Category Archives: Unschooling

Hostels and Handshakes

So, this extended weekend (Wednesday through Sunday), I am working with Unschool Adventures on the Asheville Intensive – a program geared to giving college-aged peeps the tools they need to pursue their goals, whether or not that ultimately involves college.  I’m cooking, helping with workshops, and providing general moral support and such.  We are staying in a rad place in downtown Asheville called Sweet Peas Hostel.  It’s a lovely loft-like place that is extra-specially lovely in the mornings.  I snapped this picture yesterday as the sun was pouring in from Lexington:

Quite lovely, isn’t it?  It makes me want to do something.  Or be totally peaceful.  Or paint.  Active peaceful painting.  Yes.

After breakfast, our mornings consist of workshops that build skills such as interacting with awesome people.

In the above picture, Blake – assisted by the lovely Danielle – is demonstrating how to “PASHE” someone – that is, having good Posture, voice Amplification, a Smile, Hands that don’t flop around like fish, and Eye Contact when meeting someone new.

In the afternoon, everyone has time to pursue people to speak to about their relevant and similar goals and interests.  I took it upon myself to stop by the local Master Gardener Cooperative Extension Office to ask the resident Master Gardeners what it was like being a Master Gardener and how I might pursue that myself.

Unfortunately, I must report that the lady I talked to did not seem to be very interested in answering my questions.  Whether it was my age, the way I asked my questions, or just that she felt her completely volunteer position very holy and me unworthy, the brief interview did not go overly well.  Essentially all I got was a lecture about what a dedication it was to be so giving with my time and that I couldn’t use it to get paid (I had researched this already, but she had to tell me at least 17 times, you see) – and a bunch of papers.

Here is a picture of the papers:

However, my failure has only given me more confidence in myself – perhaps I do not want to be a Master Gardener at all – at least, not like that.  I want the knowledge and skills, yes.  But I have never been one to rely on any sort of institution to teach me all I want to know or even just give me credibility that I really feel better just establishing for myself.

And I feel much better about that.

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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Life Pursuits, Unschooling


What is "Socialization"?

I am rather hot and bothered at the moment, so I’m going to write about it.
There is a great number of poop-headed, ignorant people in this world who are a bit big for their britches and cannot ever seem to say anything of even remote value to society.  In fact, the only thing they do is make people like me very upset.  (Admittedly, I’m quite sure I have been this person before.  Oh, God, help me.)
I know I should not let unceremonious, obstinate bastards get to me: it isn’t as if what they say matters.  I guess I mainly have this urge to put them in their place; to culture and educate them in these areas they obviously have not been exposed to.  If someone assumes that homeschoolers are not “socialized”, but are amiable and willing to see that is not the case, then that is one thing.  But if one is barking around on public forums declaring that, basically, it is certainly a scientific fact that socialized homeschoolers are the exception, not the norm, and that all parents who choose to homeschool their children are irresponsible prudes bent on sheltering their children (which was not even the topic of the conversation), then it is very clear to me that you, sir, are the one who has not been “properly socialized.” 
A properly socialized person has been acquainted with a great diversity of people: people with different religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs; people with different upbringings and educational backgrounds; people of different races, cultures, sexual orientations; people with different life experiences that paint their own unique worldview and story.  And a socialzied person would take the time to listen and learn and love the people different from themselves.
Additionally, a socialized person understands social boundaries: they can recognize when is an appropriate time to say something and when is an appropriate time to keep the facehole shut.  They can sense when they want to say smoething and then don’t, because it actually isn’t something relevant to the conversation, or it would interrupt someone who is talking. 
Socialized people know good manners… they know it is rude and sometimes even hurtful to bash certain groups of people just because can. 
Of course, this makes me realized that most everybody in the world, I included, are probably not as well socialized as we really could be.
Oh, well.  Ima go work on that now.
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Posted by on January 9, 2012 in Soap Box, Unschooling


