Against the Grain

Penelope Trunk writes about going against the (school) grain and getting a great job:

A fundamental shift is taking place, where the path to getting a job is massively circumventing college credentials. And, at the same time, the American public is fed up with the insane debt that college are expecting new grads to take on in order to graduate.

The biggest barrier to accepting the radical new nature of the job hunt is the reverberations throughout the rest of life. If you don’t need school for work, and you don’t need school for learning, then all you need school for is so parents can go to work and not worry about taking care of their kids.

Read the entire post here.


Alfie Kohn shares more research that concludes there is no meaningful benefit to homework. And still, the homework persists, because there are plenty of people who don’t care what the research shows.

“If experience is any guide, people will respond to these results by repeating platitudes about the importance of practice, or by complaining that anyone who doesn’t think kids need homework is coddling them and failing to prepare them for the “real world” (read: the pointless tasks they’ll be forced to do after they leave school).

I would add that the meaningful benefit of assigning homework is actually quite clear: it reminds students and their families that the school has the right to follow the student home and intrude on their non-school hours. In doing so, school is indeed preparing students for the “real world,” one in which working “off the clock” or being available to one’s employer 24/7 is just part of the job.

Living As If School Didn’t Exist

The yarn project needs two more colors. Can we go to JoAnn?

I put Sherlock on the Netflix queue. It says there’s a very long wait. What else shall we add? Do you think it’s too hot to bake? I have to write a bio for camp. Whose laundry is in the dryer? Can you get it, please?

We’re out of Swiffers.

Do we have any small canvases? The diminished chord has a flat third and flat fifth. I’ve got to go to the library.

Did you see that moth on the porch? It was huge. What kind of moth was that?

I used up all the gesso. Do you think they have any at JoAnn? Are there any stamps left? I have all this stuff to mail. Let’s get some Popsicles while we’re out. And something for dinner.

The t-shirt art is done. I’m going to send it off. Have the cats been fed? I’ll make the salad. Thanks for doing the dishes.

That was a polyphemus moth, Mom. Here’s a picture.

Library Educated

“I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. (…) And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone.”

Ray Bradbury, in an interview with Paris Review, originally conducted in the 1970s, updated and published last summer.

Just Let Them Go

From an article by Richard Elmore, instructor at the Harvard School of Education, on the modern secondary school:

I wonder, finally, what would happen if we simply opened the doors and let the students go; if we let them walk out of the dim light of the overhead projector into the sunlight; if we let them decide how, or whether, to engage this monolith? Would it be so terrible? Could it be worse than what they are currently experiencing?

“What Would Happen if We Let Them Go?”, Education Week, May 17, 2011

School is Prison

Classic Peter Gray:

If you think school is not prison, please explain the difference.

The only difference I can think of is that to get into prison you have to commit a crime, but they put you in school just because of your age. In other respects school and prison are the same. In both places you are stripped of your freedom and dignity. You are told exactly what you must do, and you are punished for failing to comply. Actually, in school you must spend more time doing exactly what you are told to do than is true in adult prisons, so in that sense school is worse than prison.”


Every new generation of parents, and every new batch of fresh and eager teachers, hears or reads about some “new theory” or “new findings” from psychology that, at long last, will make schools more fun and improve learning. But none of it has worked. And none of it will until people face the truth: Children hate school because in school they are not free. Joyful learning requires freedom.”

From Gray’s September, 2009 post in Psychology Today, “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Worth every moment you’ll spend reading it, and following the links, and reading some more.

Tipping into Unschooling

Before we were unschoolers, we were homeschoolers. We were relaxed about it, pursuing a makeshift curriculum that touched on all the basic stuff while allowing us lots of room to wander off the trail. It felt loose and free, especially when compared to conventional schooling.

We remained caught up in the school-y things, though, in subjects and semesters and checklists of what your pre-schooler/kindergardener/first grader should know.

Well. I was caught up. My kid? Just caught.

In the state of Indiana, children have to start school by age seven. In practice, seven is quite late, of course; here as everywhere children as young as two are shuttled off to pre-pre-k to begin their formal instruction in how to stack blocks and sit in a circle and take orders from random adults.

We’d managed to skip that whole early-is-better thing, but as my kid’s seventh birthday drew closer, I began to think we might want a bit more rigor in our routine. Meaning: I brought home a few workbooks from Barnes & Noble.

Just something to keep us on track.

I still thought we needed to be “on track.”

By this time I’d read a bit of John Holt and knew something of unschooling. The philosophy appealed to me, but as a practical pursuit it was still somewhat woolly. I hadn’t yet encountered any unschoolers in my daily life, which is to say, I didn’t know what we were missing.

Meanwhile, my kid did a page or two out of each workbook. That was enough for them.

“It’s just the same thing over and over.”

I pushed.

In truth, I lacked confidence. Those workbooks represented the only formal instruction we were doing, provided the only tangible evidence that, yes, there was learning going on here. I felt pressure from invisible forces. I may have imagined that we were “tipping toward unschooling,” as I put it to people who asked, but I still trusted paper more than my own eyes.  

My kid wasn’t having any of it.

Here’s the thing: it should have been obvious to me that learning was happening all the time. Our lives were interesting and fun, and our conversations were lively. We took walks and dug in the garden and went to the library and collected treasures and hung out with friends and watched movies and played computer games and board games and card games and baked banana bread and made art and read books. Our days were happy and satisfying.

Except for that hour or so every morning, when the workbooks came out and everything went pear-shaped.    

It was messing with our serenity. There had to be a better way.

So I read more John Holt. I joined a few online forums, engaged with actual unschoolers. Things got less abstract, less woolly.

Six weeks after bringing them home, I quietly tossed the workbooks into the recycle bin. We were no longer tipping into unschooling. We were over the edge.

You Have to Be Carefully Taught

Apropos of “enhanced pat downs” and “full body scans” and all the rest of it we’ve been hearing about as the holiday travel season approaches, this is a passage from 101 Reasons Why I’m An Unschooler.

School students have no inherent right to privacy.  Anything in a student’s possession, on their person, or in their school locker, is subject to search by a member of the school staff.

Students can be forced to empty the contents of their purses, pockets and backpacks when told to do so by a staff member…. When taken to court, at least one school has argued that strip-searching students is their right. (…)

It’s difficult to see how a person might learn what it means to be free of involuntary search and seizure when they have been schooled for thirteen years in turning out their pockets at the whim of the state.

Just sayin’.