February 6, 2009
Sandra Dodd: Pam, thank you for doing this, and from what you share today I'll build a biography for the Good Vibrations conference list.
Pam Sorooshian: All right ..:-)
Sandra Dodd: Even though most of the people here might know already, could you please review for us your children's names and ages and briefly when and why you moved toward unschooling?
Pam Sorooshian: My oldest daughter is Roya - she is now 24 years old. We started homeschooling when she was at the end
of 4th grade. Roxana, who is now 21, was 7 and in an elementary school program that was "experimental". Rosie is now
18 and she was 4 at the time.
For the first month of homeschooling, we went to the beach almost every day.
Then we did an "oceans" unit study.
"If you have 3 fish and you catch 2 more fish, how many fish do you have?"
Regular school—but couched in "ocean" terminology.
Plus some fun stuff—we drew a life-sized whale drawing in chalk out in the street. And then we went whale watching for
But - after a few weeks of it, I thought we should switch to "history" - so we did a "civil war" unit study.
That was a lot more lame—the only good part was learning some civil-war era songs.
After a week or so of trying to do some "school" every day, none of us wanted to do it. So—that was it.
I was on the AOL forums and talking to Sandra and other unschoolers - I got it very quickly and we were pretty radical
unschoolers from that point on.
There are links at the bottom of this page to Roya's account of those early unschooling days.
For the first month of homeschooling, we went to the beach almost every day. Then we did an "oceans" unit study. "If you have 3 fish and you catch 2 more fish, how many fish do you have?" Regular school—but couched in "ocean" terminology. Plus some fun stuff—we drew a life-sized whale drawing in chalk out in the street. And then we went whale watching for real.
Sandra Dodd: I've really enjoyed my association with you over those years, Pam, and will always be glad you picked us up at the airport that time! I had been asked to speak in Los Angeles, and Pam offered to transport us.
Pam Sorooshian: Yeah—that was very cool. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was a little frantic or something—I wanted to meet Sandra SO much. We were living an entire lifestyle based on what this one stranger from Albuquerque was writing online.
HollyDodd: All I really remember is Rosie singing in the car.
Pam Sorooshian: Of course, I thought Sandra was tall, willowly, with a blond page-boy and very very professional-like.
Bea Mantovani: Did your parenting change after you started unschooling, or were you always more or less an attachment parent?
Pam Sorooshian: Hmmm—I waffled. I was uncertain of myself—I'd read one parenting book and think that MUST be the right way—then read another and think I must be doing it all wrong and I'd better switch.
I read every parenting book out there.
But I was always very very relaxed—I might have thought some "system" sounded like I "should" be doing
it—but I was more into enjoying myself with my kids and could never keep up anything that was punitive at all.
Never ever spanked or punished.
But we did start out with some restrictions—Roya had some tv restrictions and some chore charts and stuff.
But we did start out with some restrictions—Roya had some tv restrictions and some chore charts and stuff.
JennyC: what made you decide to stop limiting TV?
Pam Sorooshian: I always was repelled by things like John Rosemond's "Kids need regular doses of Vitamin N" (N for NO). We had a lot of FUN watching tv—I didn't want to keep shutting it off when it was so great. Plus my husband really loved tv . I had swallowed the idea, though, that kids shouldn't watch tv until they'd learned to read.
JennyC: Oh, so it wasn't any particular type of TV, it was time limits?
Pam Sorooshian: Right -time limits. Well—she really only wanted to watch Sesame Street and Wishbone and Mr. Rogers and stuff like that, anyway. We're talking about when she was 3 or so. So—we'd limit the time.
Bea Mantovani: Did you always work part time? Did your children go to daycare/preschool? (sorry, my questions are
going to tend towards younger kids because my oldest is 3 years old, and my youngest not born yet ..;-)
But, later, we embraced it in a BIG way.
Pam Sorooshian: I always worked part time. My mom ran a very wonderful preschool program at a high school—it wasn't a structured academic kind of program. She did NOT at all believe little kids should be "taught" anything. She was a huge believer in supporting their free play and letting them learn.
Sandra Dodd: Pam, finish what you're saying if you want to about TV (if you're not through, I mean), but I think the fact
that your husband is from another culture is a particularly interesting aspect of your family life, and so of your
(And I wanted to get you talk about your mom and your upbringing in a bit too.)
Pam Sorooshian: Her preschool had no group activities or worksheets or anything like that.
So, yes, my kids "hung out" at grandma's preschool off and on, over the years.
When they wanted to go. Which was pretty often.
But, otherwise, mostly my husband and I worked out schedules so that I could work when he wasn't working—so one of
us was with them.