Learning Spanish

I am obsessed.
Just ask my family. Every single day, practically, I am at the computer, staring at pictures and saying things like, “El gato duerme” and “Japon esta lejos de Brasil.” (“The cat sleeps” and “Japan is far from Brazil”, respectively.) When I am procrastinating, I do my Spanish lessons. When I am sick, I do my Spanish lessons. When I go somewhere, I take my audio companions (and I get grumpy when I accidentally leave them in the car that I am not driving). I form sentences to test on the Latino guys at work, like, “Huevo sol ariba?” (“Egg sun up?” You know… fried egg, sunny side up…). I scour Craigslist for ads in Spanish to read (the Personals are especially interesting). All this thanks to working with Latino people and wanting to be able to communicate with them better.
I was not always this excited about Spanish. In fact, it was the opposite. I wanted to learn ANYTHING else instead: Spanish was too “common.” Every kid in America was learning Spanish.
So I grew up trying to learn French (less common? Apparently). However, every program I tried only catered to one learning style and/or did not teach me anything useful. Also, I realized a few years ago that I really had no reason to learn French at all: I had no particular overwhelming desire to travel to France, Belgium, or Canada, no French friends, no obsession with French culture, food, literature, music, or anything. That was when I quit, too relieved to feel disappointed in myself.
At the beginning of June, though, when I started my new job in the restaurant, my disheartened attitude about language learning in general made a 180:
Spanish is the second language in this current workplace of mine. Half the employees are Latino and they are always talking to each other in Spanish and to the rest of us in Spanglish. Immersion has presented itself, and therefore the motivation to learn to communicate. Sure, these guys speak some English, too, but why limit ourselves? Especially when I see their faces light up every time I understand what they are saying or say something in their language. It is, really, deeply flattering when someone from another country has chosen to learn your native language.
My dad bought Rosetta Stone Spanish levels one and two a couple of years ago for anybody in the family who wanted to use it. Up until June I considered it a “might as well as a last resort” option. But now, it’s ended up being exactly what I’ve needed.
Now I can’t stop. I am always hungering after anything Spanish-related… poetry especially, but basically anything that has any Spanish word in it or has any associations with Spanish whatsoever (like bags of nacho chips). What I really want is, once I have gone through all five levels of Rosetta Stone, to take maybe 6-ish months and travel in Mexico, Central, and South America, completely immersing myself in the language and culture through a combination of WWOOFing adventures and homestays that will probably include dancing lessons.
Did you know they have majors in foreign languages? I mean, I knew, and it kind of makes sense, but then it kind of doesn’t. While couchsurfing a few months ago I stayed at a couple’s house where the girl was working on her master’s in French, dating an Actual French Dude From France who, as a plus, helped her with her assignments. I mean, I guess that’s what you need if you want to teach French, which was what she was aspiring to do…
…. But really? Wouldn’t it be super, amazingly, stupendously fun to design your own “major” around a foreign language? I mean, just by opening myself up to learning new linguistic processes, I have acquired a thirst I would have never guessed would follow. What if I followed through completely on these inclinations, and started studying Spanish poetry/literature, Spanish history, Spanish architecture, Spanish geology, Spanish… whatever! There are 21 Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain in Europe, Equatorial Guinea in Africa, Mexico in North America, and the other 18 in the Caribbean, Central, and South America.
Where to start??
Well, I know for one thing that I have always wanted to study Argentine Tango in Argentina, so there’s a start.
Regardless, I am SO EXCITED. Don’t stop me now!
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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Life Pursuits, Unschooling


Stranded in the Adirondack Wilderness: Thoughts on Learning

Hello all! In case you were wondering, I do happen to still be alive and well. If you weren’t wondering, too bad, because now you know anyway.

I will hopefully start posting more entries again soon, but at the moment I am short on time. In my previous entry I mentioned I was getting ready to leave Oregon soon for a job as a dishwasher at a summer camp in upstate NY. I have been here for a month now, and boy, what a lifestyle change! Camp Unirondack is situated on Beaver Lake in the Adirondack mountains. We have cabins for campers and counselors, and staff; a big lodge, a kitchen and mess hall, an outdoor pavilion, a shower house, an art shop down on the water’s edge with a boathouse underneath, a waterfront, a campfire circle… it is impossible to be bored here. I do dishes for 110 people 3 times a day and keep the kitchen as squeaky clean as possible; then I devote some more time to continuing to do customer service for my dad; and I am still trucking away at my novel that I started in Ashland.

“STILL working on that novel, Jessica?? I thought you were supposed to finish it way back when.”

Too bad. It’s become a lot more complicated than I originally planned. Novels do that to you sometimes.

