PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Jae Williams. Hi, Jae!
JAE: Hey. Good morning. Good morning.
PAM: Good morning. So, we recently connected online and I really enjoyed checking out your YouTube channel and I look forward to new videos as they come out. I’m really excited to learn more about your journey so far as you’re getting started.
Can you just share with us a bit about you and your family and what everybody’s interested in right now, just so we can get to know you guys a little bit?
JAE: So, my wife and I have been married for almost 11 years this year. And we have a little girl. She’s six. She’s our oldest. And I have a son. He will be turning three on Wednesday. So, he’s right around the corner, running out of those terrible twos. But he’s definitely turned into, what do they call it? A threenager or something. So, he definitely wants to do things his way. This self-directed approach fits perfect for where he is in his stage of life.
As far as the kids and their interests, my son, he’s all about orcas, orca whales, killer whales, which I was telling my wife yesterday, I didn’t know the name orca until college. I think I watched a documentary and I always thought of a killer whale, a Free Willy, back in the nineties with the Michael Jackson song or whatever.
PAM: Oh yeah.
JAE: And he loves orca whales. He wants to watch those documentaries over and over. We go to the library and, at first, I thought he just wanted the kid books with the pictures and read-along kind of things. But no, he wants the real deep, National Geographic with mostly text and he wants me to sit there and read it to him. I was like, wow. I was like, this is interesting. So, that’s his interest.
And my daughter, anything unicorn, rainbows, that’s where her flow is right now. And she loves Ninja Warrior, the acrobatics of that, climbing, pull-ups, being able to do monkey bars, that’s her challenge that she has for herself, being able to go across five consecutive monkey bars. She’s made it up to three and she was so excited just to make it to three.
PAM: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. I love the physicality piece, too. It’s interesting how, early on, you can see those who can sometimes be more drawn. It doesn’t mean that others won’t, but it is fascinating just to see them in action. When they’re free to choose what they’re doing in the moment, you can see that playing out. That’s so fun. So, what about you and your wife? What are you guys interested in?
JAE: Well, me, obviously this. And we’ll talk about more of that in this conversation, but just taking a deep dive in this whole new world that I kind of knew was always there, but didn’t have a name for it or a directed approach to it.
And my wife, she’s been just a huge support. She’s the one who actually pushed me toward it more than anything. I brought it up to her with my concerns and I’ll just get right into it.
So, I’ve been a teacher. I was teaching for six years and I always, how do I say it? I guess you could say I was a loved teacher. All the kids loved me. They would come to my class and I was every kid’s favorite teacher. And at the end of the year, I always felt this this feeling of, I wasn’t that good at teaching.
I knew they loved me and I knew they enjoyed my class and I knew they were learning somewhat, but I always felt and I would tell my wife, “You guys say I’m a good teacher.” And she’s like, “No, you’re an excellent teacher!” And I’m like, “I don’t feel it. I don’t feel like I’m actually good at what I’m doing. I feel there’s something that’s not there. There’s a disconnect in what the students are saying they want and what I’m supplying them.”
So, every year I would go through this. I’m very purpose-driven, so at the end of every year, I would almost recreate my lessons and come up with some new idea or some new way, a different approach. There was a podcast that you did. It was a while ago, but the guest was a project-based teacher. She did a lot of project-based teaching. And so, I was like, I’m going to do that.
So, I go online and I find some templates for project-based learning and we came up with some incredible things. But even still, it still wasn’t all there and I realized and that’s kind of what got me on this journey that it’s more about allowing the learner to naturally flow into what they want to learn instead of me, I guess you could say, tricking them into wanting to learn things. Because that only takes you but so far. And that’s the part that I realized. And I was trying so many different ways to make it purposeful, make the learning purposeful for them, make it matter, you know? So, we attached to current events, we attached to needs that they saw in the community and the world.
Like for example, one of my products I probably would say I was the most proud of was we came up with a book. And the book was basically a critique on Hammurabi’s Code, which is one of the first law codes in history, written law codes. And the way that we did it was we would have these things called Socratic seminars, which was basically a discussion. You have your text, you read through the text, and then you have an open discussion where it’s not centered around the teachers. You’re literally sitting in a circle and they’re just having a conversation, sharing the stage, and discussing different things about the text.
And the thing that came up in that conversation a lot was they felt like it was unfair, a little bit because it was harsh, but they felt because a lot of the law codes differentiated between class. So, women and men, and also between slaves and free people. And they felt like that’s unfair and they really, really harped in on that a lot. And I said, “So, what do you think about that? So, obviously you feel like slavery is unfair, but do you realize that slavery is actually still around now, today?”
And they were like, “Really? Oh my goodness.” So, we started doing a little research on things and we found the International Justice Mission, they focus on human trafficking and things like that and preventing slavery around the world. And they were like, “Oh my goodness, we want to help them.” They thought that was so amazing.
So, this assignment, which is a standard in Florida, talking about Hammurabi’s Code, that shifted to unfairness and their interest in abolishing slavery. And then it goes to, how can we actually help actual people in the world today? So, I came up with this idea actually inspired by this documentary, Most Likely to Succeed. It’s also a book. I read it in I feel like two days, but I’ve read the book and then watched the documentary and everything.
They had a lot of project-based learning. Their whole school lesson was basically one singular project that they would build toward for the end of the semester, I believe. And so, they would pick their own groups and all this kind of stuff.
So, sorry, long story long, I said, “Okay, how about we create something? We create different things, talking about your feelings about Hammurabi’s Code, and we compile it in one singular book?” This is a sixth grade class, by the way. So, you’re talking about 11, 12-year-olds, some kids 13. And so, I wasn’t sure how good the quality would be, but being inspired by listening to, like I mentioned, in the podcast that you had, the documentary, I said, I’m going to allow them to do everything.
They’re the editors. They’re the designers of the book. They’re the writers, obviously, the creators of content. And they did it. They voted, they turned in their applications, “Oh, I want to be the editor.” “I want to be over the imagery,” or, “I want to be the design of the cover.” And, “I want to compile it and make sure it’s organized in the right way.” They were the ones who did all of it.
And it was amazing. It was this beautiful book of work that they were so proud of, they came up with their own commercials to sell it to the school. The idea was we were going to publish it and sell it on Amazon and then use the proceeds of that and send it to the International Justice Mission to directly help.
And it was just so heartwarming for them, putting their action towards something that actually mattered to them. So, it was more than just a grade. And I always say, as a teacher, I’m the least teachery teacher of all time. I hate grades. I hate tests. I’ve always felt like that. And I always said, “Don’t focus on the grade. Focus on creating something memorable, meaningful to you and invest yourself into it.” And they did and it was beautiful.
The logistics of school, apparently Amazon’s publishing contract wasn’t appropriate enough for our school. And so, they basically shut it down. We made the book and everything. It was ready. Amazon was ready to publish it, but they wouldn’t allow us to take that step and the kids were crushed. They were crushed, because they put so much time and effort toward doing something that they felt like mattered, more than just like the question, “Why are we learning history anyway? What does it matter?”
And, to me, it matters to do something purposeful today to help people today and they felt like they didn’t really get that chance. And so, there were a lot of moments like that that I’ve had, and that was years ago, I think maybe three years ago or so when we had that project. But the thing that kind of brought me to where we are today is I just recognized that it’s an unnatural approach that we have to what we call schooling. It’s not efficient.
I was reading Free to Learn and I’m a history teacher, as well, so all of those things resonated with me a lot, just the natural hunter gatherers and how they interact and how they raised their children to be able to do the things that they needed to survive in their society. And I always thought, a huge part of my life is paying taxes. A huge part of my life is investing or budgeting. And there’s so little emphasis on these practical adulting skills that we have. And I feel like that’s not the way it should be.
