Thursday, October 23, 2014

Small towns and Gideongate: two years later

The leaves are turning gold and crimson, we've fired up the furnace the past three mornings, and my kids are counting down the days to Halloween, a holiday that retains plenty of charm and old-fashioned fun in our small town. Door-to-door trick-or-treating is still a big thing, and because we live just up the street from downtown where merchants hand out goodies on Halloween afternoon, we typically welcome over 300 trick-our-treaters to our porch come Halloween evening.

As I enjoy the seasonal beauty and anticipate the approaching festivities, I'm also struck with sadness and too-vivid memories of the events now known in our house as "Gideongate." Two years ago this month, my public challenge of our local schools' cozy relationship with the Gideons International and of prayer at school board meetings resulted in a frenzy that reached the media, shook up longstanding friendships and acquaintanceships, and affected my family in ways that I couldn't have anticipated. And though I shudder at the memory of a city council candidate/proud Christian physically restraining his son on the sidewalk in front of our house to prevent the poor kid from getting hold of some atheist M&Ms, I don't regret taking a stand.

Earlier this week, Beau Dure explained Why Millenials Are Avoiding Small-Town America and why we should care ("Because small-town America won't survive without an infusion of fresh blood"). Acknowledging the problem of insufficient job opportunities, Dure goes on to blame small towns for failing to create the "walkable neighborhoods and traditional town centers" that Millenials desire. And while I (a Gen Xer) agree that having a downtown coffee shop, sidewalks in good repair, more shops selling needed items instead of third-hand junk, and some kind of evening arts scene would dramatically improve the quality of life here, I wish Dure had addressed the ways in which religious fundamentalism is driving Milennials from small towns.

One of the unexpected outcomes of Gideongate was being contacted by many Milennials who had left my town for large metro areas because they could not stand the religious intolerance, which includes intolerance of gays and lesbians. My town now has a tourism office that does some good work promoting our musical heritage (namely thumbpicking and the Everly Brothers) but last year used its Facebook page to promote a local church's production of Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames, a "hellhouse" play typically performed around Halloween that demonizes gays and lesbians, among others.

A marquee on a local church currently proclaims, "IF MAN EVOLVED FROM MONKEYS WHY ARE THERE STILL MONKEYS," recalling a certain school board member's public comments during Gideongate. While appalled by the anti-intellectualism and ignorance about evolution's basic tenets reflected in such comments, I fully support the constitutional principles that allow churches to say virtually anything on their marquees. The pastor of this church, on the other hand, once told me in an online discussion that his faith doesn't permit him to support church-state separation.

As the comments posted to my blog during Gideongate reveal, small-town residents are often quick to defend provincial attitudes with snappy replies like, "Love it or leave it!" The problem is, many young adults are leaving, and too often they are the kinds of involved, educated, and principled people small towns can't afford to lose.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

On leisure and busy-ness

For both the adults and children in our family, one of the biggest challenges to forming and sustaining friendships is that nearly everyone seems to be busier than we are.

Other people's weekends are crammed with children's soccer (or baseball, basketball, etc.) games and church; their weekday afternoons with homework, soccer practice, and, on Wednesdays, more church. School and church alone, with their offshoots like family reading nights and science fairs and vacation bible school and mission trip fundraisers, take up a huge chunk of other people's lives.

I sometimes feel I should apologize for not being busier. Instead, I offer our flexibility as a way to make it easier to get together with others. "Name a time," I say, "and we can probably make it happen." Or I speak sympathetically about my own three children's scheduled activities, which currently are ballet, karate, drum lessons, scouts, and gymnastics, though actually they leave us with ample time to get together with friends, read books just because we want to, make homemade meals, and, most of the time, get enough sleep. We sometimes rush out to the car with me worried we won't make it someplace on time, but the hurrying is because I have mismanaged time, not because our lives are overwhelmingly busy.

Privilege is a big idea these days, and I acknowledge that our family is very, very fortunate to make a go of it on a single salary. We are also fortunate that my husband and I have had the life experiences to make us confident about unschooling.

And yet.

