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Unschooling UNEDITED

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Unschooling UNEDITED by Linda Dobson

There have been lots of great blog posts and responses to negative blog posts written about the unschooling fiasco presented by Good Morning America this week. Something I haven’t seen addressed, though, is bugging me. Where in the world did “news” people get the idea that unschooling is something new?

HomeschoolingWorksPassItOnDo they not know how to use Google? Couldn’t they find the overflowing cornucopia of books, blogs, newspaper and magazine coverage dating back for literally decades? Anyone with a true interest in homeschooling would know it’s important to understand its history. The failure to do so indicated to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the practice that their “reporting” was beyond faulty; it was a joke.

Such coverage of the topic did nothing but bug everybody. The coverage got homeschoolers – en masse – angry with their misrepresentation. It got non-homeschoolers waxing hysterically against it.

While the family did a valiant job with their return appearance, the old adage holds true: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. A percentage who viewed the first piece didn’t even see the second. Another percentage who viewed the first piece already had their minds made up and there would be no changing them.

An eternal optimist, I’ve been looking for the good in what happened. The experience contains lessons for all of us and, if we all learn them, the world may eventually accept unschooling’s place on the whole of the homeschooling continuum to the same degree homeschooling has generally found a comfortable place in the mainstream.

Lesson for journalists – Do your homework. When you don’t, everyone who knows more about a topic than you do sees you as fools with an agenda other than unbiased, well-researched reporting of facts.

Lesson for homeschoolers – If you think you may get involved in public relations, think of the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.” There is a lot of information available to help prepare you for what you face. Mary Griffith first wrote her very helpful booklet, The Homeschooling Image: Public Relations Basics over 15 years ago, and she covers the basics succinctly. For example, “Decide what message you want to convey. This may sound contrived, but whether you intend it or not, you will be perceived by those who know little about homeschooling as representing the entire movement…You will have a limited amount of time to make whatever points you want to make, so keep your message simple and clear.” Mary quotes Michael Levine’s book, Guerrilla PR, as stating, “Boil your message down to a ‘SOCO:’ a Single Overriding Communications Objective. According to Levine, ‘Your message should be concise to the point of haiku when conveying it on television.”

“Think about the questions you are likely to be asked, and what your answers should be.” (Or better, request the questions you will be asked, as well as input on final product.) Role play with said questions ahead of time. Mary additionally includes a list of the questions you can pretty much count on hearing. They’re still very much the same.

Mary also interviewed Melissa Hatheway, then a HomeSchool Association of California board member, about her radio experience. Melissa relays a story about doing an interview, then receiving a “nice letter from [the host] saying she would homeschool her kids – when she had kids.” Interviews like Melissa’s, similarly conducted by countless others, is how homeschooling grew – both in numbers and acceptance – across the country.

Lesson for non-homeschoolers – You got a raw deal. You received a very perverted picture from Good Morning America, but it was a good lesson in not believing everything you see just because it was on a morning news program. As with everything else related to the education of your child, you’re going to have to do your own research and exploring to get an honest picture, not only of homeschooling, but of other alternatives, as well as the traditional school system. Your child only gets one shot at this, so it takes more than five minutes to figure out what’s best for him or her.

Consider, for example, the following snip from “EducationCEO” blog post called “Could Homeschooling be the Next Big Thing in Education?” and written April 23, 2010: “Just today, the Cobb County School Board announced that it will cut 734 jobs; 579 of those are teaching positions. Just last week, the Fulton County School Board announced that it would slash $4 million from the arts budget, putting both the band and orchestra programs at risk. As I watched the news, a parent (and former educator) stated that she would have no choice but to homeschool her kids. The budget cuts will force districts to increase class sizes and her kids would not get the level of attention they need (and deserved) in order to be successful. I am still thinking about her words because I am inclined to speculate that the number of families who opt to homeschool will increase during the 2010-11 school year for that particular reason.”

