Information defensiveness

Tyler Cowen linked to my blog last week. It was very exciting because not only does he have a great blog, but he’s an economics professor at George Mason University, so I got a bunch of emails from economists about homeschooling. Like, Greg Rehmke, who teaches a course about the economics of space exploration for homeschoolers.

Another thing that comes from being noticed by other bloggers is that I get asked to fill out questionnaires about homeschooling. It’s sort of insane, since I’ve only been homeschooling for two months. But whatever. I am used to acting like I’m an expert in everything. So when I got asked what reading has most helped me with homeschooling, I listed career blogs, because I’m absolutely dying over how to do my job while I’m home with two kids all day (supposedly) managing their education.

Lisa Nielsen, my homeschool mentor from heaven, read my answers and said, “Have you read  Sandra Dodd’s Big Book of Unschooling? You will like it.”

I wanted to tell her to shut up. Don’t give me more reading. I am very scared to read any books. I’m scared of information. I’m so overwhelmed that I feel like if there is anything else I need to think about, I’m gonna die. I want to at least be able to stick with the plan I have for one week. Which I have not been able to do, by the way. My ideas about not-school keep changing.

But Lisa helps me so much – like when I call from Central Park to say my six-year-old would make more friends in school. She tells me how to look at him and see a vibrant, independent learner instead of a sad and lonely boy. So I feel like I have to do what she recommends in order to be a good mentee of hers.

There is another part of the questionnaire: What groups have been most helpful to you? And I have to say, it is this group. This blog. The community of people reading this blog have been absolutely incredible at giving me the information I am looking for, and having vibrant, conflicted discussion about the topics I am most worried about on any given day.

Thank you.

And now, I’m off to read the Big Book of Unschooling.

29 replies
  1. Christina@Interest-Led Learning
    Christina@Interest-Led Learning says:

    I know what you mean about reading. I have a whole shelf of books and a full Google Reader waiting for my attention. But….. if you are in the mood for new reading suggestions, read anything by John Holt if you haven’t already, espcially How Children Learn and Instead of Education.

  2. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    If it makes you feel any better, my six year old is in public school and her “best friend” changes hourly, and could just as easily be the girl she played with for three minutes at a park as a classmate at school. So I don’t think your son is missing out on friends.

    As for the economics of homeschooling, I have thought about that before and think it has interesting implications. For example, home prices are so largely influenced by the reputation of the local school system. A lot of people are willing to “give” on many of things when buying a home, but they will stretch themselves thin financially to have their kids in a good school. If that were taken out of the equation on a large scale, it certainly would have an interesting economic impact.

  3. Pamela
    Pamela says:

    Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum. Corin keeps a lot of information coming at you via FB and Twitter, but I love it. All of it.

    Other than that, we’re really lucky to have lots of homeschooling folks here in San Antonio. And it’s a diverse group of people, too. Thanks to them, we’ve been able to see the validity in pulling from a number of sources in order to become eclectic in our approach.

  4. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I consider Sandra Dodd to be the mother of Unschooling because she’s been helping mom’s and unschooling families for probably 20 years. She shoots straight from the hip without any fluff. I trust her advice. Her children are now somewhere around 20, 23, & 26.

    Her website
    is basically an outline of all the topics in her book. It’s a nice layout to maneuver.

    Another favorite website I used when learning about Unschooling was Joyce Fetteroll’s

    What I love about both Sandra and Joyce’s websites is that they are organized by topic. So you don’t have to read the entire thing like a story. You can just pick the topic you’re curious about at the moment.

    I second also the suggestion of reading anything by John Holt. He is the person who coined the term Unschooling. It’s good background to how it all started.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Last night, Tom Brokaw was on the Charlie Rose show pitching his new book. About three minutes into the interview, he makes some comments about bloggers that really showed his preference for news and other information to be published in a sort of “gate keeper” type of fashion on the Internet. He’s not alone as many other “old school” media types are also lamenting and questioning most anything on the Internet. This is the thing, though, I have been questioning the validity of most everything and want to know the source since I can’t remember when – maybe birth. It’s my responsibility … I don’t need a filter … I’ll create my own. It’s such a great thing to witness the gates coming down in my lifetime. I say all this because this post reminds me of all the opportunities afforded to us by the Internet. As for the “information overload”, maybe it should be a requirement that all books have Cliff Notes.

  6. Rachelle
    Rachelle says:

    Seriously, it also depends on your child and what he/she needs. Our son is 4 reading doing math and so on, but the pediatric neurologist told us to keep him around other kids. This year he started jr kindergarden. He goes for 3 hours a day.

    The first day we went to school we had to pick up a schedule he does all the “goals” on it already for the school year. And probably the next few years as well. I don’t expect the teacher to teach him anything to advance his learning. If she did then none of the other 25 kids in the class would understand what she was talking about.

    He does have things he has to learn there, such as no biting other kids, how to line up, how to listen and how to be social with other kids.

    From the moment I was put in school, it was trouble and it’s pretty fair to say that I spent more time being punished than in class. They found out I was gifted because my teacher kept insisting I was retarded and wanted me tested. In any case there are many things that happened there in that school that are 100% abuse. Public shunning, being put out in the hall for days at a time, I was even the last kid in my school to get the strap. To top it off my mom was a teacher there so after school I would get in trouble again. By 11 I had ulcers and took a bottle of Maalox to class.

    So at the time I was going to french school, I quit high school in early grade 9 not because I was failing but because I did not attend school enough. My marks were in the 80’s (My principal who told me not to come back as there was no way he could pass me looked at and told me my marks. I can still see the look on his face, he’s like “Well you’ve missed more than 16 days of school and your marks must be bad as well, you’ll never pass. Then he looked at the marks… says OH! Shocked 80’s, well you still can’t pass” I told him well I don’t miss test days. Anyhow.

    So after that fiasco, a few years later after being turned down for tons of minimum wage jobs, I went back to school. They tested me and all I needed to learn was one course grade 12 english. I took a few other courses too to make for a less boring day. Photography and a science too.

    The point is that 50% of gifted people drop out of school because it’s so damn painful for us. As a curious child way ahead of the class, you have to sit there and “Be Good” for 8 hours a day. It’s like attending a powerpoint presentation over and over and over again, delivering the same information, in a dull monotone. It’s cruel and you just don’t have those skills when you’re 6.

    Still my son is not me, he needs something different. If he needs something different he’ll get that too. Homeschooling has always been an option for us. Not that we’ve stopped teaching him stuff. I’m self employed and there are 24 hours a day. If I had to teach him at home, I’d just work the other hours I wasn’t. No biggie.

  7. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Be careful with things related to Sandra Dodd. She has a lot of great information, but try to avoid taking her too seriously about everything. She has a cult-like following on Yahoo where she constantly berates others that don’t think exactly like her, which is difficult to do, because she often contradicts herself. So, take the good stuff from her, and leave the rest.

      • Tanya
        Tanya says:

        I had a hard time reading/listening to Sandra Dodd in the beginning too because it was hard to stomach what comes across as a harsh tone. But I ultimately came back to relying on her information above all because her words were the ones that sorted out my confusions when others confused me. She does not tell you how to homeschool your children, but if you go on her list (yes, she is the owner of her Yahoo list) and try to defend your homeschooling lifestyle she will simply tell you flat out whether or not it qualifies as Unschooling. This may seem like berating, but she has A LOT of people reading her list and she responds to all the posts as though she is writing for her entire audience, not just the original poster. I have come to appreciate that because she helps to keep things clear for those of us who have had to read, read, and read (five years for me) to figure out how this Unschooling works and to answer all my questions and concerns. Of course, you have to understand that Sandra Dodd talks about Radical Unschooling, which means extending the same freedoms in a child’s education to their entire life to include giving your child more say in things such as sleep, food, etc.

    • Sandra Dodd
      Sandra Dodd says:

      I was invited here by the same person who recommended my book to the blog owner. It seems a shame I’m being written about so negatively.

      I think characterizing those who volunteer a lot of their time and energy on the Always Learning list as as “cult-like” is cruel. There are some generous, wonderful people there.

      I would appreciate knowing what you think is contradictory in my writings. I thought about it after I read this post yesterday, and all I can think of is the juxtaposition of these two:
      but… pretty much clarifies that (and each of those others does in itself, I think, too).

      Just this week I’ve been transferring some older writings from paper to webpages, and things I wrote in 1995 and 1998 are holding up fine, except for my kids being older.

      Seriously, if there are contradictions you have seen or heard of, I’d appreciate a chance to clarify. There are writings from over a hundred other people on my site, too, and not all of them phrase things the same way I do, or feel the same way I do about parenting and unschooling, but if the ideas seemed useful and the writing was good, I’ve given a longterm home to those voices. Might that cause the contradictions you are thinking of?

  8. Lisa Velmer Nielsen
    Lisa Velmer Nielsen says:

    I’m often told I’m wrong by experts who don’t think the way I do. While that can sting, I come back for more because I learn a lot from people who think differently than I do. I also learn a lot from trying to convince them that I’m right :P

    I think that sometimes when folks are accused of contradicting themselves, it is because different subtleties exist, and answers to different questions may sound contradictory as a result.

    Anyhow, I thought this post from a member of Sandra’s community does a good job of explaining the reaction some who go there may have

    • Amanda
      Amanda says:

      I truly love debate and learning from people who think differently than I do. It’s not debate or different ideas that bother me.

      It’s the manipulative tactics and lack of kindness I’ve seen her display so often that bothers me.

      I think it’s sad, a shame really, that she doesn’t use what she teaches in her books and on her website with her own Yahoo group.

      She’s so manipulative with adults, in fact, it makes me doubt that she raised her own children in the non-manipulative environment in which she asks others to raise their children.

      Looking back at my last comment, I’m realizing that I used the wrong wording. I truly don’t “like her”. I like her ideas. I am grateful for the parenting concepts she is helping to spread. But I really can’t say I like her, because manipulative people make me cringe.

      But don’t take my word for it, join her group and see for yourself. Personally, I had to leave the group, because it was nothing short of infuriating to watch the group rip people apart.

      • Sandra Dodd
        Sandra Dodd says:

        -=-I think it’s sad, a shame really, that she doesn’t use what she teaches in her books and on her website with her own Yahoo group.-=-

        I don’t intend to “teach,” but am sharing ideas. People learn or not. That’s now natural learning works. But I don’t think you really mean to suggest that I should treat thousands of other parents the way I treat my own children. I don’t think they want to be treated like children, and they don’t have 18 years to gradually figure out unschooling, either.

        -=- it makes me doubt that she raised her own children in the non-manipulative environment in which she asks others to raise their children.-=-

        I have never asked anyone to raise their children in ANY way. I unschooled, it went well, I understood it well enough to share what I was doing from the beginning (for various reasons explained frequently), and people asked me, from the time my oldest was five years old, what my plan was and how it was working.

        If you’re suggesting that what I’ve written about my homelife is dishonest, that’s a very serious charge. If I were keeping my children secret, not naming them in public, not sharing photos of them, then you could pretty well make up what you wanted to and people might believe you. But my kids are out there—dozens of families have stayed at our house or our family at theirs, or a subset of our family, or my kids without the parents. A great number of people know us well, from travel and conferences. If I were dishonest, some of them would have complained about it. I’ve never coached my kids about what to say. Holly spoke at a conference in San Diego recently. I await the recordings, because she asked me not to be there, but people who heard her said she did really well. She was 19 then; 20 now.

        Someone who hasn’t read either of my books and hasn’t met me or my family is probably not be the best person to advise others about how I am.

        • Lori
          Lori says:

          anyone who has dealt with sandra online knows how she is. she has zero tolerance for anyone expressing a view that deviates in the slightest from her own. people who wander into her online space and make the wrong comments are verbally pummeled. everyone has seen what amanda describes – rather than allowing a person to explore unschooling in a natural way and take what works for them, they are bullied into adhering to a purist line of dogma .. or else. it’s ugly, and for many people it’s certainly surprising as it does *not* match up with the underlying tenets of unschooling.

          • Sandra Dodd
            Sandra Dodd says:

            “bullied into adhering to a purist line of dogma .. or else.”

            Or else what? Bullied HOW?
            No one can affect the way you treat your own children in your own home except by inspiration or persuasion. If you are not inspired by something, that’s not being bullied.

            Anyone who owns a blog or a discussion can choose to allow non-helpful, rude information to stand, or can ask the person to stop or leave. If you’re asked to leave a discussion, or asked to be more polite, that’s not being bullied.

        • Siddharth Deswal
          Siddharth Deswal says:

          Sandra, I came here as an unbiased reader but after going through your responses, I do feel there is more than just an inkling of truth to all the charges being leveled against you.

          Someone with as large a following as yours should be used to people disagreeing and not liking your style, but instead you come here and get in to petty catfights.

      • Auka
        Auka says:

        I realise these posts are a few years old but I am glad I found them- I feel exactly the same way as Amanda about the always learning list and Sandra’s comments. I have been reading *her* list for quite a while now but will have to stop; she and her friends( and it is very clear who they are as they always agree with her) do completely tear some people’s posts to pieces. I am too scared to post anything- and when I read posts by newbies I know what will happen, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. What is especially difficult is then reading their defences and explanations, it’s painful and I do get a strong feeling something is really wrong . She (Sandra) says: I own this dicussion- so it follows you can only say things she agrees with. Hmm…..Reading her responses on this site do again reinforce that. It is the lack of kindness and abrasiveness that is at odds with the ethos of unschooling. For me, I will stick to John Holt and John Taylor Gatto and Alfie Kohn, and Steve Biddulph. It would be great to find a female voice in the homeschooling/parenting debate which has the same fairness, kindness and clarity as these writers.

  9. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    I am headed to Wisconsin tomorrow for the next week. I hope we can still catch some of the fall colors. I’m so excited to be coming home. I love all your pictures of Wisconsin on your blogs. They make my heart smile. =)

  10. Mariana
    Mariana says:

    PT, have you read the book? I really didn’t like Sandra’s blog, sure there is a lot of useful information, but the “cheerful” tone creeps me out!

  11. Meg
    Meg says:

    I’m curious about this whole Sandra Dodd/catfights thing.

    I do see a large difference between those who are generally John Holtian, and those who are followers of Dodd.

    I also see an undercurrent of irony, because the whole concept of unschooling requires a willingness to pave one’s own path, but so many, seek to do it in whatever way someone else says is acceptable.

    I guess at our heart, we are all insecure social creatures looking to see what everyone else is doing so we can rank ourselves or emulate someone we see as successful. From what I can tell, though, being only a year into this (two if you count Kinder as the beginning), is that the longer people do it, the more relaxed and confident they seem to grow, and the less they seem to need to conform to someone else’s idea of nonconformity.

    I am an unschooler, but I will tell my kids they have to do their chores and help out around the house, even when they don’t want to. That they can have the veggie tray for a snack, instead of more popsicles. That they have to brush their teeth, and are not allowed to see what will happen by having advanced tooth decay, in order to learn why brushing matters.

    Some people have told me I am not an unschooler if I do those things. I say, those who would declare themselves the arbiters of what other people may call themselves, are attempting to place labels and restrictions in the name of not believing in labels and restrictions.

    But, we humans do seem to have the inevitable tendency to want a club to be part of, and with clubs, come restrictions on who is, and who isn’t part of them. Otherwise, they aren’t clubs, they are just “everybody”.

    So far, I see evidence of a group one could call Followers of Dodd, and another that might even be a larger encompassing superset, of Followers of the Book of John.

    Is there yet a Venn Diagram of Homeschooling? I’d love to see that.

    • Megan Oriah
      Megan Oriah says:

      I have to agree with this comment 100%. I unschool my son (and will with my next). I believe in gentle, loving, considerate parenting. But to me that means also GUIDING my children. Not letting them eat candy all day or watch tv 24/7 or run down the street to the park on his own at 4 years old. I have been told by people that this means I am not an unschooler. For something that is supposed to be so freeing there is sure a lot of rules.
      And God forbid you ever ask Sandra or one of her followers for advice on an issue you are having that you are hoping those radical unschoolers might have some insight into. Because if you don’t already 100% radically unschool exactly the way they do, you will be torn apart in to a million pieces.
      I was called crazy, told I have serious issues that need to be addressed by a therapist and told to put my son up for adoption by Sandra herself – all because I stated that don’t believe in allowing my son to use guns as toys as they are meant for killing and asked for advice on how I might approach this subject with him.
      Sandra and her followers are witch hunters. And the witches are unsuspecting, good-intentioned parents who are looking for advice.
      It’s sick.
      And it’s not something I want to be a part of.
      So I choose not to be.

Comments are closed.