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What Really Matters
by David H. Albert & Joyce Reed

What Really MattersDavid Albert and Joyce Reed both have a wealth of experience parenting and homeschooling their own kids (seven in total and now grown), and experience talking about or working with other people’s kids. In addition to experience, they both love to tell stories. That combination is a very good thing for us, the readers of the essays in this book. This is a collection of essays published as installments of a column in my magazines Life Learning and Natural Life. What first attracted me to them was how much homeschoolers of all styles can learn from these two whose families have been so long on the journey, and who share their wisdom so eagerly and articulately . . . In the end, what David and Joyce point out is that homeschooling (and all its variations and subsets) is not really a method of education – or, it is, but it’s also much more. There are no standardized step-by-step guidelines or rules for doing it the right way, because every child and every family is different. Homeschooling is a way of life, a way of looking at the world and at children. It is about self-direction, about learning from life and throughout life. It is about kids, families and communities regaining control over their days, their learning, their money, their resources and their ability to direct and manage themselves. And that’s what really matters.
~ from the introduction by Wendy Priesnitz, Author, Challenging Assumptions in Education and School Free, and Editor of Life Learning Magazine and Life Learning Magazine

Here is a treasury of intelligent, penetrating, and often good-humored conversations about learning between a mother and a father, each well-educated and successful, who want the same success for their own children and for yours. Free of jargon and cliché, you are certain to be clearer about your own ideas from listening to theirs.
~ John Taylor Gatto, Author, Weapons of Mass Instruction, An Underground History of American Education, Dumbing Us Down, The Exhausted School, and A Different Kind of Teacher

As veteran homeschooling parents and a delightful pair of writers, Joyce Reed and David Albert play off each others' experiences with and ruminations about society, schools, children and learning. Their keen observations and wise insights give the reader much to consider. Joyce writes, "There is no separation between living and learning. Life is just the curriculum. Learning is our path through it." With these few words, she encapsulates the essence of homeschooling and charts a course for the rest of the book. David responds enthusiastically: "Experience is the best teacher. Problem is, it doesn't teach you until you've had it." This is wonderfully thought-provoking stuff; engaging, enlightening, and encouraging! Whether sharing their own homeschooling experiences, comparing notes on what's wrong with society's approach to “education” (David writes, "I hate to even grace it with that word anymore."), or analyzing and challenging what's happening in today's homeschool movement, Joyce and David show by example in this book, portraying a love of learning for their readers as they learn from each other and share what they learn.
~ Helen Hegener, Former Co-Publisher, Home Education Magazine

Reading David Albert and Joyce Reed's new book What Really Matters is like sitting under the kitchen table and eavesdropping on a conversation about the true essence of learning and education. The discussions range through a spectrum, from the mundane and everyday to the profound and predictive. If you want to get a deep feeling for the essence of schooling and unschooling, or just plain living, read this book!
~ Jerry Mintz, Director, Alternative Education Resource Organization

What Really Matters is a beautiful, heartfelt book about homeschooling by two deeply experienced practitioners. Joyce Reed and David Albert were out doing it with their kids before the advent of the Internet and networks of support for their practices. Reed’s recollections of her children learning to learn in their rural setting on the Big Island of Hawaii are particularly evocative and meaningful—children doing real things to help the family survive, and to satisfy their own immense minds and curiosities. All the seven children described by the authors have become extremely successful and admirable adults. This is a book that will give confidence to any parent considering homeschooling their own children, and will be a welcome sitting-down-with-elders for those who are already deeply engaged in learning without schooling.
~ Kirsten Olson, author of Wounded By School: Recapturing the Joy in Learning and Standing Up To Old School Culture

