Category Archives: My Opinions

Timeframes, Challenges, and Disabilities

We are on Round Three at my Homeschooling Creatively list about the perspective on “disabilities”, particularly as it pertains to the right-brained learner.  This post is my attempt at clarity on my position in viewing differing abilities among people.

•  Right-brained dominant and left-brained dominant learners process information differently; therefore, each has a different timeframe and focus to acquiring skills that optimally captures the individual strengths and gifts of that learning preference.

Our current institutions of school favor left-brained processes.  They are part to whole (versus global thinkers) as they take a whole subject, such as history, and break it down into segments and spread it across many grade levels before achieving the whole.  They are product-driven (versus process concepts) so that they can sort and classify based on right and wrong answers, completed tasks, and defineable measurements.  They are word and symbol focused (versus image generators) with early reading acquisition, math fact drilling, and handwriting practice.   Thus, schools created a scope and sequence that reflects the strengths and gifts of a left-brained dominant learner.

Because of the many generations toward this focus, our society has come to believe that this scope and sequence in favor of left-brained thinkers created for our schools is in actuality the Norm.  It appears that we as a people now believe that this is the Proper Order of Things in learning.  It is no longer a Preference; it is Truth in Learning.  However, this is False!  There is a preferred scope and sequence that favors the gifts of the left-brained learner, but there is another equally valid scope and sequence that favors the gifts of the right-brained learner.    This involves a difference in resources utilized and timeframes toward the development of the various subjects honored.

Unfortunately, because the majority of mankind has been schooled, our society has adopted left-brained thinking as the measuring stick of intelligence.  The current scope and sequence declares that reading, for example, can be accomplished through phonics by age 6-7 years old.  Parents clamber around this timeframe with baited breath in order to discover if their child is declared “smart”.  If you read before the expected age timeframe of 6-7 years old, you are “smart as a whip” or “gifted”.  If you come to reading at the expected time, you are “average”.  However, look out if you read after that timeframe!  You are either “lazy”, “not living up to your potential”, or “stupid”.   But, no one wants to think any of these things about their child, so schools came up with a great reason to excuse this difference in intellectual ability and performance:  learning disabilities.

Why is it that behind every learning disability label (ADD/HD, dyslexia, learning disabled, dysgraphia, twice exceptional, dyscalculia, etc.) is a right-brained learner?  Where are the left-brained learning disabled children?  Why is it that I have never heard that a school has said that the learning environment is not a good match?  Can the learning environment found in school be 100% successful?  Why is it that the child is always declared “broken”, but not the environment or the expected timeframes?

These are serious questions that need legitimate answers.  The good news is that these children are not learning disabled; they learn differently.  Right-brained children learn on a different timeframe that is healthy and advantageous to their gifts and strengths.  There would be little to no “dyslexia” if the path to reading for the right-brained child was honored.  That does not mean following the current left-brained scope and sequence, and just waiting a little longer.  It means it looks totally different.  The resources the right-brained child would learn to read with will be different from what you see in school.  The skill development focus the right-brained child would learn to read from will be different from what you see in school.  And the timeframe the right-brained child would learn to read by will be different from what you see in school.  If all of that is honored, you will have right-brained children coming to reading, and other various subjects (such as writing, spelling, arithmetic, handwriting, and more), in as joyful and painless a manner as their left-brained counterparts.

Currently, we “fix” right-brained learners.  We medicate their behaviors (i.e., ritalin for ADD), we remediate when they do not meet left-brained expectations (i.e. dyslexia programs), and we even “jump start” natural biological occurrences through exercises (i.e., vision tracking).   I find many things happen as a result of this type of treatment:  some self-medicate through alcohol or drugs to ease the pain of not being good enough, some decide they are “stupid” and take that into adulthood, some decide that they “just don’t care” and “do the minimal” so it can appear that they are choosing to not live up to the left-brained expectation, and some will get a “learning disability label” and use that as their “excuse” for avoiding things while believing this means they are deficient in some way.   Though most will become productive members of society, how many wounded spirits still exist?  How many glass ceilings were created within their own minds that limit what they have to offer the world?  Maria Montessori has said, “Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”  One important way to do this is to honor the path that naturally develops the strengths and gifts of the right-brained child.

•  Every person has strengths and weaknesses.  Strengths are meant to flourish in order to bless the world through us; weaknesses are meant to challenge us for our own personal learning and growing.

I just had an extended epiphany of my thinking on strengths and weaknesses by writing the above statement.  As humans, we like to belong and have value.  It is usually through our strengths that we recognize that we have something worthy to contribute to the human race (the belonging part).  As we share our gifts, we receive feelings of value from others as they appreciate what we have to offer.  Our gifts are also usually the source of pleasure.  We enjoy doing what we are good at.  It feeds our spirit as we discover more of what we are capable of as we explore our strengths to a deeper and more committed level.  Joy emanates from within as we unveil the full measure of our creation through our gifts and talents.  It is easier to allow our strengths to shine for the world to see and enjoy and benefit.

On the other hand, weaknesses and challenges are personal.  It touches our inner questions in understanding who we are, what is our purpose, and why we believe what we do.  It is the other half of experience in living life.  One is not bad and the other good; each provides information, learning, growth and understanding.  Strengths tend to emit outward; weakness gravitates inward.  I find when I have a challenge, I quietly seek out others who may have similar experiences.  This is a safe way for me to sort out what will be required of me in order to “get to the other side”.  Plus, by seeking out like-minded experiences, it “normalizes” the challenge and gives hope for living it.

I wrote a blog post here about how I view weaknesses through unschooling with my children.  I believe every person has weaknesses as it pertains to learning in some area.   I talked in my post that each child either had a subject that “they just weren’t that interested in”; therefore, it often didn’t come easily, OR they had a subject that “just didn’t come easily to them.”   These are weaknesses.  Each child needed to challenge themselves in order to improve in these areas, or learn a skill set enough to be able to do better.  My daughter’s lack of proficiency in math didn’t mean she was “disabled by math”.  She could learn enough to move forward with her gift in writing without it interfering.  She would not be choosing a career in math.  The same is true for my son and writing.  Over time, he was able to become proficient enough to not impede his progress with his talents in math and computers.

The strength/weakness paradigm in our unschooling learning environment supported the idea that these weaknesses would be viewed as such.  If my children had been in school, measured against the left-brained timeframe found there, there would have been labels.  At the time between 8-10 years old, my son, Eli, really could not figure out reading; he couldn’t hear vowels, he couldn’t decode phonetically, and he couldn’t even recognize similarities in symbols yet.  Yet, at 10 years old, everything came together and he became a reader painlessly.

Due to autism, what about Eli’s difficulty with language, thus, his inevitable struggle with spelling, writing, vocabulary, and comprehension?  We recognized the source of the challenge:  autism and language, but we did not then call it a disability.  A weakness in language will translate to a weakness in these areas of language subjects.  While continuing to honor the typical right-brained timeframe for the development of these subjects starting at 11-13 years of age, we simply took on the challenge of applying good skills and strategies in order to become proficient enough to not hinder his strengths.  This had nothing to do with the scope and sequence found at school.  It had to do with what he would actually need to know how to do in the strength-based career he had delineated as his goal.  We could adopt and modify a variety of tools and resources that would be most helpful on his learning journey.