For at least middle-class families, factors other than family economics play a big role in chronic busy-ness. In his 2012 op-ed "The Busy Trap," Tim Kreider laments:
Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another's eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

While acknowledging that all latchkey children might not have as easy a time as Kreider (a Gen Xer like me), can we recognize something that has been lost here? Might children who spend all day in school and after-school care benefit from a couple of evenings a week just hanging out at home? Will a child's chance of succeeding at high school baseball or softball be destroyed because he or she does not play t-ball as a four-year-old? Can we recognize that playing in adult-directed sports leagues doesn't bond children in the same way as throwing dirt clods at each other?

After connecting his own decision to become a writer with the leisure time of his youth, Kreider reminds us of the relationship between leisure and creativity. His argument recalls one of my favorite passages from school-reformer-turned-unschooling-advocate John Holt's book Learning All the Time:

Real learning is a process of discovery, and if we want it to happen, we must create the kinds of conditions in which discoveries are made. We know what these are. They include time, leisure, freedom, and lack of pressure.

I love many things about the life we have created, but one of the things I love most is that we have the time to experience each day unfolding and to pursue interesting avenues of learning. Because our children are accustomed to sane lives, I suspect they will, like their parents and Kreider, gravitate toward ways of supporting themselves and their future families that aren't soul-sucking. I am more than okay with that.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Can we please stop repeating this "fact" about reading?

A foundation in my county has done all sorts of great work to improve the quality of life for local citizens. Thus I hesitate to criticize any of their efforts, which I think are mostly well-intended. But when I came across this promotional piece about the foundation's efforts to increase "kindergarten readiness" among local children, I must admit I was gobsmacked.

I could write a very long post about all the claims in the piece that make me uneasy, but instead I will focus on one statement that I find particularly dishonest:
"Until third grade, children are reading to learn to read. From there on, they are reading to get information."
To be clear, this statement is not original. It can be found, in slightly different form here and here, among other places. You can probably find some document from your local school district that makes this claim. It has become a predictable component of the "kindergarten readiness" speech parroted by school administrators, grant program overseers, and testing company representatives.

But it's not true, and more of us need to stand up and say so.

For my children, and for every other child I've known, reading has emerged from a complex mix of motivations. To say that beginning readers are reading solely to "learn to read" is reductive and insulting. It does, however, explain why so many schoolish beginning texts are incredibly boring. Why would content matter if learning to "decode" is all that beginning readers care about?

Do you know what my eldest son carried off to bed every night during the couple of months he crossed that magic bridge from not reading to reading? Transformers graphic novels intended for older children, and the Kentucky State Driver Manual. Why was he willing to expend effort, night after night, on these books? He wasn't attending school; no one was pressuring him to learn to read. He expended effort because he was interested in Transformers story lines, and fascinated by the hidden meanings of road signs, especially the unusual ones. In other words, he was reading to get information, even though he was five years old and, if schooled, would have been in kindergarten.

My daughter is nine, and homeschooled like her brothers. If she were in school, she would be in the third grade, and by now supposedly "reading to get information." But, in fact, her reading skills continue to improve the more she reads. Like her older brother, who has been reading for five years, she is learning how to read (better) as she reads, picking up new words as well as a more complex understanding of how structure, tone, punctuation, figurative language--the whole kit and kaboodle--create meaning.

And what about all the other reasons that people--children and adults alike--read? What about reading to escape our present difficulties, reading to be entertained, and reading to be inspired? No sane educator would disagree that people, including children, read for these purposes. So what does the current educational establishment really mean when it proposes an imaginary change in reading intent that occurs precisely before third grade?

It means that starting with third grade, you are expected to be a fluent reader as defined by the current educational establishment. It means that starting with third grade, if you aren't reading to the current educational establishment's standards, you are on your own. It means that in some states, you will be held back in third grade until you are a fluent reader as defined by the current educational establishment--that is, unless your parents take you out and homeschool you, or put you in a private school that is more tolerant of individual children's unique learning schedules.

The current educational establishment likes to cite evidence that if children aren't reading fluently by third grade, they are screwed. But this appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy driven more by the withdrawal of teacher support for later readers than by a brain-based missed window of opportunity. Just because one isn't yet reading fluently doesn't mean one is incapable of learning about all kinds of important things. Peter Gray's study of unschoolers provides a compelling look at unschooled children who learned to read later than the schools now deem acceptable, without lasting negative consequences, and with plenty of positive ones.

