Education for kids: Consider all options

Consider all options. That has become our mantra when it comes to our sons’ education.

There was a time, many years ago, when we fully expected that our sons would follow the standard path through school. We figured they would go through elementary, middle, and high school just like millions of other kids do. And then, we expected to watch them cross the stage and receive their high school diploma, just like John and I did.


When are sons were young, we expected them to follow the standard path through school. My, how things have changed!

My, how things have changed!

Shortly after returning to Idaho over two years ago, I wrote an update about what we planned to do about our sons’ education. At that time, we were thrilled that we had discovered a special program offered through the Boise Public Schools that was exclusively for advanced math and science courses. We enrolled our sons to see how that would work.

It worked beautifully!

And now, two years on, what does our sons’ educational program look like?

Basically, we’ve learned to consider all options and not discount anything until we’ve ascertained that it won’t meet their needs. Nothing. And that open-ness has led to all kinds of incredible opportunities!

civil war reenactment

We seek out all kinds of educational opportunities wherever we go. One weekend there was a large Civil War reenactment near Boise. Of course, we were there!

What we’ve done for the past two years

1)      Advanced math and science classes through Boise Public Schools

Our boys have continued with their classes through the local school district. They are each taking a math class and two science classes. What I love about this program is that it’s not based around how many years you’ve been on our planet, but rather on what you bring to the table. The classes are all filled with kids of many different ages and they all work together and respect one another for what they can do. Daryl is now taking two AP classes – Calculus and Physics – so he should have his first college credits within a month.

2)      PE through Boise Public Schools

As you could maybe guess, our sons love physical activity! While we were perfectly capable of getting them out and about on bikes or hikes, what we couldn’t provide was the group activities. They each chose to take a PE class through the local school before being bussed over to their math/science program.

3)      FIRST Robotics

For a couple of kids who have long been fascinated by all things robotic, FIRST has been an incredible program for them. This program has nothing to do with the school, but is one of the best educational opportunities I’ve ever seen. Through FIRST, Davy and Daryl have a chance to work one-on-one with professional engineers who serve as mentors to design, build, and program robots. What an opportunity! (For those not familiar with FIRST, read here: What’s this FIRST Robotics stuff  all about?)

4)      Boy Scouts

D & D have been involved with Boy Scouts since our return to Idaho. Although they don’t really care about amassing merit badges like some of the kids, they enjoy the activities and campouts. We’re good with that, and figure they will learn what they learn.

5)      Sports

Daryl has opted to be on the swim team at the Boise YMCA, while Davy has taken up running. The Boise schools have allowed Davy to participate in both cross country and track, which has been a wonderful program for him.

FIRST robotics

FIRST Robotics has been a HUGE part of our lives for the past two years. Davy and Daryl have learned a lot about building robots and are eager to learn more.

What we like about this program

For Davy and Daryl, this program has been perfect.

  • It has allowed them to pursue their passions and learn what they are interested in.
  • They are excited about learning. Notice I said learning, not school? In our family, it’s all about learning – not bringing home good grades. We never, ever ask them to do their homework – they do it because they enjoy their classes and they want to keep up, not because we demand it of them.
  • The schedule works for them. They both love to stay up late, and sleep in late. This program, having them start their classes at 10 in the morning, has worked out well.
  • When the kids see a need, they can jump on it. For example, as we drove to the robotics competition in Spokane last month, another high school kid rode with us. She was passionate about history and was talking about her AP World History class and why the Treaty of Versailles and other world events were so important. My sons had never before been interested in world history, but are now considering taking AP World History.
  • Because they are not locked in to a particular schedule, they are free to explore other options. For next year, they have decided to take an electronics class. They know that this class will feed directly into their robotics passion, so they can’t wait to get started.

Basically, what I’ve seen by handing the reins over to our sons, their education is completely tailored to what they want/need. Both Davy and Daryl are considering some sort of engineering for the future, and they are building up a platform that will help them tremendously in that endeavor. And besides, they love learning – and that’s what *I* am most happy about!

MK Nature Center

There are great hands-on activities all over, if you look for them. What I especially love about them is that kids of all ages can learn from playing with them. A small kid could make a dam to block up the flow of water here and learn a lot. And teenagers can actually play with design elements to see which kind of dam is most effective.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Redefining Education: My take-away

redefining education logo

by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

I’ve enjoyed putting together my Redefining Education series of articles and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. It’s been an interesting journey.

There have been some articles I wanted to jump up and down and shout “READ THIS!” from the rooftops and then there were others where I was stunned and dismayed that anybody could be that far off. Regardless, this past week has been an education for me.

The first lesson I’ve learned is that many people have a very different opinion of the school system than I do. Although I’d like to say I’m right and they’re wrong, I won’t. I will say, however, that I’ve seen the system through the eyes of a long-term teacher. Most of the most vocal critics haven’t even seen it as a parent.

When I read things like this it shows me how far apart our perceptions of the schools are: …children need a doctor’s note to go to the bathroom when needed, a federal “504 Plan” to eat when hungry, …

I’m fairly certain that there was a child somewhere who had a bladder issue and they wanted it written into that child’s IEP that she could leave class whenever she needed to. I would imagine there was another kid who had some kind of medical condition that required him to eat frequently so that was written into the IEP as well. That’s not a bad thing – it’s a way of saying to every teacher that it’s a need that needs to be addressed. I think that’s a good thing.

Yet Laurie A. Couture makes it sound as though because one person needed every teacher to know she had a problem, that other children were not allowed to go to the bathroom or to eat. That’s hogwash.

schoolTo me, examples like this tell me our school system needs to do a better job in letting people know what REALLY happens within those walls. If people really, truly believe our schools are prisons where kids are tortured and brainwashed, then there is a lot of work to be done. Because I can tell you with absolute certainty that some of the criticisms that have come out this week were not based in reality – or at least not reality in the schools I’ve worked at.

On the other hand, there were some suggestions that I think are very definitely worth considering. Many people seem to think schools are not teaching kids what they need to know for today’s world. That’s fair. Maybe we shouldn’t be teaching reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Maybe we should change that to art, music, sports, debate, and Spanish. I’m OK with that.

Or maybe we should not have any kind of set curriculum at all? One school could teach art and Spanish and another school writing and science? It would be up to parents to choose which schools to enroll their kids in?

But is there value in having a standard base of knowledge that we can assume all Americans will know?

Are there certain historical events that we, as a society, feel are important enough to make sure everybody has at least a rudimentary knowledge of? Do we want all Americans to know why we celebrate the 4th of July? Is it important that we understand the struggle that caused the Civil War?

How do we go about establishing that set of knowledge?

I think we can all agree that the overall emphasis of our schools should be on learning how to learn. Kids need to learn to think creatively and critically and be able to come up with new solutions to unique problems. But should there also be a set of facts and figures we want all Americans to know?

I’ll be honest in saying that the thought of the importance of that standard base of knowledge never occurred to me until last week. If every parent chooses which things his children will learn, what ramifications does that have for our nation? Some people think it would be better, but I’m not so sure. If we don’t know about our country, will we still have pride in her? Will we still defend her? I don’t know the answers, but I certainly have questions.

I loved Jennifer Miller’s article about parents needing to man-up and take charge of their children’s education.  If more parents would step up to the plate and make sure their children are getting the best education out there – regardless of whether that education happens in the schools or at home – our world would be a better place.

And that thought leads me to the idea of compulsory education. Quite a few of the articles in this series talked about abolishing the law that mandates education so that parents can do what they want. For me, I would love that. And for the other “good” parents out there too. I know those parents would make sure their kids got a good education whether it was mandated or not.

It’s the “other” parents that I’m concerned about. As Clark Vandeventer always tells me, “I want the rule, but I don’t want it to pertain to me.” That’s exactly how I feel about compulsory education, and I think others feel the same way. I’m perfectly capable of making sure my kids get a top-notch education; why should the government mandate I do?

I’ve been a teacher long enough to understand why education is mandated.

There are parents out there who shouldn’t be parents. They most certainly shouldn’t be homeschooling parents. Can we, with a clean conscious, turn our backs on their kids and walk away? Can we look them in the eye and say, “Sorry kid. You were born to a worthless parent so you’re screwed. Nope, I won’t help.”

And that, my friends, is the dilemma we’ve found ourselves in. Part of me says go the tough love route. Pull the welfare. Pull the food stamps. Pull the schools. Make them stand on their own two feet. Buck up or shut up.

But can we do that to the kids? Can I – as a fellow human being – look at those children who, through no fault of their own, were born to drug-dealing, whoring alcoholics who either won’t or can’t take care of their kids?  Can I turn my back and walk away from a kid in need?

I know the schools aren’t perfect. There are many aspects of our schools that could be improved. But for thousands upon thousands of kids, school is the best part of their day. When they walk into that school building they don’t care how pretty it looks or that there are only three working toilets, that school is safe. And it’s the only place in their life that is.

When those kids go to school, they’ve got a teacher who loves them and they know what to expect. They’ve got food to eat; it might not be as good as some would have it but it’s better than what they get at home. School, as routine as it may be, is the highlight of many kids’ lives.

Can we, as some people have suggested, abolish our school system and compulsory education? Can we rely on those drug-dealing mothers to educate their kids?

I’ve lived in countries without a compulsory education law.

  • I’ve seen too many people walk into a grocery store and have to ask someone to read directions to them.
  • I’ve seen too many people sign their signature with a thumbprint.
  • I’ve seen countries with high levels of illiterate people and how society is designed around them.
  • I’ve seen too many politicians take advantage of that illiteracy.

And I don’t want to see the United States of America go there.

Are our schools perfect? No. Are they the best they can be? No.

But, as Dr. Seuss said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

if you are not willing to learn no one can help you ....

You can read the posts in the Redefining Series here:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

How to Use Parental Mentoring as a Solution for ‘Educational Reform’

redefining education logo

by Rachel Denning

I think there is a general consensus that our systems of education need improvement – whether it’s government, private or home school. There are multiple solutions for reaching this end of ‘educational reformation’, and each begins with more parental involvement.

Although not the answer for every family, leadership education is one solution that can work for those who are able to make the time commitment, personal sacrifice, and push past  obstacles that are inherent in mentoring your own children to becoming their personal best.

What is Parental Mentoring/Leadership Education?

dennings in guatemalaI use the term parental mentoring as opposed to home-schooling, unschooling, world-schooling, or any of the other terms parents use who take their children out of the traditional government or private school systems.

I feel that this term is more effective at portraying what needs to happen in the parent/child relationship for those who choose not to outsource their kids education, and follow the leadership education model.

Rather than taking ‘school’ and bringing it home, or undoing all structure and removing all goals in an effort to renounce anything ‘school’-like, parents can take the role of a mentor and leader, in guiding their children, while leading themselves to a better education.

Parental Mentoring is also referred to as Leadership Education.

Leaders determine destiny. Leaders select the goals of nations, businesses, communities and generations, and which paths to take in pursuit of these goals.

Parents, teachers and educators who choose to become and mentor future leaders will construct the future.

This is much different than a ‘home-school’ program. The goal of mentoring or leadership education is not to find a way to pass facts, data and ‘trivia’ to children ourselves, instead of having the school systems do it.

The goal of leadership education is to discover the method for leading our children to greatness – to become the future leaders who motivate individuals, communities and nations toward a greater good.

Throughout recorded history, there have been three basic traditions of education. Nearly every system of education in history and modern times fits into one of these three models.

the ‘conveyor belt’ educational model teaches the masses basic literacy skills, helping to lift generations from poverty toward better lives and jobs.

Second, is the professional model, which trains ‘experts’ according to certain guidelines and methodologies that society has agreed upon. This way, teachers, doctors and other professionals have a definitive standard by which to be measured and qualified.

Third, is the leadership education model which trains thinkers, artists, inventors, leaders, entrepreneurs and statesmen. It focuses on ‘how to think’ instead of ‘what to think’. This is the way that history’s greats were taught – like Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.

What Does the ‘Leadership Education’ Model Look Like?

A vision of the ‘end’ – the long-term results – is critical if the parent is to proceed with confidence and effectiveness.

If your goal is to make absolutely sure that your child knows trigonometry by age twelve, or that they are reading above their grade level, then a different educational model might work better for you.

But if you’re interested in building a person who understands the nature and responsibilities of freedom, has developed a deep passion for learning, and has learned how to be a scholar instead of a student, then the leadership model is right for you.

Leadership Education is the framework by which people (aka children) are taught to govern themselves and to take personal responsibility for their education, and more importantly, for their life.

It is difficult to ‘teach’ this model, or to communicate it effectively to our children, until we have actually experienced it ourselves. The change, the experience, has to begin with the parent – the mentor.

Like the difference between looking at a map compared to actually being there and experiencing a place for yourself, parents need to ‘walk the path’. The success of this model is entirely dependent on the parents.

Until parents actually gain the education for themselves that they want their children to have, or become the leaders they would like their children to become, they will never be able to mentor their children to become pioneers and trailblazers.

How to ‘Do’ the Leadership Education Model

There are 4 main phases of learning with the leadership education model. They are:

1. Core Phase Birth to ~8yrs

During this phase children are allowed to be children and learn from the method that works best for them in developing imagination and creativity – unstructured play time with ‘raw’ materials (clay, dirt, sticks, etc.)

They are also taught basic life skills and habits – cooking, cleaning, grooming – as well as values, ethics and basic social skills.

2. Love of Learning Phase ~8yrs to ~12yrs

During this stage children will develop an interest in ‘learning’ – picking an interest that they pursue passionately for some time until they drop it. They are encouraged to be curious without the requirements of a deeply intensive study. They are enjoying the journey of learning about a myriad of things, and ‘practicing’ at studying until they are mature enough to ‘dig in’.

3. Scholar Phase ~12yrs to ~16yrs

This is when children/youth really begin the intense study or ‘schooling’ phase. The learner willingly undertakes long periods of intense study time in preparation for their life’s mission. This is the time when they will seek mentors to push them beyond their limits and to their personal best.

4. Depth Phase ~16yrs to ~22yrs

At this stage, the learner goes into professional study as they pursue their ‘life’s mission’ and does all that they can to prepare for fulfilling it.

When studying the great men and women of history, you will see that they follow a model that is very close to this, and are mentored by parents and others who also followed this model.

Besides pursuing the model themselves, parents have three main ‘jobs’ in educating their children with the leadership education model:

1. Develop, Nurture and Heal Family Relationships

The quality of ‘teaching’ in the home will be entirely dependent on the quality of the family relationships.

This is the first duty of any parent who wishes to mentor their children toward greatness – improve and nurture the parent/child relationship.

2. Create an Inspiring Environment

The leadership education model follows the mantra of ‘Inspire not Require.”

This is done by modeling great learning and leadership to your children, as well as by creating an environment that is conducive to a great education.

For many parent mentors, this means eliminating activities such as TV, video games, technological ‘toys’ and other distractions in exchange for music, art, poetry and reading. If given these as options, without the mind-numbing distractions that too many children are allowed to indulge in, they learn to thoroughly enjoy them.

Provide the opportunity to expose your children to a variety of inspirational resources, books, music, art, people and programs.

3. Respond Effectively to Your Children’s Inspiration

When your children express an interest in learning more about something, respond effectively by engaging them in an adventure of discovery.

Remember the adage – Inspire not Require. Your job as a parent is not decide your child’s life mission, nor to insist that they master certain subjects. It is to encourage and support them on their own journey of knowledge.

As a child, Albert Einstein was a very poor student and hated school, particularly literature.

After being kicked out of school for being a poor influence on the other students, he had the freedom to pursue the interests he really enjoyed, which was math and science.

He eventually became a great scientist and has helped to define our current reality about the world.

But what is most interesting is that he had developed an unquenchable thirst for learning, and continued it throughout his life. Every night he went to bed with a book. One of his favorites included Shakespeare.

When allowed to pursue what he was truly passionate about, a ‘love of learning’ was developed, which eventually branched out into an interest in subjects beyond his initial interests.

This model will also work with our children, if we give them the opportunity.

As parents seek to model and mentor in the leadership education model, they’ll begin to see how educational freedom can transform their lives, as well as those of their children, and ignite a fire for learning that will last a lifetime.

To learn more about the leadership education model, including the Phases of Learning, the 7 Keys, the 5 Environments, Custom Made Systems and the Arts of Inspiring and Responding, download this free PDF.

Rachel Denning is currently traveling the Americas in a veggie-powered truck with her husband and five children. She shares her experiences at Discover. Share. Inspire.

This post is one in a series about Redefining Education. The other posts are:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

In our 22 months of full time rving we have passed thousands of schools.  We’ve also passed hundreds of jails, and I’m always struck by how similar they look.

Have you noticed this too?

jails and schoolsBland concrete walls, small windows, tall chain link fences.

Both institutions reek of, well… Institution!

The only main difference I can see, is that aside from the special security measures to ‘keep kids safe’ the bars at a school are invisible… but they are just as real as the bars that keep prisoners in line…

The bars at the majority of schools in our nation are placed on the students’ minds and potential… but they have they same effect that is… to keep the inmates students in line.

Despite the obvious shortcomings of the current public education system in the US, I was still overwrought with fear to extract my children from its clutches and become their primary educator.

I was terrified that I would fail them.

So, after some soul searching and discovery, I boiled my responsibilities down to two manageable goals:

Goal #1: Encourage their passions – No matter our age, we are all passionate about something… So from a very young age, we have been exploring our childrens’ passions.  At first, we were just trying to engage them on family vacations (like taking them on scenic train rides and to model train museums (two of my four children are rail fans)).  However, as their interest increased, so did the tools they used and time they spent researching.  Pretty soon, we knew all about Diesel/electric locomotives, main line routes, and every major railroad merger of the past 25 years.

These topics all provided opportunities for writing, reading, math, science, geography, history, all of the subjects a student would be exposed to in a traditional school, but all focused on their passion – and therefore – readily received by children hungry for knowledge.

Goal #2: Encourage them to be passionate about learning – For the past 20 years, I have been completely self-taught.  A self-taught data base administrator, a self-taught medical transcription instructor, a self-taught dog ice cream maker and most recently a self-taught magazine editor.

It is through my love of learning, that I have been able to accomplish this very varied life experience.

Now, my children can further their knowledge on their subject/s of choice and any other topic they develop a passion for.  They’ve learned how to research on a computer, through books and periodicals and through life experiences.

Our lifestyle affords them the opportunity to visit the locales they discover.

  • To touch the equipment.
  • To stand on the rails,
  • To meet the engineers, and
  • To see how the freight moves across the country.

But can this individual learning model be replicated in a classroom setting?  Do teachers have the time and resources to free their pupils’ minds from the jail of the mass production of the public school system and help them explore?

Given the current climate with school overcrowding and “teaching to the test”, I say, unfortunately, “No”.

The current school situation is merely a symptom of our broken “American Dream”.

Unless, more parents awaken from the consumer driven haze and create their own dream for their family, their children’s education success is a mere crap shoot based factors that have very little to do with learning.  Like the encouragement they receive from their teachers, their ability to fly under bullies’ radars, and their discipline and determination to not fall in with the wrong crowd.

In the penal system of the average American public school, students must conform to excel.

Have you ever found greatness by following the crowd?

Kimberly Travaglino is the author of “How to Hit the Road“, a comprehensive step-by-step guide for making your family’s full time RV dreams a reality.  She also serves as the Editor of Fulltime Families Magazine, a company that supports risk takers, pioneers, and enlightened families blazing their own path across the country.

This post is one in a series of posts about redefining education. Here are the others:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

‘Learning’ is the New Paradigm of Education

If we give kids  the foundation to dream, they will figure out the grammar and the history the minute it helps them to reach their goals and make a difference.  ~Seth Godin from ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’

redefining education logo

Lainie Liberti

I am an unschooling parent. There is no doubt our approach to education falls on the outside of the norm within much of the United States and beyond. I suspect that many do not believe they have the freedom to make the same choice. The purpose of this article is not to convince you choose our lifestyle, rather to share with you some of the discoveries we’ve made along the way, and perhaps inspire you supplement the packaged school education by supporting and encouraging a natural learning process in your child.


My son Miro has been unschooled for the last 3 years from ages 10 to 13 and is undoubtedly thriving.  If you are not familiar with the term unschooling, in essence, it’s approaching your child’s learning as a natural process, allowing interest to lead the educational opportunities and empowering you child to guild the process based on his (or her) natural curiosity. In our case, we are traveling, have been doing so for the past three years and have transformed the world into our classroom.

With unschooling, there are no formalized structures nor are there workbooks or curriculum to follow. It’s simply a case of trusting that interest will lead and learning will happen. And it does.

If you are new to this idea, this may sound like a radical approach, even irresponsible.  I would have likely had the same reaction just three short years ago. But that was before I experienced it first hand. And if you are experiencing doubts, that’s natural, but  I ask you to continue reading with an open mind.

Here are three main discoveries I’ve uncovered during our unschooling journey:

  1. learning is completely different than education
  2. passion drives learning
  3. empowerment translates into leadership

Learning is DIFFERENT than education

“I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like being taught.” ~Winston Churchill

At one point in my understanding,  I believed school equated education and education equated learning. Boy was I wrong.  Although I’ve always been one to question everything, challenge the common beliefs, I had never questioned this baseline belief surrounding education. That is, until I discovered it simply wasn’t true.

Through our experiences, I have witnessed  ‘learning’ as a process of acquiring knowledge through an engaged experience. In our case, it’s an engaged experience initialed through my son’s interest. His interest in Greek Mythology has prompted an 11 year old to seek out and acquire college level books on the subject, which he ferociously devoured.

Another example is my son questioning the food chain as we shop in a farmers market in Peru. “Are the people selling the food the farmers? Are their farms close? How do they grow so many different kinds of vegtables?”  Through his questioning, we sought out the opportunity to visit a local community farm and talk with the caretakers. Afterwards, Miro learned to harvest seeds and plant his own garden.

Another example is my son’s interest in Zombies. Sure, you wonder how zombies could be an educational tool, but he learned through reading the Zombie Survival Guide, that mysterious sightings of zombies were reported in Sir Francis Drakes‘  personal journal. The island was located in Panama’s Pacific and was refereed to as the Isle of the Damned”. Wow! That was interesting since coincidentally we were in Panama when Miro read that. Together,  my son and I explored  the movements of Sir Francis Drake, an infamous pirate, which led to all kinds of discoveries about history, trade routes, Spain,  imperialism, conquest and geography.

Within my son’s (limited) school experience, independent investigation or discovery was not encouraged. He had to adhere to the lesson plan and use only pre-approved materials. (I am certain The Zombie Survival Guide is not among them.) My son always had a quick mind, finished the medial tasks asked by his teacher first in his class and often found himself bored. Many times my son was  tasked with helping his classmates with the assignments, and told he could NOT quietly read  his  book until the rest of his classmates were finished with the assignment. Needless to say Miro began to loathe everything about school.

As a parent, I question why ‘institutions of learning’ (schools)  demand that children obediently follow the provided curriculum and conform without engagement? Why couldn’t they progress based on their own learning style, levels and interests? Isn’t it obvious learning happens when a child is engaged? Oh, I guess learning isn’t actually the point in school.

Passion drives learning.

What your child is passionate about, your child will learn.

The very nature of unschooling, is allowing your child to determine what interests him (or her) to create the a roadmap for learning. But since it’s not framed as learning, and there are no set structures to follow, passion becomes the driving force. And passions do change, but nothing is lost if your child became engaged during the process and discovered, pursued and tried something new.

Since we’ve been traveling, my son has intentionally perused his interests in mythology, zombies, cryptozology, gardening, cooking, pirates, video games, tae kwon do and sword play, just to name a few. This does not even include the things we’ve exposed to by virtue of traveling, like language, cultures and arts. But in terms of my son’s interests,  I assisted and supported him in finding the materials he needed to purse his interests. Without judgment, supporting my son’s passions became my role as an unschooling parent.

If you were ever interested in hearing an excited and enthusiastic young man describe how Prometheus gave the power of fire to man, I would say he’s learned something. And passion drove that.

A critical look at my son’s interests would reveal learning has happened within the following formal subjects: history, geography, economy, world trade, ecology, farming, cooking, mining and minerals (Minecraft), politics, religions, language, story telling, literature and civics. But since we never called it lessons, I suspect my son might argue that he wasn’t being ‘schooled’.  However, as a parent, I am witnessing a process of natural learning.

An empowered child learns leadership & innovation.

You treat a child like a sheep in the herd, you will breed a sheep in the herd.

I’ve witnessed passion driving learning. But what makes unschooling work, is total empowerment. My son is empowered to determine what he is interested in, encouraged to explore his passions.

But I must also accept his laziness.

Why? Because if my son chooses to be lazy and not engage in any of his passions for a day, for a week, for a month, that’s his choice. I can hear your thoughts bubbling up inside of you as you read these words. Maybe it sounds along the lines of  “You are the parent, you must put your foot down, make the rules.” Trust me, I had a battle with my own inner dialogue when I committed to unschooling that sounded very similar to that. But then I realized, if I only empowered my son some of the time and not other times, that’s not really empowerment, is it?

This is really about problem solving. Bored? Discover what your interests are. Pursue that interest. If you can’t find it, ask for help. Not sure what to do today? Explore something different. Try something new. Do nothing. Solve the problem. Even doing nothing is a solution. An empowered solution, I might add. Empowered because if that’s what my son chooses, it’s his solution.

These problem solving lessons are life lessons. This opportunity teaches leadership. Most of all,  leadership for his own life. Empowerment to make decisions creates resourcefulness, a skill my son would not be likely to learn in a traditional learning institution.

Then, I’ve had the opportunity to see this leadership in action. On our travels, we’ve come across many kids, been involved with many volunteer programs, interacted with many children from different cultures. Each time, I have witnessed my son encourage these kids to peruse their interests and figure out what their dreams are. Most of these children had never even considered that their interests were important, let alone been asked their opinion before. This simply inquiry may have a lasting effect on another child’s life. It’s an inspiring process to witness. That’s taking a leadership role.

Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.”  ~John Holt, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling

My desire is that you have not interpreted this article as being anti-schooling. I understand for many there is no other alternative than the public schools. My intention was simply to share our experience with you in hopes you can find a way to engage in your child’s learning, regardless of your current situation.  Some of you will resonate with the unschooling lifestyle choice. Others will not. But there’s something to be said about using what works for you and and shifting you perception of the educational paradigm as to what learning really is.

Learning is said to be an ongoing process. An individual is always learning, from his birth till his death.

In my option, learning is not something  imposed upon a person, it’s something  that happens naturally.

Lainie Liberty and her son Miro began their 8 year adventure in 2009, starting in Central & South America. They are slow traveling around the globe allowing inspiration be their compass. The pair is most interested in exploring cultures, contributing by serving & connecting with humanity as ‘global citizens’. You can follow them at Raising Miro on the Road of Life.

This post in one is a series about redefining education. You can read others here:
Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Thinking out loud, Outside the box

redefining education logo

by Linda Dobson

The most remarkable thing about the technique of thinking out loud is that every parent can do it every day while going about the business of life with her child(ren). Thinking out loud is yet another interesting, fun non-time-consuming way for children to learn, no complicated educational formula necessary. At the very same time you are reaching outside the box of schooling, you can model an important skill that will help your child throughout life.


Can you help your child learn to think? You bet you can, especially when you model the thinking process. Showing children how to think is much more important than telling them what to think. Thinking out loud is simple and fun exercise for the brain, building the muscle your child needs every day for thinking, reasoning, analyzing, problem solving, and even daydreaming.

Linda And Adam

Linda and her son Adam

Carol Narigon, veteran homeschooling mom from Ohio, found that “walks during which I wondered aloud to myself work most effectively when the kids are within earshot.” It’s simple to get started, says this former Home Education Magazine columnist and editor. “I wonder why this tree needs long thorns on its branches? I wonder what kind of bird is making that sound? Does it have a nest nearby? What Kind of animal left this track?”

After ten years of homeschooling, Carol knows this is a great way to observe and build upon children’s natural curiosity. “If your kids hear you talking to yourself and examining something on the ground or in a tree,” she says, “they’ll come over to see what you’re doing. If you share your sense of wonder with them, they’ll learn how asking questions can lead to interesting knowledge.”


With younger children, mental demonstration can get downright silly, and it may even work best that way. You simply say something so outrageous to the three-to-six-year-old crowd (or thereabouts) that they can’t help but stop to think about why things are the way they are. When the door is open to this kind of talk, you are facilitating ongoing learning in a relaxed and normal way.

My granddaughter, Emily, had twin baby sisters and, along with their mom, all were at my house one day at dinnertime. As always, Emily volunteered to set the table. When she was done, I asked her how many plates she had put out. She walked back to the table to count them. “Three.”

“Three. Who are they for?” I asked.

“You and Mommy and me.”

“Yes, that’s three, but what about the babies? They have to have dinner, too!” Emily stopped dead in her tracks, wearing a puzzled look, obviously thinking about what I said.

“They drink milk,” my granddaughter told me.

“Sure, they can have a glass of milk,” I assured her, “but they have to eat some spaghetti, too!”

She looked to her mom for support. “They can’t have spaghetti – can they?”

“No,” her mom answered. “You’re right. They still just have milk.”

“They can’t have spaghetti,” my granddaughter stated authoritatively.

“Oh!” I exclaimed. “Is that why you only put three plates on the table?”

She nodded.

“Well, that was good thinking,” I told her. “If you had put out two more plates, we would have had too few plates!” And so this created an opportunity to see if she understood what “few” meant. If she didn’t, we had the perfect chance to talk about it while the spaghetti boiled.

It’s not a bad idea to check every once in a while to see if the older children are listening, and you can use silliness on them, too. If “I’m going to put the carrots in the dishwasher” doesn’t make someone at least blink, repeat it, singing, in a Shakespearean voice or, if all else fails, louder, until it does.

When Ann Lahrson Fisher, author of Fundamentals of Homeschooling, explored thinking out loud, she shared the story of the power of her father’s almost silent shoelace-tying demonstration. He tied slowly, waiting for Ann’s small, less coordinated hands to catch up to his. Just a smidgeon of parent patience is helpful and rewarding, as per another example in Ann’s book.

“Do we have enough change in our pockets to buy ice cream? Let’s see. Ice cream costs seventy-five cents. (Yes, folks, inflation is here today!) You have a quarter and a penny. Here is my change. How many more quarters do we need? Here is one, and we still need another. A quarter is worth twenty-five cents. Let’s see if we can make that value with these dimes and pennies.” You let your child know there is no big mystery to the process of counting change and making purchases. Later, when he begins to grasp these ideas, he can take them over for you when you haul out your fistful of change.”

Think out loud, outside the box, about everything. Encourage your child to do the same.


Linda DobsonEngage in this activity at your own risk. Make sure you sharpen your own thinking skills and think ahead before you speak. Many parents, having just been outwitted, out-logicked, and/or out-debated by a twelve-year-old, have been heard to say, “I know I wanted her to be an independent thinker – but so soon?”

Linda Dobson became a homeschooling advocate shortly after her family began their home learning journey in 1985. Today she is publisher of Parent at the Helm online, empowering parents with the news and information they need for informed decisions about their children’s educational and life success. Among her many books are the classics The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child, The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas, and The Art of Education: Reclaiming Your Family, Community and Self.

This post is one in a series about Redefining Education. You can find the others here:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

redefining education logo

by Clark Vandeventer

All of my life I’ve maintained an interest in public policy and I’ve been no stranger to strong opinions.  Taxes, healthcare, energy, foreign policy.  If you want an opinion I’ve got one for you.  Yet there’s been one area of public policy that I’ve had very little interest in: education.  Until now.

Lately, I find myself stating some very bold opinions about education.  My Facebook page is littered with quotes from Seth Godin’s new manifesto on education, Stop Stealing Dreams: what is school for?  At night when I’m ready to curl up and watch a movie I find myself forgoing the oldies but goodies and instead turning on documentaries on education like Waiting for Superman.

What happened?  Why the sudden interest? Wait, strike that.  Why the sudden passion for education policy?

It’s because my wife and I have reached that point with our oldest child.  Our son Jackson is 4 years old.  Suddenly the theoretical question about what we’ll do in regards to our kids’ education has become a very practical one.

I’ll admit I felt a little unqualified to discuss the topic when my Facebook posts elicited responses from teachers who’ve spent, in some cases, decades in the classroom.  What did I know about how to reform education?  What gives me the right to be such an adamant critic of the current education paradigm?

I can’t and won’t claim to be a definitive voice in the discussion.  Having struggled through modern American education through most of my schooling years I do have some serious questions to raise though.

  • Why did my 4th grade teacher tell me and my parents that I would never amount to anything?
  • Why would I, as an 11-year-old, think I was stupid?
  • Why did my 7th grade science teacher tell me I was dumb when I gave the wrong answer after being called upon?
  • Why did my pre-algebra teacher berate me for finding the right answer in the wrong way?
  • Why were all of the things I was interested in not important in school?

And after asking these questions I ask this one:

Why would I subject my kids to that kind of environment?

Is the education system broken?  Some, like Rachel Denning who opened this series on education reform, would say no.  Rachel would say that our education system is doing exactly what it was designed to do: training compliant workers for an industrial, consumer-based society.

I don’t know if it’s broken or if it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do.  Here’s what I do know:

The current education paradigm is not serving the needs of our emerging (already here) world.  Whatever the original intent of compulsory education — whether sinister or altruistic — our world has changed, and school, largely, has not.

This is not a public school problem.  Private schools, with few exceptions, operate within the same paradigm as public schools.

Yet for all my criticism of the modern education paradigm I have this one stark contrast for the way education could be.  It’s an anomaly in the paradigm.


Mr. Babbitt

It’s Mr. Babbitt.

I never did well in school and by the time I was a freshman in high school I was placed on the lower-track. The system placed me in classes that were less likely to challenge me and less likely to prepare me for college in a world that places immense value on pieces of paper handed out at ceremonies by famous institutions.

Occasionally I hear people talk about how early on schools in Europe determine which kids will go onto advanced schools and which will continue on for a more basic education.  We do the same thing in America, only in America the system doesn’t tell you.

As a freshman in high school, on a 4-point scale, I had a 1.2 grade point average. Yet I remember this being a time of heightened academic curiosity on my part. Most days after school I walked the 14 blocks to the public library. I was practically an amateur baseball historian, but my interest went beyond balls and strikes. I was interested in Babe Ruth as a marketing icon. Jackie Robinson became my hero and baseball became my gateway to learning about the civil rights movement. To this day I can still recount word-for-word the dialogue between Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson when Jackie was about to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

But in our education system, learning about the civil rights movement through baseball was like getting the right answer the wrong way in pre-algebra.

Report cards came and mine were laced with C’s, D’s, and F’s.

But then something happened.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered what my life would be like today were it not for Mr. Babbitt. It was like I was on that lower-track conveyor belt and he just reached down and plucked me off it and placed me on a different track.

He did something for me that no other teacher ever had. He believed in me.

As a junior in high school I sat in his U.S. History class and achieved something I hadn’t done in years. I got an A.

When I think back to my final two years of high school I realize there were other teachers along with Mr. Babbitt who inspired me. There’s something wrong, though, with a system that allows a kid to float through for 10 years thinking he’s stupid before a teacher like Mr. Babbitt performs a miracle.

I’m thankful for Mr. Babbitt. But systems shouldn’t be built on miracles.

When I think about education reform I think about Mr. Babbitt. What did he do that was so right that so changed my life?

Mr. Babbitt gave great lectures. Had I said so at the time I think my friends would have laughed at me, but I remember sitting in his classroom being absolutely captivated. But more than being my teacher, I would say that Mr. Babbitt was my coach. I still remember little comments he interjected into discussions he heard me having before or after class. I still have books that he gave me in response to those same conversations that challenged my way of thinking.

None of that stuff was on the test. He didn’t care if my introduction to the civil rights movement was Jackie Robinson and he let my fascination with Ronald Reagan open up a whole world of learning about economics, communications, global politics, nuclear war, and on and on.

At the beginning of my senior year of high school I approached Mr. Babbitt about participating in the Hoosier Academic Super Bowl. Schools throughout the State of Indiana fielded teams to participate in particular topics and because of my interest in history I was interested in participating in the Academic Super Bowl as a part of the history team. Mr. Babbitt was the coach of all of our school’s academic teams and thus the man to talk to.

He told me he thought I should instead do Academic Decathlon, where each student participates in 10 subjects. Math, science, literature, music and visual arts, history — the gamete.

I asked him if he knew my track-record in those other courses. He did. And he wanted me on the team anyway.


Clark Vandeventer participating in the Academic Decathlon

Participating in Academic Decathlon was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It was a rigorous academic exercise that intensified as the year went on. It was collaborative. I was on a team with eight other students. We had a coach, a leader. Other teachers became resources we turned to to fill in gaps. It required a significant commitment, arriving at school very early in the morning and staying late into the evening. Then we’d do a full day on Saturday.

After months of work we won the state championship and advanced to nationals. It was the first Academic Decathlon team Mr. Babbitt coached to the state championship. He hasn’t lost since –15 years running.

After my team competed in nationals we came home to wrap-up the final few weeks of the school year. For months we’d been arriving at school at 5:30 in the morning and that first Monday morning after nationals several of us arrived at 5:30 again, and we continued to do this until graduation. It became a time for reading, collaborating, and throwing around ideas — the type of stuff we didn’t typically get to do at school. We had become life-long learners, but not learning for learning’s sake. We wanted to figure out what we could do with this stuff.

Seth Godin titled his treatise Stop Stealing Dreams. I experienced a bit of that.

Mr. Babbitt taught me to dream again.

Mr. Babbitt is an anomaly. Anomalies destroy paradigms.

Because of modern education’s emphasis on test scores and doing things the “right” way, my wife and I have decided to (you choose the term) home/world/road educate our kids. Like all parents, it’s something we’ve been doing since they were born. The only difference with us is that we’re choosing to continue to be the primary facilitators of their education while many of their peers enter the school system.

Having made the decision to continue to be the primary facilitator of our kids’ educations, why worry about all this public policy stuff?

The question isn’t whether I care about my own kids. The question is whether I care about kids everywhere. My kids are going to be fine. My wife and I will help provide a truly world class education for them. But our path is not the path of every family and I’m not willing to look at a kid somewhere whose parents aren’t involved and say, “Sorry, kid. Your education was your parents’ job.They didn’t do it.You’re just out of luck. Sorry.”

That’s why I’m a part of this discussion. I write this with trepidation, but I personally feel a moral obligation to do whatever I can to ensure that kids everywhere — not just my kids — have access to an educational system that will excite them, challenge them, and help them develop into dreamers and doers.

Those doers of dreams will create a future my kids and I will want to live in. They’ll develop new technologies, alleviate hunger, and cure diseases. Those things will happen not so much by memorizing the periodic table or the English monarchs but through the type of creative collaboration I learned from my learning coach, Mr. Babbitt.

Clark Vandeventer is on a quest to work less, live more, and travel the world with his family. Just setting out on that quest was no easy task. It came after a ridiculous amount of success in his career followed by a steady dose of failure. A former non profit executive, Clark is now a fundraising consultant and a merchant services rep while working to become what Mr. Babbitt always told him he was: a writer. You can follow Clark and his wife Monica on their journey at  Family Trek.

This post is one in a series about Redefining Education. Other articles in the series are:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform



books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Imagine Something Better Than School

On Community learning and a world without school
                Imagine what it could be, what it should be, what is will be…

redefining education logo

by Laurette Lynn

Imagine a life that is not prescribed, predetermined or prearranged in any way.  This means a child will not automatically be bused away from his parents, at the tender age of four years (sometimes younger), into an automated process that will influence, nefariously design and ultimately shape the rest of his life.  Instead, the child will continue to enjoy drinking in their world and all of the information in it, in the natural and thirsty way that children do.

Imagine total freedom in education.  Imagine learning and living being so infused that there is no way to make a distinction between the two.  Imagine a community that thrives and functions by this principle.

What would it look like?

libraryImagine visiting a library that is so well funded by philanthropic donations that it rivals the largest chain bookstores in town.  Imagine this library offers a plethora of classes for children of all ages on a variety of topics and taught by those who specialize in these fields and simply want to give something back to their community.  Perhaps you have a knack for knitting and you decide to teach a course simply because it makes you feel good and you get to meet great friends by doing so. Now imagine that there are dozens of libraries like this one in every city across the nation.

Imagine living in a town where dozens of community centers exist.  These centers are funded partially by the county, by donation, and by patrons who use the facilities.  They are clean, safe and equipped with full gymnasiums, work out rooms, dance studios, sports fields, swimming pools, game rooms, computer labs, meeting rooms, lecture halls, kitchens and more.  Imagine the rich variety of courses that are offered ranging from aerobics to swimming or from basic computer skills to programming or from creative writing to Shakespearean acting or from robotics to physics.  Imagine sports programs and leagues that help prepare young aspiring athletes for sports careers.

Imagine you want to make some money for your family and you have a passion for chemistry so you offer a science class for the community children.  For a small fee children can take your class and those fees help the community center exist as well as helping you earn a few dollars.  Even better, kids in the community have great fun learning science with a teacher who truly enjoys what they are doing because the experience is devoid of bureaucratic strings, testing, tenure or politics.

cooperative learningImagine a group of parents who are friends sharing similar interests, beliefs, values and goals.  These parents get together and form a cooperative learning group for their kids.  They take turns teaching the children different skills and topics that they’ve agreed upon as a group.  Their valued friendships beget respectful attention and personal dedication.  Imagine that this is not an isolated occurrence but it happens all the time in communities everywhere.

Imagine local businesses offering programs to help kids in the community learn that particular trade or skill through special training programs.  Imagine a community wherein business internships and apprenticeships are normal and expected in a thriving economic environment.

Imagine a group of local kids in unfortunate situations at home are in need of support, guidance and someplace safe to learn and discover their passions.  Imagine local caring volunteers offering to help these kids in a community center designed specifically for this purpose.  Imagine that because the children’s experience here is positive, they are able to live a life that supports their individual passions and therefore they enjoy healthy relationships.  Perhaps the positive experience helps to disrupt the cycle of child abuse and/or neglect, one child at a time and one community at a time, one city at a time and so on.

Imagine a world where your family has all of these options open to them, at any time, sometimes for a small fee, and sometimes for free and imagine that they are completely optional and never mandated by the State.  Imagine your personal liberty being acknowledged, recognized and valued above any corporate or political agenda.

Imagine community centers and cooperative learning adventures being regulated only by the people who use and facilitate them.  Imagine that families are not assumed to be guilty of criminal intent and that the safety and child protection laws that already exist are respected and valued as the governing jurisdiction and that no other measures are necessary because we live in a community that trusts that human beings are mostly good especially when they are treated with respect, kindness and freedom.

Can you imagine this?  Can you imagine communities that function and thrive in this way?  Can you imagine families working together cooperatively?  Wouldn’t this be the ideal replacement for what we now know as schooling?  Can this happen?  Can the whole of society transition to this ideal?

The answer is yes.  Yes.  In fact not only is it possible my friends, but it is happening.  How do I know it is happening?  Because I am a home educating parent and we are an independently living and learning family and as such we regularly participate in, learn with and take advantage of beautiful community centers and libraries and multi-family cooperative initiatives. We regularly take advantage of business apprenticeships and learning programs offered by local businesses in response to increasing request by the growing number of independently educating youth.

We enjoy these wonderful opportunities because we live in a community that supports independent education and the community has become what we need it to be because we recognize that we are the community, and that we don’t need school.  We don’t need it so we simply chose not to use it.  I suspect, as school becomes more outdated and freedom in learning becomes more popular, more and more communities will begin to reflect similar changes as well.

We are standing on the precipice of a complete transformation in education and it is happening.

The great news for you is that it is remarkably easy for you to be a part of it.  As a matter of fact, what you don’t do is more important than what you do.  Don’t go to school. Don’t send your children to school.

As more and more families opt out of schooling in favor of natural learning, fewer and fewer schools will be needed.  As the growing population of independent learners begin to erect family learning initiatives, nature clubs, cooperatives and community learning centers – independently run and funded, operated by the families who use them and completely free from unwanted intrusion – we will witness the eventual end of  compulsory, processed schooling.

Education is evolving because humanity is evolving.  It is happening and it’s magnificent!  Join us!

Laurette Lynn is the author of “Don’t Do Drugs and Stay OUT OF School” from which this excerpt was used.  She is also the host of the popular web talk radio show and podcast Liberated Life Radio (formerly Unplugged Mom Radio) and has authored dozens of other articles and essays on Home Education and freedom in family living.  Learn more about Laurette Lynn and Unplugged Mom Radio by visiting and

This post is part of a series about Redefining Education. Other posts in the series are:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

You Can’t Reform An Education System Built on Oppression

redefining education logo

by Laurie A. Couture

Talk of “education reform” is viral all over the internet. Despite multiple failed attempts at “reform” over the past decades, society refuses to think outside the “box” of schooling and consider a radical return to how children learned for millennia- By playing, living and doing!

Teachers and others in the field of education continue to propose that the oppressive, prison-like institution where children are forced to stay seated in a building all day pumping out paperwork can and should be reformed! When democratic schooling, homeschooling and unschooling advocates attempt to join the conversation and offer models that are successful and truly radical, they are often met by educators and their supporters who dismiss these models as idealistic and not “realistic” for “everyone”.

Additionally, people seem not to be aware of the fact that despite talks of reform, the needs, voices and leadership of the people who are the most adversely affected by public schooling- youth- are left out of the conversation. Sadly, when the voices of public school youth do reach the movement, they often represent the most compliant and academically engaged students. Their requests tend to be benign, suggesting that minds and bodies trained by the system for so long are unable to fathom what they have lost of their childhoods and what they truly need in order to thrive. The cries of “end school!” from the voices of the artists, rebels, misfits and other children failed most severely by schooling rarely make it to the table. In this post I answer questions about how “education reform” can be truly child-centered, radical and real.

How can we save our public schools and reform them?

occupy educationHow can we reform a system that was historically founded (in 1852) for the purpose of oppressing children, preventing critical thinking and engineering a more obedient citizenry? How can we reform a system where, in 2011, children need a doctor’s note to go to the bathroom when needed, a federal “504 Plan” to eat when hungry, a diagnosis of being brain disordered with a subsequent federally mandated special education “IEP” in order to be taught in a hands-on manner and where a teenager has to be diagnosed as “severely disabled” or unteachable and sent to a “therapeutic school” in order to have physical activity between classes? Do we truly believe that a place that runs this contrary to the needs and humanity in children can be “reformed”?

“Adults would not get the severity of the human rights violations in the public school system even if they were put back in it (this is not referring to all you epic radicals out there- you know who you are). The reason? The boiling frog syndrome. The adults who don’t get it are already broken and they would be mentally blind to all of the wrongs that go on, including to themselves.” -My son, Brycen R. R. Couture

How can we teach so that children care about their education?

The belief that children need to be “taught” is based on the arrogant, adult-centered belief that children are unmotivated, blank slates who will not learn unless adults force it upon them, usually in unpleasant ways. Nature endows ALL children with the passion and ability to learn what they need and want to learn on their own. Adults should not “teach” anything unless it is requested by the child- Teaching interferes with the child’s natural process of learning, inventing and creating. Unsolicited teaching interferes with children following their own innate ideas, hunches, interests and modes of expressing their conclusions, brilliance and creativity. Youth care about learning when they are the driving force behind their learning process and when they are doing what they love. Adults can be the guides and facilitators if children desire their help. In public school, education is about force-feeding children, then expecting them to swallow what is irrelevant without gagging, regurgitate it for a grade- and act like they care!

Will allowing children to use technology such as iPads, iPods and smart phones in the classroom transform public education?

occupy education posterI don’t see how adding devices could “transform” anything; lap tops have already been added to some schools; adding hand-held devices simply adds technology to the building, like adding paper and pencils and other inventory. Adding technology doesn’t change the power structure. Teachers dictate the use of every single object in a school, so how could adding devices “transform” anything? We had a Commodore and an IBM PC computer in my elementary school, supposedly revolutionary. Nothing changed- School was still just as oppressive and abusive, we simply had a distraction from the tedium. I’m sure when toilets and ovens were added to schools, people thought that would revolutionize schooling too, but children soon found out that no one could use those appliances without permission.

Teachers use technology to control children, and hand-held devices would be no different- Teachers control the activity and purpose of the device and how and when it will be used. No doubt any use outside of the teacher’s prescription would be cause for punishment. Technology can also be used to abuse and violate children as well. For example, one high school issued bugged laptops to children. The web cams in the laptops were randomly activated by school authorities to spy on youth in their own homes, often in their bedrooms, with some allegations that youth were being photographed undressing or in other  situations intending to be private. The issue came to light only after a youth was punished at school for allegedly being caught “taking drugs”; the boy had actually been eating Mike and Ike candy!

Rather than a gesture of bringing technology into the classroom, technology should be used to eradicate the classroom and the prison model of “going to school”.

Will changing middle school and high school scheduling to allow for longer classes, labs and more time for research and inquiry lead to radical change in public education?

Proposing a mainstream solution like tooling with already oppressive systems such as scheduling, is not a radical solution. Block scheduling, six-day scheduling, 90 minute classes and any other type of scheduling at the middle and high school level creates an environment that fails to respect the basic physiological needs of older children. As children are shuffled further up in the 12 school “grades”, it becomes increasing difficult, if not nearly impossible in some schools, to meet their basic health and biological needs. Most teachers at the higher grade levels refuse to allow children to use the toilet in class, and the three to five minutes between classes makes it nearly impossible for children to use the toilet between classes. The youth that I have worked with over the years report that ninety minute classes only increase this distress. Likewise, scheduling at the higher grades leaves some youth with lunch times that are well past noon time. Some youth report eating as late as 1:30 with, of course, no snack time in the morning! Finally, “block scheduling” or 90 minute classes mean more time that children are sitting sedentary and immobile. Truly, “block scheduling” is a health risk to youth! A true radical solution is to abandon the current institution entirely.

If we tore down the current public educational system, what would replace it and how would it work?

John Taylor Gatto proposed a radical solution that would be in alignment with nature, humane treatment of children and a democratic society: Abolish forced public schooling as it is now and establish the entire community as a community learning experience for people of all ages. Children would lead their own learning in a non-compulsory manner. Everyone, from the youngest child to the seniors in nursing homes would be welcomed to facilitate classes, and children and adults can attend – or opt out- at their choosing. Public dollars would be used to fund the necessary supplies and assist mentors of any age or specialty.

If the entire city or town were set up as a learning community for children to explore, apprentice, find resources, collect mentors and to be free to teach, attend or not attend classes, this would be the “educational reform” that would truly heal children and our culture. In open learning communities, children would have all of their bodily, developmental, emotional, social, intellectual and creative needs met. Art galleries, libraries, historical centers, community centers and cafes would all be hubs. Hopefully, diverse businesses would open their doors to be part of the process as well. The now abandoned school buildings would be used as resources and spaces, not as prisons. Anyone would be free to facilitate or attend classes, play in the gym, use the equipment, cook meals, hold meetings, clubs, groups, shows, etc.

What about children who are abused and neglected at home or who are living in poverty?

In the case of children who are abused and neglected at home, or who are living in poverty, these learning communities would be able to embrace and care for these children and identify their families for help much more genuinely than the current public school system. The current system abuses and neglects children in so many ways, causing double the distress and trauma to children already suffering at home. In 19 states, it is actually legal for children to be beaten by school staff with a wooden board. Boys and African American children are the primary targets of all forms of school corporal punishment. Even in the case of a special teacher who provides comfort, the distressed child is still expected to focus on and keep up with irrelevant school work to maintain “grades”. When learning communities encompass use of all of the public spaces in towns and cities (including hopefully businesses as well), there are more places of refuge and resource for impoverished families and children suffering abuse and neglect.

How will learning disabled children get services?

Children are born to be natural learners. It is forced education that destroys this and creates the idea of “learning disabilities” and “under-achievement”. It is the public school system’s unnatural method of forcing all children to perform certain mental functions all at the same ages in the exact same developmentally inappropriate manner that produces the illusion of “learning disabilities”. There are no learning disabled people. Every human child is born with the capability to learn, regardless of their organic intellectual endowment. If allowed to learn through play and by following their interests, children of any ability will naturally learn in the ways that best suit their unique learning style and sensory modality. Loved ones and community members can support, mentor, scaffold and celebrate children’s developmentally appropriate learning processes in manners more diverse and helpful than the current system offers. Children will not be forced to endure rigorous testing that leads to labels (such as “ADHD”) and drugs, nor will their parents be forced to fight Goliath special education teams to win a few token “services”.

It is a democratic society’s duty to educate its children- How will children learn if they aren’t taught?

Point blank, children have a birth right to live their lives in freedom and with joy, through play. That is true democracy! Children should not be forced to go to any building, or be forced to “learn” anything any adult believes they should “learn”. The element of force immediately negates democracy and becomes the antithesis to freedom. That homogenized education for the masses is possible is a myth; forced “education” is inhumane and immoral on so many levels. It instantly indicts and imprisons all children for the implied “crime” of being under the age of 18 and dictates them under the control of adults who should have no natural power over their lives. There should be no “debate” about human rights issues. Forced education causes apathy, docility, obedience and lack of questioning and critical thinking. It destroys passion, natural learning ability and interferes with the individual “callings” of each human being. Children learn what they need to learn by being loved and cared for by their parents and loved ones. Children learn by living, playing, exploring, creating and being a part of their families, circles of friends and communities. This delicate process must be restored, because this is how true learning occurs.

That all sounds idealistic. In the meantime, don’t we need to start slow, educate people and reform what we have to work with now?

I will say it again and again, we have to stop talking about reforming the current system- You can’t reform a system that was BUILT with the INTENT to oppress children! “Reform” has been attempted over and over since forced schooling was instituted in 1852. The pendulum has swung in all directions, but most aggressively since the 1980?s towards increased drudgery and developmentally inappropriate practice for children. The only function of “reforms” is to lightly shuffle a few cards to quiet dissent, prime children to take their place in the “global marketplace” and to make matters easier for the adults. The end result is always the same: Children are oppressed, stuck in buildings, sitting in chairs, with teachers forcing upon them something irrelevant to their lives. School continues to steal their free time, commit human rights violations against their bodies and minds and confine them. School continues to prevent children from doing what nature intended- Playing, running, jumping, climbing, exploring, creating, socializing and inventing… We can’t reform a paradigm that runs as deep and as thick as this one. The “free school” movement of the late 60?s and early 70?s showed that public schools want no part of democratic learning environments; the federal government uses public education as a tool for their much larger agenda of globalization. As long as we look to the problem as a solution, we will never get out of the boxed idea that children must have something done TO them by “expert” adults. The belief that adults must educate, confine, deprive, “discipline” and force is the paradigm that needs to change.

How can children playing all day, doing whatever they are interested in doing, be realistic for society?

The question is, how have we allowed our society to get to a place where what is natural is not realistic for society? All mammal children learn by playing. Human children learned through play, exploration and interest-led pursuits since the dawn of humanity because this is nature’s intent for children. Should we be questioning why our society thinks it is unrealistic for children to learn the way they are wired to learn?

This idea of democratic learning sounds too radical and experimental- Can it be done in modern times?

Unschoolers, relaxed homeschoolers and children in democratic schools demonstrate everyday, year after year, as they have for decades that interest-led, play-based, democratic learning grows joyful, intelligent, creative, brilliant, confident, successful and passionate children! Summerhill, The Sudbury Valley School, The Albany Free School and many other democratic schools highlighted in books by A.S. Neill, Jerry Mintz, Ivan Illich, Matt Hern and others have been running democratically, with children learning freely for years. If these schools can pull it off with such success, why not public schools? Some of the most innovative minds in history and in the world today never attended school. In fact, many unschooled and homeschooled children run businesses, are public speakers, authors, performing musicians, artists, artisans or inventors and some even attend college early. Homeschoolers and unschoolers are diverse and come from every political orientation and walk of life, including single, low-income parents.

If we eradicated public education as we know it, would society collapse?

The institutionalized oppression of children will hopefully collapse and lead to a return to more natural ways of parenting, learning and living. Children raised in environments with strong parent-child attachments and joy based living and learning will thrive! They will give way to a compassionate, empowered, innovative generation who actually cultivate a more humanitarian and environmentally sensitive society!

“I used to think it was impossible to collapse the school system… not anymore. Now I can see just how possible it truly is! School is obsolete.” -Laurette Lynn The Unplugged Mom

How can I get involved in real educational change?

Listen to the children and what they are telling us about what they need! My son, who was in public school prior to him joining my life through adoption, endured day care, preschool and public school. As an unschooler who has “detoxed” the past seven years from schooling, here are his words:

Join the Occupy Education movement! Start by uploading a photo of how you occupy education. Here is my “How I Occupy Education” photo:

Here is my son, Brycen’s “How I Occupy Education” photo:

Write a blog post about how you are occupying education.

Organize an Occupy event at your state’s Department of Education and literally occupy by educating others that reform of the current system misses the point.

Of course, the best way to “Occupy Education” is to walk out of the school system hand in hand with your children and begin an unschooling journey!

“The choice is in our hands. We can continue the 19th century-style sausage factory method of schooling. Or we can tear down the institutionalized barriers that impede learning and create a 21st century-style learning society.” -Wendy Priesnitz, Author of Challenging Assumptions in Education and Editor of Life Learning magazine

This post was written by Laurie A. Couture as part of a series of articles examining education today. Throughout the week, we’ll highlight posts from many people with a variety of opinions about our schools. Other articles in the series are:

Why the School System isn’t Educating Your Child (And What To Do About It)

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform


laurie and brysonLaurie A. Couture is an Attachment Parenting and unschooling coach, public speaker and the author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended. In March 2012, Laurie was a guest on the Anderson daytime show, hosted by Anderson Cooper. She was also featured as an expert in the documentary film, The War On Kids (2009).

In 2010, Laurie was a recipient of the NH Manchester Union Leader’s Forty Under 40 honors. In 2009, her book was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine Book-of-the-Year Awards. Laurie has spoken at conferences across the country, inlcuding at the Life Rocks! Radical Unschooling Conference in New Hampshire and the ReThinking Everything Conference in Texas. She writes a blog, hosts a YouTube channel and a podcast and has been a contributor to several magazines and other media, including The Attached Family,, Life Learning and Juno.

Laurie has a background as a child trauma specialist and mental health counselor. She has also mentored two disadvantaged teens and has previously worked in the social services and education fields. Laurie has earned international renown for her passionate, cutting-edge writing and advocacy on behalf of youth and families. Laurie is the proud unschooling Mom to her remarkable 18 year old son, Brycen, who is a performing musician and chainmaille artisan.


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Why the School System Isn’t Educating Your Children (And What to Do About It)

redefining education logo

by Rachel Denning

The Industrial Age changed the world forever. Today, we’re surrounded by the effects of it, which to us seem ‘normal’ and permanent. But the world wasn’t always like it is now.

In only a few generations, the world has moved from an agrarian, disconnected society, to a corporatized, centralized world community. Because of the Industrial Age, we have factories that produce things in mass (think packaged food and computers). We have cars, and highways connecting city to city. We have infrastructure like sewer systems and communication.

We also have the school system – something that didn’t exist a hundred and fifty years ago – at least not in the form we know it today. The largest educational shift in the history of the world occurred with the advent of the Industrial Age.

old classroom with machineryA hundred and fifty years ago, the majority of the population farmed or learned a trade, and any ‘schoolin’ they needed to do their job better, they learned from a parent or a mentor.

A small minority of the population went to academy to study, for the sake of studying. They philosophized and analyzed and scrutinized, in an effort to understand how the world works. They loved learning, and studied what they were passionate about.

But then came factories, and mass production, and the need for literate, compliant workers to fill the job of doing repetitive tasks. But where could employers find employees like that to work on their assembly lines?

Enter the school system, modeled after the factories themselves, with bells and lines and segregated subjects and grade levels and testing and rewards and punishments – a place where future workers would get a head start in ‘doing what they’re told.’

In essence, the large-scale government school system we have in place today wasn’t invented with a goal to educate kids or to create scholars. It was created to train kids to work well within the system, so that they would become compliant adults who could follow orders at the factory.

Now, the majority of the population could attend school to learn reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, (as well as how to follow directions and comply with authority) so that they would be employable as factory workers. The remaining minority still learned from academies for the sake of learning.

Along the way, well-meaning people decided that, since they were teaching stuff anyway, they should teach stuff that matters. Let’s add history and science and lots of other subjects. Lets give them the dates and figures and facts, so those who attend will know something about the world.

Then other well-meaning individuals decided that we needed some way to measure if all the effort that was being made to teach facts and figures was actually working – now enters the testing and grading system and *wah lah* – you have today’s current school system.

The problem with public school isn’t necessarily what is being taught, or who is teaching it. The problem stems with why and how it’s being taught.

It’s like the old adage, “Which came first…?” In the case of our schools, it was the factories that came first, not the desire to give a real education to the public.

The questions asked were not “How can we create a system that will help the general populace to become scholars and leaders, in order to produce a generation of creative, innovative pioneers who will lead-out and change the world?”

Instead it was, “How can we create a generation of compliant, obedient, literate workers who can fill these factory jobs?”

“How do children learn best? How can we best develop their full potential?” was another question not asked.

Instead, “How can we teach them to follow orders and give them the (job) skills they need to make good (replaceable) employees?”

Classroom from 1850sAlso at it’s base is the faulty assumption that the mind of every individual functions the same everywhere, at every age, and can therefore be passed through the same machine and produce the same, expected, calculated results

The result is not real learning or personal enlightenment, but a system that rewards us for conforming to the basic requirements.

The entire foundation of the system is wrong. As a result, it doesn’t matter how good the teachers are, or how nice the school is, or how great the curriculum might be.

When you’re dealing with faulty foundations, it’s like trying to drive a train on a track that’s derailed. No matter how good the train might be, it’s still headed for disaster.

It’s time for some reformation.

First, Start by Defining Education

What’s really happening at our schools is forced regurgitation. Children comply because they are taught to comply – to pass the test, to get the grade, to follow the orders. But they aren’t really being ‘educated.’

Opening up a child’s head and pouring in information isn’t education. Learning to read, do math, and to memorize dates and facts and figures isn’t education.

But we can’t really decide if the current school system is educating our children, until we have a clear understanding of what education is.

What is education??

Is education the system of delivering facts and figures? Is it being ‘literate’? Reading at ‘grade level’? Is it a method of teaching; having a certain amount of knowledge by a certain age; earning the right grades; getting good test scores; having ‘good’ teachers; going to the right institutions or receiving the right accreditations or degrees?

Too many in society today equate ‘education’ with ‘graduation’ from some learning institution. Yet, education does not come from graduation, and graduation does not guarantee that one has an education.

Some say that the aim of education is to prepare our children for the ‘real world’, meaning the civilization in which we live, so that they can fit themselves into society and live and prosper according to how it is established.

As important as that aim is, I would say that education is even more than that.

True education is a living, breathing evocation of the powers of the mind and spirit of each individual. It’s the development of character, the unfolding of unique gifts and the enlargement of talents and passions.

Real education nurtures a love of learning, and encourages the natural inclinations of each individual – whether that be science, art, math, language, social studies, history or none of these – so that each child can become an adult who knows who they are, what they’re good at, and what contribution they can make to the world.

Education isn’t about the information as much as it is about the individual.

Education’s focus shouldn’t be about determining the details that need to be transmitted to the masses, but instead how can we make the masses come alive? How can we inspire them to want to learn, to want to study for the pure joy of it? How can we encourage them to develop their full potential and become valuable contributors to the community as a whole?

Perhaps about now you’re thinking that this is a lofty definition of what an education should be. Maybe you’re feeling hesitant about taking dramatic action. But that is exactly why we still have the system we do. That is why we are stuck, with kids who graduate with a hate of learning, bucket loads of school debt, and without the basic skills to get a good job in today’s economy.

Today we stand on the brink of a huge cultural transformation. The world is progressing at a faster rate than ever in the history of our planet. The economy is changing and becoming more globalized. Everything we have known will not remain the same.

As a result, the good ‘jobs’ won’t be those that require obedient cogs who follow directions (exactly what the school system is currently training for). Those jobs are being outsourced to other countries where labor is extremely cheap.

Instead, the good ‘jobs’ will be offered by employers who are looking for trendsetters, rule-breakers, thought leaders and creative individuals who follow their imagination. Or, they won’t be ‘jobs’ at all, but mini-businesses started by these types of individuals.

The current system is better than nothing. It is at least teaching basic literacy skills.

But is that what we want for the future, or more specifically, for our children?

Do we want our kids to be only employable for the jobs that are getting cheaper and more ‘dumbed-down’?

Or do we want them to become the innovators, the ‘linchpins’, the thought leaders, the leaders and statesmen of society?

If we want the latter for our kids, then it’s time that we take matters into our own hands and do something about it, because the current systems are failing in these regards.

As parents, teachers and educators, we will determine society’s future because we hold the education of the next generation in our hands.

Over the coming week, a series of posts will be shared with a variety of ideas on reforming education. Stay tuned!

4 Steps to Improve Education in the USA

You Can’t Reform an Education System Based on Oppression

Educating Kids Through Teacher/Student Partnerships

Let’s quit arguing about what’s wrong with schools and man-up as parents

Imagine something better than school

Is our education system built on miracle teachers?

How to improve our schools from an unschooler’s perspective

Thinking out loud, outside the box

Learning is the new paradigm of Education

Schools & Jails: What’s the difference?

Education for Today’s Global Economy

Wisdom: Knowledge that has been tempered by experience

How to use parental mentoring as a solution for educational reform

This post was written by Rachel Denning as part of a week-long series about redefining education. Rachel is currently traveling to Argentina in a veggie-powered truck with her husband and five children. You can follow her at Discover. Share. Inspire.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Yes, my kids are homeschooled. Yes, they are “socialized.”

(Excuse me while I climb on my soapbox for a minute)

It’s the dreaded “S” word that all homeschoolers deal with – socialization. “How do you deal with the socialization of your children?” they ask sweetly and innocently.

Because, as everybody knows, homeschooled kids are social misfits.

Homeschooled kids are locked away at home and never allowed to interact with other kids. They grow up alone and isolated and never learn proper socialization skills. I mean – how could they learn to interact properly with others when they go to school at home?

I, like most homeschooling parents, am tired of that question. More than tired of it, I’m flabbergasted to think that today – when we have around two million homeschooled kids in our country – that people would still stick to that old, tired, worn-out generalization.

OK – to be fair, I’m sure there are *some* homeschooled kids somewhere who are tucked away out of sight of society. There are *some* homeschooled kids who never get the chance to play with other kids or interact with others outside their family or small church group. I have no doubt there are some.

But you know what? There are some kids in school who have dismal social skills too. There are kids who go to school and teachers have to step in to pull them apart before they beat each other to a bloody pulp. There are kids who wander the hallways cowering in the corners out of fear of interacting with the rest of the children. There are (gasp) social misfits even at school!

I wonder about the 6,375 inmates currently housed in the Idaho prisons. How many of them were homeschooled? I would be willing to bet the vast majority went to public school. Did they learn proper socialization skills there?

One of the things I love about my children is their ability to get along with others of all ages. They are perfectly comfortable speaking with adults, but can also play beautifully with kids half their age.

I was watching Davy – my great big 6’1” 13-year-old – play with a small child the other day and was amazed at how gentle he was. But I’ve also seen him sword fight with bigger kids and he was anything but gentle. He knows, without being told, when he can play all-out and when he needs to treat a child delicately.

I believe that ability to move seamlessly between the ages has come from interaction with fellow human beings of all ages.

So how do we homeschoolers deal with the “socialization issue?” We get our kids out and about and show them the world. We encourage them to talk and play and interact with people of all ages. In short, we encourage them to be part of their world.

It works. It really does.

With the Miller kids

Check out our extensive resource section! We’ve got tips and advice on a wide range of topics from bicycling with children to finances for long term travel to roadschooling and more.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

What we learned in three years on the road

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our journey from Alaska to Argentina. I’ve thought about the many, many hours we spent on the road.  I’ve thought about all the experiences we had, the people we met, the lessons we learned.  We learned a lot on this journey of ours.

We learned plenty of “school” things.  In the Galapagos Islands we learned about Darwin’s theories of evolution in the very place where he conceived of them.  We saw, with our own eyes, the adaptations animals have made to become more fit to survive in their environment.

Marine iguana from the Galapagos Islands

We learned history by climbing on ancient Olmecan, Mayan and Incan ruins.

El Tajin Mayan Ruins in Mexico

We learned there are two sides to every war when we visited the Argentine staging ground for the Falklands War.

Falklands War memorial in San Julian, Argentina

We learned about cancer when we got involved in a children’s cancer ward in Bolivia.

Daryl with cancer patient

But the real value of our journey goes way beyond those things.  The real value lies in the “other” lessons learned – the life lessons that will serve us well throughout life.  On our journey, we learned the value of determination and how to break an outrageous goal into tiny parts.  After so many kilometers behind us, seeing a sign telling us there were still 4000 kilometers ahead was, in many regards, extremely exciting.  It was also pretty darn depressing.  But it all worked together to teach us a very important lesson – take it one day at a time.  Or one pedal stroke at a time, as the case may be.

4000 km to go

All you can do to accomplish something big is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and plodding up the hill – knowing full well you’ll get to the top. Someday.  It may not be easy.  It may not be pleasant.  But you’ll get there if you stay focused and don’t give up.  The key is to never give up.


When we were way up north, to tell you the truth, we didn’t even think about Argentina.  It was so far away that the very idea that we would one day be there was way out in LaLa Land.  It really is true that to do something BIG you take it one step at a time – you don’t eat an elephant in one fell swoop.  By focusing on today, right now, we slowly made progress toward our goal.

Entering Canada

Until one day – it was real.  When we were in Alaska and Canada, I wasn’t sure that we would actually make it.  But we figured if we didn’t take that first step – or pedal stroke, as the case may be – we certainly wouldn’t make it.  It was one pedal stroke at a time – some easy, some hard – but each one just like the one before it and the one after it.

So close to Ushuaia!

You can’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the project – there was no one single day in our journey that was more than we could handle.  There were some days when I felt like maybe I was reaching my breaking point, but I never quite got there – and I knew even in the middle of that day it was “just” one day.  One pedal stroke among many.  One hill of thousands.  If I could just get to the end of today, tomorrow would be better.

And finally – the day came when we were thereUshuaia!  The end of the world.  We did it by taking it one day at a time, doing what we needed to do TODAY and allowing the big picture to take care of itself.  That’s really all there is to doing something big – take it one step at a time.

In Ushuaia

Other traveling families have learned from their travels as well – check out some of the things they’ve learned:

Livin On The Road – 11 Things That Have Gone Wrong

Around the World in Easy Ways – Lessons Learned Along the Way

Nicole Faires – Lessons Learned Along the Way


books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Educational experiences: The best of the best

I was asked the other day about the best educational experience we’ve had during our travels. My mind started reeling through all the incredible places we’ve been – Taroko Gorge in Taiwan where we witnessed the amazing forces of Mother Nature… Bagan, Myanmar with hundreds of ancient stupas dotting the plains… Dr. Cabrera’s  Stone Museum in Peru where we learned about unique, mysteriously carved stones… Lalibela, Ethiopia with her rock-hewn churches carved out of a single piece of stone…

How do I choose just one?

But really, if I had to choose one best educational experience I think it would the night we figured out how to solve all the world’s problems. We came to the conclusion that all we really need are pinecones.

That evening we sat around the campfire chatting about carrot soup. The previous day, Davy had been sick; as in – barfing up all the carrots he had eaten throughout the day. During the night all those piles of puke had frozen and we awoke to small piles of frozen carrot soup dotting the ground around our tent.

camping out

As we thought back upon the day, John mused, “You kids are pretty lucky. Not many American kids ever get have the chance to do this – sit around a campfire and talk. In fact, you guys have had the chance to do a whole lot more than most kids. I mean… how many kids get to make carrot puke soup?”

“And not only that,” I added, “carrot puke soup coming out your nose is definitely something not every kid gets to experience.”

The conversation deteriorated from there… carrot puke soup (yuck!)… how about beet puke soup? (double yuck!)… I remember when I was a kid they used to serve us beets with school lunch but nobody ate them. We ended up with a whole trash can full of beet soup at the end of the day…


And so, a few hours later when we were snuggled up in our sleeping bags and lights were out and Daryl asked, “So what are we gonna talk about now?” I was ready for something a bit more intellectually stimulating. I piped up (quite sarcastically), “Nuclear physics!”

“What’s nuclear physics?”

So John launched into his three-minute lecture…

“Nuclear physics is all about splitting atoms. Uranium atoms. You see, uranium atoms have 238 protons crammed into their nucleus. What do you know about protons?”

“They’re positive.”

“Yep. And what happens when you put two positives next to each other?”

“They repel.”

“Exactly. So here we have 238 itty bitty positives packed into the nucleus of the atom, and it takes a lot of energy to hold them together. Scientists have figured out that if they bombard a uranium atom with an alpha particle it will split, releasing all that energy. But it doesn’t only release the energy. It also releases two more alpha particles.

“So what scientists do to make a nuclear bomb is to take a whole bunch of uranium atoms and pack them together. Then to detonate the bomb they bombard it with an alpha particle. One atom splits, releasing energy. But more importantly, it releases two more alpha particles. Each of those particles goes out and bombards another atom, and they split, releasing energy and two more particles. So now we have how many alpha particles?”


“Right. And now those four particles split four more atoms which release….?”

“Energy and eight more alpha particles!”

“Exactly. And then we get…?”

“Sixteen! Then 32. Then 64.”

“And eventually one million, then two million, and four million…”

“One trillion!! Two trillion… four trillion… eight trillion…”

“You got it! So each of those atoms releases a lot of energy. And it all takes places in a split second. And that’s a nuclear bomb.”


Daryl thought about that for a minute, then asked, “Mommy? How many people does a nuclear bomb kill?”

“Good question sweetie,” I replied. “And one that’s pretty difficult to answer. A lot depends on where you drop the bomb. If you drop it in a city of millions of people, you kill millions. If you drop it in the middle of nowhere, well… not many. But that’s the easy part to calculate. The hard part is what happens afterwards. You see, after a nuclear explosion, we end up with nuclear fallout in the air.”

“Nuclear fallout?”

“Yeah – little tiny radioactive particles that float around, like smoke. And, like smoke, the wind carries them away. Eventually they fall down and some will land on people, making them sick. Others will land in the trees or in the soil. Then when we grow crops in the soil, what happens.”

“The fallout gets in the food?”

“Exactly. So you see, the effects of a nuclear explosion are difficult to measure. Hundreds of miles away, someone could get sick – and you don’t know if they would have gotten sick anyway, or if it is a reaction to the nuclear fallout. We’ve learned a lot about the effects of nuclear fallout from Chernobyl, but there is still a lot to learn.”


“Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant that had a terrible accident many years ago. A lot of people died right away. Thousands of others were exposed to the fallout, but didn’t die right away. Now they are experiencing very strange sicknesses – and we don’t really know if they are all caused by the fallout. Scientists suspect they are, but it is hard to know for sure.”

