Unschooling kids (5×8 – 8/21/12)

Should kids teach themselves, what’s the deal with your salary, breakfast and a hug in Barnum, in search of the real Wisconsin, and the games we all play that we don’t realize we’re playing.


What if kids were allowed to learn on their own, rather than in a school. Would they? The Fargo Forum has a fascinating article today on “unschooling,” in which the child “self learns.”

The main difference between traditional homeschooling and unschooling is the lack of curriculum. Unschoolers don’t follow a curriculum based on age or grade, and all traditional subject areas – such as reading, writing, math, science, social science, physical education – aren’t necessarily covered in depth by the parent and child.

“The more we trusted our children’s innate desires to learn, the more the knowledge they were gaining seemed to stick,” a mother in Pelican Rapids says.

Would you?

Related: The hot new toy for kids — duct tape.


Employees who earn less money than they feel they’re worth are more likely to share salary information with friends, family and co-workers, Marketplace reports. Those on the higher end of the pay scale are more likely to keep quiet about it.


The Minnesota Legislature may hold its special session soon to figure out what help to provide the people of the Northland, flooded out of their homes and businesses earlier this summer.

Some people can’t wait. In Barnum, for example, Lou’s Rustic Diner is open again.

While the flood was wiping out their business, the owners were busy helping other people. Then, other people helped them.

Meanwhile, at the lower end of the state, nature has “rebuilt itself” following the devastating flood of 2007… with a little help. The Winona Daily News looks at how parks and trails recovered from the destruction.


NPR dropped in on the Winnebago County Fair — Oshkosh — to profile what it says is a “swing district.” It couldn’t find — or at least didn’t present — any voters who supported the administration. It tried to challenge a farmer who complained about welfare while accepting government support, but it didn’t point out that one of the big remaining employers in the city is Oshkosh truck, which makes plenty of money off war.The theme of the story was “someone’s getting something I’m not.” The farmer, for example, doesn’t see his subsidy as “a handout” because he’s not getting much of one.

The story was reminiscent of what the New York Times found earlier this year when it visited Chisago County, people decrying government programs, while taking advantage of government programs.

How are we able to apply different definitions? According to Firmin DeBrabander, an associate professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art, it’s “deluded individualism.”

There are many counties across the nation that, like Chisago County, might feel insulated from the trials of the destitute. Perhaps this is because they are able to ignore the poverty in their midst, or because they are rather homogeneous and geographically removed from concentrations of poverty, like urban ghettos. But the fate of the middle class counties and urban ghettos is entwined. When the poor are left to rot in their misery, the misery does not stay contained. It harms us all. The crime radiates, the misery offends, it debases the whole. Individuals, much less communities, cannot be insulated from it.

Thanks to a decades-long safety net, we have forgotten the trials of living without it. This is why, the historian Tony Judt argued, it’s easy for some to speak fondly of a world without government: we can’t fully imagine or recall what it’s like. We can’t really appreciate the horrors Upton Sinclair witnessed in the Chicago slaughterhouses before regulation, or the burden of living without Social Security and Medicare to look forward to. Thus, we can entertain nostalgia for a time when everyone pulled his own weight, bore his own risk, and was the master of his destiny. That time was a myth. But the notion of self-reliance is also a fallacy.


We play games with ourselves without even knowing it.

Bonus I: Prepare to feel old. Beloit College is out with its annual “mindset list.” Items the class of 2016 never knew. On the list: They have never seen an airplane “ticket.” On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males. For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department. Here’s the list.

Bonus II: Rep. Todd Akin released a video today, apologizing for his comments over the weekend about rape…

Did that sound familiar?

Bonus III: PBS is auto-tuning again. Following up on its viral Mr. Rogers video a few months ago, it’s released one with Julia Child.

What’s behind this? The Boston Herald interviewed the person doing the work at PBS’ behest. “My hope is that they remind people that PBS has been producing some amazing content for decades now, and they certainly still are and deserve to be well-funded,” he said.


Hubert Joly has been named CEO of Best Buy Co., the consumer electronics giant. Best Buy has been struggling to regain its footing in a retail market increasingly dominated by online shopping. Today’s Question: As consumers’ shopping habits change, what retailer seems to be getting it right?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Aggressive debt collection practices.

Second hour: A study released yesterday by the Chronical of Philanthropy shows how neighborhoods, cities, and states rank in generosity. We talk with Peter Panepento who oversaw the project.

Third hour: You’re probably all aware that you’ve got a credit score – you may or may not know yours but you surely know how it’s used – especially if you’ve ever tried to buy a house. But there’s another score out there that you probably don’t even know about – nor will you likely ever know what it is.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): A Chautauqua Lecture by journalist Peter Maass about the problems OIL causes for the countries that have it. His new book is titled, “Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil.”

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – Navigating the medical maze. Health care jumped back to political issue number one. Republicans warn that the president will drive Medicare into the ground. Democrats insist a Romney-Ryan win in November would mean the end of Medicare as we know it.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – TBA

  • Hearing Michele Bachmann say her heart is for me and my children is a bit creepy.

  • BJ

    #1 unschool – I haven’t listened to the video you posted but the title and text reminds me of a TED talk.

  • David

    #1) “Would you?” — No. I’m not a big fan of any new thing that comes along with the promise of making children better through some radical new way. My children are not a science experiment.

  • Kassie

    My salary is a matter of public record, searchable on the Pioneer Press website, so I’m not to secret about it. Plus, I’m underpaid for what I do. At work people aren’t too quiet about their salaries since we all pretty much know what each other makes. If you do “a” and have been here “x” years, you probably make around “y.”

