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Sandra Dodd Pt 1: Path to Unschooling

Sandra Dodd Pt 2: Unschooling & Real Learning

Video by Lee Stranahan
Transcript by Katherine Anderson

The original video is gone now, so I'm very grateful that this one is still at Youtube.

People need some comfort, too. They need to be.. I'm waffling between "cured" and "soothed." They need someone to help them undo some of the damage that was done to them, and that's one of the basic problems with unschooling is that if the parents are too wounded in the area of learning or their own self-esteem, or their ideas about who they are in relation to other people, it's hard for them to see how they could help their child have a healthy relationship to the rest of the world because they don't know what one would look like.

And the thing I think I've seen more than anything else in some of the older unschoolers, the people who are teens who haven't been to school much or at all, is they are so whole. Their .. their place in the world is real. They're not preparing for the possibility of applying to have a place in the world after they're grown. They are in the world. And there's something so different about that.

I remember when I was a kid, and somewhere in Moving a Puddle there's this mention, this day that I said to my friends when we were 15 years old (we were in EspaƱola) walking up Lower San Pedro Road in the summer and I said I wonder how they do it in the real world. And I was serious. I wasn't being cute, and they said, "This is the real world." And when they said that, I thought this isn't the real world. This is Espanola.

My kids wouldn't even know what that meant. If I said something like that to them they'd say "Were you a little .. slow? You know, what was your deal?" because they are in the world. They always have been since they knew what was going on. And one time someone asked my oldest son Kirby when he was 12 or so "Do you like this better than school" and he said, "I have no idea. I have no basis for comparison."

A correction to that quote: I had a clear memory of that day, later. He didn't say "I have no idea." He was quiet for maybe two seconds, and said "I have no basis for comparison."

It's minor, but he DID have a clear idea.

And when their whole real life is this, is natural learning, is making choices about real things in their real lives, and having the leeway and the freedom to say "I don't really like this. I'd like to do something different," and for the adults around them say "Ok let's figure out how we can do that," it makes a whole different kind of person. I never knew how much damage school did until I saw some kids who hadn't been.
Lee Stranahan: Do you think there's anything that they're missing or giving up? You think there's anything at all?

You mean of positive things?

Lee Stranahan: Yeah, yeah.
Because I could just name names of harmful things that they've given up. Um..What people say.. when people say what they'll miss, they say "Well, what about the prom?" Kirby went to a prom, Marty went to a winter ball, and Holly went to a homecoming dance, so that's checklisted, checklisted. Hmmm.. what are they missing? Um, marching band. Keith and I were both in marching band so we felt terrible that they would never learn to do formations on a football field. They don't seem to mind. You know, they have Rock Band.

As far as something difficult in a group, they've done lots of things. It just wasn't something that someone else designed and that they signed up for, and...

Theatre, Holly's done a little bit. They've done a lot of kind of roleplaying stuff where some of the benefits that schools claim they will get from theatre, they've covered in other ways.

Anything that they missed in school, they can still get, pretty much, except for the lifelong friendships with people who went with you, went to school with you from 2nd grade. I know some people I went to school with from 2nd grade. On the other hand, they have still some of those friends from La Leche League. Some of the friends that they hang around with now, they've known since they were little. So they didn't totally miss that but that's partly because they didn't move around. We stayed here in Albuquerque. We changed houses once.

Uhm. What are YOU thinking? What kinds of things were you thinking?

Lee Stranahan: I'm not thinking of...
Group sports they did.. I think that they...

Lee Stranahan: One of the things that comes up when you talk to people, though, that's one of the things that comes up, that they'll ask all the time.

That they'll ask—"What are they missing?" Some of the things that people are pretty sure are important from school that I'm glad my kids missed are things like learning how to get along with other people in that sort of horrible bullying way. In the real world, if you don't like somebody you don't have to stick around with them. And people will say "Well, when you take classes and you have teachers you don't like, that trains you to have jobs with bosses you don't like." Like, well, that breaks your spirit so that you no longer feel you have the ability to say "I am unhappy here. I am leaving." That may be what they mean but I wouldn't want my kids to stay in a job where they felt abused or neglected or that they were doing something they couldn't be proud of or that was immoral. So I think that's another benefit, that they missed that lesson.

But the way that learning works is probably what I should've been talking about. I'm sorry. The way that learning itself works is that people, any person, learns what's interesting. If it's not interesting, you don't care. Someone can say they made you learn it or they forced you to learn it, or you could say I had to learn it but all those phrases cover up the idea that the punishment was more scary than the memorize-and-spit-back-out. But that's not really learning. That's learning a trick very quickly and performing it, and then going away and forgetting it.

Real learning, though, is the things that were so interesting to you that you really sparkled up. You could feel your brain sort of start to move when you started thinking about it and then you asked questions about it or it surprised you or there was something really engaging between you and that or the people who liked it—you liked the person who made pots and you were so interested in this guy and his kickwheel and his pottery studio that you somehow cared about glazes then you somehow cared about glassblowing. And one thing leads to another really naturally if you really care. Even for a moments—it doesn't need to be a ten year old interest. It can just be something that for a moment you got really interested in—some bug you've never seen before. And you might not think about bugs at all for three years, but the next time you see a bug that's kind of like that, you tie it to that. And that's how real knowledge is. It's the connections you have inside yourself.

Part 3: The Universe Inside Your Head

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