Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Devil in the Details

Radio Free School was honoured and thrilled to be interviewed by David Glashan in "From Idle Hands The Devil's Work: Radical Interpretations of Halloween" - we just received our copy of the zine recently, and thought we would share the interview with you here.

How long have you been doing Radio Free School? How did you start doing it?

We're into our fifth consecutive year of Radio Free School. I had done a social justice and environmental spoken word show on campus/community radio for a few years, and love the medium; we thought that it would be fun to do a show with our kids. There isn't much radio featuring children, especially shows that have kids as primary agents; we applied for a half hour spot on CFMU and got accepted.

How many people are involve with each episode?

Sometimes as few as two people, interviewer and interviewee, sometimes more, like when we go to visit a science lab we take along some friends, there might be ten people or more. The way the show developed over time is that producing it became a family project primarily.

Could you talk about the distinction between Free/Un schooling and homeschooling, and I guess what the show is about; why you do it?

We started radio free school as a way to follow our childrens' interests and give them a forum to be heard. Since we weren't sending them to school, the show was a way to pursue anything and everything we wanted, very free form,while enhancing their experience of the world. This nicely aligned itself with the philosophy of unschooling which doesn't impose set courses to follow, but follows naturally the child's interest. It is a challenge as people like myself who grew up with schooling (my dad was a public school principal) to realize that we don't need schools as the model for learning,in fact, the way schools are structured they actually kill initiative and the joy of learning in many many children. My permanent record at highschool probably reflects my innate rebelliousness against arbitrary authority, and I really don't expect my kids to be forced into such a position.

Is there a free/un/home schooling community that Radio Free School is a partof in Hamilton?

There is a home-school e-mail listserv and over the years we've run into and made friends with many of the un-schooling people (through the show as well,we've met and become friends with people we might not otherwise met). There is a home-school theatre group and an open gym and there has been math groups, etc. so it is ever changing but very much alive. Plus the community is not always defined so narrowly, i.e the kids play with neighbourhood kids so it's not like we rely solely on other un-schoolers/home-schoolers for community.

How has the show been received at CFMU?

They keep renewing us so I guess they are happy. Actually the programme director listens as an interested parent and finds stuff of interest even though he's not home-schooling his son.

How did the show end up being re-broadcast on so many stations?

That's all to the credit of radio4all. We posted the first show there and in no time, like in a matter of three weeks, we were in California, New Brunswick and Osaka.

Who have your favorite guests on the show been? Which episodes have been your favorites?

There are so many it would be tricky to choose. Generally I like shows that have variety and some action

When I first started listening to the show I was struck by how much fun the kids seemed to be having learning really cool stuff. The second thing I was struck by was that there is a lot of though that has gone into how the parents on the show treat the kids, how learning happens. Obviously a lot of the guests get into this a lot. The third thing that struck me, and this came a lot later, is that the kids were contributing to a lot of the dialogue about how they should be treated and how they wanted to learn, and to the decisions made about these things. I guess it kind of struck me as odd that I could be listening to a show called Radio Free School, which is so obviously a dialogue between a number of people, some adults, some children, produced by anarchists, and it took me so long to realize that the kids were not passive recipients of their learning (however unorthodox) but active participants. What do you think it is in our society that obscures the fact that children are willing and able to make decisions about their lives?

That's a huge question but I guess it all starts with the structures of hierarchy so prevalent in our society. One of the first institutional hierarchies that the majority of people encounter is school. The teachers are set up as the purveyors of knowledge, the student as the largely passive receptor. By having so-called professionals in charge of teaching, they take power away from the individual learners who are forced to go along with the false flow of a curriculum designed by even more distant professionals. This starts at a very early age and the effort to achieve conformity continues until most young people find it easier to go along than to resist. One way this happens is the way students are taught that political action is best achieved through voting, that power resides in elected political office, and that the status quo of the Nation State is pretty much where we want to be, etc. This alienates children from their own power to act as agents of change. There is very little expression given to how small grassroots groups can bring about significant changes. In a more general way, freeing oneself from the timed increments of schooling allows for spontaneous action and a rediscovery of the natural flow of living. A life a little more free of imposed constraints could be as simple as deciding what to do based on the weather: for example a beautiful fall day is better spent on the trails in the woods than stuffed in a classroom. Making choices means experiencing freedom.

It is affirming to have you notice the role children play in their own development. As parents we make a conscious decision to include the children's interests when it comes to their learning, acting as facilitators and at times guides to help them locate the resources they need.

What plans do you have for halloween this year? What do you think of halloween?

Personally I'm not entirely sure - there are elements of it I like (costumes, carving the pumpkin) and things I don't like - the triumph of sugar, the greed to get as much as possible (how many pumpkins does one household need? one for each family member?). The whole thing can feel artificial without a coherent community to unite in the festive aspects, at worst, costumed strangers passing each other on the street. It feels like it was once a more community-based festival and has degenerated into the triumph of form over content. That said, the kids are already planning their costumes and getting ready to go trick-or treat the neighbourhood.


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