Valedictorian against schooling

Published by Lori Pickert on July 20, 2010 at 02:26 PM

“I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.”Valedictorian Against Schooling

hat tip: F-Yeah Unschooling


Comment by Alice on July 20, 2010 at 07:19 PM


Comment by Arwen on July 20, 2010 at 07:41 PM

Hi Lori,

Have you see this article yet:

The Chinese are laughing at us because we are putting ever more focus on standardization while they move in the opposite direction.

It's a great article. I'll have a post about it on my blogs in a couple of days that relates it to the conversation from a couple of months ago about the common core and the priorities of the American school system.

Comment by Jackie on July 20, 2010 at 07:46 PM

Powerful. Inspiring. This makes people really think, and it absolutely needs to be shared. I know so many who did this, and very few of them were happy then, and they're even less happy now. Thank you for posting this!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 20, 2010 at 09:31 PM

alice, you enjoyed? :^)

arwen, yes! i have it on my to-blog-about list! :^) i look forward to reading your post! one thing i was thinking when i read it was .. gee, other countries are trying to develop creativity .. maybe we could just stop trying to *kill* it. :^/

jackie, i agree. i love that a high school senior (and top of her class) figured this out and had the courage to turn her valedictory speech into a manifesto.

Comment by se7en on July 21, 2010 at 12:35 AM

What an excellent insight... isn't it the truth!!! Love it!!! I think everyone needs a bit of rebel within them to survive the "education" system.

Comment by Kelly Coyle DiNorcia on July 21, 2010 at 02:48 AM

I LOVE this post! So true - as a former valedictorian who, at 35, still doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up, I couldn't have said it better myself. The skill of being good at school is definitely not a life skill that is worth teaching, in my opinion. Thanks for sharing!

Comment by Elizabeth on July 21, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Hello Lori,

Thank You so much for posting this speech. It captured exactly, my own frustrations about my past schooling experience that I recently commented on. (I guess she had a bit more time to write her speech than I have to comment). It reminds me of the article I'll paste below. That article is what really got me thinking about my own learning. For the first time in my life, I'm going to take my own learning into my own hands and therefore I'll be taking my very life and moulding it to become something I want and need it to be. My husband and I want something different from what we lived and I'm grateful for this blog and the likes of people like Gatto who encourage us to do so.

I read Arwen's article and I came up with a few questions after reading it.

As a project-based homeschooler, am I supposed to have curriculum requirements that should be met in the course of my children's project-based work? We live in a very homeschool friendly state where I don't have to report to the state. Up to this point, I've taken more of an unschooling approach and I haven't concerned myself with any curricula. I sort of just look back on the learning that's been accomplished without looking forward towards meeting requirements.

Also, I'm rusty when it comes to "turning the questions" back to my child. They gave an example in the article about California's state capital and I was at a loss how to turn that child's question back. Do you have suggestions on how to work through all the questions children ask. How do you use questions and wonderings as a starting point for engaging conversation around the dinner table. What I do right now is tell my daughter that I wonder about that too. Then we brainstorm ways to find the answers to that question. But how do you keep the "wondering" flowing? Am I making sense?

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 21, 2010 at 02:46 PM

se7en, yes! :^)

kelly, thank you! i don't think there are many of us who were "good at school" who would hesitate to say that it's a game with its own rules and tricks. maybe it does transfer to real life if you get a corporate-type job .. ? as in - follow the rules, sit down, be quiet, raise your hand, etc. (gatto's list).

after all, isn't that what bill gates & etc. keep saying? that schools are for training our future employees?

but they don't always prepare you to be a well-rounded, self-sufficient person who knows their own interests and strengths, that's for sure.

elizabeth, that is a great article. kind of spooky - check out my last sentence on this post:


thank you for sharing the article link!

"As a project-based homeschooler, am I supposed to have curriculum requirements that should be met in the course of my children's project-based work?"

there are no supposed-to's (unless you do need to follow your state's requirements). because there is no educational system sitting down and deciding what your children need to learn, then designing standards and benchmarks and rubrics to get that job done, YOU need to sit down and decide what you think your child needs to learn.

some parents (e.g., radical unschoolers) may think there is absolutely nothing that a child *has* to know, so they can simply follow their child's interests.

on the other end of the spectrum would be a hs'ing parent who wants their child to "keep up with the public school". that parent could download her state's learning standards and keep track of what standards were covered naturally by project work, then cover the rest separately and directly.

in the big middle, you will need to determine your learning goals for your children, what you think they need to know and how you want them to learn it. if something important to you doesn't arise naturally through project work over a couple years, then you would need to make sure it is learned separately.

