old bouncing up and down in his seat with The.Biggest.Grin on his face as the judge announced it so.

Now we’re hanging in town for another week, wrapping up our loose ends and hanging out deep in my Creative Cave while I iron out the last of my new e-book. After that? We’re cruising up the West Coast and anxiously awaiting Northern California.

I’m going to be editing photos for ages…you know, if I ever get started.

In the meantime, here’s some inspiration I’ve been swimming in:

Phew! That’s a lot of inspiration! It’s been a good month.  🙂

What’s Inspiring You?

Leave your comment, blog your own post, or just spend a second to appreciate the good things in your life. 🙂

The Uproar Over Unschooling

In case you didn’t know, our family are unschoolers. And in case you’ve been out of the media loop (lucky you), there has been quite an uproar over unschooling in the media the past few days.

It begin when a wonderful unschooling family was very poorly portrayed (through biased editing, condescension and lack of time) on a Good Morning America segment Monday morning. Such a backlash was received (from both the unschooling community over the obvious bias and the community at large over the perceived “hands-off” approach) that GMA invited the family back the next day for a mere 6 minutes of explanation.

Too little, too late on GMA’s part.

The damage had been done Monday morning and the media and public are steaming over something they have barely bothered to understand. (Some examples of both sides of the reactions here and here and here and here and here and here.)

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about the media coverage.

For one thing, we have nothing to hide. My son is intelligent, sociable and well-rounded. My state of residence covers my right to unschool, as well as my parental right to raise my child as I see fit. And the more publicity unschooling sees, presumably the more people may become aware of alternatives to what might not be working for them.

On the other hand, there is a lot of fear that such blatant misinformation can lead to serious outcry and a diminishing of rights as lawmakers seek to regulate the crap out of us. That is not something I would want to see, nor something our family would take lying down. We’ll fight tooth and nail to live our life free of oversight, just as we would support anyone else to do the same. After all, you can’t expect to maintain your own rights without also maintaining the rights of others. Most people understand and agree with this.

So, why – in a presumably free country – do so many people freak the hell out when they hear about people observing their right to learn without school?

It has nothing to do with our rights, our children or with what is legal.

It’s more personal than that.

Every time I tell a person that my son is learning without school or that I learned without high school, it rubs against everything they’ve been told as children about the necessity of school.

And, for some people, to admit that school may not have been necessary to be successful in life requires them to admit several things:

  1. That an enormous amount of time was wasted doing something they didn’t enjoy simply because someone wanted them to do it.
  2. If it wasn’t necessary, those forcing them to do it were either lying to them or uneducated themselves. And being educated by an uneducated person can make a person feel pretty uneducated. To admit they were lied to is to admit ulterior motives were in play. And no one wants to even consider those points.
  3. They could have enjoyed every day of their life doing what they love. And they could have learned to define success by happiness.
  4. They will see everything in life is a choice; whether it’s a choice to go to work because you want a paycheck or a choice to follow the law because you want to stay out of jail, it’s still a choice. And sometimes it’s easier to not take responsibility for your own life.
  5. They have to admit that children are not second-rate citizens, that they should not be treated as inconveniences, that their opinions matter and should be taken into consideration and that they are indeed an oppressed group.
  6. And to admit #5 means to admit they were once treated in this manner, too. And who wants to remember the times they were talked down to, told their interests were not important, forced against their will to submit to disrespect, shamed or ridiculed, made to feel a burden or punished for honest mistakes?

Unschooling and non-traditional parenting is a threat to society, indeed. It threatens to awaken us to the injustice happening right beneath our noses. It threatens to shake our culture into a new era of ingenuity over conformity. It threatens to force us to treat all human beings – even smaller ones – as people with rights and respect them as such.

Our family is proof that it works. Our friends are proof that this works. And there is a huge, wide community out there to back us up.

So, what about you? As an unschooling family, how do you feel about this media coverage: good or damaging? As a non-unschooling family, how do you feel about our treatment of children in our society?

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New to these ideas? Check out these books, which all cover an alternative to living and learning with children*:

*These books are affiliate links through Amazon. If you buy any of these books, or anything else through these links, you will be contributing to our family and the continuation of this blog. Thank you for your support!

