Monthly Archives: July 2009

Freedom, Healing, and Unschooling

A very important part of my homeschooling/unschooling was doing healing work. The freedom of unschooling allowed me to go through so much healing, some of it simply from being out of the school environment, some of it more direct.

When people talk about the “decompression” stage where young people leave school, start unschooling, and appear to “do nothing” for awhile, I think it’s really about healing. Below the surface, the motivation, self-confidence, and self-respect that was damaged in school is being healed.Trust is being developed.

First prompted by physical health problems, during those three years of unschooling in high school I did all sorts of healing work. I gave a speech at the end of those three years in which I said:

Healing can be anything, not just talk therapy, vitamins, pills, or homeopathy. Anything that makes you feel good, not in a superficial way but in a deep way, is healing.

I’ve done some weird healing over the years. You’ve heard of acupuncture? I did something like it, only weirder. You’ve heard of homeopathy? I did something like it, only a lot weirder. But simply things like walking through the woods have worked wonders for me.

(BTW: The weird accupuncture was Tong Ren Healing by Tom Tam. And the weird homeopathy was “flower essences“. Call me a hippie, but it helped.)

Working on an organic farm and doing wilderness education was also a major source of healing.

Unschooling, homeschooling, and healing relate to each other in my mind because I think you can’t really have freedom, do what you want, and follow your interests if you have deep wounds that need tending to.

I’ve found from personal experience that many of our actions can be controlled by pain that we may not even be conscious of.

When I started unschooling I really wanted to help people discover unschooling and the fact that they could direct their own lives. But I had so many wounds regarding that subject that whenever I talked about it I was angry, argumentative,  and probably scared away people who might have actually been open to the idea.

And this was definitely not just about school. There were many wounds I had to heal from my family and the world around me. We inherit a lot from our families and I think the tragedies and injustices around the world affect us all on some level.

We are all connected.

It seems many families go through a healing journey during the unschooling and deschooling process. Still, not many homeschooling or unschooling advocates seem to talk specifically about healing.

I was happy to discover the website of Venus Taylor an African-American homeschooling/unschooling mom I know from the Boston area: www.familyhealinginstitute.com. She writes some beautiful posts about relationships and parenting.

Though she doesn’t use the term “radical unschooling” she gently expresses some of the same wisdom regarding parenting.

I didn’t have to do the same sort of healing as she did, I still really relate to and am moved by the gratitude she expresses in her most recent post:

Today, I celebrate every one and everything that helped me survive, cross over, stay sane.  Every mentor, every songwriter, every author, every teacher – some I have thanked personally, others may not know me or remember me.  By shining the light of love, they were a beacon of hope for a little girl lost.

I know that I wouldn’t have the life I have without the support, guidance, and role modeling of my mother, other family and friends, and many artists and authors who have shone their truth, beauty, and love.

Thank you.

 

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Filed under beautiful art, decompression, freedom, growth, healing, homeschooling, unschooling

Welcoming Diversity at Unschooling Conferences

We live in a society in which racism and its wounds continue to play a big role. While I think unschooling has solved so many problems, it seems the issue of racism still needs special attention in order to welcome diversity at unschooling conferences and in the scene as a whole.

Over the last few years I’ve been to several huge (700 people plus) unschooling conferences around the country and have noticed a real lack of diversity. Much more upsetting I’ve heard stories of seeming racism.

Honestly, I think the racism has mostly been subtle exclusion that comes from a fear of trusting and welcoming diversity and what it might bring. I don’t think it’s hateful bigotry. Nevertheless, it has a sad effect.

Last year at the Northeast Unschooling Conference, near Boston, Massachusetts, Erika Davis-Pitre led a session about diversity. Erika is an African-American mom of four unschoolers, now 16-30 years old, and one of my favorite unschooling speakers: she’s both hilarious and profound when she talks about following your joy.

At the diversity session she talked about how the first year of the Northeast Unschooling Conference there appeared to be a lot of diversity among the hundreds of homeschooling families. But many people noticed the following years there was less and less.

Erika explained she can’t speak for everyone but gave an example of why that might be:

Earlier at that conference an African-American boy, about ten years old, wanted to take part in an activity, but was stopped by the unschoolers running it. They said he had to ask permission from his mom first and they pointed to Erika.

He said, “That’s not my mom.”

They said, “Yes, she is.”

