Past and Present

Rowan turned 16 last month.

rowan is 16 blow candles

We spent the next afternoon at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, where she took (and passed) her permit test. It was the very first test she had ever taken.

In the years before that test she climbed and read and watched and thought and listened and talked and wondered and touched and hoped and swam and slept and laughed and ate and  dreamed and heard and felt and experienced and ran and sat and sang and analyzed and argued and played and experimented and questioned and never once wondered, “Will this be on the test?”

d and r at fence

hp photosmart 720






rowan and dagny sled

Birthday presents are nice, but Rowan’s always been a fan of intangibles.


Public Service Announcement

When Dagny was five, we did not know that she didn’t have to go to school, and off to kindergarten she went. We found out when she was six, thanks to a woman Jon heard on the radio, and that was the end of that. Rowan has never been to school.


If school works for you, I’m not interested in rocking your world. But if you, like us, don’t actually want to participate in school, know that you have that option. Homeschooling is legal across the United States, and in many other countries as well. There is an enormous amount of information and support on the internet for those interested in learning more about homeschooling. If you can’t find what you need, feel free to contact me and I’ll steer you in the right direction.

Sweetness and Light

I read a number of blog posts this week that mentioned the ‘Switch Witch’ or the ‘Candy Fairy’, both of whom take the candy kids have trick or treated for and exchange it for something the parents find more wholesome – books or craft supplies or something along those lines. I read other posts lamenting the existence of Halloween altogether. Mostly what I read boiled down to parents worrying.

People seemed to think I should worry a lot when my kids were little.

“Aren’t you worried they won’t learn to get up early when they need to if you let them sleep in whenever they want?”

“Aren’t you worried they’ll never learn to share if you don’t make them?”

“Don’t you worry they’ll never do anything else if you let them watch TV whenever they want?”

“Aren’t you worried they won’t learn to read if you don’t teach them phonics?”

“Don’t you worry about their teeth falling out and vitamin deficiencies and sugar highs and them never eating healthy food and all the other apparently deadly consequences of eating candy if you let them eat it any old time?”

Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. Why? I believed the best of my kids. I believed they were reasonable and thoughtful and intelligent and responsible and curious and trust-worthy. And you know what? They were. And yours are too.

As for Halloween, I think  a day where a 15 year old girl who loves costuming can walk into CVS as Ariel without anyone raising an eyebrow is a good day. I think filling the seemingly lonely older man down the road with happiness with a simple, “Trick or treat!” is worthwhile.  I think making space in our lives for imagination is important. I think staving off the darkness with fire is an instinct older than memory. I think fun is fun. And I think candy is delicious.

(Picture of Dagny by Andrew; picture of Rowan by Dagny.)

Kindness of Strangers

Six pounds of blueberries picked today, all by my lonesome.

We’ve got 17 blueberry bushes of our own, but they’re not producing much yet, so I went, as I have for the past twelve years, to our neighbors’ farm to get my blueberry fix.

It’s about 90 degrees today and blueberry bushes don’t cast a heck of a lot of shade, so picking was hot work. It was made much more pleasant by the presence of a family who was picking nearby. Two very young boys with their parents, and every word the parents said, both to each other and to their children, was thoughtful and pleasant and kind and reasonable. The parents’ tones were reflected in the boys’. Perfectly normal relatively-new-to-the-planet-person behavior (I’m going to pee here.  Look what I found!  I want to throw a stick.  He took my stick!) was responded to with good humor and patience.

I’ve been asked, if I were to sum up my book in one sentence, what would it be?

It’s ok to be kind to your children.

Truly, it is. There’s no need to snap at, boss, or reprimand. No need to yell or scold. Kindness doesn’t spoil people. Kindness make people happy. The person being treated kindly, the person acting kindly, and the stranger standing nearby.

When I first read John Holt’s writing, I felt an incredible urge to meet him, to talk to him, to invite him over for dinner. I was so sad to learn that he had died before I’d ever heard his name. His writing inspires me not only due to its subject matter, but because it gives such a clear picture of a kind and good and honest man.