Blame The Schools, Not The Gardens

I just finished reading the Atlantic article, Cultivating Failure, and I’m torn between scathing disappointment and downright outrage at the comments and beliefs stated by the author. I’m going to attempt to offer my cynical, sarcastic remarks in a somewhat coherent, calm manner, but no promises.

The entire article is about how school gardens are cheating students out of an education. I kid you not. It begins with the example of an immigrant laborer who’s offspring is forced into what is at one point referred to as “child labor”. But you can’t have a ludicrous comment like that without an equally ludicrous conclusion:

Why not make them build the buses that will take them to and from school, or rotate in shifts through the boiler room?

Ironically, no mention is made to the fact that schools force children into compulsory schooling that may or may not hold any bearing on their future life, happiness or well-being. Instead throughout the article were reasons why school gardens will not help our youth pass the standardized tests. Because, you know, standardized tests are a real indication of one’s future success.

And, as if the notion of learning self-sufficiency, math, science and social cooperation through growing our own food is appalling weren’t bad enough, the numerous attempts to make it into a racial issue really pisses me off.

If this patronizing agenda were promulgated in the Jim Crow South by a white man who was espousing a sharecropping curriculum for African American students, we would see it for what it is: a way of bestowing field work and low expectations on a giant population of students who might become troublesome if they actually got an education.

I’m having a hard time seeing straight at this point. This is not about race. It’s about empowerment. It’s about kids being inspired in what their doing, seeing the value of their own work (and the hard work of others) and cooperating as a community. You do not get that from sitting at a desk in a stuffy, windowless room pouring over a book someone told you to memorize so you can pass yet another standardized test. That just gets you the statistics mentioned in the article, which really just means bored and uninterested kids.

Although she made no qualms about the prejudice she saw, she fails to see how she is simultaneously putting down those of us who have whole-heartedly embraced a hard-earned lifestyle that allows us to feel whole, connected and joyful, and eludes to it as being somehow sub-par to a higher social class that should get their food from a grocery store and leave the manual labor for…who exactly?

Does the immigrant farm worker dream that his child will learn to enjoy manual labor, or that his child will be freed from it? What is the goal of an education, of what we once called “book learning”? These are questions best left unasked when it comes to the gardens.

Most of the article just pushed the disconnection we so often see in our culture today, pushing toward “progress” and away from true knowledge or understanding. Never once was the question asked where all this progress has taken us. Look what all this endless “progress” got Detroit. Ironically, look what springs up from those ashes.

But the comment that rubbed me the most came from a charter school founder in South LA who also disagreed with the merits of school gardens.

What are you doing to prepare these kids for college? If I can get a kid to read Shakespeare and laugh at the right places, I can get him to college. That’s all that matters to me.”

Really? That’s all that matters? Getting them into college, continuing them on the endless chase of some elusive prize at the end of a never-ending trails of lies and never enjoying it? What about happiness, joy, passion? What about a spark in their eye and a bounce to their step? What about integrity, community participation, learning the true value of something vs blindly paying a quarter for a tasteless, out-of-season fruit some unknown, underpaid farmer cranked out using questionable practices that you’re not suppose to question or you’ll look ungrateful that their “feeding the starving” even if it is unhealthy and dangerous until you cook it beyond recognition?

Are these standardized tests, so heavily pushed, really going to produce free-thinking, questioning, always-learning individuals who have a passion for life and the living? Is it really going to change a thing in the lives of underprivileged kids?

Let me answer that for you. No. It won’t. They’ll get shuffled along in a system they loathe doing exactly what their told to do until they do one of two things – graduate and realize it didn’t prepare them for “the real world” or drop out in disgust of the system that failed them.

Are school gardens the panacea? Probably not. But they offer a glimmer of hope to the kid shut behind closed doors all day. It gives them a taste of the “real world” and maybe a few more skills to survive in an era when most kids don’t know potatoes are grown underground. Maybe these gardens will spark the interest of a few of them. Maybe they’ll inspire a few to question our food culture, which only leads to questioning other paradigms and eventually could create a free-thinking human being were an apathetic person once sat.

I agree with the author that there is indeed an issue with the public school system.

I disagree that throwing more of the same bland, impractical standardized education at them is going to fix the issue.