I think it was REALLY good for him to have a couple of evenings at home with them, without me.
I tended to insist he do things my way—so it was good he had a chance to be with them on his own sometimes.
We're all way happier because of that major change in my attitude.
And, by the way, all three of my kids DID turn out to be voracious reader/book lovers AND huge tv watchers.
My husband being from Iran and our tv decisions are related.
He grew up in a very small town far away from any big city. He had no electricity or plumbing or even automobiles around where he lived. He did not SEE a television set until he was 11 years old. Then it was a tiny black and white set. He was ------ THRILLED -- he'd watch soccer games on it, mostly, but some American tv shows—sitcoms. Dubbed. He was 23 when he came to the United States and saw his first-ever color tv. Thrilled is an understatement. He really really loved to watch sports—especially soccer—on tv. "I" was at that time completely brainwashed into thinking tv was the boob tube and all that. So for quite a few years we had a real conflict—I would be angry and frustrated with him for watching so much tv. I'd want to get RID of the tv—move it to an inconvenient place. He wanted to spend his annual bonus on a big-screen and I was adamantly against it.
Then, after I'd been reading on AOL a bit, I had a true AHA moment. Seriously. I looked up from my computer and saw him watching a soccer game on tv and really enjoying it and I was SO ashamed of myself. I went over and said, "We should get a big screen tv." I was ---- shocked. And eager. So we shopped and got one. I decided to enjoy it and quit worrying about it.
We're all way happier because of that major change in my attitude. And, by the way, all three of my kids DID turn out to be voracious reader/book lovers AND huge tv watchers.
Sandra Dodd: How old was Roya when you got that big TV?
Pam Sorooshian: Roya was probably just about 10 or so.
Sandra Dodd: Something that propels some families (moms especially, perhaps) toward different ways of parenting is a reaction against one dysfunction or another, or a big old combo But I know, Pam, that you didn't have a lot of early childhood trauma. Your family was functional. Is it possible that made it harder for you to launch in a different direction in some ways? Or did you find yourself being consciously like you mom in the good ways?
Pam Sorooshian: I am very much like my mom in the good and not-so-good ways. But, yes, my family life was really okay during my childhood. My parents did not punish—no spanking or taking things away as punishment or grounding or unreasonable stuff like that. I had good role-modeling then—but things did go downhill when I got older—my parents divorced eventually. But any problems they were having - I was oblivious to during my childhood, anyway. My mom was a happy person - she smiled a lot.
Sandra Dodd: So you have had some personal good example and bad example to draw on as you've made decisions about how to parent your children in different stages.
Pam Sorooshian: That's what people commented on about her - and she really loved children and wanted to see children treated gently and respectfully. To be honest, when I grew up, we children didn't really think of adults as other people. They were pretty much a different species to us.
Sandra Dodd: How old was Roya when your mom died? (I'm using Roya as the timer and measuring stick in all this.)
Pam Sorooshian: Roya was 20—it was only 4 years ago.
Bea Mantovani: Roya is your oldest?
Pam Sorooshian: Roya is 24 now. Roxana is 21. Rosie is 18.
Sandra Dodd: Because you teach college economics, Pam, you have kind of a "magic ticket" in the world of education and homeschooling. People seem to back right off when either parent is a professor.
Pam Sorooshian: Ah, yes. People would say, "Well, you are a TEACHER!" No way to convince them that the only advantage I have is that I have contact with hundreds of college freshmen and I know, for sure, what a crappy job schools are doing in teaching what they think they are teaching.
Sandra Dodd: So although that's probably made it easier for you to live without criticism, it's also left you more energy to help other homeschoolers, I suppose.
Pam Sorooshian: I think it gave me a lot more confidence than many if not most other people just starting out unschooling.
Sandra Dodd: Have you thought about why you've put so much time and energy toward helping others in all this?
Pam Sorooshian: Someone asked me if I really felt as confident as I seemed. I said absolutely. He said, "Well, you must have had concerns that Rosie wouldn't learn to read." I said, "No. I truly have not had any concerns." The confidence that I had came partly from seeing my own kids, even at young ages, were clearly thinking—thinking actively and critically—more than 99 percent of my college students. I knew that at LEAST my kids were not being beaten down by the drudgery of schooling.
JennyC: Did any of your kids seriously consider going to school?
Pam Sorooshian: I have thought about that Sandra—but I honestly don't have that kind of personal insight to know what it feels right to me to help others. I know that my heart sort of aches for the kids who are being mistreated and harshly controlled . None of my kids has ever wanted to go to school. I've asked them pretty much once a year or so—reminded them that they could if they wanted.
