May 27, 2008

Life Is Goooooood

The conference is over but I don't really have time to write a full overview--we're heading north from Portland to visit my aunt and uncle in Belfair, Washington--so I just thought I'd pop in and say we had a great time. I feel like the conference has helped me over the hump, in a way. You know, the hump of wanting to unschool but being afraid your child will suffer later because you decided some freaky, radical way of life was the way to go. Yep, I'm over that now and I definitely feel like freaky, radical will lead us to the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Actually, I take that back. It will make the entire journey feel like we've just found the pot at the end of the rainbow.
I'm not saying I won't have my freak out moments anymore. I'm sure they're waiting in the wings. But I'm feeling much more confident about our choice. And yes, I can finally say OUR choice. Warren has agreed that the unschooling philosophy makes sense and seems particularly right for Jerry (mainly because he inherited my genes for never wanting to do something he's been told to do--no matter how much he wanted to do it before the telling took place). 
So all is good. I'll give details soon!

May 19, 2008

Gotta Love Jon Stewart

My mother-in-law just sent me this by e-mail. I know it's totally off the subject but it was so well put I just had to share:

In Larry King's interview with Jon Stewart, King brought up the subject of the primaries, asking Stewart if America was ready for a woman or a black president.

Stewart looked at King quizzically and said, "This is such a non-question. Did anyone ask us in 2000 if Americans were ready for a moron?"

Touche!

Life Is Good

We're leaving tomorrow for the Life is Good Unschooling conference!! I'm so excited. Jerry isn't too keen on going but knows it's important for Warren to attend--he understands it's in his best interest for Warren to embrace the unschooling lifestyle. I think Jerry will love it, actually. It's just that it takes him a while to feel comfortable in group settings--he's much better one on one. But we'll arrive the night before the conference begins so I'm hoping he'll make some friends early on. That way by the time the conference has started he'll feel comfortable going off to the funshops with his new friends. 

We've made the trip into a bit of a vacation. Jerry and I will drive up to my mom and dad's in Sacramento on Tuesday, then fly to Portland for the conference on Wednesday (it was waaaay cheaper to fly out of Sacramento). Warren will meet us in Vancouver, WA on Saturday morning. We'll spend the weekend at the hotel with other unschoolers (yippee!) then Monday we'll spend the day in Portland (Yippee again! I've never been there.) before we put Warren on a plane back to Los Angeles. Tuesday morning Jerry and I will rent a car and drive out to my aunt and uncles new house on a lake in Belfair, Washington. We'll stay with them for three nights before heading back to my mom and dad's, where we'll spend the weekend, before coming home. Phew. Makes me tired just to think of all that driving and flying.

Oh, and even more exciting is the fact that we should be starting construction on our new deck the week that Jerry and I get back home! Hooray! Oh, and another thing--the excitement never stops--I got my worm bin in the mail on Saturday so I can start vermicomposting as soon as we return! Woohoo! Unschoolers! Lakes! Decks! Worm casting! Could life get any better? 

May 15, 2008

No Techno Vaca

Jerry says he doesn't need a "techno vaca" now that he's rediscovered his creativity. But if we were doing the "techno vaca," JJ pointed out that it would be better to look at what he enjoys doing, rather than focus on what he's leaving out. Good advice! Jerry was feeling down mainly because his interests have been very focused lately (on video games) but it seems all that's required to make him feel better--and he's already started doing this on his own--is to revisit his other interests. In the last couple days he's gotten out his legos again (they're covering every inch of the playroom floor!), he's started making a movie on the computer, he's been painting his Munnies, he's rediscovered Line Rider (an old favorite) and he's spent far less time in front of the television. And he did it all on his own!

I think we're beginning to reap the rewards of allowing him to make his own choices in regards to screen time. It's been a challenge. For my husband and I, that is. Going from the anti-technology Waldorf philosophy we'd adopted over the five years Jerry was in school to the radical unschooling philosophy of unlimited screen time was a pretty big jump--kind of like jumping off a cliff, blind-folded, with our hands tied behind our backs and trusting that Jerry would remember to put the trampoline at the bottom. It's taken a lot of trust and a lot of going against our previously held notions about television, computers and video games and what role they should play in our child's life and the life of our family.

Even though Jerry has been loving his freedom, I'm beginning to see that it was a challenge for him as well. I think that's where the sadness came from the other day. But now that he's coming out of the all screen-time all the time mode (it helps, I think, that we're home again) and remembering that he has other interests, he may not be as glued to the screen as he has been these past few months (more than a few, actually!). Of course, now that I've typed this and will be sending it out to the world he's pretty much guaranteed to spend the next 72 hours with his eyes glued to the TV. Oh well. C'est la vie! 

But I do think I can finally see the light at the end of the video game playing/computer using/television watching tunnel. And I see a blue sky. And birds flying. And a rainbow! And what's that? Oh. It's a computer. And a Wii remote.  And, oh, there's a PlayStation over there. But there are birds and the sky is blue. And I know I saw a rainbow. 