So, you asked me one simple question and I went on forever, but the gist is I just saw a lot of flaws with how school was set up and how we are saying we’re preparing them to be the leaders of tomorrow, but, in actuality, we’re not. We’re preparing them to be workers. We’re preparing them to follow rules and instruction. We’re not allowing them to be creative. We’re not allowing them to have passion towards their work and their interest and that’s what shifted us there.
So, imagine, you’ve met me for a few minutes and you see how I talk, right? So, my wife comes home to this every night. She’s like, “You should stop teaching. Why don’t you stay home with the kids?” And that was a whole thing in itself, for me. Because I’m male. And just a little bit about my background, I didn’t have a father around. So, I was always searching for men and always searching for role models, from celebrities to athletes to the mailman to guys in church and the community, my teachers, my coaches, like everywhere, you know?
And I was always looking for, what is a man supposed to be like? What is a father supposed to be like? Because I didn’t have that. So, I was looking out for it. And I always had this in my mind that a man’s job was to protect and provide. In one of the videos, I joked about it. When my wife said, “Oh, why don’t you stay home with the kids?” I was like, “I’m not going to be a housewife. What do you mean? What is this?”
And I thought about it, I prayed about it. I’m a very spiritual person and I prayed about it and something I felt like God was telling me was that protection and provision is more than just financial. It’s not just bringing home the bacon. It’s establishing a safe family unit for your wife, your kids, to grow into the people they’re destined to be, and who better to do that than a former teacher for my own kids.
And so, that was the shift, the turning point, the tipping point, for me to make the move.
PAM: Thank you so much, Jae. That was fascinating to listen to. I’m glad. You talk all you want.
So, those two pieces are super fascinating and I think what lies underneath both, your teaching experience and the things that you found weren’t working for you, same with diving into the question, “Why don’t you stay home with the kids?” is that willingness to ask yourself questions, to dig a little bit deeper, to question the conventional messages that we’ve absorbed, or maybe even just the societal, cultural messages that we absorbed growing up. And just to say, is this true? Is this really true for us? Is it true to my experience?
So, you threw yourself 110%, 200% into being a teacher.
JAE: Yes, exactly.
PAM: Those experiences were amazing for your kids. And I remember from your video, too, when you talked about leaving teaching, that part of that was that you had a lot of fun with the kids. The kids said “favorite teacher”. The kids were really involved in the things that you were doing in your classroom.
And then, the next year, when you would say hi to them and chat with them, often they didn’t really quite remember what you had done in the classroom the year before. That’s just another piece of information for you, about how that environment supports their learning. And how do you define learning? All those little questions. And being willing to say, “You know what? I’m just going to think this through and see if it makes sense for me.”
PAM: So that’s awesome.
JAE: And then that moment, that glaze that I would get with them, and you would see that after the fact and you actually would see it before, too. In the classroom, you have you have a pace that you have to follow. And so, you teach a lesson, you give a quiz. And an assessment is basically just supposed to let you know, did the teacher do a good enough job in presenting this information so the student can absorb it and learn it? That’s the purpose of an assessment.
But the way school is set up is, we gotta move forward. We can’t stay back in chapter three, section two, we have to move on to chapter four. So, if a student gets a D or a C or an F, what do you do? And I was always pushing back and I was like, I want to stay with that student where they are, to keep staying with that content. Let’s get them to understand that. Let’s get some true learning here.
And I got in trouble a lot as a teacher, because I was always trying to push the envelope a lot. And they would say, “No. We gotta move on. You can’t be so far behind.” And then, what about the students who got it that first day and now we’re three, four days in it, talking about the same thing. How are they enjoying this learning environment? Is this beneficial for them?
There were so many different things that I was combating and I realized that, yeah, this whole room, this box that we’re in, and you have 25, 30 kids in this room, and you’re supposed to be teaching them on the same pace, it’s not a very realistic approach. It’s very unnatural. And the crazy part about it, one of your questions was, what was your aha moment?
The aha moment is that society has been taught that that is the natural way of learning, in a school, with an authoritative person in the front telling you what to do, telling you what page to go to, and things like that. That is what’s assumed is the natural way and it’s the opposite. It’s incredibly unnatural, you know? So, all of this has brought me to this place where I am today.
PAM: Just when you were speaking about that, like you were saying, if we do this assessment and the student’s not getting it yet, that you took that on as the teacher’s responsibility. Whereas, so often we do hear that as, “Well, as a teacher, I shared this thing, I taught this thing, it’s the student’s fault they didn’t pick it up.” I just love that different lens that you were bringing to it. It’s just another great example of that.
And it goes exactly to your aha moment that this environment, the pace is very important. The pace is critical. Seeing it through their eyes, meeting them where they are, and moving at the pace that works for them is what helps learning shine. And in this box of 30 kids, it’s just not conducive to creating that for each child.
And then, you’ve got the pace that the curriculum dictates that you move at, because you’ve only got so many days to get through that learning. So, that is all working against you in the classroom as you’re trying to come up with all these projects that will engage them, that will bring them into the moment, that are relevant to their lives. All those pieces shown in the way you were describing what you were trying to do in the classroom. So, I much appreciate that.
But still, when it comes down to the kids, it doesn’t work so well individually for each one. And that’s the fascinating thing, too, when you get to know them as individuals. The ones who pick it up that day and the ones who need more time with it also varies by topic doesn’t it? Because some things are relevant. Orcas are really relevant and all that stuff will just soak in. Yet, another topic or another thing to do is a very different experience. So, understanding that it’s not even that these kids are always faster and these kids are always slower. It’s also so dependent on what the thing is that you’re talking about at the time.
JAE: Exactly. It’s interesting, because another moment that I’ve had even more recently is a small, miniature version of what we do with our kids, with what we do with adults as well, we put them on this treadmill or rat wheel and they’re just kind of going. And it starts at a slower speed for the kids, but as we become adults, it speeds up and it gets faster and faster. But in the grand scheme, if we really kind of stop and look, we’re not going anywhere. We’re just on this wheel and it’s not really taking us anywhere. And it’s definitely not taking us to where we’re trying to go.
And everyone has their goals and their end game. It’s different for everybody. But, for me, it’s happiness, lasting happiness, not just moments of thrill, but lasting happiness. That’s kind of my end goal.
There was this author. Bob Barnes is his name. He’s an author, talks about parenting. He does it more from the Christian perspective. Great, great thinker, though, when it comes to parenting and his approach, but something that he said was “We are raising human doings instead of human beings.”
Because everybody wants to get into the best college. And, oh, in order to do that, you have to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. You have to have honor roll and you have to be a captain of your sports team and you have to be on the student council and you have all of these things that they’re just throwing at you to put on your resume so you can get into the best college, so you can have the best job. And so, if you get the best job, you can make the most money, and buy this house and the picket fence and you live happily ever after.
But everybody knows that’s not the way life really works. And then why do we want our kids to be subjected to this idea that I’m only successful and happy if I make it to this Ivy league school, or if I make it to this top-ranked school, and if I’m an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer. What about those who don’t quite meet that expectation or don’t have that interest or are not able to keep up with that pace?
I was reading a statistic the other day that there is a growing level of people in their twenties, in their thirties, reaching this quarter life crisis, because they’ve worked their whole life in this schooling environment to go to a certain place. And then, now they’re in this real world and they realize, oh, I still feel empty. I’m missing something. I’m not pursuing my interests and my passions and those things that I’m trying to teach my six-year-old and my three-year-old, they’re learning and figuring out at that age. I’m learning.
