Thursday, November 22, 2007

One Way to Raise a Child: Unschooling


"A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another." -- John Stuart Mill

Soon after Cassidy was born at our ranch in Colorado, Luz handed me a book by John Holt. It said, “Children do not need to be made to learn, or shown how. They want to and they know how.” Also, that if there is one thing that holds children back and often turns them against learning, it's schooling -- sitting in unpleasant schools where intelligence and interests are often ignored.

In town, with Cass on my shoulders, we read the signs, talked to shoppers and clerks. Soon he was speaking in sentences. Luz and I read stories to him and by age four he could read virtually any book. Holt was right: Cass did not need urging in order to learn. He once told a librarian, "I'm interested in everything."

In Connecticut, we let Cassidy determine what, when, where, how much and with whom he would learn. We did no "lessons" but answered his questions and helped him gain access to the real world. We called it unschooling -- no textbooks, no curriculum, testing, assignments, none of it unless he asked for them. We paid attention to his desires for information as well as his basics. Schools claim it is more important to "feel good about yourself" than to know how to read, write and calculate. Our idea was the opposite: if you have skills and knowledge, you will have self-esteem.

As Cass grew, he was still curious and interested in many things. We did not limit his learning. People observed that he was bright, confident and capable, "He must be smart to have learned so much so young." We answered, "Children are born smart. It's just that nobody is dumbing him down."

I believe that because he did not go to school, Cass was able to easily acquire all the essentials while he avoided the many negatives that schools teach. We encouraged his curiosity and helped him gain access to the world. His life was the polar opposite of sitting with peers in boring classes and being told that his interests are not important. We trusted him.

Cassidy learned about dinosaurs and fossils, so that at eleven, he began to volunteer at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. They had a variety of tasks for him. The next year, because of his knowledge of dinosaurs, they put him in charge of the Information Desk in the Hall of Dinosaurs on Family Days. At fourteen, he was a teacher at the Eli Whitney Museum, once giving an “enrichment” class in origami to public school teachers. He earned his own money with jobs he found. The Hartford Courant published the SAT scores of the valedictorians at all CT's high schools. Cass scored higher than half of them, by soaking up knowledge in his own ways.

Cass went to Hunter College because it was in the middle of his favorite place, NYC. He had an apartment downtown and took the subway to school. His friends told Luz and me that he always seemed to know the right thing to do. That was when we knew our experiment had been a success, because he had always chosen his own path, instead of having others direct him. He breezed through college – always on the dean’s list. He held jobs, worked on a political campaign, was president of the film society, and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

For Cass (and other kids we know), attending school had been not just unnecessary, but irrelevant and, we believe, would have been damaging to his mind and spirit. Today, public schools are worse than ever. From the government's viewpoint, school is for obedience training, not for teaching knowledge. Parents need to weigh the "convenience" of school against the dumbing down that goes on there. Do children belong to the state?

Ned Vare

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christinemm said...

Good job on posting regularly. "They say" a way to build regular blog readership is to publish regularly, whatever that means to you, daily, weekly, whatever.

Today I posted at the Connecticut Inclusives Homeschool group to tell the 500 or so members of your blog, since you can't notify the members of it yourself.

If you want an easy counter on your blog that is free of cost and free of advertising, check out

and sign up for the free account.

If you need help with putting the code in your blog template email me and I'll help you out.

Good idea too to not let in anonymous commentst. That keeps out both the spammers and the cowards who would otherwise leave rude messages while hiding their identity.

LMS said...

Congrats on the blog Ned. I will enjoy reading it regularly.

Rachel Tomassone said...

Ned! I see you have been booted from homeschool inclusssive!! Not so inclusive I say. We love what you and Luz are doing for the homeschool community.... unschooling has changed our lives! We have a 5 yeasr old boy and he is such a vibrant and happy kid....he is not going to be squashed by sitting at a desk all day having someone tell him what to do and how to think. We are so very inspired by you....please keep it up. It troubles me that people are so EASILY offended. I read all the stuff and saw no personal attacks. The questions you put out there make me THINK. It is a true pleasure hearing your "rantings"....Thanks, Rachel and Nick Tomassone

Laurie Doig said...

Thank you Ned for blogging

(and thank you Christine for telling CTInclusive).

Ned, I always enjoy reading and hearing what you and Luz have to say and I look forward to reading your blog.

lcliscomb said...

I too am glad to see your determination to go more Public!

I am very disheartened by the Inclusive's list choice to remove you. I guess with the fall of the CHN board, there is officially no place to talk about these issues all together (unless you want to sign up for 5 other lists they keep referring to). You are welcome to join our board for free though, and post your discussion topics there. Perhaps we can grab others to join in, I think it's well-organized platform for calendar and discussion. Best to you-- Liberty Liscomb

Families for Conscious Living CT

songsong said...

dear Ned:
yes, our way is one of the ways--- and our kids are very much alive as we wish for them to be themselves.

Wen is 14 now! sometimes he can be seen on the kite field with a big hat and a trench coat (which reminds me of one of Cassidy's pictures i have seen for years).

He just finished editing all the kiting footage we got since August (with our new mini-DV). We started flying indoor kites now and will show you next time we visit.

I love our way of letting love grow, while growing our younger ones, we also grow into the selves we are comfortable with now. The best thing about being Wen's mom is that I take the time and love to grow myself along this journey and we have become best friends.

What Luz told me years ago really works wonders for me--- treat your child as one of your best friends.

and we have become one of the best friends for each other, how lucky.

This is the year that officially Wen out grows me in height (we do not know anything about weight, no scale in the house), in computer skill, in video editing, and even in earning cash....oh, what a wonderful feeling to see him move forward without looking back w hen he got on the train for the first time to his kite journey with his team.

Yes, our way is one way to ra ise a child, and what fun! for both parents and children.....

loving it.