May 14, 2008

Techno-Geek Takes Techno Vaca

Jerry was really down on himself the other day. He said the only thing he's good for is pushing buttons. He doesn't want to be a "techno-geek" a anymore, he said. He feels like he's lost his creativity. So my suggestion was that we take a vacation from all things techno. He agreed but said we'd have to do it together (doh!). I have a story due on Thursday so I need to use the computer until then, which means our "techno vaca," to put it in 21st century slang, will start on Friday.

But will it? Jerry's friend, Jackson, helped him rediscover his creativity later that same afternoon by suggesting a trip to Radio Shack where we loaded up on little motors, battery connectors and other electronics equipment. They're going to make a car. Jerry says they're thinking of it more as a work of art than a vehicle so it's not imperative that it be operational. They've already started working on it. 

So he says he may not need the "techno vaca," but I wonder. By allowing him all this freedom to choose his own activities (and he has been completely in charge of his time) am I making things more difficult for him in the long run? Traditional parenting would say yes, I am. But what does unschooling say? And, more importantly, what does my heart say?

I'm guessing unschooling says that Jerry will find his way and be stronger for it in the end. And that may be true. But my heart says a few more gentle nudges, a detour or two on the road to the Wii or the computer, might not be such a bad thing. 

It's tricky, though. I've really liked giving him freedom, trusting his choices, and keeping my nagging voice securely under wraps. I want him to have the power to make choices for himself. But I also want him to nourish his entire being. He is a creative kid. And yes, playing video games requires creativity and problem solving. But that's only one type of creativity. The video games only tap a fraction of his creative potential. What about the rest of it?

So I'm going to suggest we stick to the plan and take our "techno-vaca." It may be a looser version of the original plan but I think some kind of shift is in order, if only for a short while, to remind Jerry of his (and the world's) full potential. 

I'll let you know how it goes....

May 12, 2008

Beautification Project

I'm sorry to say that since we've been back from New Zealand Los Angeles has lost some it's luster for me. Not that it had a huge amount to begin with. I grew up in Northern California so anyone who knows the disdain those in the upper portion of the state feel for L.A. will understand that it took me a while to consider this place home--somewhere around twenty years would be a good guess. 

I had long considered myself a Northern California girl. But about five years ago, when we seriously considered a move up north, I found I didn't really want to leave. Then, on a subsequent visit to San Franciso I found myself getting totally annoyed with the "holier than thou environmentalist, anti-L.A." attitude up there. That was when I knew this Northern California girl had I had become an L.A. woman.

And I do love where we live for lots of reasons. I love our funky, bohemian neighborhood. (Okay, I love it because it reminds me of San Francisco--so what?!). I love that even though L.A. is the place people love to hate, people in L.A. rarely, if ever, return those feelings. I love that it's a city of dreamers. And I love the life we've created for ourselves here.

But how does it compare to New Zealand? Well, it's lacking a few things. 

Beauty, for one. Though there are beautiful places you need to travel an hour or so to find beauty that's not marred by graffiti or masses of people. Water is another thing I'm missing here. We were surrounded by it in Auckland. Sure, we do have a view of a reservoir from our house. But it's surrounded in concrete. And we could get to the beach in thirty minutes or less if the roads are clear, but we all know how often that happens. 

So, we're throwing around the idea of moving again but since Warren works in film a move would probably mean a career change--and that could take some time to figure out. We've decided that, for now, instead of moving we'll beautify our own little corner of the world.

Yesterday, after Warren and Jerry served me breakfast in bed and I had a frivolously long phone conversation with a friend, we spent the afternoon cleaning up our front patio. It was pretty bad. There were pieces of wood, piled up in the corner, left over from building projects Jerry and I started but never finished. There were half-dead potted plants that had suffered in our absence. There was a bench we were all afraid to sit on but that we kept, none the less, as a place to put other stuff that we didn't use but couldn't seem to get rid of. There was a hammock that was slowly unravelling.

It's all gone now! All that's left is the good stuff. The living plants; the furniture that's fit to hold people without breaking; the fountain my neighbor gave us. We even brought the BBQ from the back deck (the deck's ready to fall apart, too) so we can use the BBQ without fearing for our lives. And today I'm going to buy more plants and potting soil so that by the end of the day it will be a regular oasis in the heart of the city. A little bit of New Zealand right here in Los Angeles.

May 8, 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Unschooler At Heart

I've been listening to some tapes from The Teaching Company (love them!) on Emerson, Thoreau and the Transcendentalist movement. So, this morning, as I was reading a NY Times article entitled Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?, my ears (or eyes?) perked up when I spotted this quote from William Wordsworth (who happened to be a great influence on Emerson),
"Not choice but habit rules the unreflecting herd."
That got me thinking, reflecting, as it were, about the power of reflection. It's easy enough to follow along with the herd but unless we reflect upon where we're going and where we've been we're not really utilizing our full capacity as human beings. At least that's what Emerson thought.

These past months (242 days to be exact, according to my unschooling counter) I've been doing a huge amount of reflecting. It's caused me to challenge some of my previously held beliefs about education and parenting; it's led me off the well-worn path of traditional parenting (okay, I was never that traditional--but still), beyond the safety of curriculum and lesson plans, and into the world of unschooling.