Today, on the 26th anniversary of his death, some friends collected quotes from his books. I’ve added a few of my own favorites as well.

Warning: Those of you I love who disagree with me about school and learning will find much to disagree with here. I won’t be at all insulted if you choose to skip this post or if you want to tell me all the things you think are crazy about it. Although that’s probably not necessary, as I think I have a pretty good idea :o). Thank you for loving me even though you think I’m nuts.

“Children do not need to be made to learn about the world, or shown how. They want to, and they know how.”

“I would insist that much of the seemingly irrational and excessive anger of little children—‘tantrums’—is in fact not only caused by things that happen to them or that are said and done to them, but that these things would make us angry if they happened or were said and done to us.”

“A man can not say Yes to something with all his heart unless he has an equal right to say No.”

“‘Allowed to experience childhood.’ At one level these words are true, but hardly worth saying. At any age, we experience being that age. Clearly the users of such words mean something else. Being allowed to experience childhood means being allowed to do some things and being spared having to do others – or forbidden. It means that adults will decide, without often or ever asking children what they think, that some experiences are good for children while others are not. It means for a child that adults are all the time deciding what is best for you and then letting or making you do it. But instead of trying to make sure that all children get only those experiences we think are good for them I would rather make available to children, as to everyone else, the widest possible range of experiences (except those that hurt others) and let them choose those they like best.”

“I would be against trying to cram knowledge into the heads of children even if we could agree on what knowledge to cram and could be sure that it would not go out of date, even if we could be sure that, once crammed in, it would stay in. Even then, I would trust the child to direct his own learning. For it seems to me a fact that, in our struggle to make sense out of life, the things we most need to learn are the things we most want to learn.”

“Living is learning and when kids are living fully and energetically and happily they are learning a lot, even if we don’t always know what it is.”

“We can think of ourselves not as teachers but as gardeners. A gardener does not ‘grow’ flowers; he tries to give them what he thinks they need and they grow by themselves.”

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty rewards – in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

“No use to shout at them to pay attention. If the situations, the materials, the problems before the child do not interest him, his attention will slip off to what does interest him, and no amount of exhortation or threats will bring it back.”

“To parents I say, above all else, don’t let your home become some terrible miniature copy of the school. No lesson plans! No quizzes! No tests! No report cards! Even leaving your kids alone would be better; at least they could figure out some things on their own. Live together as well as you can; enjoy life together as much as you can.”

“Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.”

“Children are born passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of things around them. If we attempt to control, manipulate, or divert this process, the independent scientist in the child disappears.”

“There is no difference between living and learning.”

“Education now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the modern slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but producers, consumers, spectators, and fans, driven more and more, in all parts of their lives, by greed, envy, and fear. My concern is not to improve ‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves.”

“The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.”

“The idea of painless, non-threatening coercion is an illusion. Fear is the inseparable companion of coercion and its inescapable consequence.”

“Children, without being coerced or manipulated or being put in exotic, specially prepared environments or having their thinking planned and ordered for them, can, will and do pick up from the world around them important information about what we call the Basics. ‘Ordinary’ people, without special schooling themselves, can give their children whatever slight assistance may be needed to help them in their exploration of the world, and to do this requires no more than a little tact, patience, attention and readily available information.”

“It is hard not to feel that there must be something very wrong with much of what we do in school, if we feel the need to worry so much about what many people call ‘motivation’. A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees bigger people doing.”

“Schools assume that children are not interested in learning and are not much good at it, that they will not learn unless made to, that they cannot learn unless shown how, and that the way to make them learn is to divide up the prescribed material into a sequence of tiny tasks to be mastered one at a time, each with its appropriate ‘morsel’ and ‘shock’. And when this method doesn’t work, the schools assume there is something wrong with the children – something they must try to diagnose and treat.”

“What is most important and valuable about the home as base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all.”

