Laurie A. Couture Responds to Unschooling and "ADHD" Questions from Anderson Episode

Here is Part II of me discussing my appearance with my son, Brycen on the Anderson daytime show. Below I respond to some of the common questions and comments raised during and after the show.

What is unschooling?

Unschooling, or radical unschooling, are the trendy terms for the way children learned for thousands of years- up until fairy recently in human history- by playing and actively pursuing their passions and interests all day, most of the time. Nature intended children of all ages, from infants to teens, to learn through play and physical activity. Humans and other mammals have learned this way since the dawn of time. Unschooling has at its core living authentically and freely as a family, nurturing close, connected parent-child relationships that meet children's needs.

Unschooling looks different for each family and each child. For many children, it means high energy play, creative projects, heavy involvement with the community, socializing with a diverse age group of children and adults and an abundance of outdoor time. Most unschooled children spend their time inventing, creating, exploring, researching and having one or several concentrated passions that become specialties. Some unschooled youth start businesses, are involved in the arts, run groups and clubs, take college classes, volunteer in the community, travel or play competitive sports. Some are involved with the media or apprentice in careers of their interest. With unschooling, whatever your children can imagine, they can pursue!

Unschooling isn't a "free-for-all" where children are allowed to grow up neglected, illiterate and uneducated. Unschooling is about meeting each child's individual needs, respecting each child's developmental timetable and viewing living and learning as the same, not as separate activities. Many children need to be wild and free in order to learn, needing to be outside, physically active, with no textbooks, learning mainly through the body and senses. Some children need structure and routine... and a small percentage even enjoy textbooks and tests! Most children like a little of both in different areas of their lives.

My son learns best by directing all of his learning activities in his own way, using a variety of resources and hands-on approaches, but no textbooks or anything schoolish. In fact, unless I am genuinely expressing an interest or excitement about something myself, Brycen is turned off when I try to artificially "teach" him something unsolicited. Yet, he gets excited by things that I love as much as I am excited by the things he loves. He also has me direct his band practices, advise with art and writing technique and he has me help him set up a daily calendar and hold him to commitments to accomplishing certain tasks each week. Brycen's learning style could never be accommodated in public school. Without freedom to explore topics and subjects through his own creative channels, and express his knowledge through his own brilliant perspective, he would wither.

Unschooling accommodates all styles of learning. It is about parents respecting each child's unique time tables for learning to  read, write and calculate, and allowing children to determine how and what they wish to learn, whenever it is relevant to their lives. Unschooling respects the natural fact that some children naturally learn to read, write and calculate as early as age three while other children learn at 14.  Public school forces all children to learn everything by a certain age, and those who are not developmentally ready are labeled as "learning disabled"! This is criminal in my opinion. Children who learn to read, write and calculate later are just as competent at or are even gifted at these skills in adulthood. Most unschooled children delve far deeper into subjects like literature, science, history, math, art, music and technology than schools could ever imagine, but unschoolers explore these subjects when they become

of interest to and relevant to their unique livesAs long as it is child-led, then unstructured or structured, unschooling fits all!

The term "unschooling" was coined in the late 1960's by the "grandfather" of the modern homeschooling movement, John Holt. Contrary to popular stereotype, homeschooling started out in the 1960's as a grassroots unschooling model by progressives. In the 1980's the homeschooling movement became of interest to religious conservatives and the unschooling focus was largely replaced by the "school-at-home" stereotype of which homeschooling is still wrongly associated. However, in recent years, unschooling, often accompanying organic or Attachment Parenting, has been gaining momentum as a movement made up of  people of all political, social and spiritual orientations. For over a decade, there have been unschooling conferences, groups and online support resources springing up all around the world. All of the stereotypical myths you've heard about homeschooling are 90% just that- Myths. However, unschoolers transcend the homeschooling myths even further and are becoming a cohort of youth who are brilliant, confident, empowered, innovative, creative and who think outside the box.

(From show:) "There are some people out there who are meant to teach and they have the patience and will and the desire to teach and then there's some that aren't. They don't know to explain things properly."

Traditional compulsory schooling was instituted in 1852- That means we have only been mass schooling for just 162 short years, yet humans have been around for thousands of years. Although there were places of study and non-compulsory, locally run schools, the majority of learning and education through out human history was done outside of school as unschooling or some form of homeschooling! Natural learning (unschooling) does not require anyone to "teach" a child. The myth of homeschooling is that it is "school-at-home". Children resist teaching, as it interferes with their natural process of learning. It is only the parents' responsibility to support their children's interests and provide resources, opportunities, connections in the community and a deeply connected parent-child relationship. No teaching is necessary- In fact, when parents attempt to "teach", they may see some of the same "symptoms" of distress that the child showed while in school!