I guess I have a lot of aha moments, but one of the other aha moments I found was that this whole process, I’ve basically been unschooling myself since COVID. COVID hit and it gave us time to slow down and get off of that wheel, that treadmill. I started unschooling myself into my own interest and to the things that I love to do, and I realized, wow. I feel like I learned so much more in that year than I did in my years in college at the University of Florida, my years in high school, middle school. I learned more in that one little year, just following my passions for 12 months than I did in all of those years. And it triggers like, yeah, because this is the natural way of things.
PAM: I was going to say, because that is how human beings learn. That ties absolutely to that dichotomy between humans doing and humans being. It really starts to stand out. And I think maybe that “humans doing” piece might have been a lot of the stuff you’re talking about. It sounds like those were things you were diving into as you were thinking about, what if I stay home with the kids?
All of those productivity expectations that we as a culture have on everybody being as productive as possible, but definitely on dads having that expectation that they be the provider in the family. So, peeling all that back to discover the hamster wheel and discover, we’re just doing, doing, doing. What good is this productivity? When I have the space to be, oh my gosh, look how my learning shines. Just so many things bubble up all around those questions. It’s really fascinating.
I love the being versus doing dichotomy. Because it is fun to do, but then you realize so much of the doing is outer expectations. And then, I followed the path. I got the good grades. I was captain of the team. I did my volunteer work. It looked really good on my application. I got into the good college. I graduated. Now this quarter life crisis thing is that you kind of expect the reward at the end of that, too.
You have just had your life set out. I did what you guys told me I needed to do. And now, I expect a reward at the end of this. And either they are judged or they can’t get it. You hear of so many college kids who’ve got their degree in everything and there’s not the job that they were expecting for them at the end. Or they got it and they’re feeling empty. Is this really fulfilling my purpose? I’m just spending all these years fulfilling someone else’s purpose for me. And how does this feel now that I’ve achieved it?
It goes back to what we were talking about before, being willing to ask those questions and dig a bit deeper rather than, I guess this is all there is. I’m going to keep running. Or am I going to stop for a moment? Am I going to pause? Am I going to start asking myself these questions and start digging into how that experience feels for me?
And I think part of that is trusting yourself too, trusting your experiences are real, not judging that you’re doing this wrong.
JAE: That’s a great point. I actually never thought about it like that. It’s a huge piece of trust. And with COVID in 2020, it allowed us to slow down and, just to speak personally, me and my wife, we went to counseling, because we really wanted to focus on our union and in our marriage. Not that things were bad, but we just wanted to strengthen our bond.
And the biggest thing that came out of that was trust and allowing that trust to kind of flow through our relationship in every level, in every way, because there’s so many little ways that we cut against the trust that we don’t even realize. Maybe the way I say something to her and the way she says something to me and we assume, “Oh, you think negative of me,” it was like, “No. Trust that I love you and I appreciate who you are and how you are. I’m just saying this for a different reason.”
In order to be able to give trust to someone else, you have to first trust yourself. And that’s something that resonated so much with this process. And I think I even said it maybe in a video. I want my kids to be able to trust their feelings and their thoughts, their interests, and pursue those things. Because think about how dynamic of a person that is, a person who genuinely loves and trusts themselves and understands what they want out of life and understands how to get to it. Man, it’s just such an amazing person.
No matter if they’re the president of the United States or if they’re picking flowers every day. It doesn’t matter. It’s just following that passion and understanding and gaining that self-trust, that self-confidence, just feel like that’s what’s going to change the world for the better. That’s what’s gonna allow us to be successful overall.
PAM: And that is not something you can just tell somebody else. They need to gain that trust in themselves, that self-confidence, through their own experiences, where they have the agency to make these choices, the choice that makes the most sense to them in the moment. And then seeing how that unfolds. That’s how they build trust in themselves. It doesn’t mean it has to go right all the time.
Absolutely not. When things go sideways, that’s how you build trust. It’s like, oh, things went sideways and I changed it up here and now it’s working or four or five twists and turns later, I got here. I can get here. And it’s okay if it takes this little twisty path. I trust myself to go with the flow, to figure out what’s working for me, what piece isn’t working for me. I’m tweaking it here, a little tweak over there. And then, when they’re gaining all those experiences, also over time, they see how that changes.
They see how they grow and change as a person. It’s like, oh, I used to really not like that and now I’m okay with it. Just to see themselves change, I think that helps keep them open to that in the future. So, they don’t stay stuck in that hamster wheel. “This is me. This is how I define myself. This is how I function. And if that changes I’m wrong.” To gain that experience, to have someone else trust yet support them, help them out, help them whether it’s through conversations or whether it’s supplies, or whether it’s taking them places, whatever it is, just helping them have the experiences that they are interested in, that they think they want. You know what I mean? Does that make sense?
So, maybe they want to go to the park. So, you guys go to the park and they’re playing around and it’s like, oh, I got bored of this fast. Or, you know what? This wasn’t as fun as I thought. Something simple like that helps them learn more about themselves. So, every little choice, whatever it is that they want to drink, was that satisfying?
Every little thing helps them learn a little bit more about themselves, which in turn helps them trust themselves. Trust even to say, that smoothie wasn’t quite as satisfying or that smoothie was super satisfying. The outcome of the choice, no matter what it is, helps them learn and gain a little bit more experience with themselves and those experiences help them learn to trust themselves the next time. They’re like, oh, I remember that experience. I’m going to tweak it and do it a little bit different this way this time. And we’ll see how that plays out.
So, trust is something that we want to help them build and cultivate in themselves. It’s not something that we can say, oh, you should trust yourself, whatever you want to do it. And, for me, that’s one of the beautiful things about unschooling is we’re giving them that space to make the choices that make the most sense to them, not hands-off. We’re there to help them process and then we learn whether they’re internal processes or external processes. Maybe they want to chat about it. Maybe they want to say, oh, that wasn’t as tasty as I thought. And they want to brainstorm. “Next time, maybe I’ll try this.”
Or maybe they have more quiet time. They like to be off on their own. And then you just notice the next time they make a different choice. So, you’re like, oh, they were thinking about that. Those experiences are what helps them hear their inner voice, if you want to put it that way. But just build trust in themselves, in their ability to make choices, and to tweak things, to realize that there isn’t right or wrong, that I’m not wrong if it doesn’t go exactly the way I was expecting, but the trust is that they can deal with that, too.
JAE: Yeah. And, as parents, a lot of times we get so caught up in, we don’t want them to have the same mistakes we had, but there’s a beauty in them living through their own mistakes. My son, like I’ve mentioned, he’s two going on three. And we go to the playground all the time. As soon as they heard we were unschooling, they were like, “Yay! Playground every day!” I was like, “All right. Sure. We can go to the playground every day.”
So, we go to the playground all the time and he’s climbing things and I’m the only dad there. I’m seeing all the moms clutching their pearls, like, “Oh my goodness.” He’s climbing so high. He’s so little. And I come from a sports background. I’ve coached basketball for almost 20 years. And when a kid breaks a bone and it heals, it’s set and it heals, it actually heals harder than it was, stronger than it was originally.
And so, I said, worst case scenario, he does fall and he does break a bone. He’s going to heal and it’s going to be stronger than what it was before, but even more importantly, he learns from his mistake of falling. And we, as parents, we try to protect them from falls that they can survive. But when it becomes a thing where it’s a fall that they can’t survive, they’re not as familiar with making that critical decision. They’re not as comfortable with making that drastic choice that might change their life for the rest of their life or change the trajectory of their life.
