Saturday, September 01, 2007

Radio Free school Interview; Grace Llwellyn and Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko

Listen to the interview
May 2003- May 2004; Guerilla learning with Grace Llwellyn show 36
I wrote a book called the Teenage liberation Handbook; how to quite school and get a real life. I ran a summer camp for home school teenagers and I‘ve done some other writing books, and other work with homeschoolers especially teenagers.
Why the interest with teenagers in particular?
For me, personally it’s probably that when I was a teenager that was a really important transformative time for me and so I chose to go on and teach school with teenagers. And so when I got out and started working with homeschoolers it was a logical continuation of that.
I think a lot of people, when they are teenagers, it’s kind of the first time they are looking around and thinking about defining themselves as human beings- it’s such a very powerful time and I felt drawn to work with kids at that stage.
What do you think that teenagers need that society just isn’t providing?
Well, a lot of things. One is the opportunity to be involved in a meaningful way; to contribute something to society- not to just be passive recipients of education. I think that they also a little more visionary leadership from adults in terms of helping them see what some of their options would be and just more support in developing skills and working towards their own goals. I guess I see it as it is now, you know there’s a lot of pressure put on them but it is not necessarily in the interest of goals that are really meaningful for them.
In the case of homeschooling kids, when they reach age 14 or so, they really want to go to school. What’s going on?
I think it really is about having a meaningful alternative and it’s kind of trite but I think it’s true that when kids become teenagers it’s very important to them to have a peer group. And sometimes if they don’t see ways that that is possible outside of school then they want to go to school for that reason. With a lot of the kids that I know, it really seems that that’s one of the main motivations. That’s one of the reasons that I started my camp; because even though the kids come form all over so they are not going home to a community of people, it’s not providing them with friends geographically near them, it still helps them have that sense of connection to other teenagers who are out of school. The culture is just soooooo strong about ‘we go to school. That’s what we do,’ and a lot of teenagers start to wonder if they have never been in school, what is this thing that I’m missing out on? Would I really measure up if I were in it? Is it okay that I’m out of school? I think a lot of kids just want to try it out. And I’ve recently been in dialogue with some people in their 20s who were homeschooled as teenagers and some of them wanted to try school when they were teenagers and their parents let them. They just tried it and they realized that ‘oh! Okay. This is what all the fuss is about.’ and ‘I think I’ll get out again.’ and now they feel great about having homeschooled.
And two people in their late 20s that I’ve recently been talking with, their parents didn’t let them try school and they still to this day wonder you know, ‘well. What would it have been like?” So I think for some kids there’s really a need to prove themselves to check out what is this thing that everybody else in our society does because there’s curiosity and wondering about what they are missing out on. And for a lot of them, that runs it’s course if they are allowed to explore it.
I imagine that it’s really about drawing out a teenager, helping the teenager to articulate some goals and visions and then to find ways to support that person in growing in those ways. And for some kids that means letting them go away to do something for a while. And that can be scary for some parents- it doesn’t have to mean that. But it definitely is a transition time; and families that try to keep doing it the way they did when the kids were younger often run into resistance because it’s such a time of transformation.
And depending on what the relationships are like- sometimes it really helps to bring in a third party, another adult who both the parent and the teenager respect or feel comfortable with and let that person help draw out the teenager and help that teenager form some ideas about what their direction should be in life and then help brainstorm ways to support the kid in realizing some of that. I think it really helps to have some intentional leadership on the part of adults; not in the sense of like, ‘okay. This is what you are going to do now,’ but ‘okay. You’re older now and it’s a new time in your life. And I want to help you in studying some new intentions and articulating some goals. How can I best support you in that?’ taking leadership in that way.

I had no idea that my first book The teenage Liberation Handbook would have any where near as much impact as it had. When I just finished writing it, and it wasn’t printed yet and I was talking with my brothers I said, ‘oh. That would be so great if one person reads this book and it has an impact on them! Could you imagine if people actually read this book and got out of school and..’
And my brothers who thought that it was a great book said, ‘Yeah. That would be pretty cool. It won’t happen of course because it’s just too radical but..Yeah it’s a nice thought.’
It was just important for me to write it. It felt like what was true for me and sort of what I was called to do at the time. So then to be met with a really positive response was great and amazing. I still get a lot of response and it seems to continue to impact people’s lives and I feel really fortunate to have been in that position to have been able to do that.
And my second book Real Lives has also been pretty impactful. It hasn’t sold nearly as much copies- 10% maybe. But I didn’t actually write it. It’s a collection of essays by teenagers who are homeschooling. I think it’s really important because these kids telling their own stories in some depth and I think it helps to demystify for people who aren’t familiar with what can go on. It helps give a really rich sense of some of the different possibilities. So I would like more people to get their hands on that book.
So would you call your approach to living and learning, if you had to define it, anarchistic?
Anarchistic? Ten years ago I probably would have but no. I don’t think I would use that term now. I’m not sure what term I would use. I would call it natural. Like looking for what is natural in a human being and even in creating a healthy society I would call it creative in the sense that - like I don’t know if you are familiar with a book called Cultural Creative it’s kind of a hot book in this country in the last few years and it makes a point that we often tend to think in terms of classes. There’s the professional class, there’s the working class but that there is sort of a separate class- the creative class that’s shaping some new directions, that really doesn’t thinking terms of conforming or fitting into society as it’s already established but rather thinks in terms of ‘how can I live my life?’ or ‘how can I learn in such a way that maybe I’m pioneering new ground, and creating a new society.’ So in that sense I would call it creative, natural- wanting to support a really natural way of learning and developing. I mean I could use the term anarchistic in the sense that it’s so much about leadership from the ground up. You know, individual people discovering what’s right for them and following their own path rather than top down, rather than following a system dictating how we should live our lives and how we should learn.

I would love to see us as a society not thinking in terms of education but rather thinking in terms of life. I would love to see a very broad spectrum. I would love to see all of the fruits and vegetables in the grocery store are grown organically.
I think that we tend to see things in boxes, in categories that really don’t belong in boxes and categories. When people say ‘education’ I like to say, well if you substitute the term ‘life’ for education, or every time you say the word ‘education’ and ‘learning,’ substitute the word ‘life,’ and see how that makes you look at things differently. In terms of our society, I would love to see us think less in terms of categories- over here we have health, over there we have learning, over here we have work. I would love to see a less institutional society and more integrated society.
I know that also, you have written a book, which I haven’t read yet. But the African American dimension. I thought we could talk a little bit about that too.
That book hasn’t sold many copies and I feel sad about that because the response that it has gotten has been really positive. For one thing, I wish that more homeschoolers in general would read that book because I think that it’s good for us all to be aware of ways that we can be more welcoming and understand what is true for sub groups of the homeschooling community. Yeah. I think that in the African American community, traditionally there is such a high value placed on education and that translates to schooling. So I would just love to see more African Americans reading the book even if they ultimately chose to stay within the system. I would just love to see more dialogue on that issue. People seem to be way less interested in that book then in my other books but I think it’s a really really important book and I really enjoyed working with the writers on it so it was a fun one for me to do.
There is one thing I wanted to know more about- The not back to school camp. How did you get the idea to do that?
It was kind of a circuitous path. I taught school for three years before I wrote the teenage liberation handbook and although I had a lot of difficulty being in a school I really loved working with teenagers. And I missed that a lot and after I quit, for a while I felt satisfied with the correspondence I had with a lot of teenagers after they started writing to me, after they read my book. But pretty soon I thought, ah! I never work with kids one on one anymore. So I first opened a resource center here in Eugene, Oregon for mostly teenage homeschoolers with the thought that then I would get the pleasure of working with kids in person again.
And that had its ups and downs. It never really got off the ground. Another thing was that I was travelling a bunch of the time and speaking at different homeschooling conferences and I would meet these groups of kids like a group in Minnesota and talk about taking a bicycle trip across several different states. And then I would be in California and I’d meet a girl who just built her own bike and I would think, ‘oh! I wish those two kids could meet each other.’ So it was a combination for me personally, wanting to have more contact with these kids and to not get too abstract in my head about what was true. I wanted to have flesh and blood contact with these kids. And then I thought it would be great for them to meet each other more. And it’s been really fun, I love doing it. It’s a lot of work, kinda crazy but it’s really rewarding for me and inspiring for the kids particularly to meet each other.
So what are some of the things that kids get to do?
It’s very much a co-created week. So we invite any one who comes to teach a workshop on something that they love. That’s probably about 60% of the participants will teach a workshop during the day time. We have workshop slots, and at any particular time you can choose between four or five workshop that could range from identifying wild edible plants to math games, to beginning Japanese to making jewelry. It really depends on what people are interested in. And then we have talent shows in the evenings where kids get up and perform. And it ranges from professional musicians who have been touring for 3 years by the time they are 17, to kids who have just never- maybe they took their first tap dancing lesson 3 weeks ago. So they are complete beginners. But everyone is received with great appreciation and it’s a very encouraging time for kids. They get affirmed. It’s extremely supportive and I love that about homeschoolers, they tend to be very warm. They’re not spending their time in an institution where they are competing with each other for grades or for popularity so they tend to be much more relaxes socially then school kids so it’s really a pleasure to see them support each other, welcome each other. New campers get mobbed with hugs and welcomes when they first arrive. Normally people are 13, sometimes we take them younger when we know they and their parents understand what it’s all about.

Where do you see you future work heading?
Well I’m working on a book now, that feels pretty important to me and it may be that when I finish it I think okay. That’s the end of a chapter in my life. This book is kind of a parallel to my first book. It’s a book for teenagers. For kids who are in the school system and for what ever reason, are going to stay there. I feel that it’s important to show them okay- there you are. What are your choices right there? I’m working on that for a while and it’s a pretty interesting process and I think it will take me a year. And then, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know I’ll keep running my camp but other then that I may take off in a whole new direction. I’ve been interested in counseling and learning about psychology. Maybe go to India!

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