PAM: Hi everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca, and today I’m here with Kerry McDonald. Hi Kerry!
KERRY: Hi Pam. Glad to be here.
PAM: I’m so glad to have you. I recently came across some of Kerry’s online articles and followed the thread, of course, back to her blog, where I really enjoyed reading more about her unschooling perspective. She’s also on the organizing team of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, and I was so happy when she agreed to chat with me.
So, to get us started Kerry …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family and your journey from a master’s degree in education to unschooling?
KERRY: Right. So, it’s interesting—I was an economics major as an undergraduate in college, and an education minor, and became really interested in alternative education, even back then, but didn’t know anything about homeschooling until I did a research project my senior year of college. And a classmate of mine had a family member who homeschooled her daughter, and I was able to interview her and find out a little bit about her philosophy of homeschooling. And I was so intrigued about thinking of education outside of the traditional schooling model. So that got me hooked, and this was back in 1998.
After graduating from college, I went on to graduate school at Harvard and got a master’s degree in education policy. And during my time there, I became even more interested in alternative education. What was interesting about the master’s program at Harvard then—and to some extent still, is—if you’re interested in alternative education, really the only way to go is charter schools. It’s essentially all they’re focusing on there.
So, that’s what I did when I was in graduate school, is looking into the choice movement, charter school movement. I became involved with a think tank in the Boston area that was very involved in the charter school movement, and still continues to be today, called The Pioneer Institute.
I really started to think about other models outside of traditional schooling model, and was always still thinking that there had to be more; that there had to be something beyond just charter schools if we’re thinking about alternative education. I stumbled upon Montessori education, or Waldorf education, and all of this just started percolating.
After graduate school, I sort of left education policy for a bit. I became an internal training manager at a large Boston law firm, and then left there to start my own corporate training company, which I did for a number of years, and absolutely loved it. I worked primarily with professional services firms, accounting firms and law firms, on their employee development programs and training. And I thought I would keep doing that, because it was sort of my baby, and I thought I would continue to run my business even when I start a family.
But, as I’m sure many of your listeners can relate to, once I held that baby, I said, “This is the most important thing to me.” And so, I ended up shuttering the business and sending clients elsewhere and devoted myself full time to mothering—and found it incredibly gratifying and equally the most challenging thing I’d ever done. (laughs)
So, I was happily mothering, going through that process, hadn’t really even started thinking about the kids’ education, although I was still always really interested in these alternative education models.
But it wasn’t until my oldest, who’s now ten, was two-and-a-half, and all of her same-age peers were heading off to preschool. The preschool cut-off in our city is 2.9—when you’re 2.9, you can head off into a full-time preschool program. And so, as her friends went off to preschool, I still was very happily being a stay-at-home mom. My son was six months old at the time, and we were just going about our days as we always had, and I wasn’t thinking at all about preschool or schooling for them at that point.
But as I would go to playgrounds with the kids, I would have people come up to me several times that fall and say, “Oh, how old is your daughter?” And I would say, “Oh, she’s two-and-a-half.” And they’d say, “Oh, where does she go to school?” I said, “Oh, she’s two-and-a-half.” (laughs)
KERRY: “She’s home with me.” And they said, “Oh, so you’re homeschooling.” And I said, “No, you know, she’s two-and-a-half.” But this happened several times that fall. And I’m so glad it did, because what it enabled me to do was really think, “Okay, let’s start connecting again with all of this research that I had done years before with homeschooling, and see what it’s like now, and see if this could be a real possibility.”
It was great. I ended up connecting with our local Boston homeschooling community and the networks that are vibrant in the city, and met friends—friends of mine and friends of my daughter’s—that we’re still friends with today, now eight years later. And so, it was really such a great gift to be able to be prompted in that way, and at such young ages, to connect with the homeschool community. And then it became very clear that my children would learn without school. And that’s what we’ve been doing. And I now have four children. They’re ten, eight, six, and three. None of them have ever been to school. And we’re just so grateful to be a part of the local homeschooling community.
PAM: I love that story. It’s amazing how early people start asking that question, right? School, school, school … (laughs)
KERRY: I think it is, right.
