Unschooling Portraits: Carolyn

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Dr. Carolyn McKeon. I have 4 boys, ages 16, 13, 12, and 10. I have always homeschooled (so 16 years), but only in the last 7 have I been an unschooler. I have a PhD in education and that is where I really found my unschooling voice. The journey has been amazing and I am blessed to be on it.

What does your typical day look like?

Well, I teach online for 4 different universities, so I get up when my body wakes me up most days and then it is to my office. The boys get up at their own times. Some get up early for a job; others sleep until 11 a.m. (if they want). Everybody picks their own schedule for the day. Some of it is structured because they have chosen music lessons or a robotics class. Other parts of the day are spur-of-the-moment activities like welding or blacksmithing, and then there are days when some decide on doing more traditional bookwork. Not because I require it but because the boys all have their own goals that they establish at the beginning of each learning cycle for themselves to accomplish in that cycle. The day ebbs and flows around their wants and I interrupt my teaching online if they need something from me.

What does the term “unschool” mean to you?

I hate labels. So I label it for those who need them to understand what I do, but we just live and learn as we go.

Have you always unschooled or did you, like many, gradually move from traditional homeschooling (or public school) toward unschooling? If so, where are you in the process and how did you get there?

Wow that is a great question. No, I was a school teacher through and through. When I officially started formally educating my first born when he was 3, I had him wear a uniform every day and sit at a desk for hours. We cried and yelled and I drove the love of learning right out of him in the name of being the best educator I could with the smartest kid on the block. He read at 3 and verbally he was so far off the charts, but he was not happy.

It was not until I started my PhD in 2003 after having baby #4 that I was even exposed to unschool or radically different approaches to education. My mentor was an unschooling mom of 4 boys, from England, who had had her children all over the that I finally saw the light and realized we had it all wrong in the US and mainstream education. I was homeschooled in the ’80s myself, but all we had was ABeka and that was for sure school at home. I found my life line 7 years ago towards the middle of my PhD and I have gotten more and more radical every year since.

What interests do your kids have that you never would have guessed they would develop?

My oldest loves writing. When he was 3 he shook every time you asked him to write or color. Now he is writing a book that is fantastic and he has reached his 55,000 word mark. He is also an actor. He is not social, but put him on a stage and a whole new person arrives. It is wild. My second son, Josiah, wanted to learn to play the bagpipes. A kid that could never carry a tune and I never thought was musical. He is unbelievably gifted, but not naturally. He practices sometimes 3-4 hours a day. My Gabriel loves soccer more than life it seems. I never would have guessed it. He has no knee reflexes and as a young child feels so much more than his peers. He is amazing on the soccer field and plays 6 days a week and sometimes for 4 hours at a time. He sleeps with the ball. Kaleb, well, he has tried everything from fencing to ballet to ice skating and rock climbing. He is good at it all.

What are some of the benefits of unschooling that you have seen?

My oldest at 16 started college because he wanted to. For me grades mean so much. To him they mean nothing. His first assignment was returned and I was so excited to know what he got. So I asked if he got it back and he said yes. Then I asked “What grade did you get?” He says “I have no idea! I never looked.” He says, “I did my best. What do I care what the teacher thinks I did in comparison to others?”

Wow, I loved his thought. I could have never done that and still have a hard time not worrying about grades. Just finished my second MS Ed in August, and for two years I worried what that grade book said every day. What stress. He has none of that. My kids are not afraid to try and not afraid to fail. They just see it all as moments in their life journey. I envy that so much.

What are some of the negatives?

None really; other than having to explain it to my friends, family or others who ask what curricula do you use? To me the negative is societies lack of information and their unwillingness to open their minds to something novel.

Tell us about your best day (or your worst).

I can’t pick one. They are all our best days because they are free. Totally free to learn how they want, when they want, and without the pressure of the state or anybody telling them what is good for their life. They are the makers of their own destiny (with God’s ever present handiwork).

Favorite definition of unschooling:

“The fact is that every minute of the day we’re learning. There’s no such thing as a waste of time when you’re talking about learning, when you’re talking about evolving. You can’t not learn. Learning is about gaining experience and new insights into how to live, and to what the world is about…You can’t really stop a… person from learning…you can never tell a person he’s not learning.” ~ Daniel Greenberg (2007).

~ Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing this unschooling portrait with us!

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