Being blind is a challenge.  But developing other senses and skills minimizes the difficulty and may even create other areas of strength that could promote a new gift or talent unknown to the person originally.  If I had not had children with autism, I would never have known that I had a natural ability with structured behavioral interventions.  In fact, upon developing this gift, I was able to take other aspects of my strengths and experience and combine it to create something new.  For instance, I was implementing “errorless teaching” before it was “discovered” as well as relation-based motivation.

Having a memory difference is a challenge.  Maybe a child cannot for the life of him memorize his math facts with flashcards.  His memory will just not accommodate that goal using that strategy.  However, this same child is shown to have a musical inclination, and by creating math fact songs, he is able to reach his goal.  He has a different kind of memory that works for him.  At 10, Eli wanted to memorize some scripture verses at church, but was unable to through standard memorization strategies.  These same scripture verses were available through music and he was able to accomplish this goal.  At 14, Eli had another opportunity to memorize scriptures, and at that stage, he was able to use his strong visualization skills to memorize the verses in a seemingly more typical fashion.  Does he have a disability with his memory?  Apparently not.  But if he had been in school, would there have been labels to justify his lack of ability at the time?

It is only a disability if it is disabling.

When I received the first diagnosis of autism, I was knocked right off my feet.  The world stopped instantly in my mind.  My next reaction was “I’m going to fix this.”  With this resolve, those first couple months were a flurry of frenetic emotion.  I even experienced a week-long paralysis of moving forward due to creating my own debilitation due to guilt I heaped upon myself from everyone and nowhere as only a mother can do.  One day two months in, I received the shocking news that my dear friend and neighbor had tragically died in a car accident.  The world stopped again as I mourned deeply.  A 1-year-old girl was left in the world without a mother!  What was I thinking?  I still had my beautiful children.  The only thing that had changed about them was my perception.  My prayers changed that day from “help me fix this” to “let me help them reach their potential.”

I find it was my own insecurities that had me hanging onto the label “autism”.  I wrote about that time here.  The journey I traveled in releasing my need for that label took me to a deep and mindful place of self-discovery and self-disclosure, and that set me on a new level of confidence, peace, and mindful living.  I could then gift that to my children from the beginning.

Eli lives with autism.  He is not disabled by autism.  He is challenged by autism at times.  However, his view on himself is not through the label “autism”, but instead, he has always viewed his life through the lens of strengths and weaknesses/challenges.  He thrives and flourishes with his strengths.  He has chosen a career path based on these gifts.  He meets challenges head on.  He identifies what he is needing to accomplish and determines how he can best accomplish it.  As challenges arise to the goal, he figures out how to go around it, through it, under it, or simply switch gears.  If there are choices, there is life worth living joyfully.

Adam lives with autism.  He cannot live financially independently.  By all definitions, he is disabled.  However, from his perspective and cognitive understanding, he is not disabled.  He enjoys a full life that maximizes his abilities.  He is independent in determining his quality of life day-to-day.  I have learned enormous amounts of knowledge and growth through him.  His life has value.

Those with bipolar have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see bipolar as a challenge, not a disability.  Those with Asperger’s have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see Asperger’s as a challenge, not a disability.  Those who are deaf have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see deafness as a challenge, not a disability.  Those with muscular dystrophy have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see muscular dystrophy as a challenge, not a disability.  Aimee Mullins would agree with my perspective as she shares her story here.

All of this said, I understand that our society requires the label “disability” in order to obtain services or accommodations.  Adam will need to be declared “disabled” in order for us to get guardianship, or for him to receive some kind of monetary opportunity.  A person who figures out they live with bipolar may need to declare themselves “disabled”  during the worst part as they take the time to figure out a successful treatment plan.  Eli was required to have a “disability plan” in order to have “permission” to take another type of reading placement test at the community college.  I always say that I don’t talk about this topic “in a bubble”.  This means that although I recognize its existence, and accept that some people need “more” in order to function in the world, overall I view differences as just that, through a weakness/strength paradigm, and as people who can contribute to the world just the way they are.  I am careful to remember that in our quest to normalize, we may erase the very distinction that will evolve into greatness.  So, I remain ever mindful of my perspective and perception of different as I live my role of facilitator.

•  I view a child as a whole entity, with a preferred way to process information, with strengths and weaknesses unique to their creation, and a path individually created for their own growth and learning.

In order to support this premise, I:

•  support effective communication in any form (2-4 years);

•  encourage strengths, gifts, and talents as the foundation (5-10 years);

•  build emotional, social, sensorial, and behavioral needs (5-10 years);

•  mentor goal setting strategies (11-16 years);

•  collaborate holistic skill sets to increase weaknesses (11-19 years); and

•  counsel a balanced adult lifestyle (17-19 years).

In conclusion, I feel most school-inspired labels (at least 75%) would not exist at all if not measured against an inappropriate and inaccurate timeframe measuring stick as found in schools.  One cannot be deficient if the expectation is not there.  Because of premature and traumatic birth experiences prevalent in a technologically advanced society, chemically-altered and pollution-based changes in our environment, and traditional sickness-based incidents, there will be some children who have more challenges.   No matter the etiology, I prefer to view these challenges as personal opportunities to grow and learn through weakness.  It’s a personal journey each travels in reaching their own individually unique goals based on one’s strengths and gifts.  Finally, although disability certainly exists, I prefer to believe in the power of our divine natures and individual worth.  As Aimee Mullins stated, “You only need one person to show you the epiphany of your own life.”

Let’s Get Real About Socialization

How our homeschooled children present socially is always the first thing those who don’t homeschool bring up.  And we then defend the position with the activities our children are involved in and how many friends they have and how many parties they are invited to.  I have even heard people mention that they can tell if a person has been homeschooled, both from homeschoolers meant in a positive way, and from public schoolers meant in a negative way.

So, let’s get real.  When I chose to homeschool my children, let alone unschool them, I assured the idea that they would be considered “different”.  Choosing to unschool sets ME apart as “different”.  Why wouldn’t it set my children apart as being “different”?  And wasn’t that the point?  Different means not the norm.  The norm is the socialization received by those attending mass institutions of learning, in any shape or form.  I was reminded again of what that socialization looks like when my two younger boys insisted upon attending a YMCA day camp for the summer.  Last year they went every other week; this year they went every week for the entire summer.  The dynamics among the children is the same thing you will see in the public schools, charter schools, and private schools.  And my children don’t fit in well.  Let me explain.