Administrators, teachers, and the parents of schooled children should read Pam Sorooshian's description of her "late" reader jumping up and down at the mere idea of reading The Borrowers and ask themselves if public education might possibly learn something from unschooling families, rather than spreading made-up facts about reading.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Three books for critical thinking

I have many reasons for thinking my children are better off learning at home than at school. One of these is that schools are notoriously poor at fostering critical thinking. Critical thinking is hard to assess with multiple-choice tests, and finding time to nurture it may seem impossible to those charged with teaching kindergarten students to identify pronouns, or with keeping kids from walking on the wrong color square in the hallway.

As Chris Liebig at A Blog About School has written, "Real critical thinking always involves challenging someone's authority--not an easy skill to teach when you're otherwise busy sending the constant message of 'do as we say and don't talk back.'"

Adults who agree that critical thinking is important might be interested in three books, appropriate for older children, that embody the spirit of critical thinking. These books also make useful resources for those trying to figure out how to expose children to religion without indoctrinating them.
Mapping a Changing World by Yvette La Pierre
Essentially a history of maps, Mapping a Changing World is packed with facts about cartography across time and cultures. Some of its finest passages, however, are more philosophical in nature, raising important questions about how we know what we know, why we tend to mythologize to fill in gaps in our knowledge, and what happens when we make decisions based on incorrect maps.
Describing the oldest known map of the world, a fragment of a Babylonian clay tablet dating to 500 B.C., La Pierre says, "You'll notice when you look at the tablet that Babylon is in the center of the world. Early mapmakers commonly put themselves in the center of the universe, just as we can be self-centered in our view of place today." Even children are capable of heeding this warning. 
You Can't Read This: Forbidden Books, Lost Writing, Mistranslations & Codes by Val Ross
Any of these eighteen stories about reading is fascinating on its own, and collectively they illustrate the complex relationship between literacy and power. Recurring themes include censorship, legal prohibitions against reading, reading as tool of and threat to religious authority, and the struggle to decode unknown languages. The chapter on girls in Afghanistan is dated (because of the Taliban's resurgence) but still likely to help children understand the precarious nature of rights.
This is another book whose strength lies in the questions it poses. Ross asks, "[A] language that expresses the thoughts of one culture may lack words that are vital to another. In that case, how can the translation ever be accurate?" and "Sooner or later, we come across a book that we decide we should not read because we think it is false or dangerous. But do we have the right to make that decision for other people?"
The Brick Bible: The Complete Set by Brendan Scott Powell
It may surprise some to learn that Powell's The Brick Bible has both a strong atheist and a strong fundamentalist Christian following. Powell brings the books of the Bible to life in an easy-to-read translation of his own, illustrated with some of the most imaginative Lego builds ever seen. The book of Revelation is just . . . well, really something. 
From a critical thinking standpoint, Powell's book is better than the typical children's Bible because it doesn't edit out the stuff that makes Yahweh and Jesus seem a little nuts--thus the atheist appeal. And some fundamentalists don't see a problem with this (presumably because they are okay with God's vengeful side), and flood Powell's inbox with requests to reproduce pages from The Brick Bible for use in Sunday School classes. Also, Jesus isn't the implausibly light-skinned, blue-eyed guy from the typical children's Bible. He's a bright yellow Lego mini-figure.
While some of the most graphic passages have been cut from the print version of The Brick Bible (they are available at Powell's website, with a warning about mature content), there is still plenty here to give children a broader exposure to the Christian text than they are likely to get in most Sunday School classes. And while parents will need to take into consideration the age, temperaments, and existing knowledge of their children, they are likely to find that the crucifixion of Jesus on a plastic Lego cross isn't likely to inspire Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ-style nightmares.
Because I believe that children should be able to choose their own reading material (with parents available to provide assistance when it's wanted), I don't recommend assigning or even pressing kids to read these books. What I have done with the first two is to read them myself, then refer to passages or illustrations from the books when it seemed appropriate. For example, my daughter recently became interested in Helen Keller and sign language, and when she asked for help locating some more sign language videos I casually mentioned that the Ross book has a chapter about how Braille was developed. She replied that of course she was interested! Similarly, she has been learning about the Holocaust, so I referred her to several maps in La Pierre's book that trace the changing national boundaries in Europe from just before World War I to the present.

