Why I Unschool

February 14, 2015

I was listening to someone talk about the importance of pursuing our passions in life and I realised that this was at the root of my desire to unschool our kids. I’ve thought (and talked) about unschooling a lot but had never really been able to put it into words so clearly.

It’s best summed up by this quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – (variously attributed)

Parent often want their children to achieve an unfulfilled ambition, with typically negative consequences, but in this case I just want to save my kids the two decades I spent trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I want them to be who they really are and to do whatever it is that makes them come alive. To live their own dreams.

The job of compulsory schooling is to teach us how to kill our dreams and to learn how to endure a working life of tedium performing meaningless tasks. That’s the job of the system – most teachers really care about their students and I’m sure my teachers thought I was the perfect student, maybe even a model for the sort of person they were trying to produce. I studied diligently, never caused trouble and always knew what was expected of me without having to be told. I also managed to do it without ever appearing to suck-up to them.

The result for them was a model student. For me it was entering into adulthood not having a clue what sort of person I was. Not only that but by becoming someone who was skilled at “doing school” I was quite unprepared for the real world – my brain needed rewiring.

I had been so dedicated to becoming the person they wanted me to be that it took two decades to unravel the work they had done. Perhaps the only saving grace was that I had willfully become a model student and hadn’t needed it reinforced with traumatic punishment and the deconstruction of ego that is saved for the liveliest of children.

It wasn’t until I was about to get married at 28 that I even began to think about what I wanted for my life. I had a sudden vision of waking up in my late 40s to discover I was a grumpy unhappy father with all my dreams and energies stolen from having done a job I hated for 25 years.

Terrified, I set about getting out of my architecture career. It was a career I had always dreamed about but which turned out to be about spending lots of time in an intimate relationship with a computer or else attempting to pass stress from my boss down the chain of command to the contractors on site. I didn’t understand how I had become a middle manager but I definitely wanted out.

I set about doing up old houses and on-selling them in an attempt to pay off our mortgage ,and reduce the stranglehold it had over our lives. I thought I would enjoy being in charge of my day and also that I would like doing a mix of physical and drawing work. While I did enjoy those things I also spent 5 years proving that I needed to be working with people. Not with a pencil, not with a computer, not with a hammer, but with people.

Anyway, after five years we had paid off the mortgage on our house and at last, I had arrived! Without a mortgage holding me back I was free do anything I wanted with my life. Anything at all!

It was at that point that I discovered that I really and truly didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.

It must have taken a few more years of faffing around, by which point I was in my late 30s, before I finally figured it out. In a sign that I hadn’t quite asked the right question, what I really wanted to do with my life was to be deeply involved in my community.

I knew I needed to work with people but in some ways it didn’t matter what the actual job was. In the end I converted volunteer work I was doing at the local community radio into a paid job. It doesn’t pay much and I still spend too much time in a relationship with a computer (as the station manager) but I’m located in the main street of town and get to interview people from within (and outside) the community every day. I’m as well versed in what is happening in our awesome little town as anybody could be. I also help run the kids soccer club, where both my girls play. It doesn’t pay anything at all but it’s something I feel very dedicated to. I’m not entirely sure where this puts me on society’s status ladder but as you’d imagine I’m not letting that affect my decision.


My dream for my children is that they work most of this stuff out in their teens – which is when we’re supposed to work these things out – and not in their 30s like I did, or in their 50s like a lot of people do, and especially, not on their deathbed.

As soon as our wish for our children is that they be able to get a good job or earn a good living or grow into an adult with a certain amount of status we start making decisions for their life that are based in fear, Decisions that will lead them to cut themselves off from their dreams and from their passions, decisions that will lead them to live a life of fear and regret – or alternatively; numbness.

To that end, as well as unschooling our children, they are welcome to live in our house for as long as it might take them to establish a career/income source of their choice. We can’t afford to let money (or lack of it (or fear of lack of it)) determine their future.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed and in the worst case, a life of grinding tedium might await them anyway – but I don’t want to be the reason it happens.


a bit of own-trumpet blowing

November 9, 2010

I know I rarely post now but I just had to put up a note about a post I wrote over two years ago, Suburbia DOA. There’s been a bit of noise about Jeff Vail’s article Rescuing Suburbia in which he says much the same things I said in the aforementioned posting (from two years ago, did I say that yet?) albeit with much more detail and a lot less ranting.