(From show:) "This whole homeschooling thing for everyone in the world, its just not going to work, I'm sorry!"

(My quote on show:) "How did you think people raised their children for thousands of years? Every mammal raises their young!"

I want to add, it "worked" for the thousands and thousands of years that our species has been on this planet. The fact that most people in industrialized countries believe that they have no ability to support the learning of their own children is a tragic symptom of public schooling. It is our schooling and our culture that has caused us to believe that we as parents are not capable of  one of the most fundamental elements of mammal parenting- Helping our children learn. What does that say about the public schools that after 13 or more years of "education", we graduate unqualified and incompetent to guide the learning of our own young? Why would we want to send our children to such a grossly inept institution?

(From show, Anderson Cooper stated:) "I'm telling you point blank, my Mom who didn't graduate high school, I wouldn't want her educating me! ...At age nine, I shouldn't be educating myself..."

Isn't your Mom Gloria Vanderbilt? I'm going to assume for the sake of argument that you were close to her as a child. She was an artist, actress, author and clothing designer! Imagine the amazing creative environments to which you  could have been exposed and the creative adventures you could have added to your repertoire had you had the freedom at age nine to learn on your own without school! Nine year old children are perhaps the most brilliant, passionate and industrious learners, creators, inventors and explorers when they are allowed to learn and live naturally. I can't imagine anyone better to guide a child's learning than a successful and creative artist, author and designer!

Isn't it unrealistic to assume that most parents can unschool? Are there other alternatives?

As I've stated above, it isn't unrealistic, because that is how humans lived for millenia. Unless parents are abusive, neglectful and do not care to meet their children's needs, any parent, regardless of education, can unschool their children because it isn't about "schooling" them. What would you do if traditional school wasn't an option? Unschooling is not the only alternative to traditional schooling! There are democratic schools where each child gets an equal vote in all school matters, regardless of their age. Children at democratic schools spend their school days learning, exploring and creating whatever they wish. There are also child-centered private schools, charter schools, early college, independent study, online schools, virtual schools and relaxed homeschooling.

(From show:) "You have the luxury to unschool!"

I am a single Mom living on an extremely challenging income with very little family support. I also have had the personal challenges of life long Crohn's Disease, severe asthma, Asperger's Syndrome and parenting a child with a major trauma history. It isn't "luxury" but love for my son, determination and passion that allow me to offer unschooling to Brycen. I don't see public school as an option. It is an oppressive environment that fails to meet children's physical, emotional, creative, intellectual, social and holistic needs. By their very nature, most public schools violate children's basic human rights- What adult would tolerate the conditions of public school? I would not want my child in an oppressive environment that would fail to meet his needs, would stifle his passions, interfere with his learning, cause symptoms of "ADHD" and would treat him as a subordinate, regardless of my financial, work or outside support situation.

At age 11, Brycen attended a small child-centered, play-focused private school on a scholarship until our adoption was legalized. The scholarship was something I had to negotiate, beg for and finagle- It wasn't offered. In preparation for unschooling, I had to network and get creative to orchestrate a child care plan and a way for me to schedule my work that made unschooling a reality for Brycen. My consulting services can tailor unique options and a plan for you and your family to help your reach your goal of making unschooling or other alternatives to public school possible. If I can do it, so can you!

How will your son fit into the real world?

Brycen will be part of the generation of Attachment-Parented, unschooled and democratically educated young people who will be creating and innovating a more fulfilling and compassionate world. The world he will help create will be a  world not based on offices, cubicles, draining hours and unfulfilling jobs, but a world based on meeting people's needs; a world where people make a living at their passions and interests. Public school has little to do with the real world- It is the least real world experience there is unless you are choosing to work in an 1800's factory assembly line! We live in a democracy, yet everything about public schooling is oppressive and opposite to a democracy. Brycen is a musician and an artist. Creative people tend to start their own businesses- as he did at age 12- and work for themselves. Public school did not prepare me to be a writer, it actually stood in my way and wasted my precious time! Brycen would not be able to do a fraction of what he does now if he was in traditional school. Living one's life is the "real world".

(From show:) "How are you ensuring your son stays competitive once he gets out to the work place, for example, reporting to work on time, making sure that he works well with others?"

(My quote on show:) "I don't want my son to be competitive and take his place in society, I want my son to be happy. My son actually is already living his life- he's not waiting to live it in the future: He's a performing musician, his passion is to be a musician. He already has his own CD out; he recorded a CD in the studio- He's already living his dreams! He was running a business at age 12- He's already been a business man- He makes and sells chainmaille, and he makes money doing this. He's already "making a living". I don't want my son to have to conform to somebody else's schedules, I want my son to be happy, that is my only desire for my son."

I want to add to my quote that in addition to running a stuffed toy business, Feendz, from ages 12-15, being a performing metal vocalist and a medieval chainmaille artisan, Brycen has done outside work as well.  When he was 15, he worked for the furniture store my mother and her late boyfriend once ran, helping with deliveries and customer service. He also worked for a local farmer, helped a family friend restore a house for resale and he currently works at an indoor sports center- He usually arrives to work early! For anyone who knows Brycen, the question of "how will he get along with others?" is comical- My son is one of the most personable, friendly, kind and peace-making people I have ever met- And that is the result of unschooling, our close mother-son relationship and the abundant socialization opportunities of unschooling. When I first met my son, he was locked in his own internal world. Now he is the clown, the peacemaker and the negotiator in his wonderful circle of diverse friends, and in fact has so many friends that we can barely schedule them some weeks. My son can put a smile on anyone's face! Unlike some of the rude, disrespectful, aloof, vicious and hateful attitudes that youth pick up in public school, unschooled children as a group have some of the best and most inclusive social skills I have witnessed.

( From show:) "What if the cure for cancer is in some child's head but they are so unfocused (due to "ADHD") that they can't get it out?"

This is a two-part answer. In my last blog post, I debunked "ADHD" as a disease or disorder. Genius and innovative and creative ideas flow much more freely when  children are in natural learning environments, environments where they can follow their own passions and interests. It is more likely that cures and inventions are stifled and strangled by all of the time children waste in public school and on homework, being taken away from their unique callings and subdued on psychiatric drugs. Do a Google search for "famous homeschoolers"- The list is impressive and amazing- Some of the most brilliant and wild minds in history were stimulant-free, minimally schooled or totally un-schooled.

The second part of my answer is that there have been many "cures" for cancer and other Western diseases already "invented". Search for the Paleolithic diet or the Gerson diet.

How can dietary changes help "ADHD" symptoms?

I am not a dietician, however, my son and I eat an organic or all-natural Paleolithic diet, which is free of toxins and inflammatory substances- In other words, our food is free of refined sugar, gluten, dairy and soy. We supplement our diet with rice products, as we have both been tested and are not sensitive to rice. Many people suffering from Autism, mental health and medical symptoms have obtained relief from cutting out refined sugar, gluten, dairy and soy from their diets.

I have "ADHD" and I can tell you that it is a real disorder! You don't "get it"!

I was diagnosed with "ADHD" as a child and thankfully by the grace of my skeptical parents, I avoided being drugged. I was possibly the most "hyperactive" child in  school from kindergarten to high school. I could "out-do" any child in the "hyperactivity" department! My mother said recently, "You were climbing the walls"- Literally! I certainly DO "get it". However, it wasn't a disorder, it was my nature mixed with my environment. As an adult, the very qualities that incurred punishment at school have helped me become a successful adult, a master at my creative talents and a playful parent. If you haven't been Attachment Parented from infancy, unschooled, free of  refined sugar, gluten, dairy and soy and free of TV, then there is no way for you to rule out that "ADHD" isn't environmental or dietary- You've been living an unnatural life, which naturally will result in distress. I want to also add that "ADHD" is often wrongly diagnosed when a child actually has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, a medical problem, food allergies or low blood sugar.

We've tried everything and nothing worked, that's why we had to medicate our child!

Have you specifically tried Attachment Parenting, unschooling, democratic schooling, the Paleo diet, the NonViolent Communication model and creating an environment that allows children to be children? My consulting services and my book, Instead of Medicating and Punishing, can help you try things that can naturally help your child heal and feel excited about learning.

What is the binder you showed on the table?

The binder on the table was Brycen's "11th grade" unschool portfolio from last year. It represents a collection of photos, artwork, writing, books, graphs, brochures, programs, fliers, events and opportunities Brycen created or engaged in from June 2010-June 2011. It is packed with samples of his music performances, a copy of his CD cover, photos of his chainmaille creations, examples of his studies in a variety of fields and subjects and photos of friends, family, communities, places, events, groups, clubs, programs and achievements from that year. This is a portfolio we do to honor, chronicle and document his amazing life each year. Each state has homeschooling requirements that may require a small portfolio (MUCH smaller than ours)- Check out video #5 of my "So You Want to Unschool Your Child?" YouTube video series to learn more about unschool portfolios: http://youtu.be/zdnm4ZR5FvE