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”

“If I had to make a general rule for living and working with children, it might be this: be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued.”

“Why do people take or keep their children out of school? Mostly for three reasons: they think that raising their children is their business not the government’s; they enjoy being with their children and watching and helping them learn and don’t want to give that up to others; they want to keep them from being hurt, mentally, physically, and spiritually.”

“To trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves…and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of active learners.”

“It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.”

“Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons’ experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives. Whoever takes that right away from us, as the educators do, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think, that for all our lives we must depend on others to tell us the meaning of our world and our lives, and that any meaning we may make for ourselves, out of our own experience, has no value.”

“When a child is doing something she’s passionately interested in, she grows like a tree — in all directions. This is how children learn, how children grow. They send down a taproot like a tree in dry soil. The tree may be stunted, but it sends out these roots, and suddenly one of these little taproots goes down and strikes a source of water. And the whole tree grows.”

“It is as true now as it was then that, no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.”

“We ask children to do for most of the day what few adults are able to do for even an hour. How many of us, attending, say, a lecture that doesn’t interest us, can keep our minds from wandering? Hardly any.”

“If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him.”

“I think children need much more than they have of opportunities to come into contact with adults who are seriously doing their adult thing, not just hanging around entertaining or instructing or being nice to children. They also need much more than they have of opportunities to get away from adults altogether and live their lives free from other people’s anxious attention.”

“I can’t help noting that no cultures in the world that I have ever heard of make such a fuss about bedtimes, and no cultures have so many adults who find it so hard either to go to sleep or wake up. Could these social facts be connected? I strongly suspect they are.”

“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent – in the broadest and best sense, intelligent – is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgement, and that make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.”

“What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experiences and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them, and advice, road maps, guidebooks to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go) and to find out what they want to find out.”

“A child wants to do and does what advances him into the world, what enables him to grow out into it, to encompass in his own experience and understanding more of the world outside him, the world of geography and the world of human experience.”

“Every child, without exception, has an innate and unquenchable drive to understand the world in which he lives and to gain freedom and competence in it. Whatever truly adds to his understanding, his capacity for growth and pleasure, his powers, his sense of his own freedom, dignity, and worth may be said to be true education.”

“About reading, children learn something much more difficult than reading without instruction – namely, to speak and understand their native language. I do not think they would or could learn it if they were instructed. I think reading instruction is the enemy of reading.”

“Teaching does not make learning…organized education operates on the assumption that children learn only when and only what and only because we teach them. This is not true. It is very close to being 100% false. Learners make learning.”

“We who believe that children want to learn about the world, are good at it, and can be trusted to do it with very little adult coercion or interference, are probably no more than one percent of the population, if that. And we are not likely to become the majority in my lifetime. This doesn’t trouble me much anymore, as long as this minority keeps on growing. My work is to help it grow.”

I was just poking around the site (which Sandra kindly took off our hands when our hands were full of all sorts of other things) looking to see what I might wish I had saved if it disappeared, and I came across this video.

Somewhere on the site the singer talks about how he wrote it because his dad used to let him play hooky so they could spend the day together and that feeling of freedom stayed with him. Having lots of memories of playing hooky myself, both dad-authorized and, um, Rue-authorized (I love you mommy!), I can understand being inspired to write a song about that heart-lightening, chest opening up, full of possibilities, walking on air sensation. I don’t write songs, but I’m writing a life about it.

This was written by Rudy Rucker. He was talking about writing a novel, but I think it applies nicely to learning and life.

“How precise, after all, is an outline? If, as William Burroughs used to say, a novel is but a map of a territory, an outline is but a map of a map. In the end, only the novel itself is the perfect outline of the novel. Only the territory itself can be the perfect map.”

My kids are a perfect outline of themselves. Gnarly.

Uncle Mo brought out his sketchpad and quickly, deftly, drew the dolphins leaping in the air. He said, “They remind you of being a child, with all that curiosity and energy. They remind you that this is what you could be, not what you should grow out of.”

~The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech