Today we are hearing from Frank Maier, the father of two successful young women whom he and his wife unschooled for the bulk of their education (minus a bit of time when his younger daughter experimented with public and private schooling but quickly grew bored and returned home). Frank’s daughters are now 20 and 21, they currently retain 4.0 and 3.9 GPA’s at the community college in which they attend and they will be transferring to larger universities in the coming year.
Frank is retired and blogs about his life and musings at Singularity. A quick search of his site for the term “unschooling” should yield some fun reads. For a woman’s perspective on parenting and unschooling, you might try Frank’s wife’s blog, Zombie Princess.
As with our previous homeschooling dad interview, these questions were written by my homeschooling partner, the father of my children, Marmaduke.
Marmaduke: What was your initial reason for homeschooling?
Frank: We discussed various educational philosophies before we even had kids. Endlessly. My wife and I were thoroughly educated in the typical American usage of that word; we both attended college on National Merit scholarships, so we clearly knew how to play the education game. I have a degree in Secondary Education. Ultimately, we decided to give the public school system a try, knowing that we could simply pull them out at any time if we wanted/needed to, and planning to homeschool by/for middle school in any case, even if their grammar school experience was acceptable. We wound up taking them out of school over the Christmas break when they were in 4th and 3rd grades respectively. We celebrated by leaving chilly, drizzly Seattle and driving to sunny, warm San Diego for a nice long Winter visit with grandparents there.
School, by its very nature, is constrained to functioning for the lowest common denominator. Teachers spend more time on classroom management than on education. Therefore, in terms of education or learning, school is significantly inferior to one-on-one (or, at least, one-on-few) learning simply by virtue of its structure. Socially, school is a terribly unrealistic, artificial situation and a petri dish of institutional bullying, cliques, same-age segregation, etc. All the negative aspects of socialization and none of the positive ones.
In short, learning and socialization in the real world is infinitely superior to the limited and limiting experience in a brick-and-mortar school.
Marmaduke: Have you come across any more reasons to continue with this choice since you began?
Frank: It has been more relaxed, more fun, and more engaging than I would have believed possible. I *know* my kids and they know me. That’s incredibly wonderful. Extreme cautionary tale: We know a woman whose daughter died of cancer at age 9. She is so happy that she unschooled and at least had all those hours with her little girl that she would have missed if her daughter had been in school every day.
Marmaduke: What are your thoughts on the public school system?
Frank: I’ll defer the answer to this one to John Taylor Gatto. I’m maybe not quite as bitterly cynical and anti-school as he is, but my opinion is pretty close to his.
Marmaduke: What is the best thing about homeschooling that you and your family have experienced so far?
Frank: Time and connection with each other. I once wrote this in response to a similar question:
Time is the gift more precious than gold. It must be spent wisely or it’s wasted and it cannot be regained. We’ve chosen to spend our time together, having adventures, living life. It is the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m not a millionaire and never will be; but I am the husband of an exquisite woman and the father of two fabulous young women, with whom I’ve had the most exciting, most treasured times/adventures you could imagine.
Marmaduke: Does one parent or both parents participate in the homeschooling?
Frank: Both. Over the years, one of us has taken a contract and worked for a year or so while the other was the stay-at-home parent. Then, with money in the bank, we’d all take a multi-month trip or adventure together. Iterate.
Marmaduke: There has been a lot of assumption about the income level of homeschoolers being very high. Is this your experience?
Frank: We live in a capitalist society, so it’s easier to function if you have money whether you’re homeschooling or living a more “normal” life. We’re financially comfortable (no debt, including no mortgage, and income in the top quintile) and we focus our effort on time together with interesting experiences. We know unschoolers who are quite wealthy who unschool from a position of vast financial abundance. We also know unschoolers who are single moms on public assistance who unschool as abundantly as they can, which is not as resource-intensive an experience as the rich folks have, obviously.