Essentially what we are both saying is that a) suburbia is not going to shrivel up and die, b) it has the potential to form the basis of a post-peak society and like, c) where are all those people going to go anyway?

In case you’re wondering if I’m claiming patent on this idea then no, in my posting I reference David Holmgren as just one personwho has long seen the potential of suburbia to supply a lot of it’s own food.  Probably what’s most alarming about this however is how rarely this subject gets discussed.

My posting descended into a bitter rant about the element* of the peak oil crowd which gets a buzz out of shouting that the end is nigh and serves no useful purpose other than to cause panic.  Jeff tended to avoid my approach, probably on account of the fact that he was talking to the very people I was ranting about.

In any case I still feel that the majority of the peak oil movement causes more problems than it solves. Ran Prieur, The Archdruid and Jeff are the few people I can think of who are able to discuss the future without descending into doom mongering. Good on them.

What I suspect will happen, provided panic doesn’t set in, is that suburbia will overhaul itself without anyone having to create a ‘movement’.  For instance it was very noticeable that the first thing that happened when the economic crisis hit was that lots of people started gardening, all without prompting and without even a brief glance at a peak oil preparation website!

I think people will start growing their own stuff and learning new skills in the garage as a matter of course. I think Councils will give up on maintaining parks and the concept of using that land to feed people will suddenly become obvious to millions of people all at the same time.

Too late by then do I hear the doom-mongerers say? Well, there’s not much we can do about it because we can’t force our ideas on everyone else so take your doom elsewhere and drag someone else down. Nothing has happened in quite the rush you promised anyway.

One idea Jeff mentions that is completly knew to me, and one which has far reaching political ramifications is to do with land distribution in suburbs. He says:

Suburbia is unique because it is the most evenly distributed pattern of land ownership and settlement that has ever existed. It is by no means perfect or “pure,” but it is the most egalitarian substrate upon which to build a future civilization of our choosing, rather than as dictated to us, ever.

How Jeff ever hopes to make money being that positive about the future I’ll never know but I’m planning to keep on listening anyway.

*By ‘element’ I actually mean ‘majority’


Still Going On About Parenting

July 17, 2010

Ran has a couple of links about parenting at the moment, the first in particular caused me to send a spluttering email his way and I thought I might use is as a basis for a blog post.

I really don’t think the first article is very good. Essentally, it examines the issue of parenting without ever mentioning the context (ie society) that we parent in. It also talks about ‘good’ parents without defining what a ‘good’ parent is. I’ll assume their definition is our society’s usual one (they use the word ‘consistant’ after all) in which case a large number of things a supposedly good parent does (leaving their baby to cry is just one) are actually bad for a child and might explain a few of the issues they are discussing.

Whether you agree with me about this depends a bit on whether you agree that we live in a messed-up society. If you do agree with me then it’s likely that you won’t be surprised that what our society considers to be  normal people are turning out ‘bad’ children.

Scientists may have an opinion on the state of our society but they never let it ‘interfere’ with their work. Yes that’s deliberate sarcasm –  scientists usually aren’t allowed to criticise society because that’s seen as ‘getting political’ or stepping outside their area of expertise. At the very least it’s opening a can of worms that most of them want to steer well clear of and so they are left with the options that the either parents are the cause or that the problem is inherant to the child – which they appear to oscillate between. For more about why scientists, pychiatrists and other professionals voluntarily shackle there minds like this I always reccommend the book Disciplined Minds.

The article completely fails to mention really obvious stuff too, like that children have different personalities and will react differently to the same parents. This fact is readily apparent to every parent with more than one child but is often overlooked by experts when they attempt to come up with their ‘perfect parenting model that will work on every child!’ (Yes, more sarcasm)

Nor does the article talk about the effect of modelling. Criticism of parents is especially tricky in our culture, if you succeed in showing a link between parenting and bad behaviour amongst children (especially without showing a societal link) you’re going to piss off a lot of parents. More insidious though is the unspoken power rule in our culture which states that you’re not allowed to criticise people above you in a hierarchy. I reccommend reading Derrick Jensen, who explains the rules of abusive cultures with great gusto, for more on this subject. These issues help explain why an absurd commment like; “We have racked our brains trying to figure why our son treats us this way” can go completely unchallanged in the article.

