Accountability For–and From–the Mouths of Babes

27 06 2010

True story about the power of schoolthink to shape lives, for life. Nothing much has changed except that now, between well-meaning researchers and profit-meaning test corporations, almost all kids are being labeled for dysfunction. Not just actual orphans. I’ll make this a “First Thinks First” link too.

An Essay from an Academic-Turned-Unschooling Mom

by JJ Ross, Ed.D.
(as published online by the Indiana Home Education Network)

Maybe I need a regular alarm clock.

When I wake to news radio as is my custom, the golden-throated stories I hear in half-consciousness stay with me, imprinting my mood and thoughts. Yet the accurate details of which news is made — facts my fully alert mind would have recorded and filed for recall — escape me almost entirely. Thus I’m left with a sort of deja vu sense of the story, sure that I “know” but off-balance about how I know. (Could this be the way divine revelations are experienced, as beyond explanation or objective proof?)

In any case, as an academic, I’ve been embarrassed over less. Fortunately parent-directed education is not a traditional academic setting!

It happened again, as I awoke this morning. Suddenly my mind was filled with stuttering orphans used for 1939 experiments, in the then-nascent science of speech pathology at some university in the Midwest — Iowa? As I said, I was half-asleep — and it turns out that the orphans weren’t stutterers at all. They were purposely TOLD by the university they needed speech therapy to correct a tendency to stutter, given a few weeks of “sessions” to see if the bogus diagnosis and intervention could create stuttering rather than curing it, and subsequently were returned to their regular orphan lives with the only noted effect being a new hesitancy in their speech. (Itself a sign of stuttering, I mused, but then I wasn’t really conscious.)

The news story continued. Some 50 years later, a journalist discovered the dusty thesis and tracked down a few of the now-elderly participants, who had never doubted what they’d been told as children by those university experts. This “educational experiment” had caused them to live their lives believing they had a scientific tendency toward communication problems, a diagnosis some say was destiny, making them hesitant and reclusive, removing some options, limiting their identity.

But here’s the truth, the journalist says — it was all a lie in service of experimental research. You could have been a contender!

Lawsuits are pending.

The university named a building after the now-dead “father of speech pathology” who supervised the orphan stuttering studies. His protege, Mary Somebody (told you I was semiconscious, remember?) says she regrets that ethical standards in 1939 weren’t what they could have been. There are some quirky legal points about sovereign immunity in place at that time in that state, whichever one it was but that’s not the part that imprinted me for the day.

My own random-abstract take on it is not legal or even scientific, but educational. Power of Story. Humans are impressionable, especially children. Facts and ideas and judgments can enter a child’s mind and lodge where they land, almost like radio news flowing into a brain whose daytime defenses are asleep.

This educational research was high-minded, meant to help children Read the rest of this entry »

Tea Partying is to Homeschooling?

18 02 2010

Read this Time Magazine power of story about disaffected tea partiers wanting to bring their own dollars and choices and leaders “home” from big government, struggling to make a movement with rival leaders, exploitation of their intended message by entrenched and often shadowy interests, etc and let’s think about how it’s analogous to our grassroots out-of-school learning party these past 30 years or so.

Naming the Tea Party movement, however, is easier than defining it. Tea Partyism covers a lot of ground and a world of contradictions. It contains Nashville lawyer Judson Phillips, who recently organized the first Tea Party convention at the posh Gaylord Opryland Hotel, charging $549 per ticket and pocketing an undisclosed profit. But the movement also embraces the volunteers who denounced Phillips and his convention as a money-grubbing mistake. . .

“The Tea Party movement is in danger of getting a bad reputation” by courting conspiracists, Erickson wrote.

Does it sound to you like how Thinking and Evolved Homeschoolers get mixed into an indistinguishable mob to the public view, with World Net Daily and HSLDA and Generation Joshua and the baby-whipping Pearl ministry, the Duggars with too many children, the John Galt believers, and garden-variety conspiracy theorists calling their homeschooling the only real patriotism (as they reject American law and treaties regarding school, taxes, separation of church and state, the Geneva Convention, the UN and even the US President himself) all powered by the same established homeschool business interests behind the NHEN-targeting “We Stand for Homeschooling” — the disaffected and anti-intellectual rabble fighting to speak for home education then, just as disaffected and anti-intellectual rabble now demand to speak for the Constitution and “real Americans” as tea partiers?

“This is not about policy. It’s about incitement to violence.”