There is a misconception in the general public that homeschoolers are mostly fundamentalist Christians who reject the public school system because it’s secular and they do school-at-home-style homeschooling in order to avoid the world around them. In the unschooling community at least, we know people who are conservative and religious, people who are liberal and atheist (this would be us), and people who are pretty much everything inbetween, outside, around, and just plain *otherwise*. My best guess is that unschooling families on *average* (which is not a universal reality) are two-parent households with one income-producing parent in an above-median-income job.
Marmaduke: What does an average homeschooling day look like for you?
Frank: “Average” has very little congruence with unschooling. My wife has kept a blog of our lives since 2005 and reading there can give a pretty accurate view of our philosophy and our (often stochastic) daily lives. Her blog is Zombie Princess and the labels “unschooling” and/or “unschoolingtoday” are useful.
As for me answering this interview, let me describe a few random days of our unschooling life. Naturally, I picked fun ones. We’re human, like everybody else. We have our occasional crappy days, too; but why dwell on those? The fun ones far outweigh the crappy ones. *Far* outweigh.
Fall-Winter 1996-1997. Snowbirding in a condo on the beach in Destin, FL. Some waterskiing and tubing on our skiboat in the bay behind Destin in the morning. Lunch on the balcony, looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, watching the stingrays swim along in the shallows near the shore. Afternoon in the pool. Dinner at a local restaurant. Reading and/or watching tv or a movie together in the evening.
Summer 2000. On the road in our minivan, loaded with camping gear and towing our skiboat, during a 10-week-10K-mile roadtrip. One day, doing the Junior Ranger program at Mesa Verde National Park, hiking the ruins, reading about their history, listening to a ranger talk at the evening campfire, and getting their Junior Ranger badges after completing the requirements for it. Another day, loading the skiboat with camping gear and going up Lake Powell to find a tiny canyon, just big enough for one boat, with a sand spit at the end for a lovely camping spot. Sightseeing, swimming, and waterskiing in the daytime, campfire stories and beautiful skies at night. Buying the latest Harry Potter book in New Orleans one morning and taking turns reading it aloud as we drove from there to Nebraska over the next few days.
Summer-Winter 2005. We love to sail and had always planned to take a tropical family sailing cruise as part of our unschooling experience. We had spent two weeks sailing in the British Virgin Islands in 2001 and knew that the girls enjoyed that lifestyle as much as we did. We chose to start our family cruise in the Summer of ’05 from New Orleans. Unfortunately, August of ’05 brought us Katrina. Then came Rita. After Rita, we managed to escape to the open Gulf of Mexico and sailed to the Florida Keys. After one day at Dry Tortugas National Park, the rangers warned us that Wilma was coming and we sailed to Key West to get a slip in the municipal marina, rent a car, and evacuate. To Disneyworld. (grin) Altogether, we spent 6 months on our cruise. There are too many stories from that trip but, overall, it was a wonderful experience in family bonding, working together, and relying on each other, sometimes under horribly trying conditions.
Fall 2008. In ’04 we hosted an Italian exchange student. Her parents kept inviting us to visit them, so in ’08 we planned a month-and-a-half trip to Europe. Vignettes: One day, staying in their weekend home above Lake Garda, desultory breakfast on the patio, sightseeing around the lake, lunch at a wonderful lakeside restaurant, more sightseeing in the afternoon, fabulous dinner at a lovely restaurant, and a good night’s sleep. Another day, a tour of historic Trento, helicopter ride over the Dolomites, Italian-German lunch at a mountaintop place, dinner with our hosts. Touring Rome. Exploring Venice. Ahhhhh…
Spring 2011. Our livingroom. All four of us sitting on various pieces of furniture, reading something personally interesting. Short breaks for food or the bathroom. Reading, reading, reading.
Marmaduke: Do you feel you are judged negatively for your decision to homeschool?
Frank: Often, yes. I feel sorry for people whose life is so constrained that they can’t accept anything beyond the limited horizon which has been imposed on them by their culture and experience. Their arbitrary and inaccurate judgment of our life makes me feel sad for them.
Other times, people empathize and are very curious about our life. That’s nice.
I want to thank Frank for his time and efforts in answering our questions. Once again, his blog is Singularity and I encourage my readers to stop on by and tell him we sent you.