Image by Adrean Clark,
following the exchange quoted at the bottom of this page.

Sandra Dodd: But why would it be "self control" and not just "conscious decision-making skills"?
Someone else: It wouldn't be. I was just using crappy terminology. :/

Watch the words you use when you speak, because they're probably the words you use when you think.

(Sandra Dodd, 1/31/07)

Someone happy about success wrote:

I have to tell all of you that after only a couple of weeks of unlimited TV our TV has even been described as boring. It is on and then off and on and then off. It is kind of fun watching them learn to self regulate.

Sandra Dodd response:

"Self regulate" means to make a rule and then follow it yourself.
They're not self regulating. They're making choices.
It's different. It's better!
Weeding out terminology we would prefer not to mean improves thinking.

Proofreading before posting, to see what others will see, is sometimes very difficult. Discussing our children can come from a place of emotion, but if one can accept that others can see things she missed, the tangled threads of childhood hurts and fears can begin to be untangled so that parenting can come from thoughtful action rather than murky reaction.

Once upon a time in an unschooling discussion, someone seemed unhappy with the way I used "mindful." For years, some of the regular writers there tried to find a good word for what we were trying to convey— making infinitesimal decisions all the time, day and night, and basing those decisions on our evolving beliefs. We finally settled on "mindful," in the sense of being fully in the moment. Though "mindfulness" is used as a term in western Buddhism, the word they chose when they were translating from Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, Vietnamese and whatever all hodgepodge of ideas were eventually described in English, "mindfulness," is an English word over 800 years old. It's a simple English compound, and has to do with the state of one's mind while performing an action. It creates a state of "if/then" in one.

IF a person wants to live in the light of his goals and intentions, then the "better choices" need to be made in that light. The clearer you are about where you intend to go, the easier your decisions are.

When you come to an intersection, how do you decide which way to go? It helps, before operating a motor vehicle with all its attendant expenses and inherent dangers, to know where you want to go. When you DO have a destination, then each intersection has some wrong ways, and some better and worse ways. It's the same with anything. When you know where you're headed, there are some wrong ways you can avoid simply by being mindful of your intent.

Intentionally and carefully

For clarity of thought and for value of discussions about unschooling (or anything), it's important to use words intentionally and carefully. If a parent can't tell the difference between "consequences" and "punishment" and doesn't want to even try to, she'll probably keep punishing her children and telling herself it's not punishment, it's consequences. That muddled thinking can't lead to clarity nor to better parenting.

Sandra and Kirby Dodd, under a sign at a barbecue place in Austin

I do love words. I love their history. I love their sounds, and their power. I love the way they can reveal fears and other emotions, and prejudices and confusions. It's not that I like to see those things revealed, but when people are looking for clarity and we're trying to help them, it's good to see where they're limping or hurting, as it were.

—Sandra on Radical Unschooling Info, 1/9/15


My friend Bela Harrington told me this story January 28, 2007:

One zen student said, "My teacher is the best. He can go days without eating."

The second said, "My teacher has so much self control, he can go days without sleep."
The third said, "My teacher is so wise that he eats when he's hungry and sleeps when he's tired."

That might sound simpler than it is. Many people don't know when they're hungry or tired, but they live by the clock, or do what they see others do, or stay up as late as they can, or wait until they're cranky and starving to eat instead of recognizing it earlier.

Sometimes the simplest aspects of self-awareness escape people.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a good little self-awareness tool they call HALT.
When you're feeling out of control, stop and ask yourself "Am I hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?" The ideal isn't to use that tool for life, though. It's to grow past the point that you feel out of control, because you've learned to recognize those triggers sooner and to be more serene. An alternate, more humorous but still useful set of words that spell HALT is: Horny, Arrogant, Lazy and Tragic. Being dramatic or arrogant can probably be even easier to resolve than tired and hungry are, for those who know that they want to move toward being more honest, humble and modest. "Honest and modest" is quite a bit like serenity.

Part of self awareness is to be physically self aware.
I've gotten better over the years.

When I was younger I lived too much in my head and would look through the lens of what should be, or could be, or might be, instead of stopping for two seconds to consider what actually, at that moment, was. If I'm not careful I can be cranky before I know I'm tired, and head-achy before I know I'm hungry.