PAM: But, as you said, it was a great, I guess, motivation for you to start looking and start thinking about that as in, you know, then you would—I don’t know, it just feels like a choice that you ended up making nice and early that helped you guys get set for the years to come, right?
KERRY: It was great. And in fact, our local homeschooling group has a young homeschoolers weekly park day that they’ve had for several years, and that was how we originally connected with families. And it’s such a great model, because it’s really for people who, you know, may not even be fully committed to homeschooling but have young children who are not in preschool or maybe are even in just a half-day preschool and are exploring the homeschooling options.
I felt really lucky that we had that kind of a resource. And in fact, just the other day I got an email from a parent of a two-year-old who was considering homeschooling and looking for what to do. And it just reminded me of my experience back then, and of course the first thing I said was, “Go ahead and join these local homeschooling networks.”
PAM: That is really cool. A park day that’s focused on younger kids—is that what you meant?
KERRY: Exactly, yeah, is connect with community and build friendships and see if it’s a good fit. And then, for us, we just sort of grew into it. It became a natural extension of our parenting young children and watching how they learn naturally as babies and toddlers and then into early childhood and beyond, and wanting to continue that and facilitate that.
PAM: That is super cool. And speaking of which, I do love hearing about what unschooling kids are up to.
I was hoping you could share what your children are interested in at the moment, and how they’re pursuing it?
KERRY: Right. So, I’ll start with my 10-year-old daughter, who is interested, really, in a lot of things, but primarily I would say crafting and coding. (laughs)
PAM: Ah! The C’s. (laughs)
KERRY: She is quite a creator. She must have some family genes somewhere, but she can knit and sew and create almost anything from anything; really teaches herself from library books and YouTube videos and any other resources that she can find. She taught herself origami and crocheting, again just from these resources—you know, nothing that I know how to do or my husband knows how to do. She really was able to go out and explore and gain this kind of knowledge.
So, she loves crafting, and then she loves coding; so, programming right now, she programs in Java. But she previously was really interested in the Scratch program, which some of your listeners may be aware of, through MIT. It’s a free online software program designed to get kids interested in coding, and sort of the language of coding, from very early ages. They have Scratch Jr., and then the regular Scratch for different ages. So, she started off with that.
And she takes a weekly class, or spends a day a week at a local homeschooling learning center in Somerville, Massachusetts, called Parts and Crafts, where it’s a self-directed learning center, so everything is optional. Classes are offered, you can either participate or not, but interestingly they have a class that she loves calls Art and Code. (laughs) It’s made for her, so she loves it there.
And she’s also really passionate about math and has taught herself a lot of math. We are so fortunate in the city to have an incredible homeschool resource in a woman who has been teaching enrichment math classes for over 30 years. She has a graduate degree in mathematics from MIT and just loves math and loves teaching math through play and games and hands-on manipulatives. She is quite a gift for us and has been amazing for my daughter, and now my daughter is able to be the teaching assistant for the younger groups in addition to her own math classes. So that’s what she’s up to, and it’s just been really interesting now that she’s ten-and-a-half to just see how her interests explode and really mature as she gets older.
And then my eight-year-old son is very interested now in skateboarding, basketball, and parkour, and will gobble up any kind of fiction book related to Minecraft. There’s a sort of burgeoning genre of Minecraft fiction stories that has just really elevated his reading and he just will spend hours. I feel like authors can’t keep up fast enough with creating these new books for kids interested in this. But what’s really interesting with him and skateboarding—I feel like skateboarding has been this perfect example of unschooling, where again, he doesn’t have any family members or close friends who’ve been interested in skateboarding, but just had this interest pop up.
And so, we were lucky that we went to a local skateboarding shop in the city that’s run by a young guy who’s always been passionate about skateboarding since he was young, and he just spends hours chatting with my son and talking about different skateboarding mentors and resources. And it’s just been really great to watch that. He spends a lot of time at the skate park and then watching YouTube videos around tricks and techniques.