Large groups of children are managed by staff.  In fact, when it is free play, they reduce staff ratio because their intent is to “keep them safe” and “let them go”, not to support or help with social skill development.  It’s to give the adults a break as well.  You will see this at any recess time or lunch time in any school.  So, all these children get together with no role models on how to treat each other.  At the beginning of the day camp in June, the staff were eager and engaged themselves with the children.  The children didn’t know each other yet, the counselors, or their boundaries, so they all were fairly cooperative with one another and especially worked together when an adult was involved and giving gentle reminders of positive social conduct.  By the second half of camp, significant disintegration in all realms occur.  Because the counselors are not really trained in being social supports and mentors, and as the children become familiar with each other and the boundaries that can be crossed with each counselor are known, the negative behaviors of the children increase and the apathy of the adults are palpable.  Children know whose buttons are easily pushed and there will be a segment of children who enjoy pushing them and then denying their role in it; the children have established a pecking order and those at the top do as they please without regard to others; groups of children pack together to create strength against any assault; grabbing and pushing are commonplace because no structure or expectation of common courtesy are established or modeled; fighting and name calling result when a child has no recourse when changes of circumstance occur outside of their repertoire of knowledge (this is known as repair skills).  These are the things I witnessed off the top of my head as I would try to support my children the first hour of free play by modeling and sharing good social information based on the dynamic of environment for which they were a part.  As for the counselors, the first few weeks there was high energy, excitement, a desire to join in the play and enjoy the children, and consistent positive interactions.  By mid-season, I literally see counselors with blank faces, many leaning against the trees staring off in space or simply hugging on the child that will approach them and want attention, and little commitment to intervening on obvious difficult circumstances escalating nearby.

As a homeschooler, I am as much a part of the social learning environment for my children as a model and mentor as I am in the academic learning environment.  This holds true for the emotional learning environment or the familial learning environment.  I recognize as a homeschooling parent that there are many facets of learning that my child is picking up every minute of every day, and I am privileged to walk the journey alongside them.  I want to share as much information as possible to help them find their place in our society that works for them.  So, what this means is that I believe in adult mentoring as one of the foundations of our learning environment.  That said, even though the boys are in a group setting where no parent stays to watch or observe, I stay that first hour as an opportunity to share my observations with my boys.  However, that is not enough to counter the dynamic of an unprincipled social environment of little people with no skills, experience, or power.

Joseph, my 8 year old, has done well the first half of the season, both last year and this year.  But, likewise, starting midway through the season, he is constantly fighting, disrespecting counselors, and having a negative outlook on everything around him.  As I observe him, and assess the situation based on Joseph’s perspective, I find several factors in play.  I believe the most important difference is that he has been respected in his life and knows he has a lot of choice.  As an unschooler, I just don’t know how to change that dynamic I give my child although he enters an environment full of people without most of those points of view.  So, when the children treat him as they do everyone else in that circumstance, Joseph is easily offended and feels disrespected, whether by the children or how the counselors are taught to be punitive against children who do not conform.  So, with a lack of social skill at this stage, and after it weighing on him over a half summer, Joseph resorts to his base reaction of fight or flight; his being fight.  These mass institutions of childhood group management use punitive measures to keep children in compliance.  I notice Joseph’s self respect is not for sale and no level of punishment they can dole out is worth trading it in.  So, I come to a standstill.  Unless I attend with him, or send someone with him that I have shared my philosophies with (William, 10, did have someone attend with him, so he has been successful), he cannot succeed in that environment.  But, not because he is unsocialized; but because he is socialized toward an adult society.

This is what I mean about getting real about socialization.  Our children ARE different socially than those who are socialized in an unmentored, unguided mass institutionalized group setting of children.  And I’m not dissing those children in these environments.  They do the best they can with the circumstances in which they find themselves.  It is human nature to do what they do.  I always say that if I sent my children to school, then I would do as the Romans do.  You can help your child find the best fit in the setting to which they are placed, but they will not change the setting and dynamic it creates.  Thus, when I tried school a time or two for certain reasons and circumstances, it didn’t last long because truly I am incapable of understanding how to be a parent that supports the impacts of that environment on my children.  I actually don’t know how to do it.  My entire perspective would have to change, and I don’t think I can delete what I believe about my role in the life of my children.

This is what people are referring to when they say they can tell when a person has been homeschooled, particularly when they are still of mass institutional age.  My only daughter, Abbey, 20, is finishing up her first semester at BYU.  The first few weeks were interesting socially as she was constantly being corrected by her roommate with the words “people just don’t SAY that”.  My daughter is extremely comfortable with who she is and she quickly realized that what her roommate was trying to say is that Abbey doesn’t know the typical way of speaking among her peers who have been schooled socially.  She speaks like an adult would.  She and her roommate had some conversations about the corrections, and it stopped.  However, upon reflection, my daugher realized that her autonomous lifestyle lived and learned as an unschooler was not necessarily helping her develop friendships in the way her peers were used to creating them, and if she wanted to be part of some of that, she needed to shift a little as well.  The biggest thing she adjusted was making herself available in joining their group in all they did (school think is always stick together in everything), versus deciding what she wanted to involve herself in (unschooling think is decide what interests you and join in as you would like and it doesn’t offend anyone).  After making that one simple change, while maintaining her “nobody talks that way” perspective (because she likes that about herself), she was fully accepted into the group.  After accomplishing that, she decided two things:  one is that the friendship structure it creates is somewhat shallow, but the other is that it creates opportunity to serve others in various ways and learning of others’ perspectives.  And, she really likes the individual girls, and understands and has decided to conform to the way they know how to be together.  At the same time, she realized how much she will enjoy our continued familial relationship because she quite literally can talk about anything with me, in a deep way, and work out the way she wants to be for herself.  She also has learned to value her journaling as she can process all that she is learning and choosing to adjust with as she embraces all that college life offers.

So, let’s be real about socialization.  There is a noticeable difference between those who are public/private/charter schooled and those who are home/unschooled.  I am a realist, but with that comes non-judgment.  I know plenty of young people who have been mass schooled, and they have value.  I know young people, especially my own, who have been home/unschooled, and they have value.  It’s apples and oranges people.  It’s a choice each of us makes.  I quite literally cannot do the school thing socially, academically, or otherwise.  Others can and believe in it.  Others cannot fathom the home/unschooling thing.  It fits us perfectly, and my children wanting to continue the tradition with their own children is testimony enough to their own experience.

Different makes us interesting!

Auditory Processing

I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of “auditory processing disorder” and/or “central auditory processing disorder” and how it relates to the right-brained learner.  It appears that at least half the people I meet with right-brained learners think their child also has an auditory processing issue.  So, as always, I’ve been filtering that thought through all the good information I share about the perspective shift on right-brained learning.

Mass institutions of learning generally teach in a left-brained fashion using a left-brained scope and sequence.  The right brained learner has their own preferred scope and sequence, but it is not well known what that looks like.  In fact, sometimes I think people are completely unaware that right-brained learners would naturaly have their own scope and sequence.  Thus, it is one of my missions in life to share what that scope and sequence looks like, so it can be valued, let alone even recognized.

That said, some people choose to categorize a left-brained learner as “auditory-sequential” and a right-brained learner as “visual-spatial”, based on those attributes being prevalent in the respective learning styles.  I don’t like that differentiation because it assumes right-brained people cannot be auditory learners or left-brained people can’t be visual learners.  I think these are input modalities:  some do well with auditory input, and others do well with visual input.  I have six right-brained children and 1 right-brained husband.  Four of them do well with auditory input (Weston, Eric, Alex, and Joseph).  Three of them do quite poorly (Eli, Adam, and William).  It seems they either do very, very well, or very, very poorly as it pertains to auditory input.