Sandra Dodd: But at this point, Pam, your kids have all "gone to school," though it wasn't what most people think of as "school" (K-12 public or private school)
Pam Sorooshian: Roya had been there done that. Roxana's schooling experience was strange—a very experimental program. Neither of them had had regular schooling—no textbooks, no grades no tests. Rosie didn' t go to k-12 at all.
Sandra Dodd: I envy you your kids' interest in taking college classes, because I just LOVE that sort of thing and my kids are very "eh" about it all.
Pam Sorooshian: But each of them did take some community college courses when they were in their mid-teen years. Roya started with voice classes. Moved on to ceramics. Photography. Jazz choir. Then she got interested in marine biology—took a course in that.
Sandra Dodd: Roya's ceramics classes led to a job, right?
Pam Sorooshian: One thing led to another—yes. Her ceramics teacher recommended her for a job at Laguna Clay Company. They are the country's largest manufacturer of clay and glazes.
Bea Mantovani: Was that at the college where you work? Do you think that's why they wanted to take classes there?
Pam Sorooshian: My kids had hung around colleges all their lives and thought of them as places where there were very cool facilities. Ceramics studio, vocal groups, guitar lessons, swimming pool, etc. They really did not think of themselves at "going to college." Roya did eventually decide to actually "go to college" and get a degree. At that time she'd taken enough courses for fun that she had only a year's worth of courses to take to be able to transfer to a four-year-college. Roxana just decided a year ago to "go to college" and she's now applied to go to a university next fall. Rosie is still taking classes for fun—whatever she feels like - not trying to fill any kind of requirements.
Sandra Dodd: One criticism of homeschooling is that the children will miss out on "multiculturalism," but aside from the fact of having an Iranian parent, I remember going a couple of times to a park group you were in or maybe helped found called Rainbow Kids.
Pam Sorooshian: Yes—we went to Rainbow Kids for many years. And then I started a new group called Dragon Tree Home Learners.
Sandra Dodd: Southern California is quite a diverse place.
Pam Sorooshian: When we were deciding where to meet, for Dragon Tree, we specifically chose to be in a particular city because it was far more welcoming to a diversity of people than where I live (Orange County, California).
Sandra Dodd: Do you have suggestions for families living where they might not be around people who are different? Sometimes they live where even having gone to the local schools wouldn't have provided the idea "exposure," but your kids are rich in such experiences.
Pam Sorooshian: My kids' schools, when they were in them, were not diverse at all. People here live in neighborhoods that are still somewhat segregated—and so local schools are still segregated. Our homeschool group was more diverse than a local school. BUT - there is more to it.
Bea Mantovani: is the homeschooling population very diverse? (in terms of income, and in terms of nationality/ethnicity)?
Pam Sorooshian: In schools, there are cliques and gangs and a lot of racism and ethnic hostility. Our kids saw us enjoying each other's company.
Sandra Dodd: Bea, are you asking overall, or where Pam lives?
Bea Mantovani: where Pam lives
Pam Sorooshian: Where I live, homeschooling population is pretty diverse.
Sandra Dodd: (Okay. Let's save overall questions for other chats, but proceed...)
Pam Sorooshian: I'd say it is as diverse as the general population with one exception. We have a large Asian population and there are almost no Asian homeschoolers. But, my kids don't necessarily hang out with other homeschoolers all the time. As they got older, it was their interests that determined who they associated with. Although - they still do really like other unschoolers and have said that they generally feel very comfortable with other unschoolers.
Bea Mantovani: Actually, that's one question I had too—did they start out having mostly homeschooled friends (after you started homeschooling) ?
Pam Sorooshian: Rosie's got a group of friends who are almost all unschoolers. Roxana has almost no unschooled friends. Roya's best friend was an unschooler, too, but otherwise most of her friends went to school.
Sandra Dodd: I'm really glad I've gotten to be at meetings of Dragontree Learners (and I was at a couple of Rainbow Kids things too, back in those days), but that group has something wonderful and rare and people spend all day there, and have lunch and dinner together lots of times. Part of it is the weather and the facilities, but partly do you think it's the core group of families or traditions of the group
Because I haven't seen that in many other places Though I've seen some groups that can do four hours or so together, in some other cities.
Pam Sorooshian: It was the core group deciding, together, that our priority was to give our kids many many long hours of uninterrupted outdoor play time. We used to go from 10 or 11 am to 10 pm. Not so much these days. Now it is more like 2 or 3 pm and then go out to dinner later.
