This was published in Spring 1995 in a newsletter for homeschooling families, called Back Yard Fence.

Living History Groups

I've been in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) for nineteen years—nearly as may years as I had lived when I became a teacher at the age of 21. Scary thought.

The SCA is the biggest "open classroom" known to humanity, in my opinion. All that educators hoped for in the late '60's and early '70's are in practice there. There are "interest centers"—armoring guilds, dance troupes, music groups, costuming guilds, heraldry activities, cooking opportunities, mead-making and brewing groups, weaving, embroidery; calligraphy and illumination classes and opportunities to put those skills to practical use; publications to produce that provide opportunities for writers and artists to have their work published. The things I've already named are things that happen during the week—not even in costume on the weekends.

The SCA is the biggest "unit study" group I've ever seen. I have a Saxon persona, so I'm expected to collect, study, know and make thigns that pertain to that culture in the period of my choosing—around the year 1100. My husband "does" Vikings. Tracy, our fearless editor, has chosen early 15th century France (as part of her genealogical studies) and her husband, early 15th century Northern England. It gives us excuses to tie in all we can learn about a certain place and time.

There are no deadlines, no pressure, we can learn and create as fast and furiously as we want, or kick back and take years to gather up information. We can learn a little or a lot. We can ask others for feedback and assistance, or do things solo and keep our opinions on our work private. The entire range is acceptable.

We learn about our own chosen time periods by doing the research needed to clothe and feed ourselves at tournaments and campouts. We learn about others' "specialities" by asking them questions about their shoes, their jewelry—whatever is actually happening in daily life becomes our laboratory. I know how to reach across a feast table filled with candles and messy food bowls without getting anything on long dangly sleeves. I know how to go up and down stairs in long dresses gracefully. I know how to kneel and get back up in full medieval garb. I know how to make and wear wimples and veils.

So who "needs" to do this stuff? Nobody "NEEDS" to if "need" refers to survival, and that's exactly what makes it such a perfect testground for educational theories. People are working long and hard to do things they don't "need" to do, that nobody "made" them do, that they won't get paid for, just for the joy of learning and making and doing. This makes the SCA undeniable evidence that "unschooling" can work gloriously. If you let people learn things in any order and in any fashion they want, they will still learn, and it will seem like play, not like work. We prove this daily in the SCA. Teaching and learning flow into one another. Research and goofing off are nearly indistinguishable. Making armor and a night out with the guys can be one and the same thing.

Here's the icing on the cake: There is a strong undercurrent (stronger in some groups than others) of courtesy, chivalry, honor, integrity—people are expected to be better than they would be if they were not part of the group. Members are rewarded within the group's structure for service, humility, modesty, dedication—things that are undervalued in most late-20th century situations in this counry.

The SCA is open to anyone with an interest in the Middle Ages or Renaissance. People join singly, as couples, as families, and teens frequently get involved by going with someone other than their parents, if their parents have no interest.

We could have a club where people come to weekly classes, hear lectures on different aspects of medieval life, have reading assignmnts, worksheets, tests, grades— but what fun would that be? We have a club where the play is the work, the preparation for the fun is a blast, the research is joyful and pressure-free. If this doesn't sell a person on the idea that unschooling can work, I suppose nothing will.

If anyone's interest in finding the SCA in your area, you can contact me and I'll ry to match you up with another family near you, or at least a friendly childless guide. I have contacts all around the country. There are over 700 groups, and in 19 years it's possible to meet a whole lot of people.

—Sandra Dodd

In 2018, I came across those newsletters from 1995. I have brought the SCA writing here, and will deposit some of the just-about-unschooling parts elsewhere.

One more thing—there is a good SCA bit in here, from the Fall 1995 issue of Back Yard Fence:

Why are People Homeschooling?

In response to those people who question the motives of the growing flood of new homeschoolers, this was posted on America OnLine.

"That's what seems to be driving a lot of people to home schooling. It isn't a political statement, religion a fad or a search for hipness."

I wouldn't worry about the opinions of old timers. They can't help it. Think of it as pioneers. Those who risked their lives bigtime on unmarked trails in crummy wagons with plague and changing governments (as in the territories, before statehood) kind of resented those who came over in splendor and stayed at stage stops each night or (lazy bums) RODE THE TRAIN.

Okay, not "kind of resented"—despised.

So those who had to wrestle the school system, be disowned by their families, turned in by neighbors, build a curriculum out from nothingess, live without support groups, take flak from all sides—they're probably very proud of what they did and a little big jealous of those who can follow easily in their footsteps.

We have that phenomenon in the Society for Creative Anachronism. When I joined 18 years ago people rarely bought any clothes or armor. They might have bartered for them occasionally, but people would usually rather wear their home-made clothes and armor than buy them (and there wasn't always anything available to buy anyway). Then for a while people could go to big medieval events (translation for our purposes: homeschooling conferences), and nowadays they can buy everything at home, from catalogs, with a charge card—from armor to weapons, tents, feastgear, medieval cookbooks (we used to have to special order the one or two that were in print and be glad if we could find them—some people wrote their own!!), clothes, hats, boots.

The real problem with this and what causes the resentment (in my opinion, when the resentment seems to exist) is that when it's so easy to move West, look flashy in the SCA, or beecome a homeschooler, how can they (the oldtimers) really know who is their equal? Which of the greenhorns would have been capable of forging a trail, building armor, or homeschooling if the trail wasn't all laid out, paved, lit up—if they didn't have the availability of discount, mail-order EVERYTHING?

That is in some ways a very little thing and in some ways a big thing. It is in all ways an inevitable thing.

—Sandra Dodd

2018 note:
Now the "mail order" catalogs are online, the instructions are on YouTube, and there are so many easy opportunities for learning about medieval life that the SCA is not the only-game-in-town draw it once was.

Duckford writings Main page,

The same week I came upon the writing above and transcribed it here, I was scheduled to speak at a baronial gathering. I will include a link to this in the follow-up notes for that here: I had been away from the SCA since 2007, so eleven years. Timeline: Wrote this after 19 years, played 12 more years, out 10-and-some, transcribed this.... :-) That seems like way too many years. I must be counting some half-years as whole years. I'm getting older just thinking about it. I joined at 24 yrs old, though, and I'm 65.

Similar, but written for a medievalist audience rather than for homeschooling families:
What Makes Normally Sane Adults Love the SCA So Much?
An editorial by Sandra Dodd (SCA Mistress Ælflæd of Duckford),
former Steward of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
(article printed in the Chivalry Sports Renaissance Catalog Magazine)

Ælflæd of Duckford