  • essjayok
  • Shannon

    #1 “Unschooling”: I listened to her presentation and I will say she made many interesting points. The idea that kids will follow their curiosity, their passions, their interests and develop them into (I’m at a loss for nomenclature here…) an education is wonderful. I’m a skeptic though, as I suspect many are, about how many children this path would work for.

    Taylor mentions some famous unlearners: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, more recently FDR. Franklin had some formal schooling and then apprenticed but continued learning on the side. Jefferson had tutors and I believe went to the College of William and Mary. FDR went to boarding schools like other wealthy young boys and graduated from Harvard. While all three learned independently, it simply can’t be said that they were unlearners.

    As for schools as cinder-block prisons that stamp out individuality and inculcate rule-following and ageism and a whole host of other horrific things, it’s a wonder that we (the masses who’ve attended institutional educational facilities) are not all dead inside, walking corpses in a wasteland of stupidity and boredom. Public schools were founded in the U.S. to ensure that there would be a level of education among the electorate that would allow them to make informed, sound decisions when voting. As the electorate expanded, so too did the school population. During the Progressive Era (1890-1920), American reformers (mostly white, middle-class women) brought German ideas of childhood education – kindergarten – to the U.S. and agitated for public school to be mandatory for children to the age of 14 or 16. Without it being mandatory, children in that era often dropped out to go to work to earn money. While it is often believed that all of this money got turned over to the family, that’s not always the case (actually in Minneapolis they discovered that kids were working for fun money that they kept for themselves and it created a debate over whether there should be more streaming in schools – vocational, liberal, “just enough” to get in and out).

    The public school system absolutely needs reforming, but perhaps smaller class sizes would be a better, more functional solution to having no school at all. The benefits of homeschooling or unschooling is that it’s got a pretty good ratio of teachers (or in unschooling, I guess role models/parents) to students. Even without removing all forms of standardized testing the idea that there could be a cap of, say, 12 students in a class between k-12 would make some pretty fundamental changes in the way students learn or even perceive the purpose of education.

  • Disco

    The Real Wisconsin story demonstrates how the Republican Party wins elections. Essentially they use propaganda and soundbites to disable critical thinking. Even when you confront these people with their own hypocrisy, their clunking brains can’t make heads or tails of it. And they revert to what they “just know.” In short, the way that Republicans win is by keeping people stupid.

    So sir, how will you pay for your healthcare needs? Oh…hmm…dum-de-dum…my kids will take care of me.


  • Christin


    Thank you for the interesting post Bob! The unschooling philosophy is very interesting. I have been applying parts of it to supplement my children’s education, helping them to be engaged and curious about the world around them. The idea being that I want my kids to question “rules” and social constructs (example: gender norms, white privilege, stereotypes), so that the world can be a different, more imagnative, and more free place. This gives my kids a chance to think about ideas on a new level without the boxes we adults so easily fall into (“it is that way because that is just how it is!” sort of thinking). I want my kids to be savvy and critical thinkers, not talking robots who watch 10 minutes of CNN kids in the morning during homeroom. The philosophy helps me both to advocate for my kids in the large bureaucracy that is public education and to supplement what they are learning in school at home.

    In my experience there are many impressive professionals in schools struggling to meet an array of needs with limited funding and very little respect for their professional expertise from politicians, the media, or parents. In all the politics surrounding education, the top priority, the kids get lost. Our school system today is an assembly line system that is very much dictated by politicians who haven’t spent time in school since they were students, and therefore they are not experts. The result is more about what is convenient for adults than what is right for our kids. It is no wonder one might want to unschool.

    That being said, there are many benefits to school. A public education provides my children exposure to people they might not otherwise have met, increasing their understanding of diversity and their ability to work with people different from themselves. This spans race, class, gender, ability, religion, and beyond. A public education gives them the chance to interface with adults outside of the ones I choose – possibly opening them up to perspectives that I disagree with or never thought of, challenging them in new ways. A public education helps my children to understand how our society functions, seeing both the greatness and the failings of the world in which we all share.

    Another aspect to point out: being able to homeschool or to unschool can require a bit of financial creativity (or sacrifice) for many families who cannot afford to have a stay-at-home parent. There are cooperatives with many families working together, but all-in-all, there is a certain amount of privilege inherent in homeschooling.

    Shannon (above) points out that we are “…not all dead inside, walking corpses in a wasteland of stupidity and boredom” and then Disco points out (in regard to #4) “…when you confront these people with their own hypocrisy, their clunking brains can’t make heads or tails of it. And they revert to what they ‘just know.’ In short, the way that Republicans win is by keeping people stupid.”

    Interesting juxtaposition, no?

  • Shannon

    Christin –

    I thought about that juxtaposition too! I’ve thought it plenty of times before – to destroy education is to make sure you have a pliant electorate unwilling to fact check absurd claims (see also: “legitimate” rape).

    I’ve taught at the university level and once had a student tell me -with pride- that they hadn’t been to a library since elementary school. When I told the student that to not only pass my class but to be a citizen of the world it was imperative to go to the library. No amount of unlearning is going to spark that kid’s interest in being their own guiding hand in their education (yes, yes, the student was probably already dead inside from k-12…).

    What you’ve said is the best point of all – you use it to supplement your child’s education. Funny how moderation, which keys in on taking the best from many approaches, seems so often to be the best solution.

  • mombalabamba

    I’m (very) late to this conversation but just want to say YAY Beloit College! My daughter is a sophomore at Beloit and I’ve looked at the Mindset list for the last few years. But it’s never gotten this much attention in the press before.