Or never mind where it comes from, and just ask yourself if it makes SENSE. Do their scripted war-whoops hang together as Read the rest of this entry »

“Psychology Today” Wants Unschooled Learning Stories

7 01 2010

for Peter Gray’s Freedom to Learn blog. Talk about power of story! 🙂

Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College who has conducted and published research in comparative, evolutionary, developmental, and educational psychology. He has published articles on innovative teaching methods and alternative approaches to education. He is currently working on a book about the lifelong nature and functions of human play, tentatively titled Born to Play.

He wants whatever you’re sharing within the next two or three weeks and notes that overcoming problems as well as “success” stories are welcome. Just reading through the kinds of learning he finds most interesting made all sorts of stories pop into my head. For young parents and teachers whose stories haven’t been written yet, his thumbnail categories make a good case for unschooling I think, for learning at any age based on relationships and trust rather than carrots, sticks and other imposed controls (remind me to connect this with Dan Pink’s new book as we discuss):

Here are some topics that particularly interest me, about which I especially invite you to write:

Learning to read without schooling. I am interested in how children learn to read in situations where they have no or little formal instruction in reading. I know that this occurs within a wide range of ages for children at Sudbury schools and in unschooling environments. . .

Learning math without schooling. Some young self-educators learn math because they love it. Others learn it because they want to go to college and have to take the math SAT, or because they need to know it to pursue some other interest that intrigues them. . .

From play to careers: How interests developed in play become career paths. Many lucky people find that their play, done at first purely for fun, evolves into a joyful way of making a living. I’m especially interested in cases where children or adolescents developed passionate interests through their play and then, as they grew older, found ways to make a living by pursuing those interests.

Becoming an expert through one’s own initiative. This topic overlaps with the previous one, but includes cases where the area of expertise is not necessarily a career path. How do people on their own initiative become extraordinarily skilled at some endeavor or extraordinarily knowledgeable about some subject? What seems to motivate them and how do they learn? Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Humanist New Year, All You Thinking Parents! Now Get to Work

1 01 2010

How will you mark this upcoming season of renewed dedication, to living your own best life? How about never mind the customary concentration on “no” this time of year — ask not what you can stop, or quit, or give up; ask what you can give and give more of, what you can do and do more of.

So here’s a gift for all good people looking to give and do and affirm, to celebrate values we do believe in, to be the change we mean to make in the world.

Today, January 1, 2010, marks the grand opening of a highly evolved human network that in life-changing concept means as much to me now, as the National Home Education Network did in its nascence, way back last century. 😀

It is the Foundation Beyond Belief:

Our Mission: To demonstrate humanism at its best by supporting efforts to improve this world and this life; to challenge humanists to embody the highest principles of humanism, including mutual care and responsibility; and to help and encourage humanist parents to raise confident children with open minds and compassionate hearts.

On the educational side, the Foundation will help create and fund local groups for the education and social support of humanist/atheist parents.

I was cornered in the kitchen of a Christmas party by a well-lubricated older someone, who I’d not expected ever to pressure me about declaring Christian beliefs.

Despite his conservative political beliefs and fealty to FOX News, he’s only a church-goer in that culturally conformist, mostly secular way, if you know what I mean. I may have been a bit lubricated myself, too free of tongue in sharing my own real convictions about what is real and important right here on earth, and what gets in the way between people of good will.

So before I knew what was happening, he was staring into my eyes and declaring that I wasn’t the person he knew and admired, if I didn’t believe in his god and follow that particular god’s politics. Or else perhaps I was muddled and foolish and didn’t know my own mind; perhaps I was a good saved person who just didn’t understand how the almighty was indulging my silly disbelief, and I could come to my senses if he took a firm stand for my soul.

Well, what the hell do you say to THAT?! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Shocking News: Our Dear Friend Betty Malone

19 11 2009

MEG! What happened??

Nance and I have just learned of Betty’s passing — stunned and saddened. Dear in life, dear in memory.

Betty posted a comment here Sunday, about the religious left emerging. She had been writing on FaceBook about having the flu, and then the morning of Nov. 13 said she was feeling better, ready to get cracking on her directorial work with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Now they are posting eulogy messages to her FB wall.

Are you brainwashing your child with your truth or allowing the freedom of learning to flourish in your home? — Betty Malone

Betty Malone

Speak Up When Pro-Child Politics Are Attacked as Anti-Parent

12 11 2009

Here we go again. Families, child-rearing and home education publicly
stereotyped as conservative extremism and anti-human rights, sigh. If
you parent and/or educate children and don’t fit this stereotype, make
your voice heard too. Don’t let this define your principles.

Parental rights rally on Washington planned: Your stories needed!