Erika said it’s not the original assumption that bothers her.  (“There’s a black child and a black woman: they must be related.”) It’s continuing to insist after the child has said otherwise.

Unschooling is about trust and this child was not trusted, first of all to participate in the activity without permission from a parent (which is unheard of at an unschooling conference), and then not trusted about who his mom is!

“It’s not a big deal, but it is a big deal.” That’s how Erika Davis-Pitre described it. Nobody  really got hurt, Erika stepped in and said that she is in fact not his mother and was believed. But it is that type of thing that may drive people away.

Rethinking Education is an unschooling conference in Texas and clearly does something right because it’s the oldest in the country and seems to be the most diverse. But an incident of apparent racism occurred when I was there in 2007 that certainly felt like a “big deal” to the mother involved:

An African-American boy about eleven years old was accused by a security guard of breaking something. The mother of the child was upset and scared, so she tried to grab an unschooling mom for help and support. She explained to the unschooling mom that her child said he didn’t do it.

The unschooling mom said, “Well, sometimes kids lie when they get in trouble.” And she walked away.

Eventually, another unschooling mom came to support them and a child who witnessed the whole thing came to the boy’s defense. But the incident had a lot of negative meaning to this mother of a child who had just left school and entered the unschooling community.

She wasn’t so upset about the security guard, he wasn’t part of the unschooling community, she was upset about an unschooling parent not trusting her child and not supporting them: throughout the conference she and other African-Americans wondered if they were really welcome and included in all this talk of freedom and empowerment.

My point is not to villainize the people who displayed what seems like racism. I’m trying to bring to light the fact that we all have deeply ingrained fears and distrust of which we may not be aware and yet negatively affect our actions and keep us from doing what we truly want.

Most unschoolers have realized rooting out their own fears so they can really trust their children and themselves has amazing results: we may need to make a special effort to do the same with people who appear different than us.

Just like when you start trusting your children or yourself, this may take time, fears may need to be faced, and wounds may need to be healed. But trusting and welcoming diversity will be a great service to those families and will be a great service in enriching the unschooling community and, I believe, the whole world.

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Filed under diversity, race, trust, unschooling, unschooling conferences

Homeschooling, Unschooling, and Diversity

I was recently inspired to write about the need to welcome diversity in the homeschooling community: people of all races and backgrounds can benefit from the freedom and empowerment of homeschooling, unschooling, and worldschooling. And the homeschooling community and the world can benefit from the presence of that diversity.

Then I read about the incident of racial profiling against Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the pre-eminent African American scholar from Harvard University who was arrested by police after being accused of breaking into his own home and getting upset at the policeman, just down the street from me in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s a clear sign that racism is still a problem when a middle-aged scholar is arrested for “entering ones home while black”.

It’s always been my dream that homeschooling could help with the issues around race and fear and hate for supposed outsiders. I performed a rap poem in 2002, when I was 18, called “Whole Education Without Getting Schooled”, in which I said:

“Whole” as in complete with unity

With everyone part of a community

When you know everyone is interconnected

Propaganda that says “hate,” is ineffective

(You can read the whole rap poem here.)

I still think that homeschooling, or worldschooling as I like to call it, has great potential for broadening people’s horizons and breaking down the barriers that separate us.

A common concern about homeschooling is the students could become sheltered when in fact, as worldschoolers, they have the opportunity to have the whole world as their school rather than one building, in one neighborhood, in one city.

One thing is clear: according to a study done in 2007 “Home schooling improves academic performance and reduces impact of socio-economic factors.”:

Hepburn (of the Fraser Institute which did this study of homeschoolers in the U.S. and Canada) said evidence clearly demonstrates that home education may help reduce the negative effects of some background factors that many educators believe affects a child’s ability to learn, such as low family income, low parental educational attainment, parents not having formal training as teachers, race or ethnicity of the student, gender of the student, not having a computer in the home, and infrequent usage of public libraries….

The study also reports that students educated at home outperform their peers on most academic tests and are involved in a broad mix of social activities outside the home.

(You can read the whole article here.)

Homeschooling allows people to grow freely. This improves many aspects of ourselves, one of which is achievement on standardized tests. It also allows our spirit as a whole, our soul, to soar.

Homeschooling is not an elitist option only for wealthy, “well educated”, white families with two parents in the house. On the contrary it seems to be a powerful way for disadvantaged people to get ahead.