These are the kinds of books that don't have to be read in one sitting. And I know from past experience that once my children are exposed to books in our house, they tend to search them out later when seeking information.

When it came to The Brick Bible, I engaged in what Sandra Dodd calls "strewing." In other words, I left the books on the coffee table, where they were eventually discovered.  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More reasons to like screens

Some people are convinced that the Internet and social media are making us dumber. I am weary of this argument. It seems obvious to me that my children know more about the world than I did at their ages, and that technology has much to do with this.

One of the cool things about being 41 years old is that I remember when remote-controlled televisions came on the market. Serendipitously, my family's black-and-white set broke down around the same time the local Radio Shack got its first shipment of remote-controlled televisions. So our first color TV came with a two-inch chunk of a remote that was the fascination of the neighborhood. This is especially remarkable given the fact that my dad was practically a Luddite, with a special fondness for rotary-dial telephones.

Anyway, as remotes caught on, parents worried that children would become lazy (or lazier) because they no longer had to get up off the couch to change the channel. I actually remember teachers and other adults voicing this concern. As I don't know a single person who chooses to change the channel manually, I think it's safe to say that we got over our fear of remotes.

Worrying about the moral effects of technology is not a new thing, and even pre-dates remote-controlled television. Apparently Socrates fretted that the high-tech act of writing would have fatal consequences for traditional Greek dialectic. This information comes to us via a new book, Smarter Than You Think, by Clive Thompson. A book review in The New York Times commends Thompson for
avoid[ing] both the hype and the hand-wringing so common among digital age pontificators . . . He comes across as a sensible utopian, tending toward the belief that our digital devices and social networks are, on balance, enhancing our lives and improving the world in the same mixed-blessing sort of way that writing, paper, the printing press and the telephone did.
"Sensible utopian" also aptly describes teacher Andrew Simmons, who recently took to The Atlantic to consider (and mostly praise) the effects of social media on high school boys' writing. His argument is anecdotal but worth considering, especially when paired with Thompson's claim that social media and blogs have meant an increase in writing for most Americans.

It may seem like I'm all about "screen time" these days. After all, my last post was something of a tribute to the learning possibilities represented by the television-DVD player combination. Even I am surprised by my enthusiasm for screens, as I began life as a homeschooling parent with the grim determination to keep electronics in the background as much as possible. (I also began homeschooling with a firm belief in the inferiority of practically every activity to reading books. I'd like to blame this on time spent in college English departments, but it may well have been my own problem.)

The writings of Sandra Dodd and other unschoolers helped me to reconsider my suspicion of digital media, to rethink the very notion of "screen time," and to stop arbitrarily limiting the time my children spent using the television, DVD player, computer, and other devices. It was only a matter of time until I was noting the very real ways in which my children were using screens to learn.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

We all love Lucy: why my husband and I are thrilled about our daughter's TV watching

This summer, while education experts were going on morning talk shows to bemoan "summer learning loss" and to suggest preventive strategies, my eight-year-old daughter was watching I Love Lucy. She was watching lots of it, in fact: the entire first five seasons, or 154 episodes. Many episodes she watched twice; a special few she watched five or even ten times each. Obviously, my husband and I allowed this Lucy Fest. We allowed it not because we are lazy, but because we are unschooling parents who believe that learning is everywhere, and that having a personal interest in a subject, and parents who support that interest, is the best way to ensure that learning will take place.

Neither my husband nor I can remember exactly why it occurred to us that Hadley might like I Love Lucy, but I think we'd noticed how much she enjoyed other examples of physical comedy, as well as movies set during earlier periods, and how many questions she had asked about the collectible I Love Lucy Barbie dolls in her cherished Barbie collector's guide. Regardless, sometime in early May, I ordered the first season on DVD from Amazon, opened the box in front of Hadley when it arrived, and asked if she'd like to watch a bit of it with me. She was instantly hooked.

Subject classifications, while unavoidable in schools, can actually hinder natural learning; thus I am reluctant to cram everything my daughter gained from I Love Lucy into neat boxes that would satisfy some curriculum committee. Yet a little borrowing from the language of schools might be useful to those who find unschooling a questionable educational approach, or to those who are attracted to unschooling ideals but can't help worrying, "But what about the math? What about geography?"