And I'm thinking Emerson, famous for saying "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist," might be cheering me on if he were alive today.

In doing more research on Emerson I found this philosophy site that states, "Self-reliance and independence of thought are fundamental to Emerson’s perspective in that they are the practical expressions of the central relation between the self and the infinite. To trust oneself and follow our inner promptings corresponds to the highest degree of consciousness."

But Emerson didn't stop at "trust yourself." He also urged us to trust our children:
 "I believe that our own experience instructs us that the secret of Education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret. By your tampering and thwarting and too much governing he may be hindered from his end and kept out of his own. Respect the child. Wait and see the new product of Nature. Nature loves analogies, but not repetitions. Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude."

I love this notion that only the child holds the key to his or her own secret. And if you just substitute "children" for boys and "adults" for men, I really like what he says here:

"We teach boys to be such men as we are. We do not teach them to aspire to be all they can. We do not give them a training as if we believed in their noble nature. We scarce educate their bodies. We do not train the eye and the hand. We exercise their understandings to the apprehension and comparison of some facts, to a skill in numbers, in words; we aim to make accountants, attorneys, engineers, but not to make able, earnest, great-hearted men. The great object of Education should be commensurate with the object of life. It should be a moral one; to teach self-trust: to inspire the youthful man with an interest in himself; with a curiosity touching his own nature; to acquaint him with the resources of his mind, and to teach him that there is all his strength, and to inflame him with a piety towards the Grand Mind in which he lives."

I'm not really sure what he means by "the Grand Mind"--he was ordained as a priest (eventually leaving the priesthood), so it's likely he's talking about God. Emerson was one of the first Westerners, by the way, to suggest that we carry God within ourselves--a radical idea in a time when it was believed priests were a necessary conduit to the Divine. But I'm going to choose to believe it's a collective consciousness he's talking about because I like that idea better.

Here's Emerson's advice to teachers:
"Now the correction of this quack practice [the current education system] is to import into Education the wisdom of life. Leave this military hurry and adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.... Can you not baffle the importance and passion of the child by your tranquillity? Can you not wait for him, as Nature and Providence do?... He has a secret; wonderful methods in him; he is,---every child,---a new style of man; give him time and opportunity. Talk of Columbus and Newton! I tell you the child just born in yonder hovel is the beginning of a revolution as great as theirs. But you must have the believing and prophetic eye. Have the self-command you wish to inspire. Your teaching and discipline must have the reserve and taciturnity of Nature. Teach them to hold their tongues by holding your own. Say little; do not snarl; do not chide; but govern by the eye. See what they need, and that the right thing is done."
This is more of the same, really, but it made me laugh:
"I suffer whenever I see that common sight of a parent or senior imposing his opinion and way of thinking and being on a young soul to which they are totally unfit. Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make that man another you. One's enough."

No kidding!

And lest we reflect too much on all the times we've tampered, thwarted, imposed, and opined, Emerson also said:
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
I think I have a new mantra.

For more information on Ralph Waldo Emerson and his rockin' unschooling philosophy visit:
Emerson's Philosophy of Education
American Transcendentalism Web

May 7, 2008

Home At Last/New Projects

We're all back in L.A. now. Me, Jerry, Warren, the dog, the cats, the hermit crab (the cats and the crab never left) and all of a sudden I don't know what to do with myself! It's only been a day and a half, though. We just got back from my parent's place on Monday. It was so nice to hang out with family again. And Patsy was crazy happy to see us. 

The Maker Faire was great! Here's a video someone posted on You Tube that gives a good overview of the event:

We saw the diet coke and mentos guys do their thing. There was a life-sized Mousetrap game. We saw a self-propelled Victorian house on wheels. And my friend Zefra met us there with her family so we got to see friends too! On Sunday Jerry hung out with some cousins he doesn't see much of so that was an unexpected bonus in an already terrific weekend. 

I'm continuing my cleaning spree now that we're home. When in doubt I clean. Did I mention before that this type of behavior is highly unusual for me? Yesterday I cleaned out and organized under the kitchen sink. It was dark and scary under there but I persisted and now it's beautiful. Well, maybe not beautiful--it's still under the kitchen sink--but it's better. And I've finally got all my cleaning ingredients (I make my own cleaning supplies) together in one place so I don't have to hunt for them (which is never good because usually by the time I've found them the desire to clean is gone).

Yesterday Jerry and I tried our hand at robotics. We soldered together a Mousebot we had purchased at Maker Faire. We got one motor working but the second motor wouldn't run so we took it off and resoldered it but in the process I melted the on/off switch into a permanent off position. So. Now we have to go to Radio Shack and see if we can find another on/off switch. Up until that point we were doing pretty well though. 

Oh, and we have a new project on the horizon. At the Maker Faire we bought a book on how to build your own PC so we're going to build a PC!! We only have Macs in our house and there are a lot of games Jerry wants to play that aren't available on Mac so I told him I'd supply the parts if he wants to build one with me. I'm going to read the entire book first and then we'll whip out our lab coats and pencil protectors and get started. I don't have the slightest idea how computers work and whenever I try to understand it my brain feels like it's going to explode so this should be. . .interesting. Hopefully there's no soldering required.