Guiding your children through the standard academics is usually the first hurdle you contemplate when you are homeschooling or considering the idea. Take it from this longtime homeschooler and David and Joyce: What really matters is far beyond the three Rs. This conversation between two life learning parents, each with grown children, delves into the unwritten curriculum of humane education. Joyce and David discuss the educational, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and cultural aspects of what we desire for our children’s future as contributing members of a community and society. Joyce and David converse in depth so you will see the advantages of allowing your child to grow in his own way—no, not just allowing, but also mentoring that growth to its potential. If you are new to homeschooling, this book will open your eyes to the vast opportunities waiting to be explored by you and your children. For those already homeschooling, this book will inspire you to reach further into the awesome possibilities that abound around you whether you unschool or follow a more traditional path.
~ Jean Reed, co-author of The Home School Source Book, 3rd edition, and The Lifetime Learning Companion

Every child is born with two fundamental drives; the drive for safety; which is the bond to mother, and the drive to explore his world; which is the search for the known within the unknown. This exploration is nature's plan for learning and the driving force of human life itself. Readers will be sitting at the feet of two masters of self-directed learning as they share their individual experiences, beliefs, and theories in an intimate dialog. Depth, wisdom and love exude from every page of this book. David Albert and Joyce Reed have offered us the heart and soul of what really matters with how children learn and what parents can do to create the best conditions for their children. They have shown how intention is the forerunner of skill and how to allow the process to unfold. Albert and Reed’s book is a definitive summary of Homeschooling and all it implies. It is magnificent, profound beyond words, and a delight to read. It synthesizes an encyclopedia of significant understandings into a brilliant yet simple package. These pages contain what parents and our culture need so desperately today. I have watched David’s literary output for many years and this book is his apex. (So far.) I love Joyce’s direct, straightforward and simple style in other works of hers and she too out performs herself in giving us… What Really Matters.
~ Jeffrey L. Fine, Ph.D., co-author with his wife Dalit Fine, MS, of The Art of Conscious Parenting

I devoured this insightful and remarkable dialog between two supremely experienced and deeply thoughtful homeschool parents as they reflect on the evolution of parenting, culture and educational norms. Included are retrospective windows into their own childhoods, the raising of their own children as homeschoolers, and the myriad challenges and general dysfunction that face so many 21st century children and families. From a critical discussion on the value of trusting children to sharp critiques on modern schooling and societal values, David and Joyce have offered up much food for thought here. When taken to heart, this one book could keep a person immersed in personal change and reconstruction for a good long time.
~ Barb Lundgren, former producer of the Rethinking Everything conference and former co-publisher of Rethinking Everything Magazine

What Really Matters shows us that we have overlooked the obvious: that if you institutionalize education, you subvert it, the child serving the institution rather than the institution serving the child; that if you take the home out of the child's education and the child's education out of the home, you take the child out of both. Thus What Really Matters is the most persuasive argument for home schooling I’ve yet seen, the parent as the child’s first and main teacher, the world as his home, and every institution from a museum to a sandy beach his school. What Really Matters shows us indeed what really matters: the child, his needs, aspirations and interests not as we see them but as he sees them. In What Really Matters, the child is not only seen, but heard. To educate him we must learn from him, and the authors show us not only how to do it but how they did it. In the authors’ world of homeschooling—art and science, thinking and feeling, life and learning are as naturally integrated as they are in the child’s life and mind. In the tradition of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, A. S. Neill’s Summerhill, and the works of John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, What Really Matters nevertheless ventures well beyond them. This personal, accessible, marvelously readable exchange of letters between David Albert and Joyce Reed, stone by inspiring stone one atop another, culminates in a castle of enlightenment around which the child’s entire world is his for the taking. Make no mistake about it, his education is about our liberation as much as his. What Really Matters is Isaiah’s Prophecy made manifest in the plural: children will lead us if only we follow them. No one has done it like David Albert and Joyce Reed.
~ Bernie Schein, author, If Holden Caulfield Were in my Classroom