So, does that mean my children who do poorly with auditory input mean they have “auditory processing disorder”?  It is true that they can barely process any auditory information effectively . . . or do they?  I started looking closely, especially as I noticed a few things with myself.  I am a strong left-brained learner.  My daughter is more whole-brained, but learns in a left-brained manner, and mainly uses her visual skills for creating her fantasy novels.  I have noticed lately, when my builder right-brained son, Eli (who doesn’t prefer the auditory input modality), has read things aloud to me from his computer, wanting to ask me a question, I cannot for the life of me process that auditory information without having to get up and go look at the words.  My daughter has mentioned that she cannot concentrate on talks at church without doodling or taking notes (a common way for a right-brained learner to attune to left-brained or non-creative tasks).

So, I started thinking about how schools are set up.  They are lecture based with note taking.  This would go along the lines of how a left-brained person could process auditory information effectively.  If they can write or see words (many times, notes were put on the board or on overheads or in outlines as the lecture was given) as they receive the auditory input, they are able to effectively and efficiently process that information.  Because a right-brained person’s natural gift is not in words, many times those who do not prefer auditory input cannnot take notes and listen at the same time.  However, Eli, who also is a natural at math, he can easily follow a lecture in his math class because the instructor inevitably is working out math problems as she explains.  Thus, a visual that makes sense to my son is hooked to the auditory in order that it makes sense to him and can process it effectively.  If Eli goes to a class at church where the teacher brings in picture visuals and hands-on activities, he processes the auditory information fine.  If they do not, he struggles to pay attention and process the auditory input.

In our instructional world, we tend to use three of our five senses extensively:  auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (touch).  Smell and taste certainly come into play in such professions as cooking and general environmental assessments.  Therefore, I challenge the idea that there are “glitches” in some right-brained learners who do not prefer to process input auditorially.  Eli prefers to process visually and kinesthetically.  That is 2 of the 3.  He can do that third one when paired with one of the other two.  I realize I may be similar.  I need words involved in order to process auditory information, but because our society is set up to favor the left-brained processing structure, I do not need to figure out creative ways to accomplish the ability to process auditory information.

Eli is working out creative ways to accomplish the need to process information auditorially while in college by finding other sources to accomplish the same thing utilizing another of his input modalities.  Taking on-line classes is a great option for him in lecture based classes.  Because auditory input and words go hand in hand, he can take his time reading and processing the information at a pace that works for him.  Yes, he has the option of getting a disability plan in order to tape record his lecture classes, but why?  Eli subconsciously resents the idea that he needs to have a “disability plan” when he feels he is quite capable of learning the information if it is presented in a way that works for him.  So, isn’t the learning environment “disabled”?  It works for certain people, but not for others; yet, if it were structured differently, bringing in all the three input modalities, I think there would be less problems involved with most people.  Eli received a high A for his online class for Psychology quite easily.  And he really enjoyed the material and talked about what he was learning all the time.

The last thought pertains to processing auditory input from a conversation or if a friend or such is explaining something to you.  Then, there is often no visual or kinesthetic hook to the auditory.  I asked Eli how he processes our conversations.  We have had discussions about the idea that looking at someone tells them you are paying attention.  A young person, who attended public school worked for me this summer shadowing my son, William, at a day camp.  It was apparent the first time I gave this young man instructions that he had “ADD” as he would not look at me when I spoke, and would not remember half of what I said to him.  I asked Eli if it would be easier to not look at me when I spoke in order to process the auditory input more easily.  He said it wouldn’t because if he looked off, he might become visually distracted by something and that is when his ears would shut down.  I noticed that exact thing happening to this young man who worked for me.  I told the young man he needed to come up with some strategies to help him, but he has no tools to pull from, and he has just graduated high school with high grades!  After bumping into his mother, she has been concerned that he has relied upon the medication to learn, and after doing a few “placebo experiments” with her son, she has found that he is reliant upon it.

I am grateful for the homeschooling environment.  While young, I could center Eli’s learning around his strengths and his preferred input modalities in order to create a strengths based, gift centered learning environment.  Once he hit around 11-12 years old, his brain shifted once again (as most people do) in order to start taking in more abstract information, which includes having a greater awareness of what is working and not working in one’s life, and being willing and able to partner with a more knowledgeable person in order to create tools and strategies to improve weaknesses as they negatively impact strengths.  (In other words, the improvements or skill development made sense as it related to what he needed to work for him in what areas.)  For conversations, if it is a topic of high interest and background knowledge he already has accumulated, he can hook the auditory conversation to the ready visuals in his mind.  If it is entirely new information being discussed, he has found looking at the person creates the ability for him to concentrate on what is being said.  In real life, I don’t foresee this being a constant need, as the area of work he will go into will be one based on his strengths.  The friends he associates with will be those who have commonalities.

I am more than pleased at how Eli is finding his place in our society, whether it is based on his strengths or his weaknesses.  We live at a time there are many options, and he’s not afraid to take them.  He doesn’t see it as a deficit that he chooses another alternative, but as a smart choice that allows him to enjoy the experience because it is based on areas of strength for him.  In other words, he knows how he learns, and he’s not afraid to use it 🙂

Life Without School Post and Comments

I have received a few “blistering” comments on a few of my Life Without School blog posts over the past month.  Usually, when someone comments in a highly negative and generalized manner, it can be best to leave it be.  This was true of one of the comments when I followed the link to his blog that was all about taking various topics and “tearing it up”.  So, it wasn’t worth responding.

Sometimes, even though a negative comment seems to be filled with common misconceptions and generalizations, it is worth considering a response because of the commonality of the generalizations.  This was true of this comment.  And so, I decided to take my time and write out a response to all those people out there who may hold the same perceptions without taking the time to understand the topic.  That response is my Life Without School post called The Myth of Credentialism.

And, sometimes, I respond to a comment expecting absolutely no resolution, but I decide to make at least one well thought out comment in return, with maybe a follow-up to anything that is said in response, and you get totally surprised, like in this short exchange.  (Find the comment from “I Put In The Legwork” near the bottom, and my response that follows, and the follow up remark that concludes.)  What this exchange showed was that the person had been legitimate in the comment created and was really wanting to understand why it looked the way it did to them.  Since it was a recent comment made to a post that was significantly older, a search of “unschooling college” must have found the commenter at my post.

Anyway, negative comments are always interesting.  Sometimes it can be used as fodder to help clarify; sometimes it’s just best to leave it lie, and still other times, surprise resolution may occur.  Blogging is such fun!

A President of Color

I tried to get William (9) and Joseph (8) to pay attention to the inauguration of Barak Obama on Tuesday.  They just couldn’t be bothered with a man, even if he is brown, that just sits and talks.  Finally, I thought I saw my “in”.  As Barak and Michelle were walking down the street in front of their limo, I remembered all the secret service “policemen” all around them.  So, I called the boys over again, and pointed them out and explained their role.  I let them know that the president of the United States always has secret service policemen.  Now, that got their attention.  What surprised me, though, is that instead of William, my most prolific pretender between the two, pretending to be the secret service, he became “William the President” and hired Joseph as his secret service.  Ah, ha!  He liked the power to hire instead of the act of protecting . . . LOL!  So, William went and got his Sunday best on, grabbed a chair to put on another chair as a podium in which to give his speech (he was paying attention!), and Joseph is in his army outfit, and hippo is holding the arsenal:

This said, I can’t help but talk about the topic that Barak Obama is a president of color, not a “black man” as president.  It’s funny, because I absolutely know what is going on because of my own two boys.  It doesn’t matter what nationality you really are.  What matters is the color of your skin, just like Martin Luther King, Jr., points out.  It really hasn’t changed in many regards.  So, Barak Obama is half African and half caucasian American.  But, his skin is brown, so he will be treated as a black man.  William and Joseph are also biracial.  Their mother is caucasian and their father is African-American.  But, it doesn’t matter because their skin is brown; therefore, they will be treated as “black men”.  And I knew this.  And it is true.