And interestingly I just read an article recently, I think it was in Forbes, that talks about what made skateboarders so good in—I think it was the mid-80’s, there was this explosion of talent in skateboarding—and it turns out that it was right around the time when videos were coming out around skateboarding tricks. So, VHS machines were sort of new and you were able to watch how-to videos on how to do skateboarding, and it really led to this incredible sort of explosion in quality of skateboarding and variety of tricks. And I see the same thing now with YouTube and how he learns skateboarding through YouTube and then going out and practicing moves. It’s the same way that if you have resources and access to information and knowledge, it’s incredible what you’re able to do with it and how you’re really able to learn and apply what you’re learning in a way that’s meaningful.
And then my six-year-old has been passionate about bugs for going on three years. You know, initially, we thought it was just a passing interest. She’s really committed to bugs. She’s teamed up with an entomologist at the Harvard Natural History Museum who was able to pass along some bug kits and bug catching materials for her. She’s now pinning and preserving her bugs and is just my nature girl. She loves that.
And then my three-year-old is just along for the ride at this point. He is happy to just be with his siblings and watch what they’re doing.
PAM: I love that. That was beautiful! (laughs) I can totally see the crafting/coding crossover. It sounds a lot like Lissy when she was younger too. She would put together crafts like out of anything, you know, and …
KERRY: Right. Anything.
PAM: It’s just kind of the way their mind likes to work. It was really interesting, yeah. And coding itself, it’s got those parameters or constraints on it, like this is the language that you use, but there’s so much creativity inside, with the idea of beautiful code, that you can so elegantly use that language to create something. I mean you can power through it and take tons of lines, but then, if you can figure out a really elegant way to make it do this and that in like three lines, it’s very fun to play with.
And I loved you mentioning the YouTube and the skateboarding stuff, because, you know what, that’s something I really noticed the last few years at the dojo. When the kids were prepping their routines and stuff for tournaments and even just for fun in the classes, they would have so much fun going online and seeing other people’s tricks and new things that they were doing. And they were bringing so much of that creativity into the local scene rather than being on the professional level, but they were all so excited to just try this out, and try this out, and add it in, and they had so much come with that. I thought that was a really great point.
You wrote a blog post that I really enjoyed recently, that was called Natural Learning in an Artificial World. And I wanted to share a quote from it:
“As homeschoolers I think we have a tendency to seek out classes and educational experiences that foster what we consider to be natural learning. We look for programming that encourages self-direction and child-led learning. We search for teachers who connect with children and ignite their curiosity. But real, natural learning cannot be captured in a classroom or caged in a curriculum.”
And I was hoping you could talk more about what you mean by that.
KERRY: Yeah, it’s so interesting that you pulled that quote out, because I think it really speaks to what the difference between natural learning and sort of the school learning that we’re accustomed to as a culture. That was posted several weeks ago—I want to say it was back in March—when my six-year-old, my nature lover, was about to start a wonderful farm class for homeschoolers at an educational farm just outside of the city that has a great reputation, wonderful teachers, great facilities.
And we were just coming off the heels of an authentic farm experience where we had been up visiting friends in New Hampshire and milking cows at an actual working farm and really, literally getting in the muck and doing the farm chores. And here she was now going to start this class that was truly designed to be a class for kids to learn about nature and farming and that sort of thing.
She was very excited about it initially, and then interestingly after the first two or three classes, she said, “You know, I’m not sure I really want to do this anymore. I’m not sure that this is really exciting anymore.”
So initially she thought it was great, but then it became more and more like school. You know, there were worksheets to color and specific craft projects to do that the teachers—who again, were lovely and wonderful—but they were issuing a curriculum and sort of moving through the curriculum plan for that program.
And it just really spoke, I think, now in hindsight, thinking about that quote, really sort of fulfilled what I had expected. Which was that authentic learning—just going out and being at a farm or even if we were just walking around that farm as a family without participating in the class—would’ve likely created more natural learning opportunities, more deep learning, more enriching learning and enduring learning, than would’ve happened in the classroom where you’re following a prescribed curriculum.
No matter how wonderful the teachers are or how thoughtful the curriculum is, it’s still someone else’s ideas around what a child should know, versus a child asking their own questions, pursuing their own interests and moving along a path that’s meaningful to them.
So, I thought that was just really interesting that you picked out that quote, because in hindsight what I expected sort of came through—that nothing can beat natural learning.
PAM: That’s really interesting. That jumped out at me because that’s been my experience as well. You can create situations, as you mentioned, a program that encourages self-direction, and they try to connect with the child—and the teacher’s trying hard. It’s not like it’s a negative experience; that they have some ulterior motive. They really want to help the child learn, right?
PAM: But yeah, still there’s a difference between that organic, authentic—whatever kind of term you use—but when they’ve chosen to be there and they’re just immersed in that environment, that it has nothing to do with anyone’s—not even expectations of learning—but anticipation of what could be learned and kind of directing it that way, right?
PAM: Yeah, I remember.
This was another thing that was really helpful for me, on my deschooling journey, because I remember when the kids first left school, I got like a conservation family pass so we could go to all the parks around us, just for fun, get out. And one of them was Black Creek Pioneer Village, which was only like 20 minutes from our house. And we used to go there pretty regularly, once every week or two, and the kids would just kind of walk around the place. And in my mind, I’m like, “Oh, you know, there’s a tour starting at this time and they’ll walk us through and tell us the history of this house and that house.” And they would have family days where you could go and play the games and see the horseshoes, that kind of stuff, right? My kids never wanted to participate in any of that more formal programming that was there.
PAM: And I would say, “Oh well, they’re just kind of reacting because it looks a little schoolish, right?
KERRY: Right, right, right.
PAM: So, I just thought, “Well, just give them the space and let them play.” But, holy crap. I don’t know, it was about a year later or so when we were walking around and we just ended up in a conversation and they knew so much—like, more than I did—about the place. Even me having been there. But I was still in a different mindset. I couldn’t absorb like they did.
But they knew the houses; people recognized them, you know, the workers inside the different houses that had activities. They could explain x, y, and z, what was going on here and there. They knew that place so well, but it had been completely on their own terms and absorbing it.
And that was one of those eye-opening moments where I go, you know, “You don’t have to set up programming for them to want to come and ask questions. They can just be in a place and absorb so much because it’s connecting with them where they happen to be right in that moment.” Isn’t that so fun? (laughs)
KERRY: It’s so interesting, and I think it also brings up what would probably be the sort of benefit and drawback of the explosion in homeschooling in the past decade, where now there’s so many classes and there’s so many opportunities and so many activities to participate in and, in many cases, to pay money for, that I think it’s easy to get caught up in all of these opportunities.
And it’s wonderful that they’re available, but I think it’s also a drawback, because it might make families think that they have to do all of these things, that they have to make sure that their kids are in all of these structured activities and taking advantage of all of these opportunities, when sometimes just your own nature walk together, as you’re indicating, can be so much more meaningful and valuable. And then use classes really strategically, and really when it’s a specific interest that a child is deeply passionate about—then a class can be really helpful.
But I think, because there’s so many now—so many opportunities for homeschooling families—it’s easy to get swept up in that process and lose sight of how much natural learning can happen, as you said, just organically through our everyday living.
PAM: Yeah. I think that it can. If you’re coming from school and you’re taking your kids out or you’re choosing not to do that, it’s easy to see those classes as the replacement—“this is what I’m doing instead”—without doing a lot of that deschooling piece and understanding how natural learning can work, how it works in the environment, right? And so you miss out on that piece if you just jump from one to the next, I think.
KERRY: I think that’s right.
You co-edited a book along with Rachel Chaney, called Choosing Home: 20 Mothers Celebrate Staying Home, Raising Children, and Changing the World. I was hoping you could share the inspiration behind this collection of stories. I enjoyed browsing through it.
KERRY: Great, yeah. So, Rachel and I co-edited Choosing Home, back in 2015, and it was really just prompted by this desire to allow mothers specifically, and parents in general, to share their stories of how they came to choose home.
We were particularly struck by what we felt were these societal messages telling women, telling mothers, “The best thing for you to do is put your child in high-quality child care and get back into work and use your talents in the work force.” And we really wanted to spotlight mothers and women who are incredibly talented, who had lots of opportunities and experiences, but chose motherhood instead.
And in many cases in the book this came at huge financial sacrifice; you know, some of the mothers talk about having to get rid of cell phones and selling a car, downsizing to a smaller home, eating rice and beans, and going without, just to make that work. And others, you know, maybe were less sort of stark changes but still had their own sense of sacrifice and prioritizing to make it work, to have one parent at home, raising their child. And so, we really just wanted to showcase these stories. And it ended up being this incredibly wise and eloquent collection of mothers’ stories.
PAM: Yeah, it really did.
And it’s interesting—I’m going to kind of move into the next question at the same time, because we’re going to talk about your essay in the book. But you know, that’s the idea—celebrating mothers who realize that sure, their talents would be well-respected, say, out in the world, but it’s the point of view of mothers understanding that there’s so much value in using their talents, applying them to motherhood, to this role, where’s it’s not typically valued from their perspective. When you look at your essay, you’re talking about the consequences of society’s pursuit of equal participation between men and women in the work force, and looking from the outside, seeing that rise in stay-at-home moms over the past 15 years or so as a bad thing. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about those consequences.
Before, we were looking at it from the mother’s perspective, and all the benefits and wonderful things that they see. What are some of the consequences that you see when society’s looking from the outside and seeing it as a bad thing?
KERRY: Right. So first I would say that, you know, again, the book Choosing Home focuses on mothers, but we say in the introduction to the eBook that we really are talking about one parent at home, we just happened to use the network that we had access to, and focused on mothers for this particular book. But it in no way excludes the growing number of stay-at-home fathers.
Which brings us to this sort of second question that you had of this pursuit of equal participation—50/50 participation of men and women in the workforce at all levels in all professions. And what we wanted to say is that, you know, where is this coming from? For sure we would want equal opportunity of men and women in the workforce, but why do we have this goal of equal participation, of 50/50 participation of men and women? We were challenging that assumption, and trying to make the distinction between opportunity and participation.
Because what we’re seeing—and this gets to your question about the consequences of this—is that when we are sending children at ever-earlier ages into full-day child care situations, no matter how wonderful they may be, we are separating children from parents, and that can lead to some really alarming consequences.
We’re seeing rises in children’s psychological impact—negative impact; we’re seeing negative impacts to their health and their well-being. And I think much of this can be targeted or focused on the growing numbers of children that are going into child care at very early ages. And then leading into academic types of preschool at, as we talked earlier, at two-and-a-half, where their childhood is really stripped from them, and this opportunity to imagine and create and ask their own questions and pursue their own interests is really limited.
So those are some of the real consequences, and I often think about John Taylor Gatto’s books and his writing, and particularly in his Underground History of American Education, where he republishes his Wall Street Journal article when he quit as a teacher in New York, after being named the New York State Teacher of the Year.
And he says about how schooling is the most radical adventure in history—it kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood. And I think that that’s what we’re seeing: that we’re separating parents and children and it’s having these negative consequences at the micro level in relationships between parents and children, and at the macro level in sort of our overall well-being and societal health.
PAM: Yeah, I think that is such a great point.
When you focus on the micro, the one-on-one relationships, we can see the impact when we look at the bigger picture, but so often that’s not where society’s looking, is it? There never seem to be a lot of conversations about that bigger picture impact. It’s all very focused on—even the numbers, right?—it’s very focused on, like you said, looking at—I love the distinction between equal opportunity versus equal participation—it’s just so focused on 50/50 this—measuring. There you go! (laughs)
So focused on measuring, reaching some sort of conclusion from that, and then applying that as goals. We’re talking marks, we’re talking grading, we’re talking right up to this measurement of participation in the workforce. And that micro focus I think has really had unintended but huge impact on the macro level.
KERRY: That’s right.
PAM: (sighs) Very nice, thank you. I really enjoyed that. (laughs)
You are on the organizing team of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, and I was hoping you could share with us a bit about the Alliance and its plans?
KERRY: Yes, I would love to. The Alliance for Self-Directed Education is a really exciting initiative that evolved from, initially, the alternativestoschool.com website, and that initial project that Peter Gray, Pat Farenga, Cevin Soling, myself and some others, put together to provide a resource for families interested in self-directed education. So, it had information about unschooling, about community-based resource centers (learning centers like Parts and Crafts, the one I mentioned that my daughter goes to once a week), and democratic schooling that embraces the ideals of self-directed education.
But what we discovered after launching the alternativestoschool.com website is that to really create a movement around self-directed education and to really bring together all of the incredible voices, incredible people that are working in this space and that have contributed in so many ways to self-directed education and unschooling movements over the past several decades, we wanted to create a registered non-profit—a 503c organization—and that’s how the Alliance for Self-Directed Education came about.
And I hope that some of your listeners have visited. It’s self-directed.org. It’s a beautiful website, and just this week we launched the sort of centerpiece of the site, which is the member network. So now you’re able to go to the website and join and become a member and connect with other families, other parents and individuals who are interested in self-directed education, whether that is unschooling your own children, or connecting with other families in your area that believe, as you do, that learning without schooling is the preferred method of education.
And if you’re interested in potentially starting a community-based learning center for homeschoolers or a democratic type of school, this is sort of the resource to do that.
We have a lot of great ideas and plans and we’re looking for lots of feedback from members on what would be some great next steps; what can we do to really push this movement forward.
Is it creating more films and documentaries and other creative ways of showcasing what unschooling and self-directed education is? Is it potentially embarking on more compelling research that shows the importance of learning without schooling and some of the benefits and outcomes to that? You know, what could we do now that we have this non-profit that’s raising money, that’s looking at different opportunities to really normalize and legitimize self-directed education and expand it to more and more families?
PAM: Yeah, I really loved when I first heard about it—I guess it was probably the end of last year—the idea of bringing together all these voices who are—generally under the self-directed term—not school, right?
KERRY: Exactly. (laughs) Exactly.
PAM: (laughs) I know, it sounds so simple that way, but you know, it’s a really big thing. I love the idea of normalizing it, because, in any of those communities individually, we get a lot of pushback from people who don’t understand what we’re doing, right? It just seems so strange and weird—I mean a lot of people have the read the comments in unschooling articles online, or videos, et cetera.
But it helps people to see that there are different ways you can approach that. We’re talking democratic schools and learning centers and stuff. And any one of those styles may fit better for your family, for your kids, for your circumstances etc, but it’s so nice to see them all coming together to show that there’s such a variety of choice, right? It lets people see that there’s so much more choice out there rather than, you know, just school, and not school.
KERRY: Right. I love that.
I love separating it from school and not school. Because I think that’s exactly what the Alliance for Self-Directed Education is trying to do. And it’s even separating—you know, again, this idea of traditional homeschooling from unschooling—it’s the same idea that we don’t need to use school as the prototype. We don’t need to be comparing ourselves against school. And in fact, that might be harmful, and not beneficial. We shouldn’t use school as the model. We should be looking at some other models, creating our own, or tapping in to some of the compelling research that already exists, that shows that self-directed education and natural learning really are the preferred methods of education. And I think that’s really what the Alliance for Self-Directed Education is trying to do.
PAM: And it’s such a nice distinction there, that you mentioned, the school-at-home, you know—homeschooling—the juxtaposition with that. That’s awesome.
I was reading through them and the thread that’s running through most of them seems to be diving into the consequences of that conventional school system, or school-at-home approach to learning. And you write with such passion, it was so fun to read it. And I would love to hear what’s drawn you to start writing about that aspect?
KERRY: Right. So, I’ve always been interested in education policy, back from college and graduate school, and it’s been really exciting to team up with the Foundation for Economic Education and Intellectual Takeout—who care about these issues as well—and looking at the mass schooling model and challenging it.
Why are we holding up mass schooling, conventional schooling, as this pillar for education when there’s so many other models, and in fact we’re seeing so many things wrong with the mass schooling system, the mass schooling structure? It’s been really exciting to focus on writing more there, especially now that I’m sort of out of the infancy stage and heading out of toddlerhood, I feel like I have some more time to devote to pushing this forward and focusing more on writing about education policy.
You know, this is something that I care about personally and that I feel really lucky to be able to provide for my family, and I think it’s just important to be able to get information out there for other families that there are other options, that the default option of mass schooling isn’t the only way to go, it might not be the best way, and in fact, I have lots of arguments of why it’s not the preferred way of learning—and here are some alternatives to really explore. So, it’s been great to be able to focus on that.
And it’s been also great because my husband’s been able to scale back his work so that I’m able to focus more now on writing and speaking around education policy issues and self-directed education. We’re sort of making this work as a family and figuring out what we can do to support our children and support each other and support our family.
PAM: Yeah, that’s one thing I love about the unschooling community at large—well world-wide—is so many people come with so many different passions and interests. They come into unschooling from so many different places.
To see those—because unschooling really, when you look at it, it really permeates all of life, right? It becomes a lifestyle. And I just love when I see people’s passions and interests from even before you guys chose unschooling, starting to connect and build with your unschooling passion or interest as well. You know, that you’re bringing this education policy perspective to it, and you’re being able to write and share so persuasively how you’re seeing those—self-directed education and education policy—where they meet, right?
PAM: Yeah! (laughs)
I mean, and I think that that’s really a key piece, is that I believe that self-directed education is the preferred philosophy of learning, but mostly what I’m concerned about is providing more education choice to more families. So, that this might be my bias—I might think that this is the best way to go—but I just want there to be lots of opportunities. And I find that I feel like that’s hard to really provide to families when you have a sort of monopoly situation in conventional schooling taking up over 80% of the education market. You just don’t have true choice.
And so I’m really concerned about broadening that choice, hopefully persuading families to move towards the self-directed education side of things, and towards that philosophy, but acknowledging that there’s lots of ways to be educated, and there’s lots of philosophies to explore and pursue. And there isn’t necessarily one right way, but that we can’t have true education choice when we have one specific mode of education that is mass schooling taking up the vast majority of the overall education platform.
PAM: You know what, I think because, with the compulsory schooling laws—it’s just my perspective—that once that choice seemed to be gone, you know, then people don’t really know that they have a choice and they just do what’s expected, right? So I think that’s the biggest thing. Like, I know even at the end of my intro to unschooling book, I say thanks for reading, you know, whether or not you choose unschooling, you now know there’s a choice. So even if they choose school, they do it with their eyes more open, you know what I mean?
PAM: And then they can participate even in that environment more. I think that’s what’s so important.
KERRY: I think that’s right. And I think it goes back to our earlier discussion about the Choosing Home book. It’s the same idea, that we sort of have this cultural precedent to move children into childcare. New parents are getting constant messaging around, “Get your kids ready for school. Your worth as a parent is to prepare them for success in school.” And, “Do what you can to get that process going as early as possible.” And, “Aren’t you better off being in the workforce so that your children can be ready for school in high-quality childcare programming and high-quality preschool and then mass schooling. Isn’t that what you should be really working toward?”
And I think what Choosing Home tried to do was really open up this conversation a bit more and challenge that assumption and say, “Wait a minute! You don’t have to go down this path. This is not the only way to go. And, in fact, it might be a harmful way to go.”
And I think the same thing, you’re absolutely right, with your work and with this podcast series and with the overall focus on self-directed education, it’s just letting families know that there are alternatives currently to mass schooling that are worth pursuing, that are worth investigating. And that you’re right, even if you ultimately choose the conventional schooling model, you’re aware that there are these alternatives, and then hopefully these alternatives continue to explode, continue to grow and expand and become more accessible to more and more families.
PAM: I love that. And yes, thank you so much for your work too. I really like that I’m seeing more and more choices and more and more information just out there for people to run into and start to understand that their life is full of choice.
You know, so often they feel like, “I have to do this, I have to do this, I have to do this…” That they have no choice in their lives. And I love seeing all that kind of information that’s getting out there. So, thank you very much for that.
KERRY: Oh, thanks.
PAM: And, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today Kerry. I had a great time.
KERRY: This was a great time. Thank you so much, Pam.
PAM: Yay! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
And before we go, where’s the best place for people to connect with you online?
KERRY: I’d love people to visit me on my blog, which is wholefamilylearning.com, or on Facebook at Whole Family Learning. If you go to the website, my email address is there. Feel free to reach out to me there. I’d love to hear from your listeners.
PAM: That’s awesome. And I will definitely put links to all that in the show notes.
PAM: Have a great day Kerry!
KERRY: Thanks Pam! Take care.