Occasionally I feel a bit stagnant here because my job here does not directly coincide with some sort of skill-gaining experience. I am now an expert with steel wool, can run the dish sanitizer by ear, and stack plates like a mad woman. However, at the end of the day I have not learned how to handle a raptor or bandage a seal fin or something that feels more relevant to what I ultimately want to do with my life. It often feels like I am just doing this for the money. Sure, I am surrounded by beauty, inspiration, and great new friends. But why am I here?

It’s interesting how humbling this realization is. “I’m a worldschooler;” I would proudly proclaim not that long ago; “I learn from everything.”

Have I been stumped?

I could blame my surroundings for not being things I could learn from, but is that really fair? I think one can choose to learn from something or not learn from it. Perhaps I have been unintentionally choosing to ignore all the information and experience that is right in front of my face; maybe I am even going so far as to say, “that’s not a learning opportunity, that’s just life stuff.”

Perhaps a good exercise for me would be to stand back, look at my month here so far, and ask myself: what have I learned? What am I currently learning? What am I going to learn for my remaining month?

What have I learned here at Unirondack? I’ve learned all about industrial kitchen sanitation. I’ve learned how to operate a musical theatre workshop. I’ve learned that I can figure out and memorize an entire song from Sweeney Todd on piano in three days. I’ve learned that if I get insufficient amounts of sleep for 3 weeks in a row my body’s immune system all but disappears completely. I’ve learned about loons because they’re all over the place here and very intriguing. I’ve learned that maybe I am a more extraverted person than I thought (which is why I have an issue with getting sufficient amounts of sleep). I’ve learned how to work with the people I live with, and live with the people I work with. I’ve learned about human nature, and how we are all so afraid to be ourselves, or to show that we have souls. I’ve learned how easy it is to fall into temptations of judgement and gossip. I’ve learned more about communication and its importance than I think I ever would have picked up anywhere else. I’ve learned it takes a long walk in the rain, or a day sitting and writing in the woods, or a kayak expedition to really ground me. I’ve learned the importance of ever being grounded and never forgetting myself.

What am I learning? Well, I am still learning a lot of the things I listed as things I’ve learned. I am not sure it’s quite right to say I have fully learned anything, so perhaps the last question should just be this question, but never mind. I am still learning how to love completely, how to not assume anything about anybody; how someone at first sight may seem like someone you never want to get to know; but later, they turn out to be your best friend. I’m learning who my true friends are here; what people build me up and what people tear me down. I am learning how to be a builder-upper and not a tearer-downer. I am learning from example of all my fellow staff members the virtue of perseverance, and I am learning self-control so I can get work done; so I can write; so I can have time alone to recharge; so I can sleep.

What do I want to learn? I want to learn how a summer camp runs and how to communicate with campers. I want to learn how to be a blessing to other people and not a curse. I don’t know if I am a curse, but it’s much better to be a blessing regardless of what I am when I am not being a blessing. I want to learn how to play guitar and write poetry better. I want to learn about different people’s lives by listening to them talk and observing their interactions here. I want to learn about other people’s skills and interests and see what doors have opened and will open for them. I want to learn contentment. I want to learn about more of the animals here; such as the 7,000 different species of moths I see flying around every day, and which half of the staff is unjustifiably frightened of. I want to learn how to dance better. I want to learn how to be the best person I can be so I can go home and show my family how I’ve changed for good.

There really is so much to learn here. It may not be directly “educational”, but maybe the biggest thing I am learning now is that the school of life has a time and place for that. It’s comforting to know.

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Posted by on July 27, 2010 in Identity, Life Pursuits, Unschooling


Mentoring and Homeschool Leadership Retreats

From May 9th through May 23rd I worked on the inaugural trip of Homeschool Leadership Retreats, led by my friend Blake Boles. It went splendidly; even more than splendidly. We had 7 campers total – 4 girls and 3 boys ages 14-18. They spent the two weeks getting to know Ashland, Oregon; they created internships, audited college classes, conducted interviews, got certifications, and many other wonderful things, all on their own. We also took them to a ropes course, on PCT hikes, to plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a tango lesson, etc. In the evenings, Blake taught workshops on many aspects of self-directed learning and creating opportunities for oneself in the world.

In the end, I was able to see the campers walk away with copious amounts of confidence, direction, and tools to go out and achieve their dreams. It was a great experience, both for campers and staff. I will certainly never forget it. Here’s a photo album of some of the highlights of the retreat: HLR Spring Retreat Photos.