"Do you have suggestions on how to work through all the questions children ask. How do you use questions and wonderings as a starting point for engaging conversation around the dinner table. What I do right now is tell my daughter that I wonder about that too. Then we brainstorm ways to find the answers to that question. But how do you keep the "wondering" flowing?"

you want to make sure questions don't just float away. there are new questions every day, and the old ones are forgotten.

make sure to write them down in your journal. if your daughter can write, she can keep a list going. you can write out questions large on posterboard and hang them on the wall, checking them off and/or writing the answers as they are found.

new answers usually beget new questions.

it's the spiral that makes for inquiry-based learning.

write down the question, brainstorm where to find the answer, then go look for it. try to find multiple sources; often there will be slight (or major) discrepancies that are great for more conversation/thinking/questions. when she is satisfied she has her answer, check it off/write it down. along the way, write down any new questions that pop up.

be sure to incorporate all forms of learning and not just book research. talk to people. write and draw and sketch. formulate hypotheses, make guesses, make predictions -- write them down and check later to see where you were right and where you were wrong. after you find your answer (or before), go out and do some field work to see for yourself. you want to keep things as complex as possible and engage with your question/problem/interest in as many different ways as possible.

have her talk about what she's learned to other people (children and adults); their questions will help her see what she still doesn't know.

does this help? :^)

Comment by Elizabeth on July 22, 2010 at 03:02 AM


"Does this help?" Once again you've gone over and beyond in giving great advice. Your response was most helpful, Thank You.

I think it's awesome that you were able to connect Gatto's article with the last line of a blog post you wrote 2 YEARS AGO! Spooky indeed. ;-)

Comment by Mary Beth on July 22, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Hi Lori,

I have been enjoying all these recent posts! It is nice to have you back.

I would like to ask you about the journal you recommend keeping. I can't seem to get clear about how to use the journal. Do you keep a general homeschooling journal that you would use all the time for things that come up? And then do you use a separate journal for projects as they develop? And what about a journal for taking notes on your own reading on educational topics? Or just daily life? Obviously this is a matter of individual preference, but I have trouble seeing how it would work if you had all those things in one journal. And I also have trouble imagining how to keep up with all those different journals. Would you mind discussing (specifically!) the way someone might deal with journals -- I am not a very organized person by nature!

Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 22, 2010 at 03:23 PM

elizabeth, good, i'm glad! :^) and yes!! that was spooky! gatto's article was published in 1994, though, so he beat me to it. ;^)

hi mary beth, and thank you!

i agree with you on both points -- it is based on individual preference, and i don't know how it would work to put all those things in the same journal. :^)

it's easiest for *me* if i have a journal for each project. that journal then becomes my tool for helping me support that project, keep track of questions/plans/ideas, and etc.

within that journal, i write notes to myself about what i observe not only pertaining to the project but simply pertaining to how my children learn .. and my own questions, ideas, plans re: improving the way i mentor and support that learning. this is my overall project that i am always working on. those notes get transferred into another journal where i keep all my general thoughts/plans re: improving our learning spaces, trying different things in the studio or with our schedule, ideas for field work, ideas for future projects (interests i observe, questions i overhear), and etc. that is also where i might make notes about articles and books i read, copy quotes, stick in copies of things i've downloaded from the internet, etc.

some people are more visual; their journals almost look like scrapbooks with a lot of photos and drawings with brief notes, lists, etc.

i urge people to figure out what works best for them, possibly by trying several different things to see what feels most natural. but the overall goal is to hold onto things and not let them simply flow away on the endless river of days. hold onto your notions, your ideas, your questions, and then try to do something with them! :^)

i think the place to start is a project journal. when it is done, it tells a story; there is a beginning, a lot of middle, and sometimes an end. :^) a project journal is an irreplaceable tool for helping your child keep track of their questions and plans, helping them stick with something for a longer period of time. you can also use it to practice observing them at play and at work, making your own notes, and making your own plans.

if you find that you want to pull some of that information out and keep it separate to tell a different story -- say, the story of figuring out how best to support your children to become independent learners -- then you can try that. but it isn't as essential as the project journal is to the success of long-term investigation.

try not to be overwhelmed by the idea of journaling; some people are not attracted to it. try to see it as what it is -- simply a tool to help you remember and help you remind your child. it can be a journal, it can be a scrapbook or sketchbook, it can be a file folder or portfolio. it can be a really big collage on a wall. whatever it is, it exists to help you keep reviewing what is happening and where you want to go with it -- what your child is doing each day and where s/he wants to go with it.

one of your main roles in project learning is to help your child achieve his/her goals and tell the story of the project -- beginning with questions, sharing information gathered, and culminating in knowledge. this is difficult if not impossible to do all in your head. however you do it, writing/drawing/photographing will document the learning your child is doing so that *they* can make sense of it as well as you.

for those who aren't familiar, here are my main posts about keeping a project journal --

i hope this helps, mary beth, and doesn't just create more confusion. :^) but feel free to bounce back more questions! and if you give it a shot, let me know how it goes.

