- Addiction vs. Fascination
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
The word “addiction” is sorely overused in our society. Any time someone spends in an inordinate amount of time on something, those who are annoyed by it will call it an “addiction” and proceed to, in one way or another, shame the person. This seems foolish.
I believe that addiction is a real thing, that people can form physical or mental dependencies on particular substances or activities, the removal which can cause adverse effects. But it doesn’t follow that every time someone is into something, they are addicted. Here’s a better non-stigmatizing word to use: fascination.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, not because I am addicted to podcast listening, but because so many podcasts are fascinating to me, and I have time to listen. (I used to read a lot more than I do now, also.) My son plays a lot of video games, not because he is addicted to video gaming, but because so many video games are fascinating to him, and he has time to play them. My daughter makes a lot of YouTube videos, not because she is addicted to producing videos, but because producing videos fascinates her, and she has time to do it.
Before disrespecting people’s fascinations by labeling them an addiction, determine whether they are just something that fascinates them more than whatever else they could be spending their time doing. I don’t think that the problem of addiction should be considered unless this fascination is having the effect of causing the person to shirk legitimate responsibility, leading toward self-destruction.
There are so many fascinating things in this world. When a person has the time and resources to devote to them, that can be a very beautiful thing. Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors, philosophers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists, in every field, were shamed as having an addiction to their craft. Sometimes we let our preferences about how other people should spend their time blind us to the wonder that they are engaged with.
- Prosperity: Maybe Not What I Thought It Meant
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
I’ve always thought of “prosperity” as having an abundance of material wealth, and that seems to be consistent with popular usage. However, my thinking here has been going through some changes lately.
Etymologically, it has meant such things as, “cause to succeed, render happy” and “agreeable to one’s wishes” and “tending to bring success”. Perhaps the idea that prosperity should be linked to material wealth is of modern, capitalistic creation. I no longer think it necessarily has much to do with material wealth, rather, to have prosperity is to have all of your needs, material, physical, emotional, psychological, et cetera, sufficiently met.
When I think of the most prosperous people ever having lived in this world, I think of our primal ancestors. My current suspicion is that the agricultural revolution was a giant mistake in terms of maintaining human prosperity. Hunter-gatherers had their share of challenges, no doubt, but I don’t think meeting all of their various needs day-to-day was one of them.
To my understanding, they weren’t traumatized as children, they didn’t perform back-breaking labor, everyone assisted everyone else, community was important, and leisure time was abundant. If I had to pick a time to live among the history of our species, I don’t think I would pick any time after the advent of agriculture.
The industrial revolution has been a corrective to this mistake in various ways, but practices like the nuclear family household, disrespecting children’s primal need for play and everpresent curiosity, welfare dependency, the diminishing of community, the destruction of savings via inflationary monetary policy, poor food pyramid-based dieting and stationary lifestyle, the military-industrial complex, and much more, keep humanity from returning to its natural level of prosperous living.
I could be totally wrong about all of this, but I don’t think so.
- White People Should Call Each Other “Nigga”
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
Okay, bear with me. I have no doubt what I’ve been thinking alot about lately is controversial, if not totally taboo. Alright so, growing up around all white people (Mormon Utah) meant my only experience with black people and black culture was through pop culture. Movies, TV shows, music videos, sporting events, et cetera, and I mostly saw black people calling each other and, well, everyone else, “nigga”, all the time.
They did it, do it, so smooth like, it just rolls off the tongue. My impression was that it was a very cool thing to do. Aside from movies like Glory and documentaries about slavery, black people were typically portrayed as always having a good time. They wore nice clothes and shoes, gave each other high fives, were great at sports and very athletic. Blackness was coolness.
Even in the hood, black people would have phat rides or stacks of bills or shiny pieces, selling drugs or turning tricks, and what not. It was all very different than what my life was about, and all very “badass”. Seriously, being black was/is just a very cool thing in my view. When I would encounter a black person, I just wanted to stop and observe, to see what they were like in real life, to absorb some of their cool. It was a bit of a novelty. My first trip to Chicago with my wife (then girlfriend), we drove through a black neighborhood on our way in and I had major culture shock. I just wanted to take it all in. To watch them playing basketball like I’d seen on TV, or to yell from their windows down to the street, or walk around with a boombox on their shoulder blasting something hip-hop.
My secret desire was to be accepted by them on a level where I could speak their language and say everything they said. To make jokes, and have laughs, and to call each other and others “nigga”. That was just so freaking cool to me. Of course, that could never happen. I was always told that word was forbidden, that it was incredibly racist to use it as a white person. Even thinking it was sinful.
It’s their word, and by virtue of the legacy of slavery, it’s only their word, and we can’t have it. But goddamn it’s so cool!
Here’s the controversial part: what if white people said “nigga” as casually as black people? I must admit, I’m envious. They have a word that’s fun and smooth and I can’t have it. “Cracka” or “honky” just doesn’t have anywhere the same ring to it. I’ve told my kids they can say “beaner” and “spick” since they’re half-latino, but even those fall short on coolness and smoothness.
I’m a big believer in the idea that people give words their power. If “fuck” is said often by a three-year-old (which in my house, it is) then it loses its power. It’s just a fun thing to say, and when used non-playfully, it just doesn’t have as much bite. And isn’t that a good thing? Don’t we disarm pricks just a little bit by softening the meaning of the words they want to use against us?
Wouldn’t we disarm racist pricks by removing the power of racial slurs? Maybe if everyone used “nigga” as often and as playfully and casually as black people did, it wouldn’t have nearly as much bite as it does in the employ of racists. Am I wrong? “Fuck” has much less bite in our house than it used to due to our casual use of it. It’s still a bit low-brow, no doubt, but for those okay with low-brow language, it’s just a fun word. I can’t call my kids “little fuckers” out of anger like my father could, because it doesn’t mean the same thing. When my dad used it, I knew he meant business. When I use it, it takes the air out of my anger sails, so to speak. It’s ineffective.
Isn’t making “nigger” and “faggot” and “cunt” and every other slur ineffective the goal? If so, then isn’t everyone using them playfully the best way to do that?
- The Deviousness of “Have To”
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
“Have to” is one of those phrases that I only began thinking critically about when we travelled further along our unschooling journey. A major theme in radical unschooling is the removal of rules and obligations, and replaced with principles and choices. “Have to” often implies unchosen obligations, and can be, but is not always, incompatible with respecting your children’s autonomy and preferences.
“Have to” is an awkward pairing, called a “quasimodal” in the English language. I wrote in 2014 that whenever I encounter “have to” I mentally switch it to “have an obligation to”. I think this is often what is meant by “have to”, but not always. Digging deeper, this use often masks other valid uses, and does so in a devious way. Let me show you.
Here are at least three versions of “have to” that each have conceptual utility:
Have an obligation to…
Have a desire to…
Have a need to…
Here are some examples of each of these uses as it concerns the parent/child dynamic:
Sweety, you have to get dressed if you want go play at your friend’s house.
Darling, you have to brush your teeth before bed.
Buddy, you have to turn off the computer before we can leave for soccer practice.
If you are wondering which version of “have to” goes where, that was intentional. Actually, each version fits each of these sentences, and they will make sense, though the conceptual meaning will change. Let me demonstrate with the first sentence:
Sweety, you have [an obligation] to get dressed if you want to go play at your friend’s house. The obligation is there due to the friend’s parents’ requirement of wearing clothes at their house or the parent’s own requirement for wearing clothing outside the house.
Sweety, you have [a desire] to get dressed if you want to go play at your friend’s house. The desire to get dressed is secondary to the desire to play at the friend’s house or go outside, where which wearing clothing is required by one or the other parent.
Sweety, you have [a need] to get dressed if you want to go play at your friend’s house. The need is there due to the clothing requirement obligation, but also because wearing clothing in our society and for our species is a general need.
There are similar reasons for each version of “have to” for the other two example sentences. Obligations, needs, and desires are separate but often related concepts. The deviousness is present when the needs and desires are the parent’s, but obligation for the child is implied.
Let me clarify this using the second example sentence:
Darling, you have [an obligation to satisfy both your health need and my financial need] to brush your teeth before bed.
The child has a health need and the parent has a financial need to protect the child’s teeth, so “have to” allows the parent to say both “have a need to” and “have an obligation to” simultaneously, and thus the implication is clear: you must brush your teeth, or else. The “or else” implication could mean “or else your teeth will suffer and ultimately cause you pain,” or it could just as easily be inferred as “or else I will make you suffer and/or cause you pain.”
“Have to” used in these mixed ways are often enforced with threats of punishment, implied or made explicit. If this is the context in which “have to” is usually implied, then it has become shorthand for “have an obligation to, or else”. “Have to” then becomes something that parents dedicated to replacing rules and obligations with principles and choices must be very cautious of.
Personally, when “have to” is soon to roll off my tongue, I perform a quick filter in my mind, passing my entire sentence through each version listed above, ie. have an obligation to, have a desire to, and have a need to. Once I figure out which of these I really mean, I then break it apart critically with the goal of presenting principles and choices instead of rules and obligations, and never threats of punishment. It becomes a discussion and a negotiation with my children much like it would other adults, rather than commands and control.
I hope this analysis proves useful to other parents who have decided to respect their children’s autonomy and preferences by living by principles and choices instead of rules and obligations. One final note: this analysis is not limited to the parent/child dynamic, but can also be helpful in the realm of politics.
- She Spat, Then I Spat
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
My three-year-old is full of life and has a great, fresh sense of humor. Her favorite word, if you ask her, is “fuck!” She uses it quite often, much to the delight of myself and her older siblings.
Some of her favorite phrases are, “fuck’n’roll!”, “fuckaroni and cheese!”, and as of a few days ago her, “what the heck are you talking about?” has transformed into, “what the fuck are you talking about?”, always delivered with a smile and a gleam in her eye. (Alright, I helped her improve that last one, *snicker*.)
A few weeks ago, she started spitting. This doesn’t seem uncommon for little kids. They eventually discover the process and she found some joy in it. So much so, that she thought she’d share it with me, and spit right on my face.
I could have turned sour, and angry, and yelled at her, or slapped her, or spanked her, or put her in time-out, or some such other form of punishment to “teach” her that spitting on people’s faces is “wrong”.
But I didn’t do any of that, not even the turning sour or angry bit.
Rather, I playfully spit back, right on her face. What did she do?
She took stock, and then let out a giggle! And then spat on my face again.
I performed in kind. Then her again. Then me. Then her. Then me.
Then she stopped. Both of our faces covered in each others’ spittle. Just dripping with it.
She was done giggling, and was now wiping it off with a slight look of disgust, realizing her mistake.
She hasn’t spit on my face, or anyone else’s face, since.
I’d say the “problem” has been solved. It didn’t require any negativity or fear or shame. All it took was some playfulness, and she eventually realized that spitting isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She satiated her curiosity (which is all it was in the first place), and moved on with her life.
Every “misbehavior” we see in children can be solved in playful ways. Punishments are never required, and always lead to unintended consequences, much to the detriment of the child, their associates, and the rest of society.
I stopped foolishly using punishment in the way I parent going on seven years now. If you feel like improving your relationship with your children and solving behavioral problems, let me know. I’m happy to help!
- “Zombies” and the Uncanny Valley
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
Are you familiar with “the uncanny valley“? The uncanny valley is a metaphor for the space that must be crossed to make artificial constructs appear non-artificial, particularly artificial human-appearing constructs to look really human.
For whatever evolutionary reasons, humans are very good at noticing when something is not quite right while looking at what is supposed to be another human. This is the great challenge by creators of animated humans and human-appearing robotics. As close as they’ve gotten to date, there’s always something not quite right about either the placement or movement of various human features, such as the eyes or mouth.
Will imaginative creators ever, finally, cross the uncanny valley? Perhaps, but perhaps not. In any event, its a real phenomenon that we humans can tell when something is trying to pass as human. Personally, the feeling that is produced in me of what I’m viewing failing to cross the uncanny valley is annoyance. I feel annoyed to some degree that the attempt has failed. I much prefer animation and robotics that are obviously cartoonish and not trying to be realistic. Those sit better with me.
Why am I talking about the uncanny valley? Well, it occurred to me quite recently that this same phenomenon is at work when we see other people using their smartphones and tablets.
Standing up or sitting down, holding something close to our faces, head slightly bowed, and not moving much for extended periods of time is a seemingly unnatural position for human beings to take. There’s something not quite right about it. From their perspective, they are actively and purposefully engaged in reading or watching or playing, but from a third party’s perspective, it’s inhuman.
It’s reached a point where you’ll often hear people in person and in media call people doing this “zombies”. It’s quite fashionable these days to jump on that bandwagon, at least as it concerns other people. I think it’s all perfectly compatible with how we feel about it. We find, or at least I find it just a bit annoying, for the same uncanny valley reasons. Yet when I’m engaged in such a way, I’m not annoyed at all. I’m purposefully engaged in something.
We excuse ourselves because we know what we are doing on our devices, but we still find other people positioned in this and related ways annoying, and can’t help but express that annoyance. I know my children are engaged, yet seeing them on the couch looking like “zombies” bothers me. Staring at a television is also inhuman, hence, “zombies”.
But people aren’t zombies. They are choosing in those moments to engage in certain activities to relieve felt uneasiness. That’s what all purposeful human action is. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s totally healthy, in my opinion, despite how third parties feel about it.
Just wait until our screens are in our eyeballs and people everywhere are standing around looking forward completely still, since everything is being controlled by their minds. You think its uncanny now…
- Try Not to Take it Personally
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
I think the best I advice I ever received when I began my peaceful parenting journey was to not take anything your children do personally. If your child is upset and throwing a tantrum, it doesn’t mean they hate you or want you to suffer.
The purpose in not taking our children’s behavior personally is help us remain calm and composed, in order to think rationally about what needs of theirs are not being met, and then to figure out how to meet them.
It’s plain and simple advice, but was not plain and simple to take to heart. My own upbringing was by parents who yelled and got violently angry first, asked questions later. Those were the tools I was taught, and so those were the tools I used once my first child hit that age where it his negative behaviors were ripe for misinterpretation is an attack on me personally.
There is one caveat to this advice, however: if you have been the cause of your child’s suffering, then their anger may very well be personal. You should take it personally, but if only to learn from it. It’s no different than when an adult is angry at you for causing them some degree of suffering. Take responsibility for your actions, apologize, and make it right.
This has me thinking more about adult relationships. Sometimes people are angry or upset, and sometimes that anger is directed toward us. But it’s not always the case that our actions inspired that anger. If we know that it did, recompense may be in order. If we are unsure, then stay calm and composed, and do some digging. Taking it personally is unhelpful, both to you and to them.
I see angry people in the world. Some of them are my peers, others are distant strangers. Their anger sometimes seems directed at me as a man, or as a white man, or as an American. I really need to heed this advice, and not just in my home. People are suffering, this is true, and I know it’s not because of anything I’ve done. I don’t hurt people or take their stuff. I’m a good person. I truly believe that. I work very hard at being that way, day in and day out. It’s my life’s mission, really. Anybody who knows what I stand for can attest to that.
But people are hurting. They truly are. And for all sorts of reasons, all of which, I now know, are because they’ve been made the target of coercion and aggression and violence by other people, as children first, and as adults later. It’s the greatest injustice of our time.
But I’ve had enough of it. I no longer employ these tools, nor do I stand for others employing them. I speak out. I write. I podcast. I discuss. I disobey. My greatest hope in life is that others will do likewise. Will you?
- The Absence of Free Will: 7 Distasteful Implications
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
The irony in the free will debate is the seeming choice that its participants make to be included. And therein lies the first distasteful implication of the possibility that humans do not have free will: the choice we witness is a lie.
Free will debate participants, like any activity, are not really choosing to participate. They just are, as a matter of course, of cause and effect. Some previous cause created the natural effect of their debating free will. They had no choice in the matter. They simply did what was previously caused for them to do, like clockwork, but more complex. So what is the point in debating? There isn’t one. And therein lies the second distasteful implication of the possibility that humans do not have free will: the choice to change your mind based on the results of debate is a lie.
In fact, the act of changing one’s mind is not a choice at all. It’s an effect of prior causes. That’s it. So then, when you “choose” to think differently about something, you really didn’t. It just happened, no thanks to you. Likewise, when you “choose” to save someone drowning, you really didn’t. It just happened. And therein lies the third distasteful implication of the possibility that humans do not have free will: the choice to be a hero or to act virtuously is a lie.
People who don’t have free will don’t do good. They don’t have virtue, they aren’t compassionate, they aren’t brave, and they can’t become heros. Is it heroic or brave or compassionate or virtuous for a lightning strike to splinter a branch, which dangles into a stream and diverts the baby Moses away from the waterfall and onto the shore? Of course not. Nor is this sort of thing, which happens in a more complex sort of way using human bodies, any more virtuous, et al, than was the branch, or the tree, or the lightning strike, or the rain clouds. And therein lies the fourth distasteful implication of the possibility that humans do not have free will: the choice to hurt other people or take their stuff is a lie.
People who don’t have free will don’t do bad. They aren’t vicious, they aren’t, nefarious, they aren’t criminal. Likewise the scenario above, but instead of diverting to shore, baby Moses was already heading to shore, and instead the branch diverted him to the waterfall, where he plunged to his death. Was the branch “bad”? No. Nor can we rationally consider any person criminal or nefarious or vicious for the “choices” they make that affect others in terrible ways. And therein lies the fifth distasteful implication of the possibility that humans do not have free will: our every experience is a lie.
Just consider this possibility for a moment. Everything you do gives every indication that you are in control. Your entire experience as a living being is filled with moments of seeming decision-making. Some decisions are more automatic than others, yes, but some decisions can be incredibly difficult, nearly impossible, to make. The struggle is real and is felt. Major effort is often given to accomplish our chosen ends. We engage in the struggle because everything about it screams to us that we are in control.
Accidents happen. Our sphere of control is quite limited. And we can’t simply make our bodies do whatever we want them to do. There are physical limitations to the choices we make. But for everything else, our entire sense of self is founded on the belief that we choose what we do with ourselves day in and day out. And therein lies the sixth distasteful implication of the possibility that humans do not have free will: disbelieving free will requires that each of us betray our sense of self, because it’s just a lie.
Here’s the paradox: if we have free will, then we choose whether or not we believe we have free will; if we do not have free will, then we do not choose whether or not we believe we have free will, so for those who believe they do, they can’t help it. They will either be caused to change their belief in free will, or they won’t. Others will either murder other people, like clockwork, or they won’t. And therein lies the seventh distasteful implication of the possibility that humans do not have free will: there are no such thing as “people”, nor “intelligence”, merely complex automatons doing whatever “good” or “evil” thing they are programmed, by nature (ultimately) to do.
These seven implications send shivers down my spine.
- Unschooling Dads with Skyler Collins, an Interview
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
The following is a lightly edited transcript from Pam Laricchia’s interview of me on her podcast, “Exploring Unschooling” at the beginning of 2016. The audio was published on the EVC podcast as Episode 064.
PAM: Hi everyone! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Skyler Collins. Hi Skyler!
PAM: It’s great to have you on the show. Skyler is an unschooling dad of three children and is the editor of the book Unschooling Dads: Twenty-two Testimonials on Their Unconventional Approach to Education. It’s not often that we get to hear about unschooling from the dad’s perspective and I really love that you took the time and effort to pull this book together. I really enjoyed reading their perspectives. So, we’re going to dive into that in a minute.
But first Skyler, why don’t you share with us a bit about your background and your family.
SKYLER: Sure. Let’s see, I met my wife here in Salt Lake City, interestingly enough I met her at the mall. We were both working there and I was working in the food court and she came up to order and it was love at first sight. I asked her out and we dated. She’s actually from Mexico City so she’s an immigrant to the United States, in 1999. So that was in 2003. We dated for a while and then probably about eight months later I decided that I would ask her to marry me so I did that and we got married in October of 2004.
SKYLER: And then we had our first child, my son, Skyler Jr. We had him a year and a month later in October 2005. So we moved kind of fast I guess you could say, about everything. And it wasn’t four years later we had my daughter, same month, in 2009 and just last year we had another daughter so that was five years later so they’re kind of spaced a little bit but I’ve got the three kids and right now they’re ten, six and one.
For the last, well, just after I got married, for the next ten years I’ve been in software, software support and software quality assurance. I actually left that in June without any prospects. I was just kind of burnt out with it. I knew that if I didn’t leave that I was just going to stick there and kind of be unhappy so I took the plunge and gave my two weeks and just sort of been entrepreneurial since then.
I’ve started my own company selling private label products, primarily through Amazon right now. I started that back in September. My primary income has been me working with a friend who I recently replaced, managing a financial radio network which has been pretty interesting. Now that I’ve taken over management, it’s really brought me out of my comfort zone a little bit and I think I’ve grown and have continued to grow in that regard so that’s been fun. So since June I’ve been working from home which has been really amazing to be able to see my kids every day, all day long. I know for some people, especially those that are maybe in a schooling mindset, that they rue the day that they have to stay home with their kids, they appreciate when they are at school. But I think, as I’ve learned more about unschooling, it’s giving me that different perspective and it’s helped me to see my kids in a new light and see our relationship differently. There certainly are challenges involved, but you know, I’ve learned to appreciate those. They help everybody grow. That’s where we’re at right now.
PAM: That’s awesome! That reminds me of the ubiquitous back to school commercial, right? The parents celebrating?
One of the things you mentioned in your book’s preface, which was very interesting, was that you were the one who brought unschooling to your family. I’m sure you’re aware, found out, that’s pretty unusual because unschooling groups are by far mostly filled with the moms, right? So, how did you find unschooling and how did you introduce your wife to the idea? What did that process look like?
SKYLER: Well, it was an evolution that probably began with a much broader philosophical approach. At some point, seven, eight, nine years ago I started to align my values with a philosophy known as voluntaryism, which is based on the voluntary principle and that is all human relationships should happen voluntarily or not at all. As I looked out into the political realm, the economic realm and here I am saying let’s not force people to do what they don’t want to do. Let’s try to build relationships in the economic system, the political system on a voluntary basis.
At the same time, at home, I was forcing, at the time it was just my son, I was forcing him to do things. I was being punitive, I was putting him in time-out, I was spanking. In a very real sense I was kind of violating the principles that I was adopting. So a friend of mine, who would also be described as a voluntaryist, he introduced me to a writer, I’m sure you’re familiar with Alfie Kohn. He wrote a book called Unconditional Parenting and my friend had been listening to a podcast exploration of the book. He told me about it and I was very interested in that so I bought the book and I bought his DVD that’s a presentation done at a school in front of parents that’s based on the book. I watched that with my wife and we kind of read the book together. That’s when it hit me that I don’t need to spank, I don’t need to put my son in time-out. So not only was I kind of inconsistent with my other principles, but it’s also unnecessary. As well as using rewards based systems to get compliance and modified behavior and that sort of stuff. He talks about both sides, rewards and punishments. You know, I was convinced by that. I said, OK. It was almost overnight when I realized that what I was doing was the wrong thing to do, that we stopped spanking and stopped time-out and we were looking for other tools to put in our parenting toolbox for those situations that arise where you gotta do something.
So this was at the time when my son was in preschool. Alfie Kohn talks a lot about the schooling system and the punishments and rewards that are a part of that, within that book. So that’s what got me thinking about how we changed our parenting. We don’t want to use punishments and rewards and now I’m going to send him to school every day where he’s going to be subjected to punishments and rewards. That’s inconsistent, it’s going to be undoing everything we’re trying to accomplish. So then I’m like, OK, I don’t really want to do school. That was probably the primary motivation that got me looking at alternatives to that.
Obviously no school, the only alternative, I realized at the time, was homeschooling. So, I, well, actually it was homeschooling but I’m thinking “I’m not a teacher, I don’t want to develop curriculum and sit down and have class and my wife probably isn’t interested in that either.” It’s all kind of me at this point. I haven’t really brought her in. So, I was looking at different online based schools like the K-12. I’m thinking we could just have him do this. So I was like, huh, OK. I was still networking with other people and at some point I learned about this thing called a Thomas Jefferson education. Have you ever heard of that?
PAM: I’ve heard of it, yeah. Don’t know much about it.
SKYLER: OK, it’s a homeschooling philosophy. It’s kind of halfway to unschooling. It focuses on structuring time but not structuring content. It also has a focus on using the classics and literature and other categories to teach kids. So it kind of pushed me halfway. I bought that book and I read through the book. I thought that was very interesting. I like this. The guy, his name is Oliver DeMille who wrote the book. He wasn’t even reading until he was 12, because he was homeschooled. There are these milestones that the schooling system expects you to read by a certain age, and I think that’s for schooling purposes. Like you gotta read or you’re going to be lost in second grade and third grade. But for homeschooling those aren’t so important.
Anyway, so at some point I found the word unschooling and I’m like, huh, that’s kind of a peculiar thing. So I did some digging and found Sandra Dodd’s website, I found your website, I found Joyce Fetteroll’s website. I just started reading so much. I found Facebook groups. It was just prior to that that I brought my wife into the conversation when I was looking at online schooling. She was skeptical. She was, “OK.” She was kind of acquiescent, but skeptical. She put a lot of trust in me that I was doing my homework on it. I obviously wouldn’t do anything to hurt my kids. We talked a lot about it, what would be involved. What the unschooling philosophy is and how it’s lived, at least at the time and my understanding of it. It’s certainly broadened in the last few years. She thought it was very interesting.
I look back at my schooling experience and it wasn’t a very good one. A lot of people who do like school it’s because they like their friends and they like the social aspects. But that was a part of school that I didn’t like either. So there wasn’t really anything redeeming about my school experience. On the other hand, my wife, she liked schooling because of the social aspect. She also didn’t really dislike it as much as me because her entire elementary education was only like five hours a day in the afternoon. They have a morning class and there’s an afternoon class. There wasn’t the getting up early. She had time to play and to be with her friends and all the homework time. She had a very different experience than I had. She wasn’t as anti-school as I was.
She was still open-minded, she decided to give it a try. My son had just started kindergarten and my kids are bilingual so we had him in a kindergarten class that was Spanish/English, kind of a dual immersion thing. He went for a week and then we went on vacation for a week to visit her family in Chicago. We talked and we’re like, let’s give him the option and if he wants to stay in kindergarten and try it out then we should respect that. So we asked him while we were on vacation what he wanted to do—we wanted him to think about it. So when we got home we asked him if he wanted to go back and he said, “Not really.”
So yeah, that’s kind of the story there. And just since then, I guess it’s been thinking about the future, thinking about when our kids are going to be interested in different things and what we’re going to do at that point. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that our focus shifted on just living as joyfully as we can, and I know that’s been your focus and others’ focus. I think that really kind of sealed it. That’s what we’re doing now.
PAM: I think that kind of seems to be a theme so far for myself and a lot of others that I’ve talked to, which is we’re going to try it out. We’re going to see. It’s not jumping in wholeheartedly because you don’t really know how things are going to flow. So it’s great to try it out because then you’re always re-evaluating and seeing how things are going.
SKYLER: Yeah, exactly. So in the meantime, my second kid was born, my daughter. She’s approaching five years old. She’s watching all the different kid shows on Netflix a lot and a lot of them take place in school. So she’s getting this idea that school’s pretty cool. They’re always portrayed in such a positive light, of course. So she said, “Hey, I want to go to school.”
At first, personally, I kind of felt like betrayed by that. I was like, “No!” It kind of brought that knot into my stomach. I can’t believe she’s saying this. Here I am knowing I can’t keep her home if she really wants to do it because that would be wrong of me. But at the same time, I’m just like, have faith in the process. Let her try it and she’ll see it for what it is. Just have faith, I guess I took that route a little bit. It pulled me out of that funk that I was in for a couple of days while I was kind of thinking on that. I decided, OK, well, alright, we’re going to register you for preschool and the school is just a few streets away.
So we did that and she went to an orientation. The teacher was talking a lot about how you have to raise your hand if you want to talk, you have to raise your hand if you want to go potty, just kind of explaining the rules. That really turned her off. We came home and she said I’m not interested in going there anymore. Alright! I was ecstatic. My faith was proven there. We called in and got my registration fee back. I think I lost the 20 bucks that was non-refundable or whatever but it was totally worth it. She got her fill with one orientation and it was good.
So now as my youngest gets older we’ll see. She’s going to see her older brother and sister, obviously, not going to school. So we’ll see if she ever has the desire or not. But I think part of the turnoff was the orientation, but I think another part of it was at that time she had been first introduced to Minecraft and was first starting to try and play it. So I think a lot of having to do this every day and it’s not fun like Minecraft, arguably, having to raise your hand to do this and that, not having that freedom. I think that kind of went together. She was like, “No, no, I think I’d rather do this.”
So ever since, you know, she’s mastered Minecraft and other games. They’re Skyping with their friends all day long, so they get plenty of social interaction and we do playgroups and stuff, here and there. We’ve got a pretty good community here in Salt Lake that gets together often. We’ve got some veterans and some newer parents, we’ve got quite a mix. It’s pretty good.
PAM: That’s great!
One thing I wanted to ask you about was I noticed that the men whose essays you included in the book came from a wide range of backgrounds. Some were artists, entrepreneurs, college professors. So what did that say to you about the appeal of the unschooling lifestyle?
SKYLER: It said to me that, these are thoughtful, professional, intelligent men, their own values are of course learning and education and intelligence and professionalism, and if they see value in unschooling versus the alternatives, I think what that says is it’s something that is a viable alternative. It’s not just parents being lazy, not wanting to send their kids to school. It’s parents wanting to be involved with their kids. It’s intelligent parents wanting to be involved with their kids knowing that’s where intelligence comes from, I think, is having that close mentorship. Having parents who are willing to explore your interests as a kid because the more interested you are, the more you’re going to retain it, the more you’re going to learn about it.
I mean, my son is fascinated by dinosaurs, and he gets video games, he sees movies, he reads stuff online about them, he sees YouTube videos about them. He can name so many different dinosaurs, more than when I was little. When I was little Jurassic Park first came out and it was a big deal and for him it’s Jurassic World and he loves that. He spent the 20 bucks and bought it on Amazon and he can watch it whenever he wants. For me, it was a few library books and I remember having this Jurassic Park magazine. I would copy the pictures out of it and get as much as I could with that but for him it’s ten, a hundred times that much stuff that he’s able to find and take advantage of it.
Anyways, back to the question, I think that it’s not for dummies at all. I think you can be a dummy as long as you know how to get your kid the help he needs or the assistance he needs. I mean if you’re somebody who is completely computer illiterate you’re going to have a hard time trying to help your kid with something on the computer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find somebody who can help him with the computer. Honestly, with kids these days, you just put them in front of the computer, they’re going to figure it out for themselves. That’s what I did. I taught myself computers. When we first got our family computer, I taught myself everything on it. It was through trial and error, clicking on this and clicking on that and breaking this. My dad had to call support to get it fixed. Eventually, here I am, I made a career out of it. So…
PAM: Me, too!
SKYLER: Exactly! Yeah, so I think with kids we need to just get out of their way and just be there to help them. It is a sophisticated thing if we make it a sophisticated thing. I think that’s why it appeals to so many people that are intelligent and professional and what not.
PAM: Yeah, I think as long as, the whole point is putting some value on learning, so as long as you value learning you can be learning alongside your kids. It’s not that only the kids are learning, right? I’m still learning tons of new things and things are being brought into my world by my kids all the time. So, yeah, as long as you’ve got that keenness and that excitement about learning itself, and it’s basic to anyone whether you’re an artist, an entrepreneur whatever it is. As long as you’re excited about learning, this is a great way to approach living it, right?
SKYLER: Yeah, exactly. I think if you’re somebody who isn’t interested in learning, there’s probably deeper issues there, with say depression or something else going on. I think most mentally healthy people are interested in learning. People get lost on computers and on the internet all the time, it’s almost a problem for people how much they can get lost on these things and that is different types of learning going on.
PAM: You know what? That just occurred to me, one thing that can really help is expanding your definition of learning. I think so many people have got such a narrow focus on what learning is. To them it just looks like school, right? So that’s why one of the biggest things at first, is expanding and seeing the learning in the things that you’re doing on the computer and all that kind of stuff. That’s cool.
I loved that you organized the 22 essays around the contributors’ unschooling experience. How you laid it out with prospective unschooling dads, to junior dads, to senior dads. Was this something that you planned from the start or did that arrangement come about after you gathered the essays and you saw a thread through them?
SKYLER: The arrangement did change a little bit, but it is what I planned from the start. The reason is because I already had people in mind who I wanted to approach. Some were veterans and others were future dads that were already committed to unschooling. So when I originally started approaching people, I was casting a pretty wide net to try to get interest. There were people that I wanted for sure that I got, the rest was just whoever was willing. I went to different unschooling dad groups on Facebook and what not to look for them. There were some dads that I wanted that could either not get a hold of them or they were just too busy and they apologized for that. They wanted to contribute but they just didn’t really have the time. There were some who had committed but then had to bow out so it would have been longer than that.
It was originally going to be four sections. There was going to be future and then new unschooling dads and then seasoned and then veterans. So as the essays came in one of those sections, it was the seasoned, was kind of thin so some of them I merged with the veteran and others I merged with the new, now had the three sections: the future, the junior, the senior. So, from the beginning that is what I wanted to do.
The reason I wanted to do that was I think each of them has different perspectives and I think people reading it will relate better with one or the other, somebody who has got young kids who are not even school-aged yet, I think they’ll appreciate the veterans talking about it a little more than the people who are like themselves, it’s like, they’re where I’m at, what do they know? So, there were just some people that I knew would write really good essays that not actually had kids yet so I definitely wanted to include them because they were intelligent and they were thoughtful about it, it was something they had put a lot of thought into and I thought that would be valuable for its own reasons. So yeah, that’s how it turned out.
PAM: That’s cool. That was really fun. I wasn’t expecting that at first, the prospective dad section, I hadn’t thought about that before. It was really interesting to read their perspectives, that was fun.
Another thing I was wondering, it is really interesting when you catch a glimpse of the diverse paths people take to get to unschooling, right? We’ve heard yours and most people listening, I think, know mine now at least. Some find it as they actively move away from school experiences that aren’t working, which is you and me, while others find it as a move towards the philosophical principles that unschooling embraces.
What’s your impression of the interplay of the anti-schooling vs the pro-unschooling throughout the book?
SKYLER: Well, it’s really kind of difficult to talk, and I think it’s just because of the schooling context we all find ourselves in, it’s difficult to talk and to think about unschooling without also looking at the reasons why you don’t want to school, because they are so diametrically opposed. I mean they are complete opposites. If you’re pro-unschooling I think you are necessarily anti-schooling. For a lot of people, they are pro-schooling and they were raised in schooling they can see that and in some ways they can feel attacked by that.
As people have come towards unschooling and away from schooling, I guess that the anti part of that is an important part for people and the reason they’re anti-schooling and how it’s conflicted with other values that they hold or have developed along the way. Whether they originally held them and were just being inconsistent or it’s something that sort of developed over time. It’s just one of those things where it’s hard not to at least say something against schooling when you’re talking about unschooling. So, the essays throughout, you’ll definitely get that but I think it’s pretty well balanced, though. I definitely didn’t want anything that was just a big diatribe against schooling. I wanted people to understand where these dads come from but also how they’re looking forward. There is that anti-schooling, but half of their motivation is the pro-unschooling. We see unschooling as the better alternative, based on our values and what we want our kids to become, what they deserve to become. I think it turned out OK. I know other reviewers have commented on this that there’s a little bit of a libertarian bent and that’s because some of the dads and the circles that I run in, you know some of the people that I knew were of that political persuasion, you do get that in anti-schooling. That’s because so much schooling is government bent. Parts of that are contrary to the values they hold so you do get a little bit of that.
PAM: I enjoyed reading everybody’s different perspectives because that’s the point that we come at things. It’s so interesting the different backgrounds from which we come to unschooling. So, that slant in some of the essays certainly didn’t bother me. I found it interesting.
SKYLER: Well, yeah, that’s good. You could always try to get rid of some of that stuff but I thought it was OK, but I may not have noticed because I was so absorbed in that worldview. So when I did start hearing from reviewers that that’s the impression they picked up I just said OK, well, I guess it is what it is.
PAM: But that’s the root of their story, I mean that’s the story for them.
SKYLER: I mean, liberty is something they value so they want their kids to have that as well, which they’re not getting in school.
PAM: Yeah, that’s another thing to consider. So, last week, I spoke with Sandra Dodd. I did one of the ten questions interviews with her, and we talked about something you mentioned a little bit earlier, the paradigm shift to joy, that was part of your journey to unschooling. She wrote about it in her short essay, “Rejecting a Prepackaged Life“. That shift to joy was so fundamental for me that 12 years ago I named my website after it, living joyfully. And you touched on it in your essay in the book, as well, so I wanted to read a short quote from it if that’s OK?
PAM: “My wife’s reluctance has faded quite a bit now that she’s witnessing our children’s joy. For me, that’s the primary focus of unschooling: helping our children live as joyfully as possible. Everything else will naturally follow from that. As long as our children are happy, they will have confidence in themselves that they can achieve anything they want to in life. I truly believe that and unschooling is the better vehicle towards living joyfully than any school-based alternative.”
Can you talk a bit about how joy became your primary focus in unschooling?
SKYLER: Well, yeah, I did think as my kids were getting older and you see other kids their age, how they start to learn different things cause the school system expects you’ve got to learn to read at a certain point, you gotta learn to write cursive writing, I think that still goes on. You’ve got to learn multiplication, division, and algebra and it’s a step by step by step.
So as my kids are getting older, I’m thinking, “What should be our focus here?” Do I want to try to strew things in front of them that will lead them into what their school peers are doing? Or should I focus more on helping them in whatever it is they’re doing, having the best time and will that payoff? Will they pick up the skills necessary to then later on, if something is a requisite to what they want to explore, will they know where to go, will they know how to at least get me to help them with where they want to go, without reaching frustration? I want them to know that I’m a partner here and I’m here for them for whatever they need. I think that if the home life and if we want to have joy and we want to be happy and when everybody is happy then I think everybody is growing and learning a lot better because what they’re doing is joyful, they’re enjoying, it so it’s meaningful for them. If they’re not enjoying it then it’s not meaningful, it’s less likely to be retained or be useful at any point.
From time to time I think about those things and wonder, but then I realize as a 16-year-old I learned to operate a motor vehicle and that was a lot more complex thing than multiplication. So, if at 16 I can learn to do that or later on, the things that I’ve done in software, if I can learn those things there’s no reason why a 16-year-old can’t learn multiplication and division. I think they’d pick it up in a matter of minutes. Or to read, 12-year-olds that learn to read later in short order and they’re reading Harry Potter, they’re not going through Dr. Seuss for months, you know? Once that mind is developed to the point where it can grasp concepts easier.
I think about when I was younger and I was able to learn, and that doubt and that fear kind of goes away, then we can return to joy. Just finding what excites my kids and what excites me too, and my wife. We, of course, try to find our own joy as well.
PAM: I really found that as well, too, because every time I would start wondering it always came back to the fact that when they’re doing something that they enjoy, when they’re seeking out joy in whatever, that’s where the best learning is, where the engagement is. And that’s where they build more joy. As you said, you notice as they get older that whatever they put their mind to, they can pick it up. I often marvelled, certainly through a lot of the teenage years and stuff, just how dedicated they were to pursuing the things that they found interesting and enjoyable. I like the word joy versus happy because sometimes pursuing something that you really want has some frustrating moments in it, right? But man, they never gave up when they really wanted something—I would have given up so much easier at that age. So, I thought that was a really beautiful way to look at the joy that they were pursuing because it just came down to the best learning.
SKYLER: Well, and another aspect of that is if we look at life as moments and memories, do we want our kid’s memories to be mostly joyful memories or full of strife? The joyful memories, they’re more meaningful and they retain the important parts of those better than the strife filled moments. I mean, the strife filled moments can certainly be learning experiences, no doubt, but strife and trauma they don’t make for a very helpful outlook on life in the future.
PAM: And plus because our focus is lifelong, right? We’re not just looking at the schooling years and trying to squish everything in there. That’s really interesting.
Another thing I loved in the book was the epilogue. I had a great time reading that. How being asked to write an essay for the book felt like homework to your friend Phil. You were saying you were asking some people to share stories, so can you share the story of that and how it relates to unschooling?
SKYLER: (laughs) Yeah, so when I first started, he’s a good friend of mine and we did our own podcast together for a little while and I wanted him to write something for me. I asked him and he was like, “Oh, yeah, sure.” He was excited about it. But then as I was collecting essays and things were coming down to the wire, he hadn’t turned anything in.
So we were chatting one day and that pretty much, with my words taken out, that was our chat transcript. That’s what he was saying to me about, you know, wouldn’t this be a funny epilogue or something. I took it and I formatted it as a short essay and he really liked that. He got a big laugh out of that, gave me permission to use it.
That’s what he was saying, that as the deadline was approaching it kind of mentally pulled him back into his younger self when he was filled with that stress in school because of homework to do. It really kind of locked him up and it was really hard. It was hard for him to fight through that, to get it done because of that whatever the reason whether it’s his personality type or because of the trauma at school or some trauma outside of school for whatever reason that created those feelings in him and he doesn’t want that to happen to his kids. He doesn’t want them to approach their obligations and commitments that way, so he doesn’t want to ruin that with school. So that’s been some of his motivation for unschooling, kind of a different motivation than what you typically hear about.
PAM: Yeah, it was really fun to read because it does, it puts you right back there to deadlines and tests and homework and all that kind of stuff, so you could really feel for him although I’m sorry you didn’t get a longer essay out of him. (laughs)
SKYLER: (laughs) It was good. I was glad to have gotten something. It was humorous and I thought it would be a good finish.
PAM: Yeah, that was great! There was one more question I wanted to ask you.
Was there anything that surprised you or what it was that surprised you most out of the essays that you did receive?
SKYLER: That’s a good question. I don’t know that it’s out of the essays but what surprised me was how many people I found out were willing to write something but unfortunately life got in the way for many and they had to cancel because they just weren’t able to dedicate time. They were willing to put a lot of effort into it. They didn’t want to just skimp on it. But they were so busy with the rest of their lives that they weren’t able to do that, so rather than giving me something that was half of what they could do, they just politely bowed out and I appreciated that.
I was kind of surprised with how many were interested in it. I knew that moms numbered ten to one to dads in these unschooling groups, but there are still a lot of dads that are passionate about it. So I was glad for that. It was a good time. There are people in my life that kind of motivated me to put this together so I would have a resource that I could give them. Or my wife’s friends that they could give to their husbands. That was really the primary motivation, just having something that we could pass to people that would find value in it.
PAM: That’s really cool! Really cool that you got a lot of responses. That’s nice to know.
SKYLER: It is. It would have been nice to be a little bit bigger and I could have some of those passionate entries in there, but unfortunately, it is what it is. Most dads are busy and when they’re not working they want to spend time with their kids, not writing essays for me.
PAM: Yeah, well you could always go with a volume two, eventually (laughs)
SKYLER: Or Unschooling Moms and make it ten volumes! (laughs)
PAM: (laughs) Good one! Thank you so much for speaking with me today Skyler. I really enjoyed diving into the dads’ perspectives with you. It was really fun!
SKYLER: It was fun! Thanks for having me.
PAM: No problem! Before we go, where is the best place for people to get in touch with you online?
SKYLER: Well, skylerjcollins.com is probably my main website and links to all my auxiliary stuff. Most of my writing either on parenting or unschooling or philosophy is at everything-voluntary.com. Most of that is probably philosophy and economics. There is some parenting and unschooling and this book is published through that. I think everything-voluntary.com is probably the place to go.
PAM: And they’ll be able to find links to your books at both those places?
SKYLER: Yeah, both those places. Just hit publications at the top and they both show all my stuff.
PAM: Excellent! Thanks so much Skyler!
SKYLER: Thank you!
- Holding Parents Responsible
Post by Skyler J. Collins (Editor).
Here’s a philosophical brain teaser for you: Should parents be held responsible for their children’s actions?
My culturally programmed answer to this question is, “Yes, because children can’t be held responsible for their actions, they’re too young to really know what they’re doing, and since somebody should, why not those who are raising them?”
Parents often take pride and credit for their children’s accomplishments, so why not for their failures, too?
I think there can only be two possible answers to this question that make any rational sense. These two answers fork at one question: Do we have free will?
If the answer to that all towering question in philosophy is negative, then not anybody is responsible for their actions. Since parents and children are included in anybody, neither are they responsible for theirs or anybody else’s actions. They and we are all doing what we can’t help doing. It’s cause and effect, and simply can’t be helped.
(Disclosure: I am currently of the mind that free will exists, but mostly, if not entirely, at the margins. I’m not yet ready to explain that.)
If the answer to having free will is affirmative, then children, like their parents, like everybody else, have free will. As such, on the base level, their choices are their own, not their parents.
However, children rarely act at a base level, meaning, at a level free from control by others. In fact, even adults do not always act at a base level. For this reason, what responsibility parents hold for the children’s actions should be determined in the same way we determine responsibility for the actions of adults.
Children are ignorant, and are still either being coercively programmed or trying to figure out on their own their values and preferences. If a parent or community is coercively guiding a child into failure (from a certain perspective), then I think the responsibility for that failure is on the parent(s) or community.
If a child wanders into failure on their own, then there lies responsibility.
This is true in the adult world, also. If I threaten something undesirable to induce action, aren’t I mostly if not entirely responsible for your actions? You performed them under duress or deceit. I personally think that makes a difference in how responsibility falls for any failure that results.
If a child’s or adult’s undirected action results in a failure of some sort, the responsibility is theirs. The only difference in our own responsibility toward that failure is in how quickly we should offer our forgiveness. For a very young child, it should be automatic; an older child and adolescent, less automatic and more contemplative, compassionate, and cooperative (helping them understand the failure and how to fix it; never punitive); an adult, all of the preceding, plus wisdom and vigilance in preventing it from recurring up to and including total ostracism, or worse (which I hate to write, but if the problem is technical, like a raging tiger unconcerned for our well-being, you end the problem).
In any event, one size fits all is poor policy as a response to failure by child and adult alike. We are all programmed naturally and culturally, and are constantly being bombarded by control and influence (free will is at the margins, remember?). In one sense, somebody’s failure could be society’s failure, and in another, it is entirely their own.
Now that I’ve reached the end, I’m not sure that I’ve settled this brain teaser, once and for all.
Powered by: RSS Feed News Blocks