Now, while I'm taking stock of how and where I am, I take a deep breath while I'm considering it, and that one deep breath leads to another one, and no matter where I started, I'm better already.

[A]ccepting your emotions, feeling them, and staying with them until some clarity swirls up is much better than trying to stop yourself from feeling anger (or whatever emotion wells up). (Parenting Peacefully)
"Just semantics" isn't a phrase that leads to clarity. (Being Mindful of Words)

On UnschoolingDiscussion, in late 2011, someone came for ideas, but had started her post with assurance that she was not an unschooler yet, but...
Quote are this now-anonymous poster; responses are me/Sandra.

-=-I am beginning to give unschooling alot more thought-=-


Your reasons for unschooling will help you know whether you're getting warm or getting cold. What is it that you want that you're not getting from structured homeschooling?

-=-I do worry about my boys playing computer all day, and my 12 year old "serfing the net all day. -=-

I'm going to point this out because of the huge difference. "Serf" is a medieval farm laborer attached to land. "Surf" is to balance in an exciting situation, hopefully to glide along. If you think of being "on the net" all day as having anything to do with "serfs," no wonder you think it would be a big drag! SURFING the web, though, is a fantastic way to learn. I'm assuming learning is part of your goal.

-=-I do worry about my boys playing computer all day-=-

I have three kids who have played hundreds of games among and between them—Holly learned two new card games just this month that nobody else in the family knows, even her dad who has been a big games guy all his life. There is no game called "computer." I think you mean playing ON the computer. HUGE difference.

We have dozens of nice board games here, and table games (games involving cards or other pieces, to be laid out on a table as play procedes), but those aren't referred to as kids playing board, or kids playing table.

The computer is not itself the game. There are games on the computer. There is information on the computer. It's not really a net. It's not really a web. It's millions of ideas, words, jokes, pictures, games, a ton of music and videos and.... But you know that, right?

Clarity can begin with being careful with the words you use. Thinking about what you write will help you think about what you think!!


(original, in archives)

(I brought the post above here because someone wrote me on the side: "Your post yesterday about the computer whacked me in the head!...This post is brilliant!! I already feel this way, but have been looking for another way to better explain to other scared parents that using computers and other screen devices is not an evil, mind-numbing, time-wasting activity. Thanks for your clarity of thought.")

The story behind the image of the clarity of a singing voice:

Sandra to Adrean:

You asked about a clear voice before you left the chat, and I was off doing something, but I can try to describe it if you want me to.



Sure! I'm curious. When a signer is clear, their fingers form each letter and handshape cleanly, in a visually pleasing way. I'm guessing that's what a clear voice is like as well?


So I wrote something to her but also mailed it to the Always Learning list to let others help describe it.
In discussing the singing of the lady in England who so impressed the Britain Has Talent (or whatever show it is) judges, someone in a chat asked what her voice was like and I said it was strong and clear. She asked what "clear" was, with singing. I had left the chat, but wrote later and said sorry I had missed the question and offered to try to describe it.


-=-Sure! I'm curious. When a signer is clear, their fingers form each letter and handshape cleanly, in a visually pleasing way. I'm guessing that's what a clear voice is like as well?-=-

Maybe art is a better analogy. Sometimes people sketch with a pencil or with paints so that they've made lots of short lines that end up being the shape of something, but some people can make one very bold, sharp line without hesitation and there's no waver in it. It looks exactly like what it's supposed to look like.

And related to that, in zen paintings (Chinese brush paintings), there are solid dark lines, and more watery lines, more grey.

With singing voices, someone can be right on a pitch and stay there— not slide up to it, or down to it from another note, but it it exactly where it is without hesitation and then stay there, with a clear difference between the silence and that note, as with a black ink line where the edge of the ink is separate from the white of the paper.

There are other kinds of singing voices and styles where people purposely make their voice raspy so the tone is "wide"—not always at the vibration of the note they're representing, so it's more like sketching that note, or shading it, or using the watery ink. The difference between note and not-note isn't as precise or surprising (surprising isn't the word; stark? but stark sounds uncomfortable...)

