and Mutual Valuing": Reasons to Attend an Unschooling Conference By Kelly Hogaboom
My husband, two children, and I recently returned
from our first-ever family-oriented convention: the
Life is Good Unschooling Conference,
traditionally held in May in the Pacific Northwest area of the United States.
We didn't have the financial capability for the registration fee, the hotel
charge, and food on the road, so several months ago I asked my blog readers
if they'd financially assist. And assist they did, their aggregate donations
funding the trip in full. I am – obviously – very grateful for this, and
here I'd like to briefly mention a few reasons why.
My original desire to attend the conference was purely
for the benefit of our two children. Full-stop. I knew they'd enjoy it (although
I didn't realize how much they would) but I didn't have any particular expectations
for my experience or that of my husband's. Our position was similar to that
of fellow life learning parent Amy Bradstreet, who wrote about her first
unschooling conference two years ago:
"We didn't attend because we needed convincing as
we are dedicated to unschooling and learning in freedom, and it's not really
that we needed more information [...] [W]e are fortunate that we have an
established network of relaxed-unschooly-homeschooling families in our area,
but our conference experience was indeed life-changing."
31st 2010, emphasis mine).
As it turned out, the conference was indeed life
changing for all of us. I'd like to attend next year, and I'd like even
more to raise a scholarship for another family to attend as well. But I
get ahead of myself a bit.
I've never related much to the "find your tribe"
mentality – yes, even when it comes to the so-called fringe activities or
lifestyle choices that I sometimes believe I desperately need support for.
The way I see it, the entire human race is my "tribe," and if I'm looking
for differences I'm cutting myself off from perceiving commonalities. Even
though unschooling is considered by many a radical choice, the truth is
schooling parents and carers are more similar to my husband and I than different.
We genuinely want what's best for our children, we seek out models and mentors
to help us, we make mistakes and lose then find our way, and we can be plagued
with distressing self-doubt sometimes (or, often).
So I don't need a specific "tribe" to commit to unschooling,
but even after this first experience I can relate several benefits from
the Conference's immersion environment.
One: bold and experienced mentorship. "Unschooling"
(or life learning, or autodidactic education, or non-coercive parenting,
et cetera) has been around a very long time, and some of the more passionate
and brilliant minds of today are those attending conferences, giving talks,
and writing books and magazine articles. This conference was stocked with
attendees who had a lot to offer. I attended two sessions helmed by an always-unschooling
parent who has four children aged thirty-three to nineteen – and I hung
on this woman's every word. I listened to the comments of another family
who'd been featured in a frankly defaming way on a national television show
(so in other words, had some experience with lots of public criticism).
I got to watch grown children who'd been unschooled their whole lives, giving
me future glimpses of potentiality for my now-tween children. Notably, in
general the teens at the conference were more expressive and gentle, made
more eye contact, and were imbued with more self-confidence than their schooled
I also benefitted a great deal from the shared commonality
of difficulties, framed in an unschooling context. We discussed how we sometimes
felt alone, isolated, fearful, or "crazy" to have chosen unschooling. Surprise
surprise, I am not the only parent who's felt marginalized, mistrusted,
and left out. I am also not the only parent who's made mistakes and attempted
lifestyle choices, large or small, that didn't end up serving our best interests
- while simultaneously lacking the support of those who understand and support
an unschooling philosophy. Speaking about my experiences frankly while in
a pro-unschooling environment? Priceless.
Third: the conference demystified some of the difficulties
in what, living in a semi-rural area, I sometimes experience as a fragmented
movement. As I joked to a childfree girlfriend once we returned home, unschoolers
don't seem to have that many controversies, really. Summing up: bedtimes,
food, video games and/or television, and math. That's all! (That's not really
it, but you might get my drift if you've been unschooling a while). And,
news flash, those are hardly issues that schooling parents don't struggle
with! Seeing these difficulties reduced to only a handful of solvable situations
was refreshing, and allowed me more space to consider what I want for my
family. More than once I was reminded of the phrase: "Don't sweat the small
stuff - and it's all small stuff."
Meeting and talking with so many pro-feminist and
anti-patriarchal fathers? Well... let's just say my heart skipped a beat.
Finally, the conference provided me with a vision
made real. I've long held that most of the social framings I've experienced
(primarily white, west coast United States) are often profoundly adultist
and kid-unfriendly. Children are age-segregated, institutionalized, coerced,
talked over and about, denigrated, abused, distrusted, ignored, bossed and
bullied, and under-supported. And a lot of this is considered not only our
right but our cultural edict. At the Conference, with rare exception, we
briefly lived in a different world entirely. Children were not merely tolerated,
as so much of our culture seems to manage (or not), but were honored, assisted,
helped, loved, and accepted. If a toddler ran down a hall people smiled
and stepped aside. When teens grouped up in a hugging pile no one glared;
we smiled. When a baby needed to nurse, people helped the baby's mother
get situated. Children and adults not related to one another spoke directly
to one another, and not in the limited sentences I'm used to hearing ("What
grade are you in?" "How's school?"), but in terrifically more interesting
In short, children and their carers weren't treated
as second-class citizens but just: citizens. And this vision bloomed throughout.
As adults had set up this framework, in turn, many of the teens in this
environment assisted and loved up on small children. And in turn the small
children had already learned to respect their own voice and authenticity.
You could see this in their demeanors, their agency, and the light in their
eyes. They were not being forced to unlearn their own merit.
That's a community, and a future, I can unabashedly
align myself with.
Kelly Hogaboom is a wife to one, mother
to two (pictured above), and muse to ... at least a dozen. She lives in
rainy and lovely Hoquiam, Washington, huddled next door to her mother and
living amongst all sorts of domestic pets. She enjoys B-movies, New Wave
music (and new New Wave music), Mexican food, sewing, laughing, and snuggling
her family and cats. You can read more of her writing at
her blog. Learn more about the Life
is Good Conference, for which Life Learning Magazine acts as a media sponsor,