We need inspired, engaged kids who want to learn, not thoughtless students that follow commands. And I’ve seen many more eyes light up in a garden than I ever have behind the pages of a mundane, soon-to-be outdated textbook.

Warning: Cynicism Ahead

What have we done to ourselves?

It has dawned on me, as I sat reading the side of the cracker box, just how inorganic our lives have become. The incessant belief that what is not natural is best has not failed to astound me. We have disconnected ourselves from nature, from life, from love and then wonder indignantly why it bites at us whenever we reach our hand to it. We have become strangers to our own innate attributes. We have arrogantly assumed we know better than our native instincts; instincts we now cannot even hear over the blast of commercialism or blaring demands of conformity.

And it’s all around us. Our food touts labels such as “Made with real juice” or “Preservative Free” as if that’s some type of novelty to make us “Ooh” and “Aah”. Or my personal favorite, “Tastes Like Real Cheese” while we slowly forget what real cheese tastes like. We’ve bought into nourishment created in a laboratory, genetically modified to allow for winter availability. And we proudly state we are “moving forward” with such technological advancements. But how many stop to ask the million dollar question, moving forward into what…and leaving what behind?

But by far the best example of all of our excitement in recreating what has already been perfected in nature: Let’s gather up the next generation while they are still young and impressionable, pigeon hole them into submission, crush their creativity and free-thinking tendencies and call it education. Sure, we’ll recreate socialization with a 20 minute recess limiting them to their approved actions, play area and authorized companions. We’ll divide up the fluidity of their days into sections, calling them English, Math or Science, making them foreign and uncomfortable. And we’ll make it compulsory so that millions of citizens do not know they have a constitutional right to another choice.

We will take life and all that is living, peeling back its outer layers piece by piece, stripping it bare of its natural qualities, dress it up with a few frightening statistics, place it within approved boundaries, add a bow and a splash of colorful advertising, sell it as “real life” and pat ourselves on the back as we marvel at our ingenuity. Oh, but we’ll be sure to round it out by taking what was once pure and unadulterated and labeling them as “barbaric”, “radical”, “unrefined”, “absurd”, “extreme” or “impossible”.

We’ve tried to reinvent the wheel but in the end all our efforts have shown was something square and incapable of turning on its axis. And yet we just keep jostling ourselves down the same road, insisting the bumps can be overcome. We carry this ignorant training on to adulthood and every area of our lives. We comply with the absurdity of labels and groups in our adult world, vote based on how a person looks, what religion or gender or race they are, and allow those that taught us what to think to continue do our thinking for us.

We’re grown up versions of second graders – it’s no wonder why so many think that school teaches our children how to cope in “the real world”. Our “real world” has become a heart-breaking and absurd example of freedom and justification. What we call free is no more than diluted visions of grandeur. We’re directed down paths of conformity, taught that violence is bad but condone violence to teach a lesson, spout verses of love while our hearts hide hatred. We blindly follow the words of leaders, any leaders instead of the voice of our hearts. We ignore or commit to martyrdom our modern day prophets, ignorant to their true message.

That’s the true purpose of our modern institutionalized age. To indoctrinate the values and principles of the powers that be, to instruct them on how to follow the masses and condemn true freedom. Ignore your heart, ignore your instinct and listen to man up front. Don’t ask too many questions, don’t worry your pretty little head about such big things. Just follow along and we’ll take care of you.

But 20, 30, 50, 100 years down the road, we’ll wonder why we’ve become uncaring, disconnected, disease-riddled, and stagnant. We’ll wonder why our technological advancements have slowed to a trickle and our family fabric has been torn to shreds. But will we ever connect it to the wedge we now put between ourselves and our children, ourselves and our bodies and spirits, ourselves and our neighbors, ourselves and the natural, perfectly timed and beautiful ebb and flow of life and growth?

I for one will no longer hold my nose to vote, will not stick my head in the sand, will not sit by idly as insanity marches on. The ridiculous bandwagon rambles on down the road of least resistance but I for one have jumped off to explore a path less approved, a bit “radical” and certain to take our lives in a whole new direction.

Call it unschooling, call it Libertarianism, call it heretics…I call it love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.”