Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Learning From Other Primates

I've been catching up on my huge backlog of TedTalks and recently watched Susan Savage-Rumbaugh's "Apes that write, start fires, and play Pac-Man," a fascinating look at her work with bonobos.

She contends that culture, rather than genetics, determines much of the intelligence and skill of humans and other primates (though this part is still controversial). What her group has done in their research is to attempt to create a kind of hybrid family of humans and bonobos (aka "pygmy chimpanzees") who live and work and play together, and look at how and what the bonobos learn.

What they've learned is pretty amazing--starting and tending campfires, communicating with a symbol lexicon, driving electric golf carts, playing video games, and much more. There's tons more information about them at the Great Ape Trust.

One of Rumbaugh's comments in the TedTalk that especially struck me was:

We found that the most important thing for permitting bonobos to acquire language is not to teach them. It's simply to use language around them—because the driving force in language acquisition is to understand what others who are important to you are saying to you.

Sounds like unschooling, doesn't it?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Constitution Day

In honor of the day and the election season and the significance of this particular general election, one of my favorite bits of prose:

We the People of the United States,
in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common Defence,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution
for the United States of America.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Homeschooling Image, Redux

I guess there really was some interest in my little PR booklet: since I uploaded the revised version to my Lulu storefront last month, nearly 1,000 copies have been downloaded. That's more than the original printing way back when.

Of course, it probably helps that the new version is free.

UPDATE (9/17/08): Downloads now are nearly 2,200.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Homeschooling Image

Twelve years ago, I published a little booklet called The Homeschooling Image: Public Relations Basics, aimed at giving homeschool support groups advice about promoting homeschooling. I sold a few hundred copies and eventually gave all my stock to the National Home Education Network (NHEN).

Over the past few years, I've had many requests for it again and earlier this year I finally got around to reproducing the thing. (My last electronic copy was on a Zip disk. It's possible the Zip disk is still around somewhere in my garage, but I'm certain I no longer have a Zip drive with which to read it. In any case, it was faster and easier just to retype the whole thing, editing and updating as I went.)

So the new and slightly improved version of The Homeschooling Image is now available as a free download from my Lulu storefront (

UPDATE: In the approximately 15 hours since I uploaded the file last night, there have been over 400 hits to its page—I guess there were more than just a couple of people interested.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Eek! They're Creeping Out From Under the Woodwork Now!

It was inevitable, I suppose.

You get a nasty little surprise like In re Rachel and the opportunists start making themselves opportunities.

First come the credentialed teachers, offering to protect poor defenseless homeschoolers from any legal ambiguities Rachel might cause—for only $100 a month. (That would've been pretty much our whole book budget when we were still homeschooling. I'd stick with the books.)

And now come the outright scammers—somebody's apparently impersonating the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI says it's not them) with high-pressure calls asking for credit card donations to fight the new "illegality" of homeschooling in California.

All the more reason for the first rule I always talk about in my "Absolute Beginners' Guide to Homeschooling" workshops: Know your state's laws. If you keep yourself informed, you're less vulnerable to the opportunists and outright crooks.

(And HSC's still a very good source for the latest information.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh, good grief.

A friend forwarded me an email announcement by an unschooling mother of four that she intends to start "training and certifying unschooling leaders." I can't help but think that someone who uses "unschooling," "training," "certifying," and "leader" in the same sentence in this way doesn't quite grasp the concept of unschooling in the first place. Of course, since her oldest child is only eight, she probably does still have a great deal to learn about unschooling.

Caveat Emptor


There’s a little too much hysteria floating around these days about the In re Rachel L. opinion that a California appellate court released on February 28. (For a summary of what it’s all about and what’s being done about it, visit the Homeschool Association of California (HSC) website, which has frequent news updates linked from their front page.)

There’s some discussion about what the decision actually means for California homeschoolers, but the consensus view seems to be that if the opinion stands as is, all those families who were a bit too nervous to form their own private school and file the private school affidavit independently and instead enrolled in some sort of private school independent study program could eventually be affected by this ruling. Those families whose chose to go the completely independent route will probably be just fine.

The opinion, though, will not be final until March 28 (and the court could conceivably modify its opinion before then). Once it is final, the attorneys working for HSC, the California Homeschool Network (CHN), and probably the Christian Home Educators Association of California/Family Protection Ministries in affiliation with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), will file a petition with the California Supreme Court to have the opinion depublished, so that it will not be a precedent for any other cases.

As always, HSLDA has jumped into the situation energetically, using the California situation to promote their irrelevant Parental Rights Amendment, which in addition to being a stupid idea, has zero chance of becoming a part of the United States Constitution. But it’s given them a means to collect the signatures and contact information of over a quarter million people they can now solicit for membership and support for their usual right-wing religious agenda. Far too many people, thinking they're just buying legal insurance, sign up with HSLDA without looking into what it spends their money for, and many would be appalled to find out what their dues support.

But then, some of those nervous families would do well to investigate the private schools they enroll their kids with, too, before they start writing checks. Just as an example, consider the school the family in this court case enrolled their kids in: Sunland Christian School. Sunland is operated by a guy named Terry Neven. It advertises on its website that it’s an accredited school, accredited by the National Independent Study Accreditation Council (NISAC). But if you look into NISAC, you’ll discover that it’s run by this same Terry Neven from the same address as Sunland Christian School. Further, Mr. Neven offers his enrolled families legal support (why would a legitimate private school feel the need to offer legal support to its enrolled families?) from California Home Education Legal Defense (CHELD), which—what a surprise!—operates from the same address as Sunland Christian School and NISAC. (Mr. Neven is not a lawyer, by the way.)

[No links here intentionally. Anybody who really wants to find Mr. Neven’s fishy little family of companies can do so, but I don’t have to make it easier for them.]

That’s one of the advantages of forming your own private school and filing your own affidavit—you’re taking no risks of unpleasant surprises from the people you’re putting in charge of your kids’ education. After all, you’ve known them well since before you even had kids.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

For Your Favorite Librarian(s)

Adrienne Furness, who writes the Homeschooling and Libraries blog (where among her more useful stuff, she posted a five-part interview with me in September 2006), has a book out this month called Helping Homeschoolers in the Library.

From the book's description:
This practical guidebook seeks to bridge the gap between librarians and homeschoolers in these two ways: who are homeschoolers and how can I help them practically? Part 1 addresses the history and background of homeschooling as well as the needs and viewpoints of various homeschooling groups. Part 2 deals specifically with building programs and services for the homeschooling population.

· In-depth chapters dedicated to different types of homeschooling and unschooling movements

· Comprehensive discussion of resources to serve the diverse homeschooling population

· Ideas on programs and social outlets the library can provide

· Annotated lists of further readings at the end of each chapter, plus website resources and electronic discussion lists

· 17 real–life stories of librarians interacting with homeschoolers

Might be worth calling to the attention of your favorite local librarians.