So here, in very broad subject terms, are some of the topics Hadley learned about this summer via her favorite red-haired comedienne:

  • The United States' "Good Neighbor" policy toward Latin America
  • The coup that brought Batista to power in Cuba and the resulting immigration of Desi Arnaz's family
  • Castro's Cuban Revolution and the exodus of Cubans to the United States
  • The gay nineties
  • The flapper of the 1920s
  • Discrimination against African Americans and their virtual absence from 1950s television comedy
  • How constitutional monarchies work
  • Changing of the guard at Buckingham palace
  • Reign of the current Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth II)
  • Edward VIII/Wallis Simpson abdication crisis
Sociology and Psychology
  • Why people get divorces
  • The differences between public personas and private lives
  • How changing domestic technologies in the 1950s affected gender roles and women's lives
  • Mid-century social games: bridge, canasta, mahjong
  • Mid-century gender roles and stereotypes (e.g., women are irresponsible with money, men aren't good at taking care of children)
  • Public perception of and discrimination against multi-cultural families
  • Why there were only 48 states in the early 1950s
  • Methods of patrolling international borders
  • What a passport is and how to obtain one
  • Public transportation vs. car ownership in New York City and other major metropolitan areas
  • The Alps and avalanches
Cooking and Cuisine
  • Traditional Italian winemaking
  • Traditional Cuban foods
  • Breadmaking
  • Etiquette surrounding escargot
Art, Drama, and Design
  • Use of facial expressions, stunts, and special effects to make physical comedy
  • Mid-century clothing, including garments rarely worn today in the United States (e.g., girdles, slips, smoking jackets)
  • Costuming and how often particular items are repeated during a season
  • Makeup techniques
  • Set design, including architecture, props, set changes between episodes and seasons
  • Popular furniture styles of the 1950s (mid-century modern, early American, modern Chinese)
  • Vaudeville performers
  • Advantages and disadvantages of filming before a live studio audience
  • Sponsors, advertising, and product placement
  • Child actors and child labor laws
  • Aesthetic differences between black-and-white and color film and implications for set design
  • Old Hollywood (actors/actresses and significant Hollywood locations)
  • References to I Love Lucy in the contemporary movie Rat Race and people who act professionally as Lucy impersonators
Literature and Language Arts
  • How puns work
  • Figures of speech
  • Plot devices and narrative patterns
  • Narrative differences and similarities between radio shows and early television sitcoms
Economics and Math
  • How checking accounts work and what it means to bounce a check
  • How store credit works and why it's rarely used in the U.S. today
  • Meaning of the adage about not mixing business with friendship
  • How the value of collectible items is determined
  • Rights and responsibilities of landlords
  • Home-based businesses and the importance of correctly figuring one's profit
  • Currency exchange rates
  • Counterfeit money
  • Inflation
  • Minimum wage
  • Exporting of American jobs in second half of twentieth century
  • Operetta as a genre and how it differs from opera
  • Traditional Latin music and Latin jazz
  • What bandleaders and conductors do
  • Square dancing and rockabilly music
  • References to I Love Lucy in popular music (Jimmy Buffet's "Pencil Thin Mustache" and Weird Al Yankovic's parody song "Oh Ricky")
Health and Biology
  • Health effects and changing public perception of cigarette smoking
  • Physical and behavioral effects of alcohol consumption
  • Changing medical advice and social norms surrounding childbirth (e.g., mid-century bottle feeding, homemade baby formula, Dr. Spock)
  • Biological causes and emotional effects of miscarriage

While television watching is often characterized as "passive" and a withdrawal from "real life"--especially when children are the watchers--Hadley's I Love Lucy-thon was neither. Would a passive viewer bother to pause a program two or three or five times an hour to ask her dad to explain some word or name or concept, or wait excitedly while her mom searched the internet for more information? Would a passive viewer replay a scene over and over until she was certain she got the joke? We had some deep hour-long conversations, just before going to sleep or in the car, after new ideas from I Love Lucy had percolated and given rise to new understandings or questions. And how lovely it was for my husband and me to snuggle with our sweet daughter on the couch and watch her face as she smiled and thought deeply and laughed! Those times will provide special memories when all of us are older, and when opportunities to gather on the family couch aren't so plentiful. Sometimes our family will be out and about and Hadley will say, "Do you know what that reminds me of?" and we all share a good laugh because we know exactly which Lucy episode she has in mind.

