Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grown Unschooler Kate Fridkis: Embracing the Weird

Kate Fridkis lives in Manhattan. She works as a lay clergy member at a synagogue in central New Jersey, teaches in the city, writes a blog called Eat the damn cake, and writes for the Huffington Post.

Her newest blog is called Un-schooled (Superman isn't worth the wait)

You can hear the complete interview here:

You were unschooled up until you started college. How was that transition like- from being in a situation where you could pick and chose what you wanted to do, to one where you are still choosing what you want but you have to go by the rules?

I’m not going to lie- it was very difficult for me. I think that had to do with the particular school that I went to; I went to a really big state school, and later I went to a smaller grad school. That was a really different experience –I thought, “Oh man! I should have done this one first!”

A lot of the things that were tricky for me were the obvious. Like, I thought it was so ridiculous to be sitting in a classroom. I’d never really spent time sitting in a classroom before. I looked around and everybody was facing forward and a lot of people were falling asleep. The professor was at the front, at the board trying desperately to keep everybody’s attention. It seemed like such a silly format to me. It was stuff like that that kind of threw me a little bit for a loop.

It was a little bit rough but I adjusted and I did enjoy being able to meet a lot of professors; and be exposed to a lot of subjects that I had no previous exposure to.

That exposure- that always comes up as a critique of unschooling-;You are not going to get a balanced or overall exposure to subjects out there!" Comments?

First of all, I have a problem with the idea of balance. I’ve never liked the notion that ‘well rounded education’ is the ideal education- because I think that when people pursue that model of educational success they end up with a lot of people who maybe know a little about a lot of subjects but who aren’t experts at anything and who also haven’t learned how to pursue their interests.

So the idea of balance- maybe in its ideal form is awesome- when it’s applied broadly kind of prevents people in a lot of cases from learning what they love to do. Because when you learn to love learning and do things that interest you-whatever it is that interests you ends up connecting you to a whole huge network of other stuff-other subjects-- in really surprising ways.So maybe you end up being more balanced then people expect in exciting ways, but it's never through pursuing well roundedness.

To my eye, that is not really an issue-all those people who went through school don’t seem to more ‘balanced’ or know a whole lot more than those who didn’t-be anymore well balanced but the argument goes- "You won’t know Canadian history-a great gap- how are you going to fit in culturally?".

The truth is that you learn something new in absolutely every environment. It’s not like there is an environment that you can go to and that is where you get access to all the important information. You learn everywhere! The idea that I love and always find true about unschooling is that you are always learning.

Because you are living.

Because you are living! Of course when I went to college I learned from interesting people who I wouldn’t have otherwise met but to be perfectly honest I would have learned somewhere else too.

On your blog you have a post about how being unschooled is a lot like being grown up. No one tests you, as an adult. People don’t go around asking adults if they are well rounded. Do you have anything more to add?

My experience as an unschooler kind of felt like being an adult – the idea that I saw that people had about what it meant to be an adult. I kind of discovered this through interaction with adults. By being around adults and being in the community rather than in school I had a lot of contact with grownups who didn’t expect to end up being my friend because here I am, a kid.

It is kind of expected that kids are going to be with other kids and adults with other adults: everyone is going to be slotted into their particular age bracket and that is where they are going to stay-which is kind of a strange idea really because it is so useful for children to learn from people who are older than them.
So a lot of my experience as an unschooler consisted of being around adults who told me, "Oh! You seem so grown up!"

Well, it wasn’t that I was grown up - it was just that I was interacting with them us I would with a friend. And through these relationships I was able to talk about things that were relevant to adults.I was able to have a lot of educational and relational experiences that other children didn’t seem to have access to.

There is a lack of fear of adults with unschooled kids- they are not afraid of speaking with adults-not wary of adults.

I think that is exactly right. I was surprised by my school peers I met in college who were still afraid of interacting with adults when they were 20- not that I wasn’t scared about interacting with large giant of my peers.

And another thing about unschoolers being grown up I’ll add is that you just have a lot of responsibility and that is something that people don’t expect from kids who are in school- but I have to qualify that and add that kids in school have tons of responsibility.
Not the same kind of responsibility, not the kind where you get to decide what you do with your time, and what you learn and what you pursue. It’s the kind that I shrink at- like having to do hours of homework or getting straight As in every subject. I mean the stuff that sounds so stressful to me I can’t imagine how anybody does it.

It’s imposed responsibility-not coming from the self.
Another thing I noticed about your blog is that you seem to be very playful-your idea your way of thinking. So you think it has something to do with your upbringing?