People say "clear as a bell" sometimes, but a clear singing voice is way more clear than a bell. Bells have after-tones and overtones... very messy, physically (meaning the physics of the vibration of the tone).

I sing, but I'm not a singing coach, so I'm probably missing some aspect of terminology here. I'm going to run this by the Always Learning list for clarification....


As I was writing, I realized how accustomed I am now to having other people read what I'm trying to say and to suggest better descriptions or phrases.

Maybe someone can describe it in terms of physics and the "width" of the range of vibrations that keep it on the right note. I don't much love vibrato, but even with vibrato it needs to average out to the right pitch.

Can you think of other ways to describe a clear singing voice?


Roxana says if you're talking about vocal quality—it has to do with the placement (where the resonance is mainly taking place in the head of the singer) not back in the throat so that it is raspy or throaty or muddy and not forward so far that it is nasal. But more forward than back.


I was going to say something like Roxana - that it had to do with placement in the mouth, the shape of the mask, and also to do with the purity of sound in reference to how much air/breath is heard in the note too.

Robyn L. Coburn

Are you looking to describe the sound of her voice to a Deaf person? While all of the suggestions are fantastic they are still descriptions that are geared towards Hearing culture.

In my experience as a Certified ASL Interpreter Deaf people have asked me to describe sounds/music and I have found the it easiest to help the Deaf person understand a sound using visual or emotional descriptors. Maybe a color or a feeling that her voice conveys.

In my opinion, Susan Boyle's voice sounds like clear water running in a brook. It also does sound clear like when someone signs beautifully and clearly articulates each sign. Some signers are hideous to watch (muddy) and some are absolutely breathtaking (either Hearing signers or Deaf).


-=-Are you looking to describe the sound of her voice to a Deaf person? -=-

I was.

-=- I have found the it easiest to help the Deaf person understand a sound using visual ...descriptors-=-

I did. 😊

-=-In my opinion, Susan Boyle's voice sounds like clear water running in a brook. -=-

But compared to what, as voices go? You mean sounds like clear water looks? Because muddy water sounds the same.

I was trying to describe the remarkability of an exceptionally clear singing voice, and I think it has to do with contrast and an unwavering pitch. So describing the idea that some people's tones are "broad..."

Ah. Maybe going back to the physical reality of a tone--the fact that it's a particular vibration (or not) could apply to color. Even in nature. Some leaves or flowers are colored several different shades and it all averages out to "green" or "pink," but some are truly one solid color throughout.

And there are flowers and leaves that are pretty because of the variations and curly edges and various colors, and people might like the singer's voice because of an ability to do vibrato or voice breaks or trills or ornamental things. Susan Boyle wasn't that kind of singer. Whitney Houston is.

With wind instruments (flute, recorder, sax, clarinet) there are techniques involving purposely not making a clear tone, or sliding up or down to a note a little bit with air pressure or the position of the mouth.

Sometimes a musician is inexperienced or untalented and so does such things by accident, and that's just a muddly mess.

Susan Boyle was no mess, no frills, and really good.


My first thought:

A clear singing voice is like running my hand on a smooth piece of cool glass and sometimes, when the voice warbles or has vibrato, the glass gets long, undulating rolls in it like a slide. A "not clear" singing voice or gravelly voice (which can be equally nice to listen to in the right circumstance) is like running my hand across a tweed fabric or a fine sandpaper. I wonder if that would help a hard of hearing person with the description of a clear singing voice?


I forwarded Juillet's description and said it was my favorite. Adrean wrote:
It is interesting how our senses are interconnected, and also very true that there's more than one "right" way to describe something. I liked your description and had the picture of someone speaking and having clear brushstrokes coming out. It helps that I'm an artist so that picture fit in my mind. :)

Thank you!


And then she did the image at the top of the column and here:

Later note, about describing a clear singing voice. Under the Welsh version of "Sparrow," by Mary Hopkin, someone named Alun Williams wrote "Mary's voice is a shaft of sunlight through the clouds."

How Unschooling Changes People

Mindful Parenting


Phrases to Hear and Avoid