Tiger Woods took it upon himself in the beginning to continuously bring up the fact that he is only one-quarter African-American.  His father is biracial that includes African American (50 percent), Chinese  (25 percent) and Native American  (25 percent) ancestry. His mother, originally from Thailand, is also biracial that includes Thai (50 percent), Chinese (25 percent), and Dutch (25 percent) ancestry. This makes Tiger Woods himself one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch.  But, probably much to his dismay, our society doesn’t accept it.  Because he has brown skin, he will be treated as a “black man”.

I personally think it’s more wonderful that Barak Obama is biracial.  Biracial people have a rough time of it beyond the scope of the typical African-American, because they tend not to be accepted by any people.  The white people don’t accept them because of the color of their skin, and the black people don’t accept them because they are “not black enough.”  That is, of course, until they become president of the United States.  Or a super star golf player.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying any of this in a disgruntled way at all.  I’m a realist by nature and I just see things as they are, no judgment attached.  Barak Obama becomes even more of a role model for my boys because he is biracial.  He is a role model to all people of color, in my opinion, not just African-Americans.  And certainly I believe Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, original message that people of color be judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin won out in this election year.  I think most people voted based on character and political agenda, not race or color.  America truly has grown up.

Acquisition

I originally had this post titled Possessions, but I changed it to Acquisition, because I think Possessions is another category I would like to post about a bit later.  Sara and JoVe set the scene with their thoughts from their blog posts:

Sara shares a quote near the beginning of her post on this subject:

From The Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben:

Since we live with relative abandon year-round, it’s no wonder that the abandon of Christmas doesn’t excite us as much as it did a medieval serf.  We are – in nearly every sense of the word – stuffed.  Saturated.  Trying to cram in a little more on December 25 seems kind of pointless.

JoVe replied in her post Christmas blahs:

Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better myself. It seems pointless. If we need anything, we go and buy it.  And we end up with a pretty loose definition of need.

And if Tigger needs new pyjamas or coloured penciles or sketchbooks, why should she wait another 6 weeks for them just because they would make good presents? The definition of need tightens up considerably at this time of year. Pyjamas she has already because her others were too small.

I’ve mentioned before on-line that I consciously chose in the beginning of my homeschooling journey to try to raise my children “the old-fashioned way”.  This stems a lot from my own childhood (funny how much what we do can often lead back to our early shaping).  We didn’t have much growing up, but what I had I treasured.  I wanted my children to have that same appreciation, and I knew that too much acquisition would hinder that.

It came more easily to do this because we started our family very young (my first was born when I was 21) while we were in university (I supported my hubby through six years to complete his undergraduate degree that included a two-year “live-and-learn” stint).  We had our first three children during his university years while I either provided daycare to children in my home, worked an evening job at a law firm, and/or my hubby did part-time work on campus to make ends meet.  Our goal was to raise our own children giving value to our time to our children as our greatest gift and sacrifice on their behalf.  Being able to afford “things” didn’t come often.  I found that the gifts for birthdays and Christmases were the main source of gift-giving times at that time, so our saturation level, as mentioned in the posts I referenced, wasn’t an issue.

Once we left university and my hubby began his first degree-earned job, I came home and student loans came due, and money was still tight.  Another child was added and simple family togetherness was our center-point.  I remember taking family walks around our neighborhood and walking a couple blocks down to the small town outdoor ice cream shop.  Getting the ice cream cone with the candy faces put on them was the only expense put out to enhance our excursions and build memories.  Friendships were another acquisition sought after during this time period.

For my three oldest, this type of viewpoint was their foundation.  Only my oldest would have consistent figures bought for him (about $3-5) at the time that seemed to be important to him in a “collection” sense.  (I have since found out through the book “A Mind at a Time”, by Mel Levine, that some people have a stronger sense of “insatiability” to objects that can be best supported through collections; my instincts seemed to prove well for him!)  I helped this child know how to hold off on “needing” something through financial self-limitations and the greater understanding of common sensibilities toward balanced acquisition.  For the most part, birthdays and Christmases were the gift giving times.

The exception was the purchases for personal growth items such as the colored pencils and sketchbooks JoVe referred to in her post.  Though finances still kept this in reasonable check, books and paper and craft items were consistently found in our home.  We still were frugal on how these were acquired, however.  My hubby was able to often supply us with paper from the used printer paper from his work that was to be discarded (do you remember the continuous feed paper with hole punched sides?)  Boy, do I remember those boxes of paper my children would go through, and use easily to create books!  We would save everything from cereal boxes to paper tubes to egg cartons to use to build things.  So, imagination and creativity were also a center of our acquisition perspective.

Things shifted when we discovered that three of our children were struggling on the autism spectrum in 1996.  Interestingly, acquisition was not on the radar of these children.  Once I did my research on how to help each of these children develop to their full potential, exposure to all the things they didn’t notice became high on the list in helping them engage in the world around them.  Because objects were the safest things for the younger of the boys to trust, heavy doses of acquisition of things began in order to help them develop the breadth of knowledge of the world of objects.  Instead of creating saturation, for my boys with autism, each purchase was a step on their path of understanding.

So, the first three children were raised with carefully chosen and treasured objects of interest that enhanced the development of their gifts and passions.  The next two children were raised to recognize the value of how objects can be used to develop their gifts and passions.  And then we adopted in two young children into a houseful of prized and respected interest items as well as buckets of various developmental toy objects.  They neither understood how each object was purposefully chosen over time to find their place in the home, nor were they part of the developmental choices of adding each object.  On the other hand, they had their own issues to work through.

As many foster children experience, the older of the two was quite “lost” with the transition of his former home of need into this new home of abundance.  He didn’t have any developmental understanding of playing with toys nor the framework of possessing them.  Destruction of items is common in the early stages of fostering children.  He needed to have all objects removed from his use and recreate the acquisition process in order for him to know how to use and possess each thing.  It was quite an interesting phenomenon.  On the other hand, because he often would receive whole collections of common objects, saturation still often occurred to overwhelm his ability to understand how to possess in a healthy way.  It’s been a process.  All in all, we try to keep acquisition of things to the special occasions in order to help prevent oversaturation as a common theme throughout the year.

In today’s world of abundance, I think it takes a conscious, mindful choice on the part of parents to observe and utilize our instincts to determine what is most useful for each individual child in our care in developing a healthy emotional relationship with the world of objects and acquisition.  Most important is how we help them take ownership by empowering them with their own personal understanding of these things in their own lives as they make their own choices.

Descriptions versus Labels

I wrote a post about how my 13-year-old son living with autism identifies himself as “autistic”.  He likes being autistic.  I both love that he feels this way, and at the same time, have some uncomfortableness with it.  This post is sorting through why I feel unsure of his label of “autistic.”

I think what surprises me the most is that none of my children until Alex has identified with a “label” before. They don’t call themselves homeschoolers or unschoolers; they are homeschooling or living life, in their perspective.

They are not right-brained learners or creative learners or visual learners; they simply “like Legos” or drawing or ceiling fans or trucks.

They are not autistic or ADD or dyslexic; they simply can identify their strengths and weaknesses.

So, to have a child identify with a label, “autistic”, is different.  I think I have steered away from “labels” because they are confining.  Someone said, “Once you define it; it can confine you.”  I talked about that here before.

Labels carry societal connotations.  Most “disability labels” carry a negative, needy, or “less than” perspective with it.  I will listen to people who work hard at helping their child with dyslexia, for example, take pride in it.  The problem with that is two-fold for me.  First of all, anyone who hears a label brings their own life experiences, beliefs and perspectives as they process the label and subsequently categorize it.  Our brains are meant to categorize based on these criteria.  Naturally, I know new connotations cannot develop without steps from those living it in creating the new reality.  However, that leads to the second problem:  Some labels are not as they seem.  Taking the dyslexia label, I believe this “difficulty” was created by our inaccurate perception of the needs of these learners.  There would be little to no “dyslexia” if we pursued the education of the right-brained learner in a way that works best for them.  So, the label “dyslexia” or “autism” is only as accurate as we understand today.  That’s limiting, in my opinion.

That leads to why I chose a particular path in raising my children.  It was always important to me to have my children view themselves holistically, which more means to recognize their natural states of progression than to define the whole in a finished (and thus limited) way.  By using DESCRIPTIVES versus LABELS, it simply identifies a small part of knowledge gleaned from where we currently are on our journey already traveled while recognizing there is information yet to be gathered from the journey still to be traveled.  Thus, DESCRIPTIVES are dynamic . . . changing as the person does.  DESCRIPTIVES also tend to have positive connotations because they often describe character traits:  persistent, creative, flexible, compassionate, hard-working, goal-driven, spontaneous, etc.

On the flip side, when DESCRIPTIVES are used to explain weak areas, it tends to carry the idea that one knows themselves and it shares preferences.  Also, there is an opposite positive description.  I prefer hands-on and visual information to auditory.  I work best alone than in groups.  I find that I can work in a noisy environment if I use my iPod.

LABELS seem to paint large strokes that may not always be accurate.   With the word “autistic”, there is a continuum of possibilities to what that means.  I believe each of my five birth children have fallen somewhere on the spectrum of autism; but they are SO different from one another!  One word cannot begin to describe each person’s individuality.  So, by using that label, how does it help someone know you better?  A young woman at our church first introduced herself to the single young adults as “having Asperger’s.”  My daughter has befriended her not because of Asperger’s, but because she could tell she wanted a friend.  As their friendship has tried to blossom, the label “Asperger’s” keeps interfering.  “I want a job, but I have Asperger’s.”  “It’s hard living with Asperger’s.”  Abbey tries to ask her questions about her interests and such, but it seems to keep going back to Asperger’s.  Is this being comforable with Asperger’s, or is this being confined by it?

I love that Alex embraces his autistic traits.  He loves that he engages in his interests to a deeper level than most and a longer timeframe.  But, he could love his passion, his meticulous curiosity, and his love of learning that is more descriptive to what he loves than being “autistic” does.  Now, I am a person of balance.  I recognize the benefit of labels for ease of identification of likenesses.  I use the word unschooling, autism, right-brained learner, as some identifiers to meet others who will enjoy conversations, interactions, and sharing discoveries in a similar vein as myself.  Feeling good about oneself and all the parts that make up myself as I understand it today is important, including living with autism.  I don’t tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater in these instances.  I recognize what is good about Alex’s self identification because it is his life experiences and perspective that led to it.  I also embrace my perspective toward descriptions as my preferred mode of identification and can continue to utilize that genre even as each child chooses their own model of self-identification.  It’s all good in its own way.

Don’t Get Me Started . . .

A great site called Free Range Kids helps me feel right at home in how I think about raising my children. I found this link at The Learning Umbrella from her post called Do Your Children Get Enough Danger.

Here is a quote from the site:

Another mom castigated me for my irresponsibility and proudly said that she doesn’t even let her daughter go to the mailbox in her upscale Atlanta neighborhood. There’s just too much “opportunity” for the girl to be snatched and killed. To her, I’m the crazy mom.

I just moved from a neighborhood like the one described here in Atlanta. Here’s a general picture of it with its nicely manicured lawns and matching Bartlett pear trees and white mailboxes. (Funny story: When we first moved in, we were “required” to purchase the matching mailbox signage at the price of $75. I refused for several months because of the overpriced conformity. They didn’t know what to do with me. Good thing I didn’t require the whole mailbox; that would have been $300!)

Anyway, a few months prior to us finding the perfect country home to move to, we were officially complained against by an anonymous neighbor. The charges:

She lets her children go barefoot; sometimes even in the winter. Guilty.

She lets her children climb dangerous things. Guilty.

She lets her children ride their bikes in the road. Guilty.

She lets her children near the pond. Guilty.

She lets her autistic children near the road. Guilty.

It’s crazy it even had to be investigated. My sin? Not being a “helicopter mother”, hovering over her children at all times, like everyone else does in the neighborhood.

The dangerous things referred to were maybe our tall front tree, but probably the idea that we let them climb into any construction equipment that is nearby under our supervision. We feel it is better to let them do these things with us then sneak and do them without us.

Tractor boys:

Sometimes, they get lucky:

Taking the controls:

Going up:

Job Complete:

Woohoo!   Teddy and all 🙂

The road they ride their bikes on and that my children with autism (yep, I don’t keep them caged!) are near is a cul-de-sac in front of our house. When I discussed this with one neighbor, she felt that I should always be watching them. I do keep tabs out the window, but it wasn’t good enough from her perspective. Of course, she admitted to not knowing how to parent seven children . . . ah, yeah.

Needless to say, moving to 15 acres in the country has been a freeing experience for all of us! No more neighbors deciding what is right for my children (considering none of the things listed above was illegal), and letting my boys grow up free range. I don’t want fear to dictate their childhoods. Here’s a picture of what our view is out our front door:

To take people back to when I first made a conscientious decision about raising my children free range, as I was raised, I share these quotes from the above site:

Not that facts make any difference. Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.

I noticed this especially when we moved to the neighborhood I referenced above eight years ago. There was such fear and for a moment, I was going to get sucked into it. I remember when the actual decision came for me to make. My only daughter came to me and let me know that she was going to take her dog and explore in the woods across the neighborhood, and she would be back. She wasn’t asking, but letting me know because it never occurred to her that it wouldn’t be okay. But I hesitated and asked her to hold on a minute. She had justed turned 11 years old.