And I’m told that more and more people from diverse backgrounds are reaping the benefits of homeschooling. At the same time I’m disappointed at the lack of diversity at the unschooling gatherings I’ve been to. In my next post I’ll address this issue as best I can.

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Filed under diversity, homeschooling, race, unschooling, worldschooling

Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: July 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: July 2009

(This is the newsletter I’ve written since 2002 when I started travelling the world. All of them are archived on my site now: www.eligerzon.com/newsletters.php. Soon my blog will be directly connected to my site and I’ll post the newsletters there as well as e-mailing them. To receive them by e-mail subscribe here. I hope you enjoy them!)

Worldschool Japan, new skin, and Tweet your light

Dearest Readers,
I’m leading a trip to Japan this November with five unschoolers from around the country! Worldschool Travels! I’ve gotten the deposits and bought the plane tickets: LA-Tokyo round trip.

The age range is the same as last time: 15-20 years old. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun, see many beautiful things, and eat some yummy food too! Oishii! Each of us may come back somewhat changed having grown and learned some new things. Each person may be challenged in different ways but:

“The universe never gives us more than we can handle. A lot of time it feels like it does! But it doesn’t.” This is what Ricardo Sierra, director of Hawk Circle (www.hawkcircle.com) wilderness education school, said to a group of us before each of us went on a solo vision quest for 48 hours in 2001.

(I wrote about that experience in my first speech “On the Importance of Whole Soul Safety or The Real Reason to Rise-Out of School”)

And I’ve been reminding myself of that quote recently!

Last year, I wrote a newsletter about another vision I had while in a sweat lodge in Mexico of a bird, a phoenix even, coming half way out of its shell: it was already half way there, so no matter how it moved it was going to break that shell and come out; even if part of it wanted to go back in!

(You can read that whole newsletter here.)

These days I feel like I am out of that shell. Sometimes I feel irritated for seemingly no reason: I think I’m still getting comfortable in my new skin! Every once in awhile I’ll think, “Who is this Eli Gerzon guy?”

I’ve been writing a lot for my blog and many new people are reading and commenting on it and I’ve been using Twitter and Facebook. It’s very exciting and satisfying because you can see all these people “friending” you, “following” you, visiting your site, reposting your stuff, etc. It’s fun and it’s easy to get a little obsessed!

Many people get annoyed with this new technology and I can too, but ultimately I think it can be a great tool.

The challenge is to use the tools to share with as many people as possible and yet remember it is about shining your light. Regardless of how many people visit your site what matters is how many people really read it and take it in. And that’s going to always be a mystery: I don’t think you can know that.

It can be significant when you see lots of people view a certain post, especially if people link to it and suggest it to others. And it can be very significant when you get feedback: that’s always kept me going with this newsletter.

When people write back to me after I send out a newsletter I always let out a sigh of relief: I usually open up a part of my heart in my writing and never know if it’s something that will connect with someone else’s heart.

But what’s really amazing is when I haven’t heard from someone in a couple years, or ever, and they contact me letting me know my writing has meant something to them. I realize I had no idea it was affecting them all that time and so there may be others out there who I haven’t heard from, or will never hear from, who benefit from what I write.

In the end, that’s what it’s about: you share your light and accept that the acknowledgement and knowledge of what you have done, may not come to you in the time or manner you’d like.

But nevertheless, if you really try to shine your light, you’ve already done it, and the universe appreciates it and gets brighter because of it.

With all that said here are some of my recent blog posts I do hope you enjoy them!:

John Steinbeck Quotes – Travels With Charley: In Search of America – Great quotes from a Steinbeck book I read while travelling around Central America this spring and often mirrored my own journey.

My Unschooling and Trust Journey – I talk about the difficult times when I left school to unschool and how I’ve really learned to trust myself.

Unschooling and Trust
– This is an explanation of the real philosophy behind unschooling: trusting people with freedom. Seems to be one of my most popular posts.

Unschooler Peter Kowalke Interview about college
– I posted this on my site before but now I added photos and an unschooler has already left a very interesting comment about her experience with college as well.

Links to successful unschoolers – Links to blogs and sites of successful grown unschoolers: please add more you know in the comments sections as many already have! I find it inspiring myself.

Ten tips for learning languages – Some tips for learning languages i.e. Tip #3 Have fun!, #10 BE the Language.

I talked about how magical it is to hear from people a few years down the line but I really do love to here from people now especially through comments so others can join in!

I also added some new stuff my page clearly explaining homeschooling, unschooling, and worldschooling.

And feel free to friend me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/worldschooler

And follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/worldschooler

In the world of… reality, I’m also speaking at the Northeast Unschooling Conference at the end of August, even if I was slow sending in my bio and there’s only my name and photo on the site!: www.northeastunschoolingconference.com

May you effectivley use your Tweets and blog posts to shine your light on the world dear readers!

All the best,
Eli

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Filed under growth, Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletters, travel stories, Worldschool Travels

John Steinbeck Quotes – Travels with Charley: In Search of America

A book can be a very good companion while travelling. Here are some quotes from Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck which I read on my trip around Central America this spring.

The book is about Steinbeck travelling around the U.S. with his companion, a French poodle named “Charley”,  in 1961 when he was 58 years old. I love Steinbeck’s writing and it was interesting to hear the observations of a man who grew up in the early 1900s travelling at that time. And interestingly I often found his journey around (United States of) America mirroring mine around Central America.

(Page notes are from the Penguin Books edition published in 1980 and reissued in 1986 with ISBN 978-0-14-005320-3.)

A journey is a person itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. (p4)

I find out of long experience that I admire all nations and hate all governments, and nowhere is my natural anarchism more aroused than at national borders…. (p84)

(On highway rest stops in the U.S. in the early 1960s) It is a life at the peak of some kind of civilization. The restaurant accommodations, great scallops of counters with simulated leather stools, are as spotless as and not unlike the lavatories. Everything that can be captured and held down is sealed in clear plastic. The food is oven-fresh, spotless and tasteless; untouched by human hands. I remember with an ache certain dishes in France and Italy touched by innumberable human hands. (p91)

“You know when show people come into what they call the sticks, they have a contempt for the yokels. It took me a little time, but when I learned that there aren’t any yokels I began to get on fine. I learned respect for my audience. They feel that and they work with me, and not against me. Once you respect them, they can understand anything you can tell them.” (Said by a travelling actor) (p149)

This journey has been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning. (p211)

(Steinbeck passed through the South while tensions were very high during the civil rights movement.)

“If by force you make a creature live and work like a beast, you must think of him as a beast, else empathy would drive you mad.” (Said by a man from an old white Louisiana family who probably owned slaves.) (p265)

(Regarding a conversation with a young black student) Finally we spoke of Martin Luther King and his teaching of passive but unrelenting resistance. “It’s too slow,” he said. “It will take too long…. I might be an old man before I’m a man at all. I might be dead before.” (Later) “I’m ashamed,” he said. “It’s just selfishness. But I want to see it – me – not dead. Here! Me! I want to see it – soon.” And then he swung around and wiped his eyes with his hand and walked away. (p272-273)

Who has not known a journey to be over and done before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased. I remember a man in Salinas who in his middle years traveled to Honolulu and back, and that journey continued for the rest of his life. We could watch him in his rocking chair on his front porch, his eyes squinted, half-closed, endlessly traveling to Honolulu…. My own journey started long before I left and was over before I returned. (p274)

I know exactly when my journey ended: when I read the above passage at the end of the book and was sitting alone waiting for a bus after a chaotic weekend in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast during Semana Santa (“Easter” which is huge in Latin America).

Then I went to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast and loved seeing the wildlife and beaches but that was it. I had amazing experiences on that trip that will stay with me. Part of me thought I should continue on because that was the plan but as Steinbeck noted: a journey has a life of its own. Within about a week I had bought a ticket and flown home and it felt good.

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My Unschooling and Trust Journey

In my last post I talked about how trust is key in unschooling. To learn to be free we need to trust ourselves even if things start out rough, and they certainly did when I started unschooling!

Decompression” is what unschoolers call it when you start unschooling and “do nothing” for awhile. My first several months homeschooling I hardly left the house (following that stereotype about homeschoolers!) and had only ultimate frisbee and cross country running as organized activities: nothing resembling school or academics! But honestly, more than that, I was just an angry and unhappy guy.

It’s kind of like cleaning up a big mess: often things get messier before they get nice. There’s a lot that comes to the surface and needs to be sorted out: things to decide to keep or throw away. Sometimes it’s very hard to throw things away! And it takes a lot of trust in the process when things look pretty bad on the surface.

Many people thought I was making a bad choice when I left school. Sometimes my reaction was very strong against this, but ultimately I thought, “I’m just going to try doing this myself and see how it goes. If I need to, I’ll go back to school, but I’m gonna try relying on myself.”

Underneath my initial anger and defensiveness about homeschooling and unschooling, I had doubts, fears, and insecurities all along the way; still do. I’ve been humbled from the beginning with the mistakes I’ve made after I left school and even more while I travelled the world!

But by the end of that first year of unschooling things were getting a lot better: I was working on an organic farm, going to a wilderness survival school, then even taking great courses at a community college and going  to homeschooler classes that people organized. But my real education came from all the healing work I did sorting through things and healing wounds that were stopping me from doing what I really wanted to do.

Through unschooling and exploring the world around me, worldschooling, I’ve come to honestly understand what my strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve learned to accept the wise and caring guidance from others when I need it, reject the false fear based pressure from some, and follow my bliss and inner knowing and learn from my mistakes.

Despite my insecurities, in the end, with my actions, I put my trust in myself. Looking back, I am so thankful for that journey I started a decade ago. Again, when I wanted to run my own business and I was reluctant to go to college, some people weren’t sure it was a good idea: I decided I’d see how it went. Including some ups and downs, it continued to go well, so I continue to put my trust in myself.

I still have more worries and fears but they don’t stop me from continuing to learn and grow. They don’t stop me from shining my light and loving my life.

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Filed under adult unschoolers, grown unschoolers, homeschooling, starting unschooling, trust, unschooling, worldschooling

Unschooling and Trust

Unschooling is about trust.” This is what I often hear unschoolers say. Sometimes I put it this way: “Unschooling is about having confidence in freedom, or free people’s ability to guide their own lives.

The most basic meaning of unschooling is to homeschool without using a pre-packaged curriculum and instead the students follows their own interests. (Read more about the basic meaning of and difference between homeschooling and unschooling here.) But behind unschooling is this concept of trust in the individual.

On the other hand, school is really about trusting schools and the government in the case of public schools, the church in the case of parochial schools, and a strange guy from Germany who lived a hundred years ago in the case of Waldorf/Steiner schools, to guide the lives and education of hundreds, thousands, or millions of children.

Many of these organizations and people have some valuable wisdom to offer but most people would agree these entities are not necessarily trustworthy when it comes to directing the individual lives and education of children. People’s insistence on school may stem more from their fear of the alternative: trusting children, families, and communities (which is exactly what’s done in homeschooling and unschooling).

Peter Kowalke is a grown unschooler/homeschooler who made the Grown Without Schooling documentary about grown unschoolers and has spoken at many homeschooling conferences. I’ve been to a couple of his speeches and he often starts by asking the audience:

Everyone raise your hand if you here think your child is evil? I don’t mean sometimes naughty or bad, I mean really, just evil? Please, don’t be shy, you can go ahead and raise your hand if you think so.”

And of course no one raises their hand, because most people don’t really think their children are fundamentally bad. But behind our need to control so many aspects of children and people’s lives in general is an often subconscious belief that there’s something wrong with them and a fear that they can’t really be trusted with freedom.

Of course, there are so many examples to support this viewpoint: children and people in general are constantly doing things that we don’t like and don’t think they should be doing. Unschooling has a lot of wisdom regarding this.

First of all, much of what we think is a problem is not actually a problem at all. (I have to say: Thank goodness for sitting around, playing around, and getting into trouble: so much of the good things in life directly or indirectly come from them!) And a lot of people’s behavior that we might find problematic in a given situation is a natural reaction to oppression: a lot of times we do things simply because we’ve been told not to!

But maybe the main thing is when you’ve never been trusted by others to manage your own life, you yourself can lose trust and confidence in yourself. It’s also possible you simply haven’t developed certain skills because you’ve never had the opportunity to do so. It’s atrophy: you’re not going to have the strength to lift heavy objects if someone is always lifting them for you; and you’re not going to know how to plan your future if someone is always planning your future for you.

People will see these inabilities and weaknesses and argue that they or others can’t handle certain freedoms. Of course, just because someone doesn’t have the strength or skills to do something now doesn’t mean they can’t over time: do some lifting, tear some muscles tissue, get sore, and soon you’ll be able to handle the heavy stuff; start managing your life and education, make some mistakes, freak out every once in a while, and soon you’ll have the ability and confidence to direct your own life.

It is a challenge: in some ways it’s easier to have someone else manage things, but what a wonderful joy it is too: to direct your own life and education.

More about my personal experience with unschooling and learning to trust myself more in the next post.

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