Readers might feel as if they’re eavesdropping on a conversation between two people who have taken different routes to the same destination. And that’s okay, because it’s a conversation that needs to be heard by every parent who has thought about the value of his/her child’s education. Joyce Reed, retired Associate Dean of The College at Brown University and homeschool mom of five, and David Albert, writer, budding opera singer and homeschool dad of two, bring to bear on this vital conversation the wisdom of experience complimented by the perspective of hindsight, distilling the essence of “what really matters” in life and learning. Their conclusions about what really matters, shared today by millions who similarly experience “the road less traveled” through homeschooling and unschooling with their families, defy the common western societal norm in education, revealing it as a narrow, limiting, unsatisfying approach when compared to alternatives. Do your family a favor today. Read What Really Matters so that instead of your offspring’s childhood being more than a decade locked inside an institution, it is transformed into the liberating adventure of becoming fully human. Trust me; they will thank you one day.
~ Linda Dobson, homeschooling speaker, author of The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child, The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas and others, and advocate via the Parent at the Helm website

This is not the kind of book you won't be able to put down; on the contrary, I found myself constantly putting it down to pause and ponder, to marvel, and to occasionally chuckle or weep from yet another eloquently presented insight that touched my heart. I found myself wishing it could be absorbed by everydamnbody who ever begins to homeschool, and, for that matter, by every teacher and educator. Most people come to homeschooling asking all the wrong questions, but these two veteran homeschool parents, with seven grown homeschooled children between them, have cut directly to the most profound answers with exceptional candor and wisdom in addressing the vital question of What Really Matters. If I could recommend only one book for familiarizing oneself with the joys and unique possibilities within homeschooling, this would have to be the one.
~ Lillian Jones, creator of, mother of a happy and successful homeschool grad, and longtime volunteer for HSC, the HomeSchool Association of California

These essays by David Albert and Joyce Reed, written as letters to each other, contain warm and insightful thoughts about teaching, learning, and living with children. As parents of grown homeschoolers they reflect on how they raised and educated their own children and as older adults they reconsider their own educations and upbringing in light of their homeschooling experiences. Along with intellectual heft, the authors share encouragement, resources, and practical advice that can make homeschooling easier and more fun for anyone.
~ Patrick Farenga, co-author, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling

David Albert and Joyce Reed transparently reveal stories of their individual homeschool journeys. Readers will glean from their wealth of experience and acquired nuggets of wisdom. They spare no words in challenging parents of this generation to take a close look at “what really matters” and to risk breaking free from the status quo long enough to give their children the true gift of learning. What Really Matters is guaranteed to affirm the veteran homeschooler while inspiring others to the great benefits of self-directed learning. This truly is a must read for parents in this century.
~ Grace Jorgensen, Executive Director, BC Home School Association

I read the book cover to cover and found within its pages useful tips and encouraging words of wisdom as well as liberating ways to think about how people actually learn. Most of all, I felt energized and inspired by Reed and Albert's living examples of the wonderful world that can unfold when we trust our kids; that they are learning what they need to and want to. How do we do this? And what does it look like? These two 'elders' share their beautiful stories with us, and it makes everything seem so much lighter. As we read through the pages of these essays, we can look at our own children's learning paths in new light-and be heartened that they are capable of forging just as an extraordinary a path as the children of these advocates have done. We can do our best to help them along the way-but not too much. Like Albert and Reed did (and continue to do, I'm sure), we need to offer; expose and then step back so that they can explore and discover what they are passionate about. This is a book that I would give to anyone who wants an in-depth depiction of what joyful learning and living, authentic education looks like.
~ Beatrice Ekoko, Radio Free School

Homeschoolers easily get bogged down in the minutiae of their everyday lives. We risk spending more time worrying about doing the right things for our children, instead of actually doing things with them. What should be an experience filled with joy and freedom becomes a drudgery laden with frustration and disappointment. What Really Matters: Two veteran homeschooling advocates discuss what learning is really all about... strips away all the extraneous matter we tend to add to our homeschooling lives, leaving us with what really matters: fostering the love of learning.
~ Sarah J. Wilson, Homeschool Review

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Natural Life Books specializes in adult non-fiction about ways that families and individuals can live and learn on Planet Earth in a healthy, socially responsible, environmentally sound, self-reliant manner. We are the retail division of The Alternate Press, an imprint of Life Media, an independent, family-owned book and magazine publishing house established in 1976. We are proud to publish books and other information products about homeschooling and life learning (also known as unschooling).

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