November 11, 11:01 AM
by Lynda Ackert

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the General
Assembly of the United Nations on the 20th of November 1989. As part of a celebration, internationalists backing this UN Convention have
declared November 20th of this year as ‘Children’s Day.’

In response, ParentalRights dot org will rally in Washington, D.C. on that day. The rally will be held at the U.S. Capitol from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the East Lawn across from the Rayburn House Office building.

Speakers during the rally will include Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Sen. Jim
DeMint, the lead sponsors of the Parental Rights Amendment; Gerard
Robinson with Black Alliance for Educational Options; William Estrada of
Homeschool Legal Defense Association; Dean and Julie Nelson of National Black Home Educators; and Steven Groves of Heritage Foundation.

Whether you homeschool or not, parental rights have been and are
continuing to be under attack.

Want your voice heard? wants to hear from you. If you have experienced any assault or threat to your parental rights, make your story known by emailing ParentalRights. . .

Homeschooling is a parental right…Let’s keep it that way!

Source: ParentalRights dot org

For more of JJ’s thoughts on the UN and this political meme setting up “parental rights” in opposition to child and human rights, start with:

Homeschool freedom fighting: It’s so not about the UN

Parental Rights and responsibilities: Parenting sex and parenthood

Latest Homeschool Freak-out from World Net Daily

Open Back-to-School Thread: Let’s Have Show and Tell

24 08 2009

Okay, I know a bunch of Thinking Parents who sent kids including unschooled daughters (looking at Nance and Lynn!) off to campus today. Many others saw kids start a new college term this week, Betty and Meg and I that come to mind as I’m running out the door to see how FavD’s first day went . . .

So let’s hear the stories! Show and Tell. What are the kids doing, how was their day, what happened? I already know that FavD’s poetry teacher got in a car crash on the way to class and had to be checked out at the hospital so no first day for her, but you don’t have to be able to top that. 🙂

I want to hear everything, old teacher and teacher’s pet that I am. So scoot into the circle and let’s share —

p.s. If you school at home or still unschool all day, that’s cool too. You are in the circle and you get your turn! How was today?

Universal Truth as Home Education Power of Story

17 08 2009

As the Christian versus secular curriculum comparison discussion goes on (see recent posts for more) I dredged up from drafts today this May 2006 “BS” (Before Snook!) essay, which seems right on point for our current competing power of story and its many tangents:

Teaching My Own “Faith” to My Kids

Religion is Story and so is everything else the human mind can conceive or believe. Amen.

We’re not much for church or school, but we live for Story (doesn’t everybody somehow or another?) Musical theatre, libraries, bookshops and movies are our personal venues of worship, the wellsprings of story through which my family lives and learns and engages ideas and cultures.

The more perspective that comes with age and experience, the more I understand that for me at least, schooling was all-day entertainment and power of story, which is why I loved it so.

And I don’t mean just story time, English lit, newspaper staff and the occasional A/V film projector rolled into the back of the room — to me history was indeed hi-story, math was clever symbolism used to tell the most complex and compelling stories, science was real-world commandments as miraculous story, and later came college law, economics, communications, management and social sciences, even what was being called “cybernetics” — all very human power of story to me.

(That required cybernetics course and its tedious punch card practice in the basement of Weil Hall put me deliciously in mind of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Desk Set!)

I still remember the wonder when I first learned about color, and probability theory, and geometric proofs. Magic! Miracle! Revelation! I’m no scientist or mathematician but I was forever transformed just by the power of the struggle to understand. I was seduced not by Read the rest of this entry »

THE ECONOMIST: Homeschooling at the Kitchen Table, Seriously, Still?

14 08 2009

Sarah Palin must be not just reading the Economist now, but maybe writing for it?? Frisky cock of the snook to Meg, for this HSLDA-heavy homeschooling story she says will gag you:

economist homeschool art august 2009

ECONOMIST: Kitchen-classroom conservatives — Home-schooling on the rise

Moreover, having Barack Obama in the White House may cause more people to pull their children out of public schools, predicts Mr Farris. Views of the government are coloured by views of the president, he says, even though the president has little control over education. And Mr Obama is far too liberal for most of America’s home-schoolers.

Sounds like they didn’t know to call Laura Derrick of NHEN?! Meg is right. Gag me.

At least there’s a “response” online that might settle our secular stomachs: Read the rest of this entry »

How My “Unschooling Guinea Pig” Was Wooed for TV and Learned a Life Lesson We All Could Use

16 07 2009

Like John and Abigail Adams’ letters to each other, this is a true story told in real time without narrative, yet with narrative power for all Thinking Parents and Citizens imo:


Re: “America’s Brightest”
Date: 04/03/2000
From: JJ Ross, Ed.D.

In a message dated 03/30/2000 3:55:46 PM PST, sandrac writes:


Dear Sandra:

Having no clue what an academic bio on a barely-10-year-old unschooled Mensan would look like, I will improvise and hope for the best!
Read the rest of this entry »

Homeschool Freedom Fighting: It’s So Not About the UN

12 06 2009

Homeschool advocates, please, please educate yourselves first before you “defend” homeschooling freedom in the public square, lest you make our community’s thinking skills seem inadequate and thereby bolster the regulators’ case or the standardizers’ case or the social worker-teacher union-UN case.

UN headquarters in Manhattan

UN headquarters in Manhattan

I can see this summer’s bloggery heating up for some self-righteous blood-boiling already. (Heck, Spunky never cooled off from last summer!)

So before homeschooling advocacy devolves into another long hot one of “who do they think they are?” and “you’re not the boss of me!” not likely to impress the president, the US Ed Dept or the general public with our maturity and superior educational philosophy 😉 I suggest we do our own homework, not because anyone can make us but because that’s who we think we are.

Only then can we understand, much less craft and succeed with, higher order arguments for homeschool freedom like “Government of the Gaps” or The Ethics of Teaching and Training”.

And seriously, you can’t win if you don’t enter. Ranting about something that doesn’t address the criticism or concern being leveled at us, is worse than useless. To win you have to figure out what the other side’s offense is and then engage them in a match, play by the rules of that game if you hope to ever beat them at it.

For example, if we hope to win against academic arguments, what academic ammunition options can we make and learn to use at home? (That’s kinda the whole point of home education, right?) And we need to keep that power dry — it’s important that we recognize and resist lowest-common-denominator peer pressure among ourselves (not just our kids!) as well as the cynically unhealthful doses of outrage and hysteria packaged like cheap fast food from WND and HSLDA.

Particularly this summer as anti-government rhetoric and lone wolf lunatic violence is spiking in the news cycle, thinking homeschoolers should redouble our commitment as good citizens to carefully reason our way through collegial public concerns, and thereby prove we can resist both the temptation to conflate every conversation into religious war, and to drag it down to tea party soundbites about socialism and Hitler and dark suspicions that our fellow citizens and elected leaders are conspiring to strangle homeschool parents with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Those of us who can home-educate ourselves and our families with higher quality food for thought sources than those, will enjoy the abundant fruits of higher quality critical thought at home and still have plenty to share freely with the neighbors.

As recommended introductory course material, here’s a virtual trip seven years back in time, to the beginning of the philosophical case against homeschooling and our challenges to that case. An intense and imo important discussion with Stanford philosophy professor and homeschool critic Rob Reich in August of 2002 took place on the list then known as NHEN-Legislative. That discussion Read the rest of this entry »

“Hardest Lesson” Is Top Secret, Learned Best Out of School

3 05 2009

Always-unschooled Favorite Daughter marched in her first-ever graduation ceremony last night, seated up front with the perfect GPA president’s list row of students, covered in gold medals and honors sashes as her proud family beamed down, photos to come! But competing against her fellow college students to win academic honors is NOT the subject of this post — quite the opposite.

Dr. Bill Law, president of her college, with Favorite Daughter at graduation

Dr. Bill Law, president of her college, with Favorite Daughter at graduation

What is the hardest lesson of win-lose competition? Losing? — so a child learns through misery, to do anything necessary to inflict that misery on the other guy instead?? COD and his commenters had wise words about kids and sports winning-losing, but today I have some new words of my own too.

Training for everything with the goal of making other people into losers so you can triumph, isn’t my idea of family values to teach kids,  much less my idea of world-class education to serve our national security interests, with the future of the entire human race and our planet as the ultimate grand prize at stake.

Remember the Matthew Broderick movie, “War Games” — brilliant whiz kid trains himself for the highest possible level of gaming competition, matches minds with the very best human scientists and then dramatically beats the most advanced top-secret national defense computer in the world, by teaching it (and himself) the most important human lesson of all: the only way to win is not to play the game.

The win-or-lose game.

JJ Ross has left a new comment at Mrs C’s blog, on the post with a heartbreaking picture of her seven-year-old son burying his head in defeat at his first chess tournament, sitting right next to the winner and her crowing, competitive and way-overly involved (imo) dad, which she headlined as “The Hardest Lesson”:

“Her dad said that she bombed her first tournament and that it’s just like playing an instrument. It’s training, just like a marathon or anything else.”

Talk about competitive, wow. And I don’t mean the child. [shudder]

Just for some different perspective — Read the rest of this entry »