Bea Mantovani: wow, that's a big advantage of unschooling in a warm climate. (In Montreal here, can't hang out outdoors all day ..:-)
RVB: My group in Vancouver, Canada, did the hanging-out-until-all-hours. I miss it.
Sandra Dodd: You're doing presentations for new unschoolers lately, right? Still? Can you tell us about that? At the park, I mean
Pam Sorooshian: That is very informal - but it seems to be something people are enjoying. I come to park day with a topic and I say I'm going to get up and talk for 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes people ask questions. It usually goes on longer... and it ends with groups of people sort of chatting about the topic among themselves.
Sandra Dodd: What have been some of the topics that seemed the most useful to people? Or that you thought were most important?
Pam Sorooshian: Math anxiety, of course. How will my kids learn math? But, the biggest hit, I think, was about how unschooling is about what we DO more than about what we do NOT do.
Bea Mantovani: what is the age range of the kids who go to your playgroup? socal77: Do you have any ideas for future talks?
Pam Sorooshian: unborn babies to 22 years old, I think.
Sandra Dodd: You've been communicating closely with all kinds of homeschoolers, not just unschoolers, for a long time now. Thinking back to the best of them and the families in which things were strong and good, what traits in the parents or families do you think helped most?
Pam Sorooshian: Actually, the distinction between "kids" and "adults" is a little iffy these days Hmmm - the best of them.... I think it is that they aren't treating their kids the way they think they are "supposed to," but are looking clear-eyed at their own real children and treating them as the individuals they are. I mean - they aren't following a script. They are authentic. They don't punish a kid because they have some idea that "kids need to be punished" - they think about what their own real standing-in-front-of-them kid is probably feeing and thinking and they respond to that reality. How many times have we seen a parent yell or be harsh with a kid that was already upset? Without regard to what was upsetting them.
Sandra Dodd: (because we don't get an indicator that someone's composing, I don't know when to wait and when to ask another question )
Pam Sorooshian: Parents who get really in touch with their kids - who let themselves think what their kids are thinking - who aren't afraid to imagine what their kids are REALLY feeling and thinking...... those are the good ones.
Sometimes I'm amazed at what parents tell themselves that their own kids are thinking or feeling.
The really awful ones make all kinds of terrible assumptions about kids' intentions.
Sometimes I'm amazed at what parents tell themselves that their own kids are thinking or feeling. The really awful ones make all kinds of terrible assumptions about kids' intentions.
JennyC: how have your kids handled other mean parents?
Pam Sorooshian: Well - usually they've ignored meanness, but Rosie is not so willing to ignore it. A couple of months ago we were walking out of Disneyland and a woman walking in front of us wanted her little boy to hold her hand while crossing the street. She told him to hold her hand very meanly, could have add, "YOU IDIOT" to the end of her demand and it would have fit right in. The minute they got across the street the kid pulled strongly out of her grip and took off running and yelled, "You can't get me." She yelled at him, "You WILL hold my hand whether you like it or not."
HollyDodd: "Happiest place on earth"
Pam Sorooshian: We passed her by just then and Rosie loudly said, "Maybe if you were nicer, he'd WANT to hold your hand."
socal77: go rosie
RVB: Good for Rosie!
Pam Sorooshian: And she's done things like that several times over the past few months. So she's getting "mouthy" about it.
Bea Mantovani: Do you think you've influenced a lot of people who have watched you parent ?
Sandra Dodd: Bea, I'm sure Pam's example has helped lots of families. And she's been kind of a saint about driving her kids to sports and art projects and theatre and camping and girl scouts and outings in addition to the longtime every week park day.
Pam Sorooshian: Well - that IS what an unschooling parent signs on for. Support interests. Plus, we chose to live in a place where there is so MUCH to do. I loved every minute of it.
Sandra Dodd: Holly and Rosie could form a girl-gang of roving parenting-reform activists, going up to parents and telling them to get a clue. What traits have you seen be most damaging to a family's chance of unschooling (other than the opposites of those factors you've identified as helpful)
Pam Sorooshian: Yes. - Maybe it would spread among the teenagers and they'd make a huge difference.
Kind of a pay-it-forward thing....
I'd love to read somewhere that parents are afraid to be mean to their kids in public because teenage girl gangs would call
them out on it!
Damaging to chance of happily unschooling?
Sandra Dodd: or successfully homeschooling
Pam Sorooshian: Negativity, cynicism.....pessimism. But also - seems there are people who maybe don't have enough interpersonal intelligence (in the Howard Gardner sense). They seem not to be able to "read" or "sense" what they can do to support their children.
Bea Mantovani: Do you think you working outside the home part time has benefited your unschooling, or did you at times find that it was getting in the way of it?
Pam Sorooshian: Often they impose their own likes and dislikes and interests on their kids. I worked part time by choice - so clearly I didn't think it interfered. I usually only worked about 6 to 9 hours per week. I did a lot of volunteer work, too, though. Maybe too much. But, my kids grew up seeing me work hard and play hard - and that's what they do, too. So I guess it was all good. Two of my three kids work. Rox has worked, but right now is volunteering.
Sandra Dodd: I had a request, to ask you what you would do differently. You've talked about TV and an early foray into unit studies, and you've just suggested maybe you would have volunteered less. Anything else?
Pam Sorooshian: What do I regret? EVERY minute that I spent worrying over whether the house was clean. That would be my biggest regret. THAT was wasted worry. And there were bad times between myself and the kids over it. I'd get angry that they weren't helping enough. I wish I'd learned earlier about how to enjoy taking care of household stuff and let it go when it didn't get done. The other day a 15 year old girl wrote on her facebook that she was miserably doing dishes because that was her chore this week. I am going to talk to her about dishes. Because I have learned to LOVE doing the dishes. I don't DO them without enjoying it. I either enjoy it or don't do it. Appreciate or enjoy or at least feel pleasant - I don't have to be deliriously happy . So - sometimes they don't get done. But usually they do. And nobody in my house ever has bad feelings about dishes anymore.
Sandra Dodd: So if I were a hostile critic of your airy-fairy lifestyle, and said "What does this have to do with unschooling," what's the quick kind of answer others here might use when it happens to them?
Pam Sorooshian: If we believe kids are born with an innate urge to learn, that they don't need to be forced to learn, then,
logically, that should not apply to just reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, but also to all other aspects of life.
Turns out, the more that unschoolers have expanded their understanding of how children learn, the more we've discovered that, indeed, they DO learn best without coercion.
Turns out, the more that unschoolers have expanded their understanding of how children learn, the more we've discovered that, indeed, they DO learn best without coercion.
JennyC: when did your husband "get" unschooling?
Pam Sorooshian: My husband get unschooling -- well, that's a good question. VERY slowly, over the years.
JennyC: did he have any "aha" moments?
Pam Sorooshian: no Jenny - no aha moments. He was skeptical. It is so out of his experience—beyond even an American man's experience of it.
Bea Mantovani: Did you sometimes impose your view (like taking your kids out of school, did he approve of that?)
Pam Sorooshian: His own education was brutal. My husband was very skeptical, but he also trusted me. He knew I was the one doing all the thinking, reading, discussing, etc. Plus, I always told him that school was still there - if it wasn't working. He's from another very different culture. He was already out of his element. And he didn't think much of our schools anyway. I am sure he thought, at first, we were going to "outschool" the schools.
Sandra Dodd: Did coaching other girls Rosie's age help with his confidence in unschooling?
Pam Sorooshian: Oh - one thing I did was talk him into coaching. Yes - I was about to say that - it really helped for him to become aware of what other kids out kids' ages were really truly like. Our kids seemed sparkly and happy and interested and interesting in comparison.
Sandra Dodd: I have two more topics and about time for that, I think. I hope
Pam Sorooshian: And, over the years, people who had pushed academic schooling hard on their kids - often started to have trouble with their kids.
Bea Mantovani: What about reading? I think you said Rosie didn't read until she was 8 years old.... did he worry about that? and if so what did you do to convince him ?
Pam Sorooshian: He worried about it. I didn't convince him not to worry. I commiserated with him. But I didn't worry. I said, "Yeah, it is hard not to worry, but, really, I'm sure it'll come." And I told him that I knew lots of unschooled kids who read much later and were just fine.
Sandra Dodd: Sometimes when I've encouraged people to keep their marriages together and to be nicer to their husbands, those who wish I'd shush up have said "What, are you religious?" or "Well maybe your worldview says that, but..."
Pam Sorooshian: I think the hardest thing for my husband was that he wanted to show off his kids, and we didn't have the usual school-related ways to show off. I remember once telling him that they weren't show-dogs .
Sandra Dodd: But Pam, in your case your family is religious. I think there are principles of your beliefs that really lend themselves to family relations and unschooling.
Pam Sorooshian: Yes - we are members of the Baha'i Faith. It is an independent world religion that teaches very progressive ideas, mostly. Like equality of men and women and no racism and stuff like that. One of our teachings says, "It is not permissible to strike a child, neither to villify him."
Sandra Dodd: I think questioning sources is big in there too, isn't it? Learning by really looking at things on your own?