Fear told me to say no, but as I have been known to do throughout my parenting and unschooling life, I questioned that reaction. And, it was a reaction. I recalled my carefree days as a child. I knew I had equipped my children with intelligent wariness, but not fear. Was there a middle ground with this? So, I decided right then and there that I wanted my children to have fun and adventurous childhoods, without fear, but equipped with awareness. I asked her for two things: One was to always let me know where she would be and about when she would be home. The other was to be aware of any non-resident people (there were a lot of houses being built with many construction vehicles and other personnel all the time) being aware of her comings and goings and simply take another route into the woods if she saw this type of “stranger”.

She did this exploring for several years without incident, without fear, but with awareness. She has EXTREMELY fond memories of that time insomuch that when we were going to leave the area, she documented the area she called “Mye Creek”.

Now, we have 15 acres, 10 in woods, creeks, critters, etc. that beckon my two youngest. Do I limit them, or equip them with awareness and enjoy their adventures related each day? I say the latter. I ask that they stay within calling distance, but if they want to venture further out, to take walkie talkies, leaving one with me. Admittedly, these two are still learning, and they tend to act in the moment and disappear for an hour or two at a time. But, if we can’t enjoy our own chosen “relatively safe” property, then where can we?

I end with this quote:

They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.

I understand there are always risks, but they are calculated. I won’t raise my children in fear. I chose the educational method I use because I wanted to continue the trust and respect we enjoy as a family, and I raise my children in the same vein; because I DO have confidence in our ability to collaborate in learning what is needed to get by in this world.

Oh, oh, driving cars may have to go on the sin roll . . . LOL!:

Where have all the children gone?

Warning: An opinion post 🙂 Also, I can’t get my formatting to work the way I want . . . drat. Everything stays double spaced when I hit Enter and I can’t even get it to Tab so that you can see the spacing. Help! Anyway, here it goes:

I got to thinking about play and children and how it is lost on today’s and yesterday’s generation, and how I wonder if it will be obsolete before too long unless we parents open our eyes. It seems to me that so many parents raising their children are under the impression that they have to get the first leg up for their children, even putting their in utero babies on waiting lists for “the best preschools/schools”. I drive neighborhoods and wonder, “where are the children?”

In fact, I left a neighborhood, admittedly filled with those over-achiever types, as it was a well-to-do clientele. Our neighbors said to me, “You’re not like us . . .” No, we’re not. Our seven children actually played outside everyday. Where are the other children? Only allowed outside under close supervision, even at 11 years old! We were told that we were close to abusive because we allowed our children to . . . go barefoot . . . gasp! Sometimes . . . even in the winter (NC is a wonderful state that way!) . . . gasp! What I say is . . . sigh.

So, as I pondered this, the words, “Where have all the flowers gone?” came to mind, so I looked up the lyrics of that popular 60s song about war. And, I quickly coined these words to match my melancholy mood about the state of affairs with play and children:

Where have all the children gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the children gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the children gone?

Closed in behind four walls, every one.

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the babies gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the babies gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the babies gone?

Put in daycares by working parents, every one.

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the toddlers gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the toddlers gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the toddlers gone?

In circle time at preschool, every one.

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the young ones gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the young ones gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the young ones gone?

Sorted and labeled inside the box, every one.

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the pre-adolescence gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the pre-adolescence gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the pre-adolescence gone?

Signed up for programs and activities, every one.

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the teenagers gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the teenagers gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the teenagers gone?

Gangs or cliches or drugs to find acceptance, every one

Accepting their fate and awaiting their time, every one.

(Which one do you like?)

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Where have all the children gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the children gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the children gone?

Turned into parents who continue the cycle, every one.

Without play . . .

Without freedom . . .

Inside the box . . .

Where’s the hope for a brighter tomorrow . . . without play . . . without childhood?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

Oh, when will you ever learn?

This all began when I put away the rubber boots I bought for my two young ones. So much adventure in so little time! Firefighters, park rangers, police officers, splashing in the creek (yep, in the winter), no socks, and here I captured them collecting some dirt to fill a hole:


What is homeschooling: A Comparitive Between Past and Present

I’ve been musing about this question since coming on-line to the homeschooling world three years ago after being content with the “in real life” experiences I had always enjoyed. The on-line world of home/unschooling was SO different than my real life experiences. I also saw a considerable shift in the past ten years in real life as well. I’m on a couple e-mail lists that are involved with a similar discussion: politics and homeschooling . . . where are we going?

I’ve not been heavily involved in the politics of homeschooling, but always very interested and supportive in my place to continue the freedoms we all enjoy. I have often been closely associated with those home/unschooler’s whose passion and purpose it was to be a “thumb on the pulse of homeschooling politics”. My particular passion and purpose has leaned toward supporting home/unschoolers in understanding the learning process, learning styles, timeframes, and the such. But, it seems that I’m at a place that I could take another step toward understanding and supporting those who are concerned about protecting our freedoms in homeschooling, both now and for the future.

So, I got to thinking about what has changed in homeschooling since I began, and how does that fit into the legislative and political history of homeschooling, and can it give insights as to where we are now, and where we are meant to go in furthering the cause of freedom for homeschooling. But, first, what is homeschooling to me? I chose homeschooling as an option to not be connected to the auspices of public institution . . . at all. I chose homeschooling as an option that granted me the autonomy to discover what “education” was for me and my family and each individual child. I chose homeschooling as the path that granted me freedom to make our own choices on a path less traveled. I chose homeschooling because of the myriad of resources that I would be able to utilize that was available in the greater world. I chose homeschooling to open up possibilities for more . . . more than the stilted environment, programs, dynamics, and watered-down, systematic spoon-feeding that existed in government institutions. I had very proactive reasons for choosing homeschooling for our lifestyle of learning.

The first five years of home/unschooling obviously became my measuring stick of what I thought homeschooling was not just to me, but for many others. I felt a great cameraderie of working together and sharing resources and gifts with one another as we respected each of our differences that simply added fodder for great homeschooling discussions. The past ten years, I’ve felt as if I have been floating in a time warp, continually looking for what I once had, but thinking it was simply my location, or my family logistics, which it might be, but now wondering if it is more than that. Several experiences have been accumulating that have served as a catalyst for my inner activist to emerge with some definitive thoughts and ideas. I am now beginning to see the connection to what I had, and what I am seeing. I share two differences that actually point to one main element: how we view autonomy and resources. It’s the difference between getting to choose who takes care of you versus wanting to take care of yourself. It’s the difference between believing in the system but wanting more choices versus not believing in the system and wanting to carve out another way.

Choosing Who Takes Care of You vs. Wanting to Take Care of Yourself
The first difference that really had impressed me when I first became part of it was the consensual process involved in the inclusive support groups to which I became a part. There really was no leader! How amazing! Oh, there was someone called a “coordinator”, but that wasn’t about making decisions for the group, but simply, well, coordinating everyone and what they wanted and how they would contribute. There was also another important job: the newsletter person. They simply took in everyone’s offerings and needs and assembled them into a monthly newsletter from which we could all draw as resources for our own individual home/unschooling lives. During our monthly meetings, there was certainly a main focus of encouraging everyone to contribute in some way in providing a resource that could be offered to others. As is usual in our human society, it still often fell on the 20% to manage 80% of what happened, but such it was, and camaraderie prevailed as friendships and respectful interactions were the norm. This seemed to be the modus operandi of the three support groups to which I affiliated in three states the first 5 years.