I kind of joke in one of the videos, the term “unschooling”, it’s kind of negative. But it’s really parent-based. It’s just a way of parenting. Super parenting or engaged parenting, purposeful parenting, but it’s just the way you parent. You can be an unschooling parent, but your kids are still in school. You know what I mean? The school part is just a small element of it. It’s more of having that engaged interaction, those conversations, and allowing that time, and allowing the opportunity for your child to develop that level of trust and understanding themselves and finding themselves.
PAM: Yeah. I love that. I have had a couple of episodes about that, because it’s true. Once it becomes the lifestyle, it becomes a parenting style. I don’t even like the term “parenting style”, because you’re getting away from that parent-child dynamic. Yes, we are parents and children, but we’re people.
And we’re just being with each other as the human beings that we are and we’re all helping each other out as much as we can in the moment.
As your kids get older, you’ll see them and you may see it right now, too. They want to help. They want to engage with you. They have fun with you as a human being. So, it’s not that power, control dynamic anymore, which is why as people come to unschooling, when they get to that more just connected and strong relationship versus the power and control dynamic, school can absolutely just be part of the picture if the child wants to try it out, wants to do that. They may have reasons and that’s totally okay.
And you don’t need to think, “Oh, all of the sudden, they’re in school. So, now I need to readopt that authoritative control piece and make sure they do their homework.” No. This is their choice. Maybe homework isn’t part of the reason they’re going. Sometimes they go for sports and they need to keep certain grades up maybe, but it’s worth it to them for participating in the sport that they wanted to participate in.
We just can’t tell, but their determination when they’re doing something that they choose to do, is just such a pleasure to watch. And we don’t need to circumvent that. We can support them and help them. If they’re like, “Oh, remind me, I have some homework tonight if you can remind me to get that done,” that’s great. We can support them, but that’s their choice. Those are the things they want. We don’t need to try to control, because then you’re circumventing their learning. They’re learning through that experience. It was their choice. They wanted to do it.
We also don’t need to say, “Okay, you’re going back. You have to go back for the whole year.” Or, “If you choose to go to high school, you got to finish the whole thing,” or anything like that. It still can be their agency. It still can be their choice. And knowing that if at some point, this is more hassle than what I’m getting out of it, that they can choose to leave, too. Like you were saying, school can become part of the picture, because it becomes a lifestyle and we don’t have to change that just because one of our kids chooses to bring school into our lives for a while or for however long.
JAE: Exactly. There was this one book, The Self-Driven Child by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson. It talks about parents not being cops, but being consultants and interacting with them and not coming to them saying, “Oh, you have to do it this way, this way, this way.” It’s like, ask them questions. “Oh, so, what’s our goal that we’re working toward?”
And another book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. And he talks about working with the end in mind and I feel like that’s the unschooling way, this unschooling style. It fits within those narratives of working with the end in mind, because, like you mentioned, if my daughter comes to me and says, “Oh, I want to go back to school now. It was fun while it lasted, but I want to go back to school,” then we would have that conversation. Okay. Why, why is that? Because, “Oh, I want to play sports,” or, “I want to be with my friends,” or, “I want to experience this teacher,” or whatever. And we support them in their journey instead of policing them in our parenting approach and that’s, to me, just a beautiful relationship dynamic, that interdependence that we try to develop with them.
PAM: Yeah. And what bubbled up for me when you were talking about that, when we talked about getting to that deschooling place, part of that, too, is school not being like valued above other ways. So, it’s absolutely a choice on the platter, but the wonderful thing about those conversations, like you said, she comes and says she’s interested in going back to school and then you have the conversation and you find out what’s underneath that for her. And you may well find other ways to satisfy the things that she’s looking for that don’t need to include school.
So, maybe for kids who’ve been to school or been to school for a few years, they may see that as the solution if they want to see more friends. For them, that was the place that they saw friends. And so, they come with, “I want to go to school,” but if you dig in, they want to see friends more. Then it’s like, oh, we can figure that out. We can do that without school in the picture. Let’s try this way, this way. We can do this now. We don’t have to wait to return to school.
Sometimes we as parents and even kids who have been to school or they haven’t been to school but they see it on TV and they see it in videos, so often when we have a need, we try to figure out the solution to the need. And then we ask for the solution. But if you take the time to dig into the underlying needs, there are often so many possible ways to meet them that need.
JAE: That same goal. Yeah.
PAM: Yeah. Meet that same goal for them. And that just opens them up to more possibilities. So, we definitely don’t want to say, “No. You can’t go back to school.” That’s not the point at all, but you can certainly have the conversation and more possibilities can come up that you can then play with, that they have more choice rather than the tunnel vision or the most conventional answer.
JAE: Yeah. And that’s being that role of consultant. That supportive role instead of that authoritative role.
PAM: So, I’m curious, you’ve been doing awesome. I haven’t actually asked you the last few questions.
JAE: I’m sorry. That’s how all my job interviews go. I just start talking.
PAM: That’s perfect.
I am curious what unschooling-related question is on your mind the most right now. I’m just curious what it is and how you’re playing with that.
JAE: So, for me, as you could probably get an idea of me being a teacher, I kind of throw myself into it. So, I’ve done that with unschooling. And, in the process, I’m still deschooling at the same time. And so, there’s always moments that I’m checking myself and I’m like, oh yeah. That’s that old thinking. Let’s go back to being more purposeful and thinking in this new, more healthy, more natural way.
And so, finding a balance, because unschooling is easy, in a weird way, but it’s very hard in another way. Because every moment is a lesson. Literally every moment. Every conversation is a lesson. And sometimes, I wanna knock it out of the park with that perfect lecture in front of the class where the kids were like, “Yeah!” You know that moment? Wait. Were you a teacher before in the classroom?
JAE: So, when you teach and you’re in the classroom, you work hard toward your lesson or whatever, and you’ve probably had this with your podcasts and stuff, because whether you realize it or not, you are a teacher.
So, you have these moments where you prepare and you and when you’re preparing you think, oh, this there’s going to be that thing that triggers it. So, you do it and sometimes you get the reaction, other times you don’t, but more times than not, it’s something totally different that really resonates with them. And they come back and say, “Oh, you remember when you said this?” I’m like, “Wait, what did I say?” They’re like, “You said this!” I’m like, “That sounds like something I would say. It’s right,” but that was not that moment, you know?
And so, every time I have a conversation with my daughter or my son, I’m thinking it’s potentially that moment, that moment that always resonates with them for the rest of their life. So, sometimes it’s a lot of pressure. I put a lot of pressure on myself to come off like Morgan Freeman, this wise, gray-haired, almost God figure in a movie kind of thing who just always knows the right thing to say. And just finding a balance and realizing that I’m human, they’re human, every single moment isn’t the most important thing that they need to learn, but just be engaged in the moment.
And also, finding a balance, because I’m not just staying home. I’m working from home as well. And trying to build the YouTube channel that I’m just starting and learning that, because I’ve never done that stuff before. I’ve edited family stuff, but doing it on this level where potentially thousands, or eventually, maybe millions of people will be seeing it. I’ve never done that before. So, it’s learning that process.
And you probably know about editing, because you have your podcasts, but editing takes a lot of time.
PAM: It does.
JAE: A lot of time.
So, finding that balance between, I want to be the perfectly engaged dad with everything, but then I want to make these beautiful, perfect videos and other things and still be a great husband. So, finding that balance when it all blends together now, with me being at home. That’s a big question that I have. How do you find that balance?
So, one little seed to plant is that, over the years, I discovered “balance” wasn’t really a helpful word or concept. And you’ve used the word before, but I leaned more into “flow”, because I found when I was trying to balance things, then sometimes the stuff that I was interested in doing, there were times when that took a back burner, whether it was for a couple of days, a week or whatever. And I found myself thinking, oh my gosh, I have to fight for my piece of the pie, my balance. And that so often ended in frustration, because that ended up with me trying to control more.
It ended up with me feeling like, “I got all these things for you. You guys are all set. You’re ready. Now I’m going to go do my thing,” but then they have questions. They have conversations. They want to come and connect. You’re just starting out. So, it’ll be really interesting for you to just observe this. But I came to see how, the more I tried to hold on tight and grab my balance of all the different things I’m trying to balance in my life, more often than not, that hurt and just created more frustration for myself.
Yet, if I could lean into the flow, like if they were really needing connection and time with me, or if there was something going on with my partner and we really needed some more time together or there was something going on physically at the house, like an appliance broke down and we need to focus on that, when I could sink into the flow and not try to control or hold on to things so hard, the time appeared. It just wasn’t when I was trying to create it. So, the time for me to sink into these other things would show up in the flow.
If I looked over a week, rather than looking at a particular day, flow was just a better metaphor for me into how our days went. Because some days were much more weighted in one particular area. But, over time, if I looked at a couple of weeks, if I looked at a month, it’s like, oh yeah, I got plenty of my time. It just wasn’t balanced per se, depending on the time window you look at.
So, for me, balance was something that if I looked for, I kept getting annoyed that things didn’t seem balanced. But if I looked at the flow, things flowed between all the pieces, because also when you’re looking for the flow, you’re also like, I’m wanting some time to work on a video. Or, for me, it was writing my books. But that would appear. And so, I would watch out for it, because then, too, if I was stuck in the balance, I was like, okay, I want an hour today to work on that.
And if I was looking for that or expecting that, I would often get frustrated. And then it’s like, oh, I didn’t get my hour today. And then I don’t notice the time later on in the day where they’re all busy and occupied and I’m like, I didn’t get to write, or whatever it is. “I didn’t get to write at 10:00 this morning when I really wanted to write.”
So, with flow, on one hand, it’s so complicated because then everything’s a possibility in each moment, but then again, everything is a possibility in each moment. So, when I looked for the moments to bubble up, they really did come up in the flow. But if I was looking for balance, that just put me in a more frustrating spot more often.
JAE: I love the way you said that, because I guess I try to say I’m a creative person. So, flow is huge for me. Even when I would be working, whether it be school work or working on a job or whatever, and I would start it and it would take forever to get it going. And then once I get it going, that flow, then I’m like knocking things out. And I don’t want to mess up my flow and the kids would come in needing something. I’d tell them, this isn’t the time.
And maybe this is the old-mind kind of question, but I’m going to ask it and put myself out there looking Stone Age-y.
But, when you’re writing, and you’re in your flow, but you have that moment where the kids want you. I’m not going to say need, but the kids want you, or your partner wants you, or something like that, to be involved with them instead of involved with your writing, do you continue with the flow of your writing? Or do you say, there’s a hierarchy to this and certain things have precedent? Does that question even make sense?
PAM: Oh absolutely. It makes sense. So, I would visit my priorities. I thought of them as priorities. So, having my kids at home and unschooling them, that was a choice. And that was my number one priority. I talked with my editor of my first book, who was an unschooling mom, too. And that book was 22,000 words or something. It’s a small book, but it took about two years, because both of us, our kids were the priority. So, a month could go by before we’d hear from each other. I’d sent her a small chapter or whatever and it could be six weeks before I’d get notes back. And then maybe another six weeks before I sent her the next little piece.
But that was okay, because we understood what each other’s priorities were. That said, it didn’t mean that the minute somebody said something, I just dropped it. Because, number one, when you’re in the flow, there’s a transition piece. So, it could be if somebody comes, it’s like, “I’m just going to finish this thought.” Or maybe if they want to share a video or something, “Can I come see it in 15 minutes? I just want to finish this up.” So, you get a feel for the moment, so they know that you’re engaged in doing something that’s of value to you, so then you can actually have that real conversation. They’ll take a moment to say, “Oh no. I really want to share this with you right now,” and you can tell from their energy and from their response how important it is to them.
So, it really became who, who is this most valuable to? You know what I mean? So, when they knew that when they said, “No, I really want to show it to you now,” or, “I really want the Lego,” or, “Dad, can you get the supplies?” or whatever that they’re wanting to do. Sometimes they can wait and sometimes they really want to do it now, but they take that moment to answer. So, they think about it.
And when it’s really important to them in the moment, when they have your response, that builds trust in the relationship, so that, as they see you say, “I’m just finishing this sentence,” or, “Let me save my file so I don’t lose the work that I’ve done so far,” you’re just sharing those little pieces. Then you go off and help them however they need and then maybe go back to it. Maybe you’re gone 10 minutes, half an hour, two hours, whatever it is, but you’ve built that trust with them so that the next time or maybe the tenth next time, they completely trust that if you say, “15 minutes or half an hour, I’m just finishing this up,” they trust that you will come and help them then. And they can totally lean into, I can wait, if they can wait. Because they trust that you’re not just trying to put them off.
So, if we use it as a tool like, I’m going to put them off and then I’m never going to get around to it, and we’re not talking always/never, you’re breaking a bit of trust there. So, more often, they’re going to say, “No. Right now, please,” because that’s the only way that they get the response that they’re looking for, the help that they’re asking for it.
But when everybody’s real, that builds trust. Because it’s also valuable for them to know that you’re engaged in doing something fun, just like they’re engaged in doing something fun that they’re interested in and that they want to do and that you’re willing to take a break and help them if it’s super important, but you’re also totally willing and you will a hundred percent be there in 20 minutes when you’re done with this thing. Those are the real pieces. Those are getting to know each other as people, building that trust, building that connection.
Maybe they come in and you say, “Oh, I’m just finishing up this really cool edit. And I’ll be done in about 10 minutes,” and maybe they’re like, “Oh, what is it you’re doing?” It’s real people living together and being with each other.
So, you don’t want to be martyrly, like, yes, of course I must do that, because that’s my highest priority and shut everything off and off I go, because that’s not going to help you feel good. It’s not going to help them feel good. It’s not going to help them learn about other people and other people’s needs and considering those in each moment. Every choice could be different in that moment when they come or when your wife comes and says, “How about this? Can you come do this?” It’s like being real with people. So, it could be very different in each moment, but you guys have come together and agreed on something that you think will work out and then you gain experience with that choice.
Maybe consistently you say 10 minutes and it ends up being 30 minutes. So, you’ll get a little better at saying, “Yeah. It’s probably gonna take me 20 minutes.” I mean, I am notorious for underestimating how long it will take me.
JAE: Me too. We’re in the flow! There’s no time in the flow.
PAM: “Are you sure, Dad?” Yeah. You know what I mean? Or sometimes, I’ll set my alarm on my phone. There are just so many ways to move through the moments, but each time we learn. Each time we make a choice, we gain a little bit of experience with it.
I stop and I notice how I was a little bit frustrated, because I was really into it and I was really excited, but they’re really excited about their thing and that’s my priority. I want to help them, so I stopped. And we see how that goes. But we’re all learning a little bit more about each other and about ourselves each time we make those choices and it’s a choice together.
JAE: Yeah. That’s great. I appreciate that. I needed that. I needed that.
PAM: No problem.
So, when we connected, you mentioned that you’d love to talk about whether unschooling is a viable option for single-parent families or poor, working-class families. So, I would like to hear your thoughts on that. What are you thinking about that?
JAE: I think, like I said, it’s more of a parental approach or a lifestyle. Since I made my choice in stepping away from school and teaching my kids, a lot of friends and family have come to me and things like that. And that seems to be a recurring thing. What if it’s a single parent? What if they don’t have the resources that we are blessed to have? Is it possible? And so, I’m still early in that process.
