LIVING JOYFULLY NEWSLETTER
Issue #1 | Oct 12, 2012
OCTOBER’S THEME: How is unschooling different than school?
Welcome to the inaugural issue! Thanks again for inviting me along on your unschooling journey. Whether you are just starting out or have been joyfully unschooling for years, I hope you’ll discover a new connection, deeper insight, or fresh inspiration as we dig into unschooling together.
Here’s what I was thinking when I chose this month’s theme: when people are interested in learning something new it can be helpful to start by connecting it to something they already understand. And school, certainly for adults, is an almost universal experience. My hope is that by comparing and contrasting the learning environments created through unschooling and school I can help make the ideas behind unschooling more tangible. So let’s get started!
ON THE BLOG … so far this month
This post discusses five ways that these learning environments are fundamentally different: no curriculum; a supportive atmosphere; focus on aspirations; interact with people of all ages; and no vacation from learning.
This post digs into what learning to read looks like outside of the classroom and lessons. Trying to superimpose lessons on the process implies not only that learning must be done on someone else’s timetable, but that the child’s interest and questions and personal connections are somehow not the “right” order in which to gather the pieces of the learning-to-read puzzle.
LET’S TALK ABOUT … School of Rock
It’s a fun little musical comedy film about wanna-be rock guitarist and singer Dewey Finn (played by Jack Black) who is kicked out of his band and, in a bid to make some money so he’s not kicked out of his apartment as well, masquerades as a substitute teacher for a class of ten year olds at a prestigious prep school.
It jumped out at me as a great addition to the topic this month because of the onscreen juxtaposition of school and interest-driven learning. Watching it with this in mind, the characters’ observations, actions, and transformations are thought-provoking.
One of the messages it plays with is that at school the ultimate goal is to be perfect. This is emphasized near the beginning of the film through Summer’s fixation on earning gold stars (she is held up as a model student). Dewey gives the students their first glimpse that the ultimate goal may not always be perfection by ripping the gold star chart off the classroom wall and announcing that he will not be giving grades. This obsession with perfection soon comes up again as he explains to the kids in the band that although they are playing very well, they are stiff—they aren’t enjoying themselves. “You guys have been doing real good in here. In fact, if I was gonna give you a grade I’d give you an A. But that’s the problem. Rock isn’t about doing things perfect.”
One of the more prominent student transformations in the film is Zack’s. He’s a guitarist whose dad won’t let him play the electric guitar because he thinks it’s a waste of time. When Zack gets caught focusing on rock music at home his Dad demands he drop it, concentrate on his homework, and play only the music assigned by his classical music teacher. This leads Zack to hide his growing passion at home and channel his frustration into writing a rock song of his own, which he eventually shares with Dewey and his classmates:
Baby we were making straight A’s
But we were stuck in the dumb days
Don’t take much to memorize your lies
Feel like I’ve been hypnotized
And if you want to be the teacher’s pet
Baby you just better forget it
Rock got no reason
Rock got no rhyme
You better get me to school on time
You can see Zack starting to compare and question these disparate ways of learning: the disconnected, cerebral, and repetitious learning of school learning versus the fast, furious, and fun learning he’s discovered with Dewey. He’s learning something tangible that has an immediate impact on his life today and it strikes a chord.
The film emphasizes the different relationships the students develop with the adults in these two learning environments: Dewey treats them respectfully and as individuals, whereas the teachers treat them collectively as powerless students. Dewey listens to them. He freely shares his passion for rock music, and his excitement is catching. He gives them all roles in their class secret project: preparing to compete in Battle of the Bands. He believes each role is important, and enthusiastically helps them learn what their role entails.
There’s a predictable, yet beautiful, learning montage in the middle, as the kids begin to relax, their trust and excitement in the project builds, and they begin to discover and embrace the nuances of their roles. From musicians to lighting to security to stage crew to singers to costume design to band management, they are happy, they are having fun, and they are engaged—they are learning. And when Summer comes through big for everyone and Dewey tells her she earned 50 stars, her reply is, “I didn’t do it for the stars”. The kids are discovering that tenaciously pursuing a goal they believe in can be its own reward.
Dewey’s journey is also fun to watch. At the film’s outset Dewey’s long-time friend and roommate implores him to finally give up his dream and get a job. That gives him pause. He even tells the kids that morning to just give up because “the man” always wins. Yet a glimmer of hope is rekindled as he discovers that some of the kids are really good musicians and he hatches a plan to form a band with them. As he begins teaching the kids all about how a rock band puts on a great show, he treats them respectfully, as people, and in turn discovers the terrific individuals they are. He is proud to know them. And in the midst of doggedly pursuing his dream, he finds joy in sharing his passion for rock music with young and interested musicians. In the closing credits we see him teaching rock music after school: he was finally able to find a niche where he could effectively contribute to the community without giving up his passion.
At the climactic Battle of the Bands show Dewey sings this lyric leading into Zack’s guitar solo:
“I may not be perfect son
But you’ll all be rocking when I’m done”
I love how these two simple lines remind us not to look at our kids through our filters, comparing them to what we think would make a perfect child, but to instead see the wonderful child that is right in front of us.
If you haven’t yet seen it, it’s a fun watch!
LIVING JOYFULLY … with unschooling
I thought I’d share a brief introduction to my family in this first newsletter so you have an idea of the players in case I share some personal tidbits along the way! My husband and I have been married for twenty-one years and have been unschooling our three kids for ten years and change. We live in Ontario, Canada.
Joseph, 20, is all about stories. He surrounds himself with them through video games (corporate and independent), anime, movies, TV, web series, visual novels etc. At some point each day he and I can be found hanging in the kitchen hungrily discussing stories, often for an hour or more. Plot, characters, pacing, atmosphere, genre, show-runners, writers, art styles; we examine them all. He is deciding which vehicle he’d like to try first to develop the many stories of his own he’s fashioned over the years.
Lissy, 18, is a passionate photographer. This past summer she decided to use some of her earnings to spend an extended period of time in New York City to both explore the city’s arts community and see if she might enjoy pursuing a professional career in photography. She left on June 1st with plans to stay for two months and then to play it by ear. It’s now been over four months. She’s loving it and is learning an incredible amount! She has plans to stay for the six months she’s legally allowed and we’re working on her return in the new year.
Michael, 15, loves karate. He’s a brown belt and typically spends ten hours a week at his dojo, not only with his own classes, but also assisting in kids classes. That interest has grown over the past year to include XPMA, extreme performance martial arts, and he has added trampoline to his weekly activities. Right now he has his eye on stunt work and we’re making arrangements for him to train monthly at a dojo about an hour away that specializes in those skills. This summer he really enjoyed filming an episode of YTV’s Splatalot which is scheduled to air next month.
So that’s us in a nutshell!
I wish you a wonderful day of exploring *your* family’s interests and passions, and living joyfully together.