Alice Miller, in one of her books, has a case study of a murderous maniac  who liked to slice his vicitms up. His parents (and the parent’s friends) were also quoted making the same sort of comments. Alice Miller then showed exactly what the parents had in fact done to nudge their child in this direction and also tied it in to societal concepts of parenting. I should mention that the way she ties everything to societal concepts of parenting is quite alarming but well worth reading.

I see the dreaded ‘permissive’ word was used as well. The mother was basically accused of being permissive, which apparently is a big thing in the US. The problem I see is that what causes her to be ‘permissive’ is that she loves and has empathy for her children, and consequently doesn’t enjoy punishing them. It’s a credit to her that she has still reatained some empathy and it’s probably the reason that all her children didn’t turn out ‘bad’.


I’m not sure how I feel about Ran’s next link. The article is discussing the supposed evolutionary causes of  empathy and to be honest I found the whole thing slightly disturbing. It took me a while to figure out why I was reacting this way but I think it’s got something to do with the way the theory of evolution has taken on an kind of religious status to a lot of people.

I sort of get the feeling that the author and scientists involved want to tie the concept of empathy into the theory of evolution in order to give it more validity. Perhaps in a world dominated by market values and the primacy of the ‘selfish actor’ there is some sense in this but the whole thing feels odd to me.

Maybe in the context of evolution theory it’s necessary to show how we have changed from our ancestors but even then they are comparing humans to modern apes (who surely must have evolved away from our common ancestor too). I also note that there are quite large behavioural differences between the various species they mention so I’m even more dubious about this.

All that aside though, I just don’t see the point.  Empathy is very real, and important,  in my life. I can readily observe it  happening all around me – and within me. I don’t need scientific evidence that it is real, nor do I even need to rationalise it’s use because it’s a very essential part of being human. Seriously though, how far have we fallen that we have people who see the necessity in rationalising empathy?

To resolve all this we have to delve into the way we raise our kids (of course) and discuss the issue of whether empathy is learned or an innate characteristic. Again any parent with minimal observation skills, and a child that they show love to, will see empathy shown in very obvious ways. In fact I’ve observed empathy in very little babies as they react to a sibling who is crying  so you know I’m going to go for the innate characteristic option. The problem comes with common child rearing techniques that tend to destroy empathy (did I mention leaving a baby to cry already? What about the problem with excessive praise then?) and create adults with a poor ability to empathise.

It’s no surpirse then, if you’re unware of some important issues regarding child-rearing, that you would conclude that adults with poor empathy skills come about because they weren’t properly taught empathy during childhood. It also then follows that you’ll continue to make mistakes in attempting to address the issue.

Funnily enough I agree with the basic idea espoused in the article; that being raised by lots of adults is good for us, but the way they got there, with all the strange assumptions and blindspots that scientists have, makes me think that our agreement is no more than a happy coincidence. For a full-bodied rant from me about scientists and childhood empathy (amongst other things) I can reccomend my old post;  Stupid Stupid Stupid Scientists (an objective assessment of what they can teach us about raising kids). (Obviously been struggling with an excess of sarcasm for some time now)

To be sure parenting is a complex thing and very hard to do well but if we are unable to step outside of our societal assumptions and examine whether there might be something more to this problem we’re just going to go around in circles.

What I really think is that we should forget all these complications and just focus on trying to love our kids. It’s not easy for some of us because we’ve been trained to focus on all these big ideas but if we can ignore the distractions created by wondering if we’re being consistent enough (consistency is for machines) and just focus on our kids in the here and now we’ll stand a much better chance of turning out loving empathetic adults – and who knows, they may still like us at the end of the process.

I’m not saying it will be easy, we live in a very messed up culture and things will still go wrong – I believe that kids are born with a full capacity to love and show empathy and that our society is very adept at stripping them of that capacity but we need remember that no one ever did any harm by being loving


The Love Shortage

May 14, 2010

Reading Ran’s comments (May13) about love and the seduction community has prompted the following to come rushing out of my brain:

People often say that if you’re willing to get something that you want, regardless of the cost or consequences to other people, that you are being childish or immature.  While it’s certainly true that lack of concern for others is something we see in children  I’m not so sure that ‘childish’ is the right label to put on it.  I think what we’re seeing is the behaviour of damaged people and that it is just more obvious in children because they lack the skills to disguise it.

I’ve watched my kids when they’re really little (before I’ve had too much influence on their lives and before they’ve learned that the world is not the abundant place that their genetic heritage says it is supposed to be)  and they can be incredibly generous and kind.  I’ve seen them simply give up food they’re eating to another child because they could see the other child was interested. In fact.  I’ve often seen the sorts of displays of empathy that child psychologists say can’t be learned until they have developed a lot further (the children that is, not the child psychologists. It’s possible that child pychologists will never develop that far).

I know a lot of people (who aren’t child pychologists) will agree with me that children do indeed have the ability to empathise from the moment they arrive but will still insist that they can also still get overwhelmed by the obsession with the need to get what they want and that they won’t be able to balance their wants with their empathy until they’re adults.

Whilst I agree that it is observably true that children struggle with this, I would suggest that this is not a child’s natural state.  Whilst we live in a wealthy society we also live in a world of shortages, (often contrived for financial purposes)  and I think this is so pervasive in our culture that children are confronted with it almost from the moment they are born. Whereas the children of the Yequanna (Continuum Concept link) are born into a world of abundance (and have been observed to be universally gentle and helpful little people) our children are born into a world of scarcity.

The most important scarcity is a scarcity of love whereby parents are just too tired and poorly-supported to properly meet the most emotional needs that all children have – and that’s even before they attempt to follow the advice of so-called experts and leave their baby alone to ‘cry it out’ every night.

For a while we can often meet a child’s need for love if we really try but then a second baby comes along and it truly becomes impossible.  I try very hard not to think about the changes in our oldest daughter that gradually occurred after our second child was born. These permanent and apparently irreversible changes result from the fact that my kids just don’t have enough parents (there are two of us in case your wondering).

Of course sibling rivalry can be avoided by only having one child but then parents will later be required to be a permanent playmate – and adults who truly have the energy for long periods of play are few and far between.

My children are so clearly affected by sibling rivalvry they are permanently defended against each other and so scared of the possibility that they will miss out on something that they will fight each other for ownership of an object that had, until that moment, been lying in a corner for months gathering dust.

So yes, I believe that children have to be taught to be ‘childish’ but I also believe that most of us adults are still afflicted with this behaviour which, by conventional definition, we were supposed to automatically grow out of.

I don’t think  that all, or even very many, people learn to balance their desires against the needs of others as they grow into adulthood. Instead I think we just learn to disguise our selfish urges and to cloak them in respectable behaviour and mannerisms and that we are still, in part, ruled by the fact that our needs in childhood were never properly met.

To be ‘fair and balanced’ here, it is equally true that many adults do in fact turn themselves into self-less individuals but we should note firstly, how much effort is required for these individuals to acheive this and secondly, that the ones that are most successful are probably the same ones that came out of childhood with the least scars.


Just to be clear, I’m not actually trying to prove a direct link between artificial scarcity and the seduction community. Mostly I’m saying that the effects of childhood turn us into people who will get what we want regardless of the effect it has on others and that this is a result of,  a) our empathy being closed down by modern parenting techniques and, b) a scarcity of love leaving us with a permanent feeling that if we see something we want then we better grab it – real quick – and by any means possible – and not let go.

Because our very survival is at stake.

Or, to summarise the summary,  selfish behaviour is not something we grow out of, it’s something we grow into,  and then learn to refine as we mature.


I’m so right and you’re all wrong etc.

April 27, 2010

Via Dmitry Orlov, Ran has this comment on this blog “that when we map our systems of thought onto reality, we always crash and burn”  and I’m wondering if they haven’t stumbled onto something exceedingly important here. I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I shouldn’t get too carried away with my own theories about the world and have sarcastically called one of the categories on this blog ‘Big Ideas’. It’s a (possibly futile) attempt to stop my ego from leading me astray in regard to just how insightful I think I really am.

I talked about John Holt in my last post and I’ve just been reading a couple of brilliant little books by him; “How Children Fail” & “How Children Learn”. How Children Fail was his first book and is little more than a collection of notes he made while observing children in classrooms. Often no more than two pages long each piece starts with a description of something he had observed in a classroom followed by his thoughts on what might have caused the educational failure. It was a very humble thing for an educator to do, to just sit and observe children without trying to make them do anything and I found it absolutely riveting.