We all fell asleep to images of mushroom clouds….

Campfire in the morning

Daryl obviously thought about this all night, because over breakfast he asked, “Mommy? Is a nuclear power plant a place that makes electricity or nuclear bombs?”

“It makes electricity. Really the only difference between a power plant and a bomb is that they control the reaction in a power plant, while a bomb is left uncontrolled. But it is exactly the same process for both. And nuclear energy is a very efficient source of electricity.”

“Why don’t we all use nuclear electricity then?”

“A lot of people are concerned about the possibility of an accident, like Chernobyl. Supposedly the plants are safe, but what if…? A huge accident happened then; it could happen again. So that’s why many people are against nuclear power.”

“Not only that,” John added, “there is also a lot of waste. After most of the uranium atoms have split they can’t use that chunk any more, but there is still a lot of radioactivity in it. And we don’t know how to safely dispose of it yet. In Russia, they throw it in the ocean.”

“That sounds like a good option.”

“But then that radioactivity gets in the water, and a fish swims through it and…?”

“It dies.”

“It might die. Or it might just get sick. Then fishermen go out fishing and catch the fish and what do they do with it?”

“Eat it?”

“Yep. And then?”

“The radioactivity gets in them?”

“You’ve got it buddy! So that’s why throwing this garbage in the ocean isn’t a good idea. In America we put it in a big case with lots of layers of cement and heavy metals, then we bury it. We have a lot of it buried in Idaho. They say the radioactive particles can’t get out, but many people think they can.”

“I guess nuclear power isn’t such a great idea after all…”

“But the bigger problem is that we need some source of energy. Right now we use oil for our cars, but oil takes billions of years to form and we are using it way faster than the earth can make it. It will all run out soon, and then what will we do?”

“Ride bikes?”

“That’s one thing we can do. But all that food we eat – farmers need tractors to farm it all. And trucks to transport it. And those things need oil.”

“Scientists are working on other forms of energy. The sun is a great source – you’ve seen all those solar panels on roadside signs, right? Scientists are trying to make them more efficient so we can rely more on solar power. And wind – that’s a good source of power too. But it takes lots of land to have enough windmills to get enough electricity. Scientists are really trying to find other sources. By the time you grow up, you will be using something besides oil. I guarantee it.”

“I know!!” Daryl shouted excitedly. “Look at all that energy in the fire! All those yellow flames – pure energy. And it is all coming from pinecones!”

“Yeah,” Davy added, “and instead of nuclear bombs, people could just throw pine cones at each other when they want to fight.”

“They could reuse the pinecones over and over as bombs and when the pinecones are all trashed out, they could burn them and get the energy. And they’ll never run out of pinecones – they’re everywhere!”

So there it is – we’ve solved the world’s problems and pinecones really are all we need.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

How fair are standardized tests?

“Hey Mom, what’s a binder?  My teacher says I need one.”

I never saw that one coming…

Our boys have had so many life experiences.  They’ve cycled with buffalo and camped in snow.  They’ve danced at Carnival and made a pilgrimage to a holy site.  They’ve flown over the Nazca Lines and seen conehead skulls and walked on floating islands and climbed Mayan pyramids.  They’ve eaten asado and lomo saltado and tried mate.

watching buffalo

But they didn’t know what a binder was. And they had no idea that in junior high they would move from teacher to teacher rather than staying in one homeroom most of the day.  It’s been fun watching a whole new world emerge before them.

The boys have now attended school two days – sorta.  Yesterday it took us all morning to get them enrolled, so they only went to a few classes.  Today they were really looking forward to their robotics class – but it turned out that they needed to take the ISAT standardized test all day.  Yes – on their second day of school.

This has gotten me thinking about those standardized tests and I’m more convinced than ever that they’re unfair.  I remember giving one of those tests to my first graders in Ethiopia many, many years ago and I actually marked down which of the questions I figured my students may not be able to understand due to lack of one particular life experience – and at the end of the test I had marked over 50% of the questions.

Although I don’t remember most of the questions any more, I know one of them related to a fireplace.  You know – like the fireplace inset into a wall and the chimney goes up behind the wall to take the smoke outside?  The kind of fireplaces we have in many houses here in America?  The kind that you would never see in most places in Africa?

I remember thinking that my students – regardless of how bright they were – were at a tremendous disadvantage simply because of where they grew up.  They grew up with fires for cooking, but had never seen a standard American fireplace.  Did that make them less smart?  Should they be penalized on the test for that?


And now I’m looking at that very same idea with my own boys.  If they had taken the ISAT three days ago and if there had been a question on it about a binder, they would have been clueless.  Such a simple thing – and one that took all of about ten seconds to explain – but it would have totally thrown them a few days ago.

How often do we do that to kids? We assume they know something – like knowing that junior high kids change classrooms every period?  Or knowing what a binder is? Or a fireplace?

And yet we require kids to take standardized tests and base important decisions on them.

riding horses

I remember visiting my brother in the refugee camp in Malawi he worked at.  “So,” I asked him, “these people walk for a day or ten days or a hundred days to get here.  They walk through the gate of the refugee camp, and then what?  What happens to them?”

“We assign them a plot of land and they go build a house,” he replied.

“But what if they don’t know how to build a house?” I asked, knowing I would have no clue how to build a house if I had to.

Everyone here knows how to build a house,” he told me.  “It’s unthinkable that they wouldn’t.”

the whole family

Am I stupid for not knowing how to build a house?  Or is it just that my life experiences haven’t included that particular set of skills?  Are my boys clueless about life because they don’t know how your typical American kid goes about their daily routine at school? Or is it just that their life experiences have included other things besides that?  Is it really fair that all kids should be given the same questions regardless of their life experiences?

OK, OK, you know that the teacher in me hates this testing.  I really, really hate this testing and think it’s ridiculous.  My boys don’t mind it – it’s actually quite fun for them since it’s easy and they score high – so I won’t argue about them having to take it.  But I feel badly for the other kids – those kids who, for one reason or another, struggle with it.  I just don’t think it’s fair.

And I hope my sons don’t end up penalized for having had the experiences they’ve had rather than the ones their classmates have.

with penguins

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Education = Learning = School?

ed•u•ca•tion [ej-oo-key-shuh n]  –noun

  • the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

learn•ing [lur-ning]   –noun

  • knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.

It’s funny how we associate these two words with school.  A brick building broken into classrooms filled with desks and chairs and blackboards.  School = education = learning Synonyms all three.

And yet – are they?  What is education?  What’s true learning?

I’ve talked quite a bit about our sons’ education in this blog – how we’ve allowed Mother Nature to provide most of the lessons; how we’ve trusted our sons to learn about the world around them.  About how education is so much more than school.

I’ve been asked over and over again about “holes” in my sons’ education. Will they know everything they’re “supposed” to know?  How are we ensuring their education is up to “standards”?

My question is:  What are the standards?  How are they defined? And then I can answer my own question:  They are pretty much random.

As a 21-year veteran of classroom teaching, I’ve served on my share of curriculum committees. I’ve sat there for hour after hour hammering out a curriculum – a list of standards that kids will learn. There is no denying the importance of math and algebra teachers. I’ve also seen just how random that list is.  If I’ve learned one thing from my adventures in and out of the classroom, it’s that schools don’t have all the answers.

Don’t get me wrong – the idea behind a curriculum is fine.  They try to ensure that each child learns the same things as another – regardless of which teacher he/she has.  I suppose there is some value in knowing that all children entering fourth grade in a particular school will know the phases of the moon or the parts of a flower.  It makes it easier for the fourth grade teacher for all of her students to have the same base.

But really – does it matter if a kid learns about the phases of the moon in third grade or seventh?  Is there something magic about being ten years old that makes it easier/more effective/more real/more whatever to learn about the history of your state at that age?  Does it really matter when a kid learns something? And is Idaho history really one of those must-knows?

We recently landed in Puerto San Julian along the Atlantic coast of Argentina for a few days.  The area was rich with history so we took advantage of our time there to learn about the history of our world.  We visited a life-sized replica of Magellan’s ship and learned about his voyage and how they wintered in San Julian because the weather was too severe to travel.  OK, then – we can check that one off the curriculum.  Yes, that is on the curriculum.

replica of Magellan's ship

But San Julian also happened to be the staging ground for the Argentine military during the Falklands War in 1982.  For the Argentine people, the war is recent and very meaningful.  Emotions, even though 30 years have passed, are still raw and jagged. The pain of defeat is still evident.  Extraordinarily evident.

To make the lesson come even more alive, we happened to be in San Julian with a British cycling friend – so we heard the story from both points of view.  In short, we were living history for a few days.

Some would argue that learning about the Falklands War is nothing more than useless trivia – after all, it’s not in the curriculum.  It’s not “supposed” to be taught.

I beg to differ.

My sons saw history up close and personal while we were world schooling in San Julian.  They saw an actual warplane with pictures of the six British ships it sank painted on its side.  They heard the stories from both sides.  They heard about a ruthless, egomaniacal dictator and an obstinate, pigheaded prime minister.  They saw the folly and the wisdom on both sides of the argument. They understand why Argentina invaded and why Britain fought back.  Who’s right?  The jury is still out.

fighter plane from Falklands War

But the lessons here go so much deeper.  Just as there were many, many reasons for the Falklands War, so were there many reasons for any other war in history. The American Revolutionary War was, in many regards, similar to the Falklands.  The Civil War?  Certainly some parallels.  WWI?  WWII?  The Vietnam War?

Once the idea of the “causes” of war became clear, it was only a short step to considering the causes of other wars. And they all come down to two sides; two stories.

So I ask you – is there a “hole” in my sons’ comprehension of history?  Or is a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of world politics sufficient? What is education anyway?

For the record, I think my sons have a much greater understanding of the world’s wars than most seventh graders you’ll talk to.  Even though they’ve never studied them.

Here are some other posts about how and what our sons have learned on the road:
What we learned in three years on the road
Life lessons from a bike trip
How can travel help kids learn?
Travel can help foster creativity in children
Effects of travel on children’s education
Travel is the best education children can have

This is a great post by Theodora at Travels With a Nine Year Old about what her son learned on the road: Our World School End of the Year Report

Read the boys’ essays written on the road about whatever we were learning about at the time.

Check out our extensive resource section! We’ve got tips and advice on a wide range of topics from bicycling with children to finances for long term travel to roadschooling and more.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Magellan, Penguins, Petrified Wood, and more!

The boys have been busy again – lots of learning about their world.  As usual, we’ve taken advantage of our travels in order to make the kids’ “school work” more relevant and meaningful.  They’ve learned about a wide variety of things lately!

We visited a life-size replica of Magellan’s ship

We saw Magellanic Penguins

We played with petrified wood

We learned about the Falkands War

We saw new wildlife – guanaco and  ñandu

We cycled along the Atlantic Ocean again

 Yup – we’ve learned a lot lately!

Falklands War



with penguins

With Magellan

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel