notes on
the Always Learning list


I think the idea of the list being about ideas and not support is harder to grasp than unschooling! ;-) Once you get it, it's obvious. But until then it seems practically impossible to explain it in a way that gets people's brains shifted. I see people come back after a while with the ability to explain it, but I've never once seen someone get it from an explanation.

Maybe it's because it appears as though we're handing people solutions to their problems when we're really handing out principles and new ways to look at their problems.

I think they hear "Do this,"—and I'm guilty of saying that—when we're really trying to get across "Here's the principle. If I were to apply the principle into a situation like you've presented, my actions might look like this ..." It's meant to illustrate the principle so they can grasp it and translate it, not meant as the be all and end all solution to their problem.


In 2011, Chris Ester wrote:
Semantics are important, on this list radical unschooling is specifically defined and the whole list is almost like some large, multi-lateral thought experiment to hone that definition into a working paradigm.

It took me a while to understand that. I kept reading and learning and absorbing the meme of the group.

There's a bit more of that at this link.

You don't need to tell people why a suggestion won't work. That's a good way to cut off the flow of help. The purpose of the list is to help you understand and apply the principles, not hand out solutions.

—Joyce (in a "post returned" note)

Pam Sorooshian to a frustrated new member:
I'm a moderator on the Always Learning list and thought maybe I could help you out in understanding what Sandra is asking of you.

Every list has a "culture" of its own and it is really important, when new on any list, to mostly "listen" and understand and absorb that culture before you become active. A few brief questions or comments are fine, but new people should ease in - not jump in and make a big splash. That is really just good manners.

There are very clearly some things about this list's culture that you haven't come to understand yet. One is that you may be the person who starts a particular conversation, but on this list we don't continue to think of the responses as being directed to the original poster. Even those that seem to be direct replies to your posts are not to "you" - they are responses to the ideas in the post. We try to stay very aware of the possibility that responses may be meaningful to someone else other than the original poster. That's one reason why we don't expect you to respond to every post that seems to be related to yours.

Also, we have long experience with people new to unschooling, and we know that it is very important to take time to process the new ideas.

Please take time for reflection. Take time for your mind to be calm and quiet. Take time to be open to input, not busy creating output. Don't respond, think. Take the ideas and let them "be" in your mind and go spend lots of time with your children and consider and observe how the ideas might play out in your own home with your own kids.

You say you "talk a lot" and seem to think that means we should accept that that is how you are. But, for the benefit of your children, really, we are telling you that you will gain more insight from being quiet and thoughtful and letting other people's ideas wash over you and slowly seep into your own thinking. If you're willing to listen to this advice and take it to heart, you will, I'm sure, eventually be glad you did.

I hope you'll be willing to consider what I've said here.


Here's something Joyce Fetteroll wrote about Always Learning years ago. This yellow box has resided on a faq about UnschoolingDiscussion list, so I'm glad to bring it "home."

The list is about ideas, not about people.

Think of ideas like balls and the list like a ball court. If someone tosses an idea worth discussing into the court it's going to get batted about. At that point what's going on is no longer about the person who tossed the idea in. It's about the idea and how well and cleanly it's being tossed about. (Unless the tosser keeps jumping in and grabbing the idea ball saying "Mine!")


Someone wrote:
     "[There are] those who either aren't READY to change or don't yet know HOW to change. I'm in that latter category."

Sandra's response:
     But we're trying to help you find ways to change anyway, which you can take or leave.

I was just reading the list over at Always Learning, and there was a discussion about TV-watching that I just loved reading, not just because it espouses the value of TV, but because the voices of the unschooling moms are so full of respect, love, and connection with their families. I often visit this list to read the voices of Sandra Dodd, Pam Sorooshian, Joyce Fetteroll, and others, because they inspire me and remind me about why we have chosen to unschool our kids. And they help me get better at it.

I have gleaned a plethora of wonderful ideas and insights from this group. So first I want to say thank you. Thank you for helping me change my perspective. Thank you for enlightening me. Thank you for helping me want to be a better mother.

I just wanted to say that this list group has to be by far the most loving and encouraging one out there!!!

Thanks so much for the encouragement and friendship and for the love of unschooling. You guys rock.

I am new to this journey and I am happy to say THANKS for helping me on my way to learning what feel right for my kids!!

Two pages of feedback on this list and its related source materials:

Feedback on Sandra Dodd's Unschooling Writings (which includes comments on this list sometimes)

Great Feedback on Unschooling Forum and List (older feedback to two other places where dozens or more of the same folks wrote)

Click here to go to the main page of the AlwaysLearning list (*on, since November 2019).

For New Members of the
Always Learning List

About posting to the list

John Holt (if you haven't read anything by him, there are some excerpts)

Someone who manages a smaller list wrote to ask me some questions about Always Learning. Here are some of my responses:

-=-How/why you think of new topics and discussions for the group.-=-

When something is rolling around in my head, I put it on the list. It's not like there's a checklist or an agenda.

[I had said I would stir a topic back up and my correspondent said she didn't know what that meant.]

I just meant I would add a response so it would come back up in the current mail and up higher on the list (for those who read it on the web) so it could get more attention.

If the list seems to be going dark and sad, I'm more likely to add something cheery. If there hasn't been anything for a while (which hasn't happened lately) I sometimes add something kind of perky and open-ended, just to keep people glad they're on the list.

If it's super busy (like last month) I'm less likely to encourage or participate in something like a discussion of Alan Rickman. "On topic" is more important when people are getting cranky or there are over 100 posts a day.