Bea Mantovani: is your husband Baha'i too? (it's funny, my homeschool group meets at the Baha'i center during the winter ..:-)
Pam Sorooshian: It also teaches, very strongly, that we are responsible for questioning everything and figuring out, independently, what we believe.
RVB: My godfather and his wife were member of the Baha'i Faith. It always fascinated me.
Pam Sorooshian: My husband was raised in a family of Baha'is. I became a Bahai when I was in graduate school in 1978. We got married in 1983.
Sandra Dodd: So you didn't have to say "What do you mean 'respect' and 'responsibility'" when people first wrote or talked to you about unschooling, as some people seem to need. You had a head start. I think you have relatives who are Mormon and fundamentalish Christian, too? There's some other learning fodder and advantage for your girls!
Bea Mantovani: Do your kids have as good a relationship with your husband as they do with you?
Pam Sorooshian: Yes about having some very Christian relatives - we get along, but we choose not to talk religion or parenting much. We play games and have fun together.
Sandra Dodd: Are there things you wish I had asked that I didn't, Pam?
Pam Sorooshian: My kids have a very good relationship with their dad, yes. Not the same as with me.
Sandra Dodd: I have one more thing if you don't, but it could be saved for another day and another chat with other people (though I'd like for it to be when you could be there if so....)
Pam Sorooshian: I have three girls - we are really close. I don't think that kind of close happens between girls and dads - it is different. But - they adore him, they love him like crazy, and he lives for them.
Go ahead Sandra - I don't have anything in particular. Other than people should shush the tapes in their heads and think for themselves. Be brave.
The VERY first thing that really shook me up in listening to unschoolers was at a talk Sandra gave - she
said it was okay to think dangerous thoughts. I decided to try it.
Go ahead Sandra - I don't have anything in particular. Other than people should shush the tapes in their heads and think for themselves. Be brave.
The VERY first thing that really shook me up in listening to unschoolers was at a talk Sandra gave - she said it was okay to think dangerous thoughts. I decided to try it.
Sandra Dodd: I know you've thought and discussed and all...
Pam Sorooshian: I've been thinking, "What if....." ever since. I'm addicted to thinking dangerous thoughts .
Sandra Dodd: This is less personal and more philosophical.
You've also been involved with California state homeschooling business and the state conference, and with NHEN, and you've been to many conferences as an attendee and as a speaker.
Some people have said "expert" (actually used the word, in writing, of themselves) about unschooling who didn't seem to have actually unschooled, or not for long, or not well...
Bea Mantovani: I was wondering also, if you had to deal with severe criticism from your inlaws, and if so how you dealt with that (but maybe you won't have time to talk about that, never mind.)
Pam Sorooshian: My inlaws - they don't speak English. I ignore criticism and pretend they are just crazy in love with whatever I do .
Bea Mantovani: thanks, that's good advice, my inlaws don't speak English either
Sandra Dodd: What do you think others should do or say in those cases? Do you have cautions for people? Sorry we don't have more time. Darn.
Bea Mantovani: ..:-)
Sandra Dodd: It's 6:00 in Texas where Pam is today, and they might need to go and eat, so I don't want to stretch this much past the hour. So you can pass on this topic if you want to, Pam and I'll just not include it in the notes.
Pam Sorooshian: Sandra - are you asking what to say to people who call themselves experts?
Sandra Dodd: No, to others who might think that experts know more than you do about unschooling, about parenting
Pam Sorooshian: ah - okay. Well - maybe they do . So listen. Think. Don't follow blindly. Evaluate. LOOK at your own children.
JennyC: thanks Pam for putting yourself out there for years and years and inspiring me to do better!
Pam Sorooshian: Every time someone starts thinking they should do something because someone else said it was a good idea, they should stop. And they should think right then about their own child and about whether it is a good idea for that actual real child. When people call themselves experts, warning lights should probably go off.
RVB: Especially when they charge money for it!
Pam Sorooshian: Real expertise shows itself by the good ideas, the modeling, the understanding you get from them. Real experts don't need to call themselves experts or promote themselves as such.
Sandra Dodd: Beautiful. Thank you very much for being here, Pam, and to all the rest of you too!
Bea Mantovani: Thank you so much Pam. I'm a huge fan of yours by the way ..:-)
strawlis: Thanks Pam and Sandra I really enjoyed this !
Sandra Dodd: The links will be at my chat page.
Pam Sorooshian: Thanks to all of you. This was pretty fun. I'm really happy Sandra decided to start up live chats again.
socal77: Thank you, Pam. Talk to you soon.
RVB: Thanks, Pam. Thanks, Sandra! (from Robin B. now RVB)
When I was 10 years old, my mother told me that she would be taking me out of school. I remember her telling me these words, and not quite hearing her. When at last these words sunk in, I went through several of the stages of grief. First there was denial. She had to be joking. I was going into fifth grade! I'd be one of the oldest in the school! Everyone would know me! And next year, I'd get a locker! I refused to believe she would take that from me! When at last I realized that she was not joking, I got angry. I started with a temper tantrum that would put any terrible two to shame, and finished that off with a nice round of silent treatment for my poor mother.
After about a week of this, she bribed me into listening to her with new office supplies (my one weakness) (okay, one of my weaknesses) and told me that I had a choice. This choice was to try homeschooling for 3 months, and then to make the decision to go to school or stay at home.
With my new notebooks in hand, I felt that this was a compromise I could live with. Three months of extended vacation, I figured, and then back to normal. In fact, my classmates would be so glad to see me after such a long separation, that it might even be worth it for their welcome back.
On our first official day of homeschooling, my mom took us to Sea World. I think you are smart enough to see through that particular move.
Our second official day of homeschooling, my mom bundled up myself, and my two sisters (three and six years younger than me) into the car with towels, buckets, shovels, and a cooler, and we headed to the beach. Since then I have realized that the elementary school is NOT, in fact, on the way to the beach, but my mom drove us by those blue gated walls just the same...emphasizing that we were out on a beachy adventure while everyone else was stuck inside.
The next three months continued a lot like that - we spent a lot of time at the beach, a lot of time running in the sand, giggling with my sisters, laying on a towel talking to my mom, digging, swimming, relaxing, playing, living. I can honestly say that I have no memory at all of that 3 month mark when I was supposed to make the decision to go back to school. After day one, I never thought about going back again.
People have asked my mom about her beach-moves, saying "wasn't that cheating? wasn't going to the beach just a tricky way to get her to have more fun with you than in school?" I've heard her explain it, so here's my version: no. Not cheating. I could go on a rant about all of the numerous things 10 year old me was learning during those months at the beach, but none of that was as important as my detoxing from school. Every kid who gets removed from public school needs a period of time where nothing is demanded from them. Whatever they need that time to be - 24 hours a day of video games, of staring out a window, of laying on their bed listening to music, of playing Rock Band, of being in the ocean - whatever it is, give them months. They are remembering how to get back into themselves. They are getting rid of the feel of being one of forty people in a small classroom. They are letting their brains get used to thinking about what they want, instead of being interrupted by a teacher's schedule. They are relaxing. And yes, they are learning.
When my mom first pulled us out of school, we were all young and less articulated about what it was we were doing. We told people we were doing "unit studies" - we found art projects that were ocean related, we wrote sea shanties, we did math word problems that had to do with the number of tuna ate by dolphins, you get the picture. We were trying to add some sort of legitimacy to the amazingly wonderful days we were spending at the beach. Because you know, if you're enjoying it that much, you must not be getting anything out of it. It didn't take us long to learn to trust ourselves enough that we didn't need the idea of a "unit study."
A unit study says that you need to find things to learn about which fit into one particular theme or category. What I have found unschooling to mean is that everything is connected, so you don't need to try to force it. The Ocean was our first and last unit study. The last time we documented any "school work," and our last concession to our old way of thinking.
Where were we? Ah yes. I was ten years old, my mom took me out of school, she took me to the beach every day and I was hooked. (Go read my other hub for the expanded version).
So then! When my mom took us out of school I knew one other family of homeschoolers. They were nice enough, but to be perfectly honest, I was worried that we'd end up like them. They were not my favorite people in the world. I was worried not only that we'd be like them, but that they would be the only people I'd have to hang out with. At last the day came when instead of loading up the van to go to the beach, my mom put that same cooler in the car, and said "today, we're going to the park."
At this part was a group of homeschoolers called "Rainbow Kids" who met once a week at different parks throughout Orange County. I'll never forget the moment our car pulled into the parking lot, and I saw the expanse of blankets and lawn chairs spread out on the ground - the number of parents, the number of kids. I believe I looked like a cartoon right about then, my jaw dropping to the ground. It was my first glimpse that this whole "homeschooling thing" was not just my crazy mother's latest whim, but an actual movement of people. There was quite a lot of comfort in these numbers for me at that time. I was immediately enveloped by a group of kids of varying ages, while my mom settled with her chair into the circle.