In 1998, we moved to central Pennsylvania, and then in 2000, we moved to North Carolina. I was to discover a very different mode of operation, particularly prevalent in North Carolina as I had been minimally involved in support groups in central Pennsylvania for personal family reasons that needed more of my attention. There were leaders in these supports groups, even boards! Wow, how organized, was my initial reaction. Another thought was that since this was more of a Christian (non-statement of faith) support group, maybe that’s how they ran things and I hadn’t realized it. (As was typical, I was having a hard time finding an inclusive group – in central PA as well -, so I joined this one to check it out since it didn’t have a statement of faith requirement.) There were funds that were used for activities, they still looked for volunteers for various “programs” that seemed to already be established. It seemed much more like a “well greased wheel”. It was still newsletter-based, and individuals could offer any type of supports and resources to the group as they desired, so I recognized that still.

Since this first exposure to leadership, presidencies, boards, and the such, I have come to realize that most support groups, local and state, operate in this manner. Had this always been the case, or has this been more recent . . . let’s say the past ten years? Within this governmental system, I did witness power struggles, overthrows, and separations occur more consistently. In the consensual support groups I had become accustomed to, I remember people simply being thankful someone was willing to coordinate and do the newsletter. There was no hierarchial power to resist; the individuals within the group were the voice. The coordinator and newsletter person simply carried it out.

Is this a shift in perspective? In the day I began homeschooling, so many stood on the ideal of freedoms and personal choice, so it makes sense that our inclusive groups would operate in order to have that expression realized. Each voice was equal and together we worked things out for all to get their needs met. In the leadership paradigm, there seems to be more of a democratic process. Not that it is bad since our country is founded on that type of government, but then again, protection of the masses is important in that dichotomy. I had chosen homeschooling for individualistic reasons; to be the author of my own path. I definitely felt like “one of the masses” being spoken TO when part of the democratic support groups.

So, what are people looking for today? A resource that supports and empowers their freedom of personal choice through working together to create a resource that can work to meet some of their needs? Or a resource that helps them belong to a group that believes in what they do and will help them get what they want and feel “taken care of”? There’s a shift in focus between the two . . . Am I saying that one is good and one is bad? No. I’m saying that it might be indicative of where the perspective of homeschoolers are today versus where they were fifteen years ago.

Believing in the System but Wanting More Choices vs. Not Believing in the System and Wanting to Carve Out Another Way
Now, here’s my biggee that I’ve been working through, and maybe putting a voice to it in this manner might help clarify some things for me. When I chose to homeschool, I automatically chose to find my own resources. I mean, that was the point! I felt there was more out there available to me in the free world in the shape of information, technology, and mankind. I was eager to find meaty, enriching, authentic, appealing, diverse resources from which to sample. I was not disappointed! The children “ate it up” and continued to love to learn and find joy in the process. Searching and discovering resources in various places in our community became treasures to be mined and celebrated. Each of us became expert at finding the resources that would most appeal to us as individuals . . . One of our favorite activities was to go to a bookstore, where each person eagerly uncovered something they desired based on current interests to add to our growing library. We’ve honed mining for the gold down to a science!

This same mindset served me well when I was to discover that my fourth son was struggling with autism. I was given the word “autism” by a friend, and the next day, I was at the library, utilizing the research skills I had developed as a home/unschooler. I zeroed right in on books with the most current dates. I delved into each one, going through a book a day that first week. Within days, I knew my son was living with autism, and that I should seek out a diagnosis. I turned to parents for recommendations, and found a diagnostician who respected the intelligence and insights of the family members. Together we diagnosed my son, is how I viewed it, and how it played out. My diagnostician knew that I was hungry for as much information as she could direct me to, in all venues. It became the first time I ventured into conferences, taking in three in three months. It was through this searching that I found what my son needed to find happiness and joy in the world in which he was placed. As I got his needs filled through using volunteers that I trained and various resources that added elements that combined to give insight as to what to do for this particular child, other parents were amazed that I was so far into the intervention journey within weeks and months of the diagnosis. Most, it was noted, waited for others to show them what to do, and it would take about a year for them to discover no one was going to do that. This was why I was attracted to homeschooling. This is what I saw from other homeschoolers in that day.

So, what of today’s homeschoolers? Ours is a world of experts, specialization, labels, and the over-achiever mentality. Because of the proliferation of choice, the explosion of growth within homeschooling circles may be because so many can hang onto the expert umbrella through things like e-schools and other public school hybrids where they can “be taken care of”, but have a different choice of environment. Another segment of people are coming to homeschooling with a myriad of school-created labels attached to their children who are floundering in the system. The parents recognize that the environment in which their children were being educated doesn’t work for them, so they are seeking other choices under the same paradigm that might work better. These labels become evidence that another choice is needed, so they seek out experts who can help “take care of them” as they work tirelessly to help their child under that expert. Again, someone more qualified than schools have to help “take care of them” because of these so-called specialized problems. Or, there are parents who feel they can do a better job than schools and want to see their child excel (ala over-achiever mentality) and seek out all the best curricula and systems available as another choice “to take care of them” in order to meet the needs of their gifted children.

Again, there is a paradigm shift that shows a totally different perspective for the newer homeschooler. The homeschooler of the past left behind the mentality, the perspective, and the clutches of public institutional thinking, processes, procedures, perspectives and mentalities in belief that there was a more holistic way of viewing learning, particularly outside the confines of an inflexible entity. I believe many of today’s homeschooler’s actually believe in the system, but want more choices within that realm in order to be “taken care of” in a different way because of labels, over-achiever needs, and/or need for specialization. I use all that is available in the world as potential resources from which we can choose. Even in the special needs arena, I sought out and utilized professional opinions and ideas, conferences, and print materials as potential resources to me in finding what my son(s) needed. I used these resources in my journey to mine for the diamonds that I could take and apply to our holistic lives in a way that was individualized to the child.

Again, there is a shift in perspective here. It appears that parents of today are partnering their intelligence and energies with the experts and systems available to create another option for an individualized, but pre-packaged education about which they can get excited about following. Myself and other homeschoolers I started with were using their intelligence and energies to map out their own path to what learning is at a more holistic level that will look different child to child, stage to stage, situation to situation. Again, am I saying one is better than another? No. But, this shift changes what homeschooling is, in my opinion.

So many today are looking for alternative choices to the public school settting, but has an aspect of being taken care of under another system of learning and resources. They rely on experts and support groups and curriculum producers and other homeschooling systems (like HSLDA) created to do just that. There are fewer new homeschoolers, it seems, that are “independent homeschoolers” (is the word I’m hearing that I like, actually) whose perspective is to carve out their own thinking about how learning takes place for their children. It seems so many look out first, to place on; those like me and other older-timers wanted to start looking in first, and then see what was out there that could enhance in the natural world of information.

I can now see how the freedoms of homeschooling as I once understood it can be threatened by the new face of homeschooling. There will have to be a place for both, but how do we accomplish this legally without infringing on the rights of one group for the other?It may be in the name!