I’m a dreamer. My wife always says, “You’re such a dreamer.” Ideally, I would think a micro-schools set up potentially could get some kind of funding, grants that would allow us to sustain a level, because a democratic or a micro-school or a Sudbury school, the cost is actually cheaper than a public school. So, if they can get enough funding, I feel like they would be able to help underprivileged communities. But from conversations that I’ve had with a few people, they say it actually is a lot more difficult to get that funding, to get those grants. Sometimes there’s a big push back on that. So, I don’t know. That’s why it’s a question I have. I don’t know. Ideally, I would think it potentially could be the case.
And then, there’s a whole second part of it. And this goes into the life element of it and that’s the beautiful thing about unschooling. It’s so much bigger than school. But in our society, we’re all about material things. And we’re all about driving this car and having in this house or living in this neighborhood and getting this purse or this new iPhone when it comes out or whatever. Or like me, I like shoes. I like Michael Jordan sneakers.
And so, if you break away from that and go into more of a minimalist mindset, but also financially, being very responsible with your money and saying that, all right. All the money that comes in to the house, we’re only going to spend 50% of it, or we’re only gonna spend 60% of it and the rest is going to be either saved, invested, and being purposeful with your money. Even if you are poor, you can do that. And I’ve been both, by the way.
I’m not rich by any means. We’re comfortable. But I used to joke all the time, I wasn’t raised in the projects, but I lived right next to it. So, I’ll tell a quick story. I promise this is a quick story. I promise. She’s like, oh here we go. He’s in his flow.
I always say I lived next to the projects, not in the projects. So, my wife comes to my hometown in Vidalia, Georgia. That’s where I’m from. It’s part of Southeast Georgia and we’re driving around and I was like, “Oh, this is the neighborhood I lived in and this is the apartments.” And she sees the apartments and she was like, “Oh my goodness. You lived there?” She said, “Why didn’t you live over there? Those apartments look nice.” I was like, “Oh. Those are the projects.” But they were so much nicer than my little apartment.
So, I was really poor growing up and even with that, there’s things that you could live without. You don’t need certain things. You have your needs, you have your wants, and you can live without a lot of stuff.
And I remember when we first had a kid, our first, my daughter, I was talking to these parents, like, how do you balance the finances? I’m always asking for balance, right? So, how do you balance the financial part of it? Because we were living the DINK life. We had dual incomes, no kids. We were loving it. We’d go to the concerts and lived in this nice high-rise condo or whatever. And I was like, man, how do you balance kids? How do you afford it?
And I remember, they said, you’ll you find a way. When you have kids, you find a way.
And I think that that’s the approach that you could potentially take is, wherever situation you are financially, you can find a way for your kids when you need to. And whether that’s cutting back on certain things, whether that’s balancing your budget a little bit better, whether that’s finding a micro-school situation or a democratic school that fits your needs, you’ll find a way when you really want it.
So, that’s my hope. That’s my dreamer idea. But I’m interested in what you think.
PAM: It is so individual. I don’t want to speak for anybody and the idea is not to make anybody feel bad with the way they look at it. But, I mean, I have seen the way you’re talking about it. If this is your purpose, if this is a passion, if this is something that you want to do, you can find a way. The thing is if you’re looking to other families and thinking, I should be like that, that’s not the piece.
Over the many years now have come across so many different unschooling families with different creative approaches to their lives. The financial piece is just part of the equation, part of our choices. I have a podcast episode; I think it’s called Unschooling on a Budget. I’ll put it in the show notes, but with that family, they all wanted to be home as much as possible. And so, Dad goes and works for a few months, they save up that, and then he comes home for a few months. And it depends on the work that he finds and so, they save up for a while until they’ve got enough in their savings that they’re comfortable and then he comes home and hangs out with them.
He’s still home when he’s working, for the most part. It’s not like he goes across the country, which, again, there are other families where the spouse is working away from the family for a few months and then they come home. It all depends on the work that they’re doing. And now, as you’re doing, you’re finding a way to do some work from home. So, there are some families where either both parents work from home or they’re a single parent and they work from home.
Another mum that I talked to, she’s a single parent with two kids unschooling and she would have meetings in the coffee shop and the kids were old enough to go and hang out there with her during meetings. We can be creative. I think so much of it is that deschooling piece. Like, you know what? This is something that I want to do. How can I creatively make that work versus a hamster wheel path, a conventional path of, I should be doing this?
So, when you can start to play and then maybe it’s figuring out a budget on one income. It really is how we choose to prioritize individually. There are some who sell their house and decide they want to travel or they get an RV so that their housing costs are super low. When you start opening up, so many things that we think were have-to’s, really, we realize how much of that is choice. And some people downsize so that they have that chunk of money just in case, like emergency money.
There’s just so many possibilities when you open it up and really just lean into what your priorities are, what your purpose is. So, I’ve seen single parents unschooling. Some take them to work with them. Maybe some run a restaurant. I’ve seen college professors and sometimes their kid would sit in the back of the classroom and that was fine, too.
It also depends on the people. It also depends on the kids. How you, as a family, come together, whatever your family looks like, and see how you guys can creatively make things work. Because ultimately, everybody wants to make things work. We’re not dictating and telling them, “Well, you have to do this. You have to do this.”
When people are working on a team and they’re trying to figure things out, how can this look for us? What is it that we’re wanting out of this? Here’s what our resources are right now. Here are some of the possibilities. Kids can have really great ideas, too. And sometimes, it’s like sharing with another family, finding another family close by that you just share care with sometimes. When she couldn’t bring her to the class or whatever, now you can do virtual teaching as well and online teaching. And then other times, they can go hang out over here when we need. Helping each other out that way with another family.
There are just so many possibilities. which is why there’s no pat answer to it.
JAE: No one right way.
PAM: Yeah. There’s no one right way, but I feel it’s possible.
And then, also we were talking about earlier, sometimes school is in the picture, but that can also be part of the conversation and again, doesn’t really need to impact our lifestyle. We don’t need to change. We don’t need to, all of a sudden, value grades and start judging our kid by the grades that they’re getting. We don’t need to be hounding them. It doesn’t need to hurt our relationship. But you just need to get to that place first, just choosing to prioritize the relationship, to prioritize the connection. And then sometimes, school is in the picture for a while. Sometimes it’s because it’s a family need. Sometimes it’s a child’s choice.
But you work as a team together in your family to figure it out and everybody knows that they’re fully considered, that they’re a full part of this family. And everybody sees, this is what’s going to work best for us for now and we’ll try it out and see what happens and maybe tweak it along the way.
JAE: Yeah. And that’s huge, feeling considered. Because that means you’re valued and you’re important. And a lot of adults, they don’t feel that and they’re always searching for that value. So, that means a lot. That means a lot more ways than one.
PAM: Yeah. And then we’re valued and then we value all the possibilities. Opening up to things that look unconventional, but just knowing, this works for our family and that’s enough. It doesn’t matter what it looks like to other people. And you can understand how it might look to other people, but they also aren’t part of your family. They haven’t been part of the conversations. They haven’t been part of possibilities and all the tweaking and the thinking and the consideration that’s gone on into making this choice.
And it can just be that this choice is working for us right now. It’s working well for us right now. We’re going to try it out and see. Nothing needs to be set in stone, either, because then we forget that we can change things up.
So, you also mentioned society’s shifting view on schooling and careers as a path to happiness. And we’ve been talking about that quite a bit in our conversation and just whether or not that’s reaching a tipping point culturally. I’d love to hear if you’re seeing that.
I’ve been steeped in the unschooling community for a few years, so I see that all the time. But it is really interesting, especially as you said, with the pandemic and people being home and starting to realize how valuable that connection and that slower time without a lot of the expectations we keep on us. Do you see that coming up more and more in your conversations?
JAE: Absolutely. A hundred percent. I’d probably say a week doesn’t go by that I don’t have a conversation with somebody, it could be a family member, sometimes it’s a random parent in the park. And they’re saying, “Oh, we’re selling our house. We’re downsizing. I’m not going to be working anymore,” or, “I’m going to be working from home and we want to travel and go on walks and hikes,” and just spending time. And I think the unschool community, it’s another option for families that I don’t think a lot of people know about. And that’s actually why I started the YouTube channel is to talk about my journey. Because there’s a lot of people who have no idea.
Anytime I mentioned unschooling or things like that, they’re like, “What is that? What are you doing? What do you mean?” And I was like, “Well, just watch the video.” Because you end up explaining the same thing over and over. But it’s such a new thing.
I’ve been reading articles about millennials, how they don’t want to go to work. They don’t want to go back to work. They want to work from home. They want to be self-directed in their learning and their experience. And it’s only a matter of time before an adult starts thinking. Now they’re like, yeah, obviously I want this for my kids. Because, as adults, what do we want?
We want at least as good as what we have for our children. And they’re going to start realizing that this hamster wheel, this rat wheel, this treadmill that we’re on, it’s actually leading us to a place that isn’t where we are finding our joy. It’s taking us to a place where we’re not feeling fulfilled. We’re not feeling valued and we’re not trusting in ourselves and in the people around us. And so, I think there is a tipping point that’s going on.
One thing that I have recognized with it is there is also fear. So, people are nervous to make that jump, because we’ve been on this wheel for so long and we’ve been taught that this is the process, this is how you achieve the American dream.
And there was one video I did where I talked about, is this a lie that they’re selling us? That there’s this idea of the American dream and the process of getting to it, is this even a real thing? And everyone has the right to their own opinion, but I personally feel like it is. They have been lying to us. I feel like there’s a lot of mistruths in there and that these false facts that are out there make us feel afraid, to plant seeds of fear that if I don’t follow this path, the way we’ve been taught, the way I was taught, my kids are going to turn out to be something I don’t want, or I’m going to not be happy or be poor or struggling. And there’s all this fear surrounding our decisions.
And one thing that I’ve learned is, when you’re making decisions based on fear, it’s usually not the best way. It’s not the healthiest way. So, I feel so many people have said, “Oh, Jae, you’re so brave. You’re so brave. You quit your job and you’re staying home. Man, I wish I was that I brave.” And I was talking to my wife the other day. We were saying, we don’t feel like it’s brave. We feel like we were being obedient. I literally feel like I was being led to doing this. It was just a part of this flow. And it was just a natural way of doing things.
I put myself on this natural path and I’m just flowing in this stream and I’m just allowing myself, not holding on to the sides, just allowing myself to go down this path, which just feels natural. It feels refreshing. And it feels like we’re going to a place where that happiness that I talked about, that lasting happiness, is.
So, yeah. I do.
PAM: Yeah. For me, that connects back to when we were talking about having trust in ourselves and trust in our experience. It can feel very fearful to go against convention, because this is an unconventional choice, an unconventional lifestyle in general. But that brave piece, I love that, because we don’t feel brave, because we’re trusting our experiences.
And when you talk about feeling led, it’s because this makes a lot of sense to us. Because everybody coming to unschooling will be coming from a different place. With your teaching background, your experience with teaching, the questions that you’ve been asking yourself, this path makes a lot of sense. So, it doesn’t feel brave. It feels logical. It feels comforting. It feels like the right next step. And then, you see how it unfolds.
But for people who haven’t thought about it, from the outside, you can see how they think we’re brave because it looks like a choice that’s out of left field for other people. But you were talking about this tipping point, when we start asking those kinds of questions and we start looking at how things really are unfolding for people and asking how well this is working for us, for others, for the kind of lifestyle that we want to cultivate with our children, it just becomes the next sensical step, versus, oh, I’m stepping out into the wild wilderness and this is a very brave thing to do. I totally get how it just feels so good to take this step and see what happens.
That is so interesting to think about and to hear more and more people asking these questions. I am seeing it more and more online. My kids are older now, so I’m not out with kids, so people would come and ask me questions, but in Canada also, we’re behind the US in knowing about it. When I first had kids, I didn’t even know homeschooling was a thing.
JAE: Oh, really?
PAM: Yeah. I came across it online. It was like, what? I was literally saying, “Sorry, kids. You have to go to school. Let’s figure out a way to make this fun.” And then, later I said, “You know what I just discovered? You don’t have to go to school.” It was a big wake-up call for all of us. But anyway, I would be chatting with people when they got curious, but that was often the first question. Is that legal? Are you allowed to not send your kids to school?
So, over the last decade and change, it’s been really interesting to see that becoming more and more, just the language as the first step. So, now people are starting to realize that. For me, it’s just knowing it’s a choice, because even if you choose school and you choose that lifestyle, knowing that it’s a choice, not a “have to” makes all the difference in the world, too. Doesn’t it?
PAM: I think so. Okay.
So, as you settle into unschooling, what has surprised you most, so far?
JAE: Surprises. There have been a couple. I’m very sports-oriented, so finding myself back in the mindset. So, here’s an example, my daughter learning how to ride the bike. Something basic, simple. And there was one moment where we were in it, we’re going to force it, “Let’s ride this bike.” And she’s like, “I don’t want to.” I’m just like, “What do you mean you don’t want to? Come on.” And it’s like, why? It’s like, “Oh, I’m afraid,” and I’m like, “We don’t live in fear, blah, blah, blah.” And, “We started this, we’re going to finish it. We’re no quitters. There’s no quit in this family.”
It’s seeing those moments like, oh man, yeah, I shouldn’t have said that. That’s not it. That’s not the approach. She was afraid for a reason. Let’s focus on that. “Why were you afraid?” Let’s help her understand that that fear comes from a real place and let’s address that place.
And so, things like that. Those are, I guess you could say, some aha moments, things that I’m learning, just a lot of times I got to kind of pull myself back, look outside of myself and see. Is this the unschooling way? Is this the way? Like the Mandalorian. “This is the way.” So, yeah, having a lot of moments like that, that’s been big. And we’re so new in it.
Technically I’ve been unschooling for, I guess, two months now. So, it’s super new, but I’ve been reading a lot of books on it and I guess you could say deschooling myself for that last year. And the joy that I get when we find that, I’m going to keep using your word because I like it, flow in our relationship and that flow in our learning, that I find in my learning, the joy that you get from that, it’s been so amazing. You can’t describe it. It’s so refreshing. It’s really refreshing.
PAM: Oh, I love that. I love that so much. And you know what? I remember how surprising that was to me. That’s how I ended up calling my website Living Joyfully, because it just stood out for me how much joy there was. And, like you said before, we’re not talking those fleeting happy moments because something was good. But there’s even joy in that frustration and determination to keep going and get something, whether it’s in a game or figuring out a puzzle or the monkey bars that you were talking about with your daughter.
Whatever it is that they’re wanting to do, when we get into that flow, you see the determination that comes with that and also the joy that goes through it, because they had the choice, because this is something they want to accomplish, or something that they want to finish, or whatever it is. It really boils down to, when we have the choice, there is just so much more fundamental joy weaving into all the things we do when we sink into the flow.
JAE: I had a question. It might be complicated.