I don’t think it has very much to do with my upbringing.
For a long time I felt I needed to defend my life to the world. I felt that I needed to explain that I was valid; that I was smart and successful because they kind of assumed otherwise. And just recently a couple of years ago, I felt that I was tired of trying to defend my existence in these very solemn terms.

I thought, “You know what? Everyone is weird, everybody is different. And it’s so much more effective to relate to people as people-because we are all human."And my particular weirdnesses and my particular weird experiences they are really valuable and great. Just like I think other peoples' particular weird experience are valid and great. But I just don’t want to defend myself. And I also want to be able to laugh at myself.

Have fun.

Yeah! Have fun.

If schools were closed for good, do you see a vision for that kind of a world? Do you think that it is something that our society could go back to? We didn’t always have school-right? What with technology how relevant is school to the great enterprises of our time. Do we really need school? What do you think?

No one has asked me that question! I feel like people should ask. It’s a great question. I think that what you see now, even in school-- I blog sometimes Lisa Nielsen for the innovative educator and she works with New York City schools-- introducing technological innovations into the classroom and building a network of interconnectivity between schools. Getting everyone online and expanding education beyond the walls of the school and across state lines. I think that is the direction that school is heading in just like it is the direction that everything is heading in.

It doesn’t mean that everything is going to change overnight. But if it really did change over night and schools stop being school I think it would be the logical conclusion of what is happening anyway.

Because I think that-- the way our consciousness works, our interaction works now, as a nation and globally as well- is much less concrete, much more in the realm of ideas. That is what the internet has done-it has connected us with people; we are friends with people who we have never met. We are exposed to the same ideas and information that is free. There doesn’t have to be so much of a hierarchy of information like there used to be- when you had to go to find people who possessed a certain body of information and they would be the ones to impart it. Like teachers –maybe rural farmers wouldn’t have the information that a teacher who was instructing their children had.

It sounds radical, but in terms of knowledge and learning, I don’t think it is really incredibly radical to say that schools are not as necessary as they used to be- but then the way that they are necessary will continue to be valid until society changes dramatically in other, economic, ways.People need their kids to be in school because they are working.So it’s hard to imagine a world without school before imagining a world in which jobs have been dramatically restructured.

There’s that movement of unjobbing-the equivalent of unschooling; people becoming more self-sufficient and the whole nature of work is changing anyway with the internet and technology.

Yes and if really we could just plunge into this new world where there wasn’t school and jobs had been completely rerouted, I think that what we would see is that people would be starting their own companies a lot more-these things would be intertwined in a new way –but only new in the sense that it was widespread because, again, we are already seeing that things are moving in that direction.

Now, with the economy as it is, we are seeing that there is tons of new job innovation, and the entrepreneurial base is growing enormously because people are forced to do something differently and think creatively and that is fundamentally what unschooling is.


Wendy Priesnitz said...

Kate has an article in the soon-to-be-published January/February issue of Life Learning magazine. She has lots of great insights.

Anonymous said...

This is a good interview and unschooling has worked in her case. But it is something that only motivated people can do; she has the inner drive. Most kids don't have this and have to be forced to learn.
Also, the danger of unschooling is that you might end up with self-interested adults who are unconcerned about other people's well being- the "world revolving around me" way of thinking. Great interview anyway.

nettlejuice said...

I loved this interview. As a mother of very young unschoolers, it is inspiring to read interviews with grown unschoolers. I especially liked her comparison between unschooled children and adults. I think of that all the time with my boys. Much of the unschooling lifestyle is a matter of extending the same respect we show other adults to children.

Anonymous--the motivation issue is a common fear about unschooling, but can you think of any babies who are not motivated to walk or talk. Children are naturally motivated to learn about their world and explore it with all their senses. Often, it is the school environment that stunts that desire. How many of those "most kids" in your statement are unschooled? If all you have to go on is your experience with schooled children, that just show you how unmotivated they are when forced to do things they have no interest in.

rfs said...

Thanks everyone for the comments.
@Anon-like nettlejuice said, motivation to learn is found in every single human child. Some exhibit more eagerness than others at a certain point in their lives but all kids want to grow up competent and useful.
We are comparing schooling and unschooling which are not the same thing-take a zoo. Not meaning to be offensive, but the animal you find behind bars can not act in the same way than the animal in the wild.

Anonymous said...

Kate is brilliant. Check out her blog at the huffington post (eat the damn cake). Imagine if all kids got a chance to grow up unschooled-what a world we would have.

Mama Krystal said...

So glad I found you! Love this article, and loving the blogs Un-Schooled, and Eat The Damn Cake!!

rfs said...

@Mama Krystal-welcome to Radio Free School. And yes, Kate is exceptional!

Allen jeley said...


Allen jeley said...

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