I was very surprised to be this gripped by a book again. It’s been 5 years since I last felt like this about a book (when I read my first anti-civ writing)  and since then I’ve got so overloaded with serious reading that I just can’t take any more – and indeed when I tried to read a 3rd John Holt book, in which he tries to lay out all his theories in a coherent manner, I was immediately turned off.

There’s a lot to be said for the observational style (that John Holt adopted in his first two books) which enables the reader to experience what the writer originally experienced, thereby gifting us the opportunity to draw our own conclusions rather then just relying on his.

I think that (possibly) by chance he was practicing what he was preaching because he says quite clearly in those two books that a major failing of schools is that they attempt to teach using symbols (language) rather than letting children have the real-life experiences that their brains are designed to learn from. This fact – that we can’t use symbols until we’re mastered the real life events they represent – is probably why so many adults I know think that even basic maths* is beyond them.

My hope is that the lessons I’ve learned from John Holt will stick with we far better than if he’d just told me what he thought those lessons should have been. And indeed, the experiences he has passed on to me can now combine with my other past experiences, giving me the chance to reach a whole bunch of conclusions that he never could have imagined possible – such as what’s coming out in the blog posting (I hope).

Other experiences that I’ve had that feed into this for me include recently reading two books on architectural theory, one of which carefully listed each theory in order of category and the other of which simply threw some case studies together and mentioned the theories in the text if they were relevant. Obviously having a mental picture of an entire house was far more useful for retaining information than the categorised system that the (same) author had gone to a lot of trouble to devise.

Then there was yesterday’s experience, after reading this Noam Chomsky  article I perused the comments section which turned out to be dominated by people accusing Chomsky of various crimes most of which were that he didn’t hold to the exact same ideology that the commenter did. The irony of course is that a mainstream person would see no discernable difference between Chomsky’s stated views and those of his attackers but to the attackers those differences in emphasis (of how powerful people use the world to their own ends) were of supreme importance. I left a scathing comment about how the need for ideological purity was destroying our unity and left (In all honesty I should admit that I only read about a fifth of the comments before it all became too much for me).

Why I bring this experience to the table is that I think schools are producing a bunch of people who are adept at symbol manipulation and not much else. They are rewarded for their abilities and encouraged to dwell in an intellectual world. They also learn by implication that their ability to manipulate abstractions means that they are a higher class of citizen and that they are usually always right – and lets face it, once a person becomes proficient at acquiring grades, and so long as they keep away from other life experiences (or devalue their importance), they do keep keep hearing that they are right where it matters most.

If we receive this message all through childhood and in to early adulthood it’s unlikely that we’ll ever lose the feeling of infallibility that most of us have. We then come across a theory of how the world works (e.g. Anarchism, Primitivism, Deep Christian Theology), tinker with it a bit, decide it holds all the answers and attempt to convert everyone to our way of thinking. All the while not noticing that a) while the world is going to hell in a hand basket we’re busy fighting amongst ourselves about minor ideological differences and that b) the real reason for our disagreements have more to do with our own personal issues than anything the abstractions we disagree on

Of course, that’s just my brief theory, it won’t map to the world perfectly either . The problems amongst leftists/activists/primitivists/anarchists etc that I refer to above can also be attributed to issues discussed in the Unabomber Manifesto, ironically enough another theory propounded by someone who thought he had all the answers and therefore the right to bring them to the world’s attention at any cost.

* Not a typo, that’s how we say ‘math’ down here.


Mis-spent Youth

April 6, 2010

I’ve been reading some of John Holt’s early books on childhood education and something he said has been on my mind this morning. He says that schools attempt to conduct learning though symbols (i.e. spoken or written language) rather than tangible experience, and because of that most children won’t fully understand what they’ve learned – if indeed they are able to understand or learn anything at all.

This is an issue worthy of several blog postings in itself but right now I’m wondering about how it fits into the whole issue of alienation in our society. I always thought that much of the damage done by schools was caused by children being taught to rely on authority to do their thinking for them instead of developing their own judgement. Certainly this must contribute to alienation and disconnection as people stop listening to their own inner voice but thanks to John Holt’s analysis of this kind of learning I can see that a childhood being taught first to manipulate symbols and then being further taught about the world via those symbols (as opposed to the tangible experience we are supposed to have) can only serve to disconnect us further from reality.  Talk about a mis-spent youth

Modern man has disappeared inside his own head says Ursula Le Guin (or he’s disappeared up his own %#&$^ as they’d say around here). Those that become successful at learning via symbols go on to successful careers manipulating them, all the while losing touch with the people around them (especially those on the lower rungs of society that aren’t good at manipulating symbols such as cleaners, labourers, rubbish collectors and their own children). Those that are really successful at manipulating symbols but forget how to operate in the real world go on to be university lecturers and lose touch with reality altogether.

Of course symbols are essential for communicating but the key, according to John Holt, is that we need to learn about things via real experiences and then move on to manipulating their symbols and any theories that may come from them. By rewarding those that learn to manipulate symbols disconnected from reality and giving them great power in our culture……well…. just look around you to see the results of that.

I realise that by saying this I’m probably insulting most of the people who are likely to read this (as well as myself) but really are we intellectuals as smart as we think we are? The people who fail to operate in the world of symbols from an early enough age tend to conclude (well, they get told) that they must be stupid and give up thinking altogether so it’s not like there’s anything much to compare ourselves to.

* Not entirely sure I got the Le Guin quote word perfect there but I’m sure you know what I mean.


Whole Foods

October 31, 2008

In the last few years every time I’ve had a cold it’s knocked me down flat – and the kids bring home a lot of colds. Even working in a job where I can cope easily with a cold, all I was really doing was postponing the recovery period until the weekend. For a variety of reasons revolving around health I recently embarked on a diet composed of whole foods. It’s not easy to be 100% with this, all the time (and I haven’t tried) but most days of the week I do manage to eat only whole foods.

Added to this we have a copy of Nourishing Traditions in the house now and Karen, who is a keen cook (just as well because I’m not) has been dipping into it on a daily basis. We’ve been eating broths and a variety of fermented foods, including a crazy relish thing I like, which seems to have two quite different tastes within it. We’ve also been eating sourdough bread regularly and using unprocessed sea salt and sugar substitute rapadura in place of the usual stuff. Because I was eating only whole foods and Karen liked the look of what I was eating, she decided to try it to. There have been a number of interesting results.

The first thing we noticed (after someone gave me a commericially made cake a week into the diet change) was that my problem with blocked sinuses has mostly gone away. It used to be that when the air was cold or it dropped a couple of degrees as it does in the late afternoon, my nose would block up and I’d sound like I had a cold – which I hated. Sometimes in desperation I would turn on a heater and breath in the warm air just to get rid of it.

The next thing we noticed was that Karen, who normally gets a lot of headaches, had stopped getting them. Again we only realised this one day when she ate some white bread and immediately got a headache. She tested it one more time with some pasta before concluding that headaches were a powerful enough motivating force to put her off refined flour for a long time. Recently I also realised I was getting less headaches than normal. Anyway here’s what Walt Stoll has to say about the issue*.

The National Research Council recommended daily allowance of refined carbohydrates (CHO) is zero.

Until 300 years ago, refined CHO did not exist. The human body has had no time to evolve a way to cope with this substance. For the past five million years, whenever we took CHO into our bodies, all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins, etc. present in the living food were eaten with the CHO. Now when we eat refnined CHO, our bodies must immediately provide the vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes etc. that manufacturing has removed, in order to digest it. This means we must create a definciency in our bodies of the essential substances – the opposite of nutrion: the more we eat the less nutrition we have.

Refined CHO causes more stress to humans than all the other nutritional stressors put together.

More details on the process behind this available here, and I will add that the fermentation process we are putting our wheat through when we make our sourdough bread deals with the problem of phytates. Phytates are a substance present in wheat and when not fermented (pre-digested) bind with minerals in the stomach thereby preventing them from being taken into the body and further enhancing the nutrition starved state of most everyone in our culture.

We have also read a book on Metabolic Typing, I seem to be a ‘mixed’ type and already eating roughly what I need but Karen has shown that she needs to eat more protein, especially in the morning, and as a consequence now has more energy in the first half of the day – especially when compared to how she was when eating fruit for breakfast.

The latest and best improvement we have found though is in my resistance to colds. As I said at the start I have been incredibly vulnerable to them in the last few years but a month back when one of the kids brought a cold home I discovered that I could keep it at bay simply by getting a good nights sleep – this was a turn for the better! Eventually I got a bad nights sleep and caught the cold but even then the symptoms were so minor as to be almost non existant. Then, a week ago another cold arrived in the house and I caught it before I knew it was around. I woke up one morning feeling rough and thought, “oh well, that’s it I’ve got a proper cold this time” but by mid morning I was completely unaware of any symptoms again and had a great day. The next day started the same way and the day after that it was all over. The worst I could say through the whole experience was that I felt slightly tired.

This is such a stunning reversal of my life over the last few years I can hardly believe it. I’m not sure what improvements we were really expecting but there have been a number of pleasant – and substantial – surprises.


I can’t recommend Nourishing Traditions highly enough. I wasn’t prepared to make a change in my diet unless it could be done with a minimum of fuss.  If I found myself craving any kind of food I knew I would be wasting my time as the use of will-power is never a long term solution. Luckily this book provides healthy substitutes for every food group – including the all important, cakes and delicious slices group.

*This is from a wellness protocol PDF on the askwaltstollmd.com site, the exact URL of which I can’t seem to locate anymore, I have a copy  if anyone is intersted though.



October 24, 2008

I just wanted to pick up on the comments on Ran’s blog about schooling and socialisation because ever since we started telling people we were unschooling our children (often we just say homeschooling so as not to frighten them) the single most common objection we receive is;

“But what about you’re child’s socialistion?”.

After several irritating years of this it suddenly dawned on me that no one had ever said;

“But what about your child’s education”!!!

From talking amongst friends, and with homeschoolers on-line, it appears that this a pretty universal experience for all of us.

There’s a mad absurdity about this situation but I also think there is something deeper – people happily, and immediately, concede that school is not that great a place to learn because (I suspect) that at a subconscious level they completely understand the main purpose of school based socialisation. They’ve internalised the values of the domination system and move immediately to defend it.

The absurdity has hidden depths too. The meaning of the word socialisation obviously has to do with a child learning social skills but there are no specific classes on socialisation at schools, and even more bonkers children spend their time almost exclusively with people of their own age who couldn’t possibly teach them how to socilaise because they are at a similar level (Not to mention the issue raised on Ran’s forum about socialisation being repressed for most of the day).

It goes deeper though: In New Zealand homeschoolers have to submit to being reviewed by the education ministry in the same way that schools do and we recently heard from an unschooling parent who said that the reviewer asked a few question’s about their child’s socialisation. First of all this is not part of the New Zealand Curriculum or the curriculum document that the parent’s submitted to the MOE when they applied for a homeschooling exemption (so the reviewer had no right to ask about it). But when they told him that that child regularly plays with a large number of neighbourhood children on a daily basis the reviewer said that it didn’t really count!

He was only satisified that the child was getting proper socialisation when they said it went to more formalised events like soccer practice – despite the obvious fact (or maybe because of it) that child to child interaction is completely mediated by a dominant adult.


Also: Ran ended his piece with this comment;

…it’s almost impossible to come out of the schooling system with both high intellect and high social intelligence

and I would add that it is the ones who come out with low social intelligence who end up having more power and the most say in how our society functions.

Whic of course is the system working exactly as it’s supposed to



October 3, 2008

You know I will probably never visit the LATOC discussion board when looking for advice on how to handle the coming upheavel in our way of life and while guns-and-gold are doubtless getting a big look in at the moment, Ran is still dispensing his much calmer advice and generally soothing the troubled waters of those who are prepared to listen. I want to take this direction one step further though and talk about how we’re going to do more than just surivive and for that kind of thinking we need Bill Mollison. Old interviews of Bill are all over the internet and I recommend reading lots of them to pick up on his vibe of ingenuity.

One of the worst paths we can follow at this point is to try to preserve our existing way of life even as it becomes increasingly untenable. Maybe out of habit, but more likely because we don’t know the alternatives, we’ll just struggle on with an ever harder daily grind. I’m pretty sure now however that permaculture has the vision we need to chart a new course – and it doesn’t just come with a new plan for the future but also a new way of thinking that will be especially valuable for a culture that has grown dependant on authority figures to do it’s thinking for it.

One of Bill’s interviews compared permaculture thinking to the marital arts philosophy of Aikido in that it seeks to turn adversity into strength. I have to admit I don’t know much about Aikido that here’s Bill Mollison with just one of a million tales of ingenious inventiveness.