So, for you, what do you feel your purpose was? And then can you describe like that moment that you’re like, yeah, when I look back on my life and I think of the purpose that I have, what was that tipping point for you that flowed into your purpose? And what do you feel like your purpose is?
JAE: And if it’s too complicated of a question …
PAM: No. Well, okay. I’m thinking, are you thinking about my personal purpose or are you thinking with respect to my kids?
JAE: No. You, you individually. Yeah. As Pam, what do you feel like your purpose is and then a tipping point in you feeling like you’d have an understanding of what that is.
PAM: I love that you have used the word “purpose” in your videos and stuff.
What bubbles up for me when I think about purpose is sort of an expectation that there’s an outcome. That, I struggle with. Because I love talking about unschooling, the podcast here, the community, writing the books. I love sharing it, because I found it so impactful and life-changing in my own family, just to recognize kids as real human beings in the moment.
And in that I didn’t need to have a purpose or an end point for them other than supporting them figuring out what was important to them and helping them accomplish and do the things that they were interested in doing. So, I love just sharing that excitement. And it also helps me, even though my kids are in their twenties now, see that this is still the person I want to be. This is still the life I want to lead.
So, staying immersed in that ethos also helps me remember to make choices towards the person that I want to be, knowing that I’m never done. I’m always growing and changing and I’m sinking into the flow of different things now in different seasons of life, but it still brings it top of mind. It still inspires me to see other families living joyfully with their kids, with their families, however their family looks. And that just excites me every day.
I constantly get goosebumps talking to people on the podcast. I get off these calls so energized, because it’s just so cool. And it’s just the way I still want to live my days.
So, purpose-wise, I also don’t want to have any expectation on other people. We’ve talked about that, the expectation is people realizing that they have a choice. That’s it. My purpose isn’t to try and get as many people unschooling as possible. That’s not a goal or a purpose for me, but just for it to be out in the world so that other people know it’s a possibility, like we were talking about with the tipping point.
It’s that people are like, “Oh, what is unschooling? What is that? That sounds weird.” Just even to normalize it per se, because it doesn’t need to be normal. It doesn’t need to be conventional for people to choose it, just for people to know it exists, to plant that seed.
And then, if they’re asking themselves some questions and it starts to make sense to them, they get to that point where it doesn’t feel so brave, where it doesn’t feel so weird, because, oh man, this makes sense for us and I’d like to chat with other people for whom it makes sense with.
And I want a little bit learn a little bit more about what they’re doing, like that whole deschooling that you’ve been doing for the last year, where this makes sense enough that you’re going to try it. You’re going to do this. Without it feeling like it’s some massive, wild jump into the air. It can sometimes feel it the day that you do it. It’s like, oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.
So, does that meet your definition of purpose?
Because I guess when I think of purpose, I think you’re just going in a direction, but you’re enjoying the journey. The journey is where you get the joy from, not so much the end goal. Like I said, I’m sports minded, so we have the goal of winning a championship or becoming the best player that you can be. And I talk about this all the time with my players that it’s not so much the end goal. It’s the journey getting there, the togetherness, the struggle, the highs that you get from going on that journey towards your end goal of being the best possible player or winning that championship. That’s where the beauty is. That’s the memory.
When you’re not on this path anymore, you’re not on this journey anymore, and you look back, those are the moments you remember, not so much the championship, but those in-between moments with your brothers, with your teammates, those in-between with your coach. Those times when you’re completely exhausted running those drills and stuff like that. So, when I say purpose, I was more talking about the direction that you’re going in and what you felt that was.
Because, for me, when I hear a person, like what you just described, that gives me goosebumps. It gives me chills, just seeing the joy that you get from doing something that you love and hearing someone talk about that and describe it, whether it’s something I agree with or not, it’s such a beautiful thing. It’s such a beautiful thing. It’s just amazing. So, yeah.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. And I had an episode recently where I talked about using joy as my compass. Just through experience, that has taken me the most interesting places. And, like you said, I loved the journey, using that metaphor. I wrote a book called The Unschooling Journey, because, for me, it’s only about the journey and right now, it’s still about the journey. It’s still about using joy as my compass and, in the journey, like you were describing with the sports journey, that’s where you’re learning so much about yourself. You’re like, how did that feel when I was exhausted, yet I still wanted to do this one more thing or whatever the piece is.
I remember many, many years ago somebody said, when we were talking about have to’s versus want to’s, somebody said, “I want to get my black belt. So, I have to get up each morning and go to those classes.” Yet those are still a choice, but that’s what you learn along the journey. You want that goal enough that each morning you’re choosing to do the thing that takes you one more step towards it. And it’s just a shift in the energy.
You’re still showing up to the class and you may still be tired if it’s an early morning class or a later in the evening class. But knowing that you’re choosing it, for me anyway, just makes all the difference in how I show up to it. Rather than dragging myself, like, “I have to do this, I have to do this.” That energy is just so completely different. I can still be dragging myself, but, “Oh man, I’m doing this, because,” you’ve got your goal in mind. You’ve got the journey in mind.
Each time you remember the last time you were tired and you went and how you felt exhilarated by the end of it, or, “I still want to learn this piece. I want to work on this a little bit more,” and you progress. It may just be your own progress that you’re looking at, but when you can make that shift to realizing you’re on the journey, that’s just one of those things to go from the “have to” to, this is my choice.
This is my choice. It’s that determination. “I’m still going for it. I’m still practicing.” Or, “All this effort is just not worth what I think I’m going to be getting.” And maybe you quit, maybe you quit for six months, maybe a year. Maybe you never go back to it, but look how much you’ve learned about yourself in that moment and up to that moment.
And then you leave and you’re like, “How much do I miss it? What am I doing instead of those classes? Am I enjoying that more?” We really do ask ourselves these questions. So, even if you ask your child, “What are you thinking?” they may not be able to express it, but as human beings, we naturally think that way.
We naturally consider our previous experiences and, as things change, we notice them, even if it’s in the background, it just becomes part of our instinct the next time we make that choice. That all becomes part of our history, of our cumulative experiences, that we bring into the next choice that we make.
So, all that to say, I love the journey metaphor, Jae. You got two big talkers on today.
JAE: I know, right? Oh, my goodness.
PAM: It has been so wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Jae. Thank you!
JAE: Yes, ma’am. It’s been a great conversation and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s amazing.
I guess, looking at two different ends of the spectrum, you, with your experience, me just new coming into it. And both of us speaking with so much love, passion, and joy. It’s been enjoyable.
I actually can’t wait to see it. I want to look back, because you dropped some pearls in there for me. I didn’t get a chance to take notes. It wasn’t a good look on the video. But yeah, I loved it. It was a great convo.
PAM: I loved it, too. It was such a pleasure. I just love how you’re asking questions and you’re open to it. That’s why I was so excited to chat with you here today. And, before we go, let everybody know where they can connect with you online. What’s your YouTube channel?
JAE: Oh yeah. So, the YouTube channel is Black Dad. And right now, I’m trying to get on a schedule where I’m posting once a week. But, like you said, I’m just going with the flow. I’m just going with the flow. But yeah, definitely want to be archiving our journey, things that I’m learning along the way with the idea from the perspective of being a dad.
And even the name, Black Dad, that comes from the color spectrum. Black is the inclusion of all colors, so it’s like, I’m thinking from a spectrum of a dad who’s getting different ideas from different perspectives and different areas, and it’s all coming together, helping me toward my journey of being the best possible father I can be. So, yeah, Black Dad on YouTube.
PAM: That’s brilliant. And I will be sure to put the link in the show notes for people, too. Thank you so much again and have a wonderful day, Jae!
JAE: All right. Thank you, Pam. Have a good one. Bye.