Rainbow Kids, as it turned out, did all sorts of things, in addition to hanging out in parks. We went on tours of some of the neatest places - Thomas Bros. map company, LA Times newspaper, a water recycling plant, grocery stores, radio stations, zoos and museums, you name it. We also put on our own elaborate events which we called "theme days." We'd pick a theme, such as Colonial America, or Ancient Egypt, for example, and each family would be responsible for some sort of activity. We would dress up, walk the walk, talk the talk. I loved those days. I can't even tell you how much. At that point in my life, I had more costumes than jeans and t-shirts. I was really into the American Girl dolls, because of their historical accuracy and the glimpse into those past lives. I loved all things Laura Ingalls, and all things Civil War. It was my dream to live in hoop skirts, stamping all of my envelopes with sealing wax.
Rainbow Kids happened to be home to a group of very theatrical kids who all shared my passion for dressing up and acting out. It wasn't long after my 11th birthday sleepover that we decided to put on a production of the Wizard of Oz. I was to be Dorothy, the rest of the best parts distributed amongst the girls present that night, and all the other roles we gleefully determined right then and there - no audition (or even interest) necessary!
A group of about 7 of us 11-13 year old girls put on a production of the Wizard of Oz with our entire homeschooling group. It was an amazing feat, it really was. We had lights, sets, dance scenes, a drum machine, flying monkeys, a cyclone, and everything. We rehearsed in parks, coerced the unwilling into eager participants, designed the costumes, practiced choreography - it wasn't that we didn't have adult help. We did. The whole group got so involved that it was awe-inspiring. This project took over for months. In the end, we had a successful one time performance (on an actual stage in an actual auditorium). All because some kids had an idea at a sleepover one night.
I want you to stop and think about what would have happened if we had been in school and had that same idea. First off, would we have been able to use it? Would the school's curriculum have had space for it? Would we have had a teacher so flexible as to use our idea? Would we have been able to have such complete ownership of the idea? Casting, rehearsing, all of that would have been taken over by someone else - and as well meaning as that person would have been, it would have taken away some of the glory of this project. We probably would not have been able to work with people of all ages, either. We cast the youngest children as munchkins and Ozians, and us older kids spent a lot of time working with them on choreography and singing. Parents were mixed in with their kids as flying monkeys, trees, guards, the live music, etc. In school, a teacher might have directed, and parents might have helped behind the scene, but you would probably be hard pressed to find mixed ages working together the way we did. We were also able to focus entirely on this show for as long as we wanted to. We were able to dive completely into it and not resurface until we were done. We could spend 10 hours in one day at a park painting sets if we wanted to, and not have to stop after 45 minutes to clean brushes and get to the next class.
If anyone says that we weren't being well rounded by spending so much time on one show, then they just don't have the imagination to see what we were learning. There are all the typical "school subjects" such as history (when did the Wizard of Oz get filmed? When was it written? What about the Wiz? How does that connect? Wow, crazy different cultural contexts. MGM studios is still a place? What other movies have they produced? When? How old is Judy Garland? Her daughter is who? What has she done? What was so special about the color of Oz? What do you mean black and white tv?) math and geometry (set design. that's all I need to say.) Interpersonal skills (oh man, where do I begin? Conflict management, leadership, public speaking skills, self-esteem, team work..) and a whole host of other "subjects" that we learned.
Here's the difference. We learned it, mostly unconsciously, but it's still there, it still counts, because we were doing what we wanted to be doing. No one said "okay, today we will learn about the historical context of The Wizard of Oz for one hour before learning how to measure area to make the house that lands on the witch and then it's time for recess."
We also learned warm and fuzzy things about empowerment, our own capabilities, we watched our ideas turn into realities embraced by a hundred people. Do you know how powerful that is? Have YOU ever seen something you dreamed of happen like that? I was 12 years old and completely responsible for my own learning (but that's not what I would have called it then). That's a pretty heady thing. Take a minute, think about it.
After the wonderful success of the Wizard of Oz, Rainbow Kids went back to tours and theme days for a little while. We did end up staging another production - this time we also wrote the script. It was a civil war melodrama entitled "The Fight For Freedom" - also dreamed up at a sleepover of friends, if I recall correctly. Oh, and yes, there were hoopskirts.
I could (and might) do an entire article about what we got out of that production too. For some people, maybe the link between these experiences and "what we were learning" would be easier to see, since the Civil War is something studied in classrooms, and the Wizard of Oz doesn't tend to be. But I think YOU will understand
Rainbow Kids meant a lot to me and our production of the Wizard of Oz is a flashy example of many things. However, I do think that most unschooling kids have their own version of this. It might not have involved spotlights or red shoes, but it does involve that empowered feeling of choice. It involves lots, and lots, and lots, and LOTS of time to dive deep into interests and the responsibility that comes with the trust of parents letting their children guide their own lives. (It's a two-way trust, by the way, but that's for another day).