We grow a lot of prawns in Hawaii, [Bill is actually from Australia] and you could grow them in your glass house up in Maine, freshwater prawns, and they eat single-celled algae, so we don’t know how to cultivate those, so we just simply float about 20 ducks to a quarter acre and they do the job of growing the algae. The duck manure is almost immediately colonized by algae and that’s what the prawns eat, the algae. So 25 ducks per quarter acre,100 per acre, and you can produce $60,000 worth of prawns per quarter acre twice a year. Think of that. And that’s just duck shit. Duck’s shit is the basic fuel for that system. Now, what are you going to feed your ducks. Very few ducks enjoy eating much grass. They love Tradescantia and sweet potato but they love snails too, so you can put in lots of water lilies in clumps here and there and in between them you put a lot of horseradish. Snails love living in water lilies but they come out and eat horseradish. And also, if you put a lot of nasturtium in, you get a lot of snails, so if you’re going to grow ducks you gotta grow horseradish, nasturtium, Tradescantia, water lilies and Agapanthus (African lily). You’ll get plenty of ducks which means you’ll have plenty of algae in the water and you can grow prawns, and the prawns haven’t cost you a penny. They’re just a second offshoot of your ducks feeding and enjoying themselves. So the system fuels itself.

That’s from a very long and inspiring interview at Seeds of Change. This next example is from another long interview at Mother Earth News

Here’s an example I like to use: I call it my chicken model. Take four separate elements: a hen coop, a greenhouse, a pond, and a small forest. Now you can have these on your farm . . . and place them wherever you like, in no particular relationship to each other. In that situation each one functions individually, and they all consume energy. But if you make the forest a forage range for the chickens by putting the coop in or near that forest . . . if you attach the greenhouse to the front of the chickens’ shelter . . . and if you set the pond in front of the greenhouse — as illustrated in Permaculture Two — well, then you’ve got a nice system of interrelating functions, the familiar checks and balances.

Just look at all the ways you produce energy in this system: the chickens’ body heat, the direct sunlight that reflects off the pond and hits the greenhouse, the radiation of the trees at the rear, the decomposition of chicken manure, and on and on. If you sit down and sketch this system out, you’ll find that it’s fantastically complex — with thousands of functional interactions — and will run itself . Operating on its own energy, the system automatically switches on and off. As the sun gets high in the sky, the greenhouse absorbs more heat . . . so the chickens get hot and go out, thus removing the source of animal heat. While they’re outside, the birds forage in the forest and leave their manure to enrich the soil. After dark, of course, they’ll go back inside to keep warm . . . taking their body heat with them.

Look at each chicken by itself and the variety of functions it’s performing in this one simple model: In the coop the hen operates as a radiator, an egg producer, and a manurial system. In the forest the bird acts as a self-forager, a tree-disease controller, a fireproofer, a fertilizer producer, and a rake. One can use chickens to do quantities of useful work . . . in fact, I don’t know what you can’t do with chickens, once you get started!

I tend to have the view that there’s no problem that’s insurmountable if I think about the solution for long enough, but Bill Mollison seems to operate on the belief that there’s no problem that can’t be turned into an advantage if you think about it just right – and it’s that kind of attitude that we’re all going to need as we go about recreating our culture (and saving our butts) over the next few years. I think we’ll also need some of Bill’s attitude just to keep our energy levels high in the dispiriting face of the diet of doom most of us follow.


1 gone, 1 back and 1 idle

September 16, 2008

I’m the idle one, if you haven’t guessed.

The gone one is Ted from Free Range Organic Human who left this parting message (if you haven’t seen it). I didn’t agree with every single thing Ted wrote but I have alwas admired the way he approached his own journey with such an open mind. I also admire his move to go cold turkey on the internet. I’m not ready to do the same myself but I completely understand where he’s coming from.

UPDATE: I just checked back and Ted has made another posting – from what he says leaving the net behind is obviously not easy. This could be interesting.

The back one is Dan, with a personal rebirth and a site rebirth. Don’t be confused by his new portal, the logo is the button you press to get into the main site (It confused me for no more than a couple of minutes:-). He’s starting off with a blog post about his recent personal changes and also a new essay. Dan is moving so fast down the path of personal exploration that I’m being left in his dust – luckily he’s leaving a great trail to follow and a great list of reading for the rest of us.