Sunday, March 27, 2011

Freedom in Learning and INHOME Conference

On Friday, Alexander was a panel member with five other teens for the workshop "Is Freedom Scary?  The Best and Worst Things About Being in Charge of Your Own Education" at the annual INHOME Conference in St. Charles, IL. 

On Thursday, he was looking over the agenda for the workshop.  Each panel member was to introduce themselves and then share "what it's been like to have freedom in education".  I asked him what he was thinking about sharing.  He said, "I don't really know.  I have never known anything but freedom so I don't know how to compare it to anything else."  Awesome!  

The last two days have been exhausting but full of energy and memories.  As I sat in my workshops and listened to Peter Gray who is a research professor of psychology at Boston College, Sandra Dodd who has written and been speaking on unschooling for years, and Blake Boles who writes, speaks, and leads trips for self-directed teens, I felt renewed in our decision to unschool.  Peter Gray spoke on Sudbury Schools and how his research on graduates who learned in freedom did not show one person who regretted their educational experience or felt they did not have the skills to progress in life successfully.  His presentation on lessons we can learn from hunter gathers was amazing.  I could have sat for hours listening to him. Sandra Dodd started off her workshop explaining that her children are now grown and she wanted to share the unforeseen benefits of unschooling and there were many.  In fact, she continued on after the workshop was over because she had so much to share.  As I sat listening to her, I knew I could also make a rather long list of the unforeseen benefits we have experienced.  Blake Boles's workshop was on unveiling the works of John Taylor Gatto.  Interwoven into the works of Gatto were Boles's experiences with homeschoolers/unschoolers in his leadership training programs.  What I took from his workshop is that our kids do amazing things and with time and freedom they are able to experience failure, an important part of living life fully.

Besides being a participant on a panel, Alexander attended many workshops.  He gained a lot of information from his workshops with Blake Boles. In fact, one of his first workshops was titled "Speed Meeting."  He loved this because he met a large number of teens face to face right away.  Later at the teen dance he felt free to walk up to (or dance up to as I have heard) many people.  I guess he danced to every single song.  I will never forget how happy he looked coming out of the dance. 

For Sophia this weekend was all about independence.  She told me upfront that she wanted to be on her own without having to text me about her every location.  She loved having the freedom to decide if she would attend a workshop or not.  She had a wonderful time.  The only problem she experienced was not being allowed into the  teen dance.  Last year she attended the dance without any problem and never assumed she wouldn't be allowed in this year. For months now the girls (about eight of them) have been planning outfits and dreaming about this dance.  When I picked up Sophia's friend early in the morning they were both bouncing on the seat of the car as they excitedly talked about the dance.  Together the girls all celebrated one of the gal's birthdays at the swimming pool and then headed up to the hotel room to get dressed.  The rules had changed this year for the dance and they were very strict on being 13.  Sophia won't be 13 until June.  One friend had changed her birth date when registering to attend the workshops for kids 13 and up and all the other friends were already 13, 14 and 15.  So, Sophia was the only one that could not attend the dance.  One of the moms tried explaining the situation and then I talked to them but they would not budge.  Due to a little sneakiness, Sophia did finally get in and had the time of her life.  As we talked about it on the way home, she totally understood that at some point they have to have a cut-off and agreed it should be for teens.  The problem I had and still have, although I don't have a solution, is that homeschoolers (maybe it is just unschoolers, I don't know) tend to be big braggers about how our kids aren't confined to an age group or friendships within a certain age range.  I felt like a little leniency could have been applied when it was obvious that a large group of girls were attending together, had planned this out together (they were wearing tutu's), and only one was not able to attend.  Anyhow, I admired her determination to get what she wanted at whatever costs.  

Overall, a wonderful weekend.  We ran into a lot of friends we haven't seen in a while and I think all three of us took a lot of good information and wonderful memories from this weekend. The kids could not stop talking as we drove home.  They were both full of great stories to share.  We definitely appreciate all the hard work that was put into this conference and can't wait for next year.          

Moms enjoying a little fun together while teens attended the dance.

The dads arrived at the hotel Friday night for a little parent fun!   

Sophia (far left) and friends

Alexander with a few friends before the dance