Critics of unschooling like to speak of the importance of "well-roundedness"--a characteristic they can't imagine an unschooled child possessing--and thus I find it satisfying to share that while watching 154 episodes of I Love Lucy this summer, Hadley still found time to attend weekly gymnastics and karate practice, enjoy the county fair, swim in our community pool, play with the neighbor kids, attend a few birthday parties, complete two challenging sewing projects, build with Legos, help in the garden, attend a week-long art day camp, hunt for fossils, tour a lighthouse, play on numerous playgrounds, compare and calculate prices of things she wanted to buy with her allowance, and visit a history museum. That certainly seems well-rounded to me.

The next time you hear parents worrying (or boasting!) about limiting their children's "screen time," or when you encounter experts bent on convincing you of television's inevitable addictive lure, I hope you will consider my family's Lucy experience. With a positive attitude and parental involvement, television can be just another great resource for learning, and a conduit for family closeness and joy.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reasons matter: homeschooling, unschooling, and priorities

Homeschoolers come to homeschooling for different reasons. I get that. But I do think some reasons for homeschooling are better than others.

It is better to homeschool because one cares about children's well-being than because one wants to exercise certain parental rights.

It is better to homeschool because one wants to help specific children learn well and happily than because one wants to give the government the middle finger, or make some other kind of political statement.

It is better to homeschool because one wants to make a child's world larger, with more opportunities, than because one wants to make it smaller, with fewer opportunities.

John Holt, the former teacher and founder of Growing Without Schooling magazine and the first to use the term "unschooling," was a great friend of children. I think it's safe to assume that Holt would be disturbed by the attempts of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) to become the voice for all American homeschoolers. The HSLDA argues for the right of parents to use corporal punishment on their children and takes political stances on subjects like gay marriage that have nothing to do with homeschooling and everything to do with religion. The HSLDA has undermined decades of work by state-level homeschooling groups to secure reasonable homeschooling statutes, and the organization uses hyperbolic and distorted reports to scare parents into becoming dues-paying members in exchange for legal defense they don't need.

Michelle Goldberg's "Homeschooled Kids, Now Grown, Blog Against the Past" reveals much that is wrong with Christian fundamentalist homeschooling, and with the HSLDA. The article makes it clear that many fundamentalist homeschooling parents are not only harming their children, but actually making the legal right to homeschool shakier for everyone. The general public is rightfully concerned about homeschooling that involves abuse, neglect, sexism, and anti-intellectualism--that is, with homeschooling used to make a child's world smaller instead of larger.

Another threat to homeschooling, and to unschooling in particular, comes from a different place on the political spectrum. Certain unschoolers who see unschooling as inseparable from a libertarian or anarchist world view are actively courting media attention these days, in the name of bringing unschooling to the mainstream. (As with the HSLDA, both economic and political motives seem to be at work here.) Unfortunately, some of these advocates seem to think that any attention is good attention. They imagine that the portrayals of unschooling on shows such as Wife Swap are wonderful even if the privacy of their own children is violated by camera crews and their children's reputations damaged by unscrupulous editing. No matter what the media-seeking unschooling advocates say their intentions are, if the public is left with the impression that unschooling means children being left to fend for themselves in the name of "liberty," the legal right to unschool will be jeopardized. The kinds of media representations that are good for unschooling (and there have been some of these, though never on Wife Swap) look deeply at how people learn, and are thoughtful and nuanced in their discussion of how parents partner with their children. They are designed to be informational and not entertaining (which is to say, they don't include guests uttering bleeped-out words and ranting at each other), and generally don't offer financial compensation to the participants.

While I am glad to know some wonderful homeschooling families, I don't see myself as part of "the homeschooling community" or "the unschooling community." I am wary of homeschooling where the priority is not helping children thrive, and of homeschooling and unschooling advocates with political and economic agendas that can too easily eclipse actual children's needs.

*UPDATE*: Those interested in how priorities can help or hinder unschooling and/or peaceful parenting should check out Sandra Dodd's page on Priorities. I don't know anyone who has written more clearly, or helpfully, about the subject.