During the retreat, a friend contacted me and asked if I could write up something on Homeschool Leadership Retreats and my thoughts on mentorship (especially in the context of the aforementioned HLR) for a speech she was planning to give at the LIFE is Good unschooling conference last weekend. I did, and I thought I would post what I wrote up here as well.

Oftentimes when I think of the word “mentorship,” I see some old yogi master walking through some Eden-esque garden with his little follower, philosophizing about the universe and speaking in proverbs. However, these past few months I have come to realize that the word, in this day and age, has a completely different meaning, that is simply all too wonderful.

Mentors lead and challenge; but they also listen and understand. A mentorship can consist of two people of any age difference. It can be intentional or accidental, or anything in between.

When I was first asked to be on staff for Homeschool Leadership Retreats, I was excited solely that I would get to “learn to work with ‘kids’ more, and people in general,” as that, besides “working on camps,” was one of my many vague, ill-defined goals. As the spring retreat approached, this intention got rather lost in the hubbub of getting ready to leave and the traveling I did beforehand, but that was good to sort of clear my mind and give me a fresh outlook once the retreat started.

It was the first night the campers got there that I more fully realized why I was there. These kids – really not much younger than I am – needed and wanted direction and confidence. And I was in the position to both show and give those things to them in the course of the retreat. Suddenly – click! – there was my purpose, there was my reason for being in Ashland, Oregon on May 9th. To give of myself in these areas in the same way others have given of themselves to guide me before (and who continue to do so).

Of course, I will throw a dictionary definition in here for good measure. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide” (italics mine). I see mentorship as something which centers on trust; it can’t function without it. I can say “oh, I want to be this great leader-person who sets good examples all the time and gives a crap ton of good advice”; or, as someone being mentored, I can say, “I want to be shown the ways of the world through this wise persons’ eyes and have a strong leader with good advice.” Well, those are great and all, but they really mean nothing if a trusting relationship between the two people in the mentorship has not been established. However, trust isn’t something that really consciously happens, though; and forcing it is not really a good idea.

Trust is a two-way street. Not only does the person I am mentoring need to trust me, but I need to trust them as well. For me, trust is built from being personable; being real, being true, etc. A mentor can admit to making mistakes. I used to think that was a bad thing to do – after all, I am supposed to set a good example, right? Therefore, admitting I screwed up somehow or another is simply out of the question, correct? No; I’ve found it to be the opposite. I can trust the person with the good and the bad. When I first discovered this, I was telling a younger friend about a big no-no I had done – afraid I would lose her respect forever. But, to my surprise, a big grin grew on her face when I was done telling what had happened, and she said “Wow… I just want you to know, Jessica, that I look up to you so, so much!” And she helped me feel respect for myself again, despite feeling like I had really screwed my life over.

Mentorship starts with friendship. Basically, mentorship is more of something that grows rather than something that just starts. Not to say that doesn’t happen; and if it does, friendship then grows out of mentorship. It’s really more of a cycle. It can begin with a single conversation, or an activity done together. Those sorts of things are inextricably conducive to building that essential trust – because trust is built from sharing… again, on both ends, not just the mentor getting a bunch of information out of the student (or whatever the “mentoree” should be called) so he can give advice, and not just the mentor pouring out copious wise words and quoting adages. Like I said, it is essentially a friendship, and friendships are developed with exchange of stories, thoughts, advice, musings, and shared activity.

Mentorship is such a wonderful gift for both the mentor and the one being mentored. They trust each other; they help each other along; there is a mutual respect; encouragement is exchanged. It is special, it is important, it is a lovely and wonderful thing. And being on Blake’s leadership retreat as a volunteer mentor/participant/dishwasher has really taught me so much about it that I do not think I would be able to understand before now.

On the note of College Rebellion, I think mentorship is very important at this age – both to have a mentor, as well as being a mentor of some sort. It’s like teaching; they say when you teach something to someone else, you learn it better yourself. I’ve found it is the same with mentorship. Leading and guiding another person, whether you are doing so consciously and intentionally, or unconsciously and unintentionally, helps you guide yourself and understand yourself better, which, in turn, helps you be a better mentor.

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Posted by on June 5, 2010 in Soap Box, Unschooling

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