Budget cuts and teacher layoffs are happening all across the country. The system that has steadily grown over its brief 150+ year existence is ready to implode. You might also want to read (“The Ugly Truth of What We Teach In Schools.”)

Lesson for all of us – Continuing to look at learning with what I call “school mind” instead of “education mind” will keep too many children from learning all they can and being what they could be. The comments from parents on many of the blog postings about unschooling reveal the ongoing confusion in our society that being schooled is synonymous with receiving an education – it is not.

The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling IdeasIf you’d like to read more on this topic, you can find it in my book, The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas. (NOTE: Be careful of fakes. Someone just self-published a book with this title.) Here is the summary:


School Mind

Compulsory Attendance (time in institution away from real world) +

Curriculum (study chosen by strangers and lack of interest) +

Lack of Meeting Existing Standards (tests, measuring against others, and “fix the child to fit in” mentality) = Schooling

Education Mind

Time (freedom and opportunity) + Purpose (intrinsic motivation and interest) +

Focus on What Is Being Achieved (love and support) = Education

The public school system isn’t working. It’s imperative to change our collective mindset about learning, and homeschoolers can help simply by doing what has worked in the past.

Again, from The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas:

School mind asks, “What should my child know at grade level X?” Education mind asks children what they are interested in and further observes active children to gather its own clues. School mind asks, “Do they need to know this for a test?” Education mind asks, “Do they need to know this to improve their lives in some way?” School mind asks, “What can I teach them?” Education mind asks, “What can they learn?” School mind asks, “What answers have they retained?” Education mind asks, “Have they learned how to learn?”

With just a little practice, we can all turn these and similar questions around to point the way to real education for all children, and those eager to create sensationalistic “journalism” can go look elsewhere for fodder.

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4 Responses to “Unschooling UNEDITED”

  1. Excellent advice all round, Linda. I guess this is one thing that us "veterans" can pass along. But every situation is new, isn't it? I am grateful that a new generation of unschoolers/life learners/homeschoolers is willing to put themselves out there to educate people. I do believe good will eventually come from it.

  2. Sandra Dodd says:

    I thought the family Good Morning America interviewed did a really great job with their responses. The kids were patient and respectful with the interviewer, who was much less patient and respectful than she should have been as a guest in someone's home.

    A great deal of good information was ignored. There was no way they could have won Monday morning, but they will win in the long run.

    Here's something the Bieglers wrote afterwards, about what the news crew knew or filmed but didn't share. It's interesting.

    Also, about that kid on the stairs with the donut for breakfast, two things. He was from another family, not the family being featured, and the donut had been given to him by the cameraman. I don't mind the donut, but I DO mind that the news program clearly made it seem that the donut was routine. It's like planting evidence, isn't it? 🙂

    Even though unschoolers have been insulted in every way this week, there will be many who become unschoolers either next school year or next week, because of the gross unfairness toward families with nice kids, because the unschoolers who responding to negative articles are articulate and the detractors are frothing, and because for many families this will be the first ray of hope they've had for unhappy situations.

    Hell of a week, but exhilarating, too. Some drive-by "anonymous" said Holly couldn't read:….

    Quite unrelated to that, Holly wrote something on her blog that impressed me:

  3. I can think of another 'good' thing that has come out of this media attention, Linda's blog. Linda's sensible response with its lessons for all concerned is being promoted via Facebook, which is where I saw the link first, posted by an Aussie friend.

  4. Thank you, ladies! I really appreciate you reading and responding. A planted donut – wow, that's low, isn't it? As has been proven in the past, "slow and steady" will win the race, bolstered by rational presentations, which of course includes your terrific piece, Sandra. Wendy, yes, many "homeschooling crones" have talked about the continuation of our work, and I'm sure we're all (that includes you!) more than happy to pass it forward! (Which reminds me – Ning is soon to be free no more – guess that was a good call, after all!)

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