Comment by Mary Beth on July 22, 2010 at 04:39 PM

Thank you so much! It's very helpful to know how you use your journals. I DO like the idea of journals, but I have three kids and I get a ridiculous picture in my head of myself walking around the house with all those journals, trying to figure out which one to write in (my disorganization again!). But it's worth a try!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 22, 2010 at 08:26 PM

i'm glad you think it's worth a try! :^)

if you can get all your kids to work on the same project, you only need one journal. and even if you are trying to support three different projects (difficult!), you can fit them all into one journal by dividing it into thirds.

and i *heavily* utilize post-it notes. :) they make it easy to write things down fast and organize them later!

Comment by Mary Beth on July 22, 2010 at 11:31 PM

Well, that's a good idea, to use one journal with three sections! I also have thought managing three projects would be difficult, but, and this is what I have always wondered about Reggio in schools, how are they pursuing their own interests if they all have to work on the same project? I mean, I think I could make it happen, but I'm not sure how it benefits them, how it gives them control, how it allows them to follow their passions.

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 23, 2010 at 12:38 AM

a group of children will split off to study different parts of the project in detail, then share what they learn with their peers, and often their peers will then join them in their study and vice versa.

in a large group of children, single children and small groups might focus on making a model of a boat while others are studying and replicating fishing equipment and still others are doing experiments with water or sketching and painting fish. yet they are also working on the same project. children will focus on different things according to their own interests; they then share what they are doing with the group, which often gets other children excited enough about what they are doing to copy their work or join them in a large construction/experiment/etc.

a simple project topic will end up encompassing a very large amount of research, work, creation, and study in many different directions; projects grow organically to touch many, many things. if a child's particular questions, interests, and desires are respected, she will have a very individualized experience within the group.

children love to come together in a group to problem solve, to suggest ideas to one another, to work side by side on a large undertaking. they learn to respect what each person is doing, even if someone is working on something very different from what they are working on.

in our school, no child *had* to work on the project, ever. it was always their choice -- and they always chose to contribute. it is irresistible to be part of what is happening, and there is such a wide variety of ways to be involved. the children's enthusiasm is infectious, and the project work itself so interesting.

on any given day, a child might not do any project work, but over time, they all participate. every day, children share their work with one another, asking the group for comments, questions, and suggestions. their excitement for what they are doing interests the other children; the other children want to do that exciting work, too -- and moreover, they have their own ideas for improvements and extensions. their new ideas excite the initial child, and there is a big conversation happening and a lot of work being produced.

if you let your children share their work with one another, they may *want* to help each other and get involved in doing something together. if they flat out aren't interested and don't want to, i would still encourage them to share their work with one another and ask questions, make suggestions, etc. in general, whatever *one* child learns, they all learn, because of this sharing.

and remember, they are building habits and skills that they can then use to learn about anything they want. as they get older, they won't ask permission to start projects; they will simply use what they know to learn about what interests them -- they will request what they need and rally someone to work with them. that's what you're working toward -- self-directed, self-managed learners.

Comment by Mary Beth on July 23, 2010 at 01:19 AM

Gosh, thank you! That was a very thorough explanation. My middle daughter has been in a constructivist, somewhat Reggio-inspired school, and the way you describe project work sounds like what the teachers INTEND to have happen; I've just not been sure it is successful. That's part of the reason I'd like to have her at home. And my children actually ARE older, at least two of them are.

I really appreciate your taking the time to explain the way this is all supposed to work!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 23, 2010 at 12:43 PM

mary beth, not a problem -- i'm glad my explanation helped! :^)

as for your daughter's school, this is a very challenging way of working with children; perhaps they are trying and only partially succeeding. perhaps they are saying the right things but not walking the talk (something i've seen again and again -- i have visited schools that purport to have a project-based curriculum where the teachers actually made all the decisions). perhaps they are just struggling to show parents what really happens in the classroom.

if your children are older, they probably will work on their own separate projects, but they can still support and learn from one another. the culture of a project-learning classroom is such that each person is considered important to the whole, each person has something particular and unique to contribute, and each person has ownership of their own ideas and creations. the group doesn't overwhelm the individuals; the individuals come together to make a stronger whole.

the lessons of collaboration teach us this -- that each person is needed, each person has something important to give.

at home, we can create the same kind of culture -- one in which we help one another, give suggestions, lend a hand, offer an idea, yet each person still makes their own choices and owns their own work.

Comment by Mary Beth on July 24, 2010 at 02:49 AM

Yes, well, there were a lot of reasons it was not working in my daughter's classroom. I think the teachers did not have the proper training. The class was a mix of kids who had been working this way for years and kids who had just begun and thought it was nonsense. The parents were beginning to worry because it was third/fourth grade and they wanted to see something more...concrete? The teachers, not the students, were posing questions. Unanswerable questions, sometimes. And in the end, there was no clear method of reflection or evaluation, maybe? of the work that had been done.
I DO recognize that it is challenging! This is largely the reason I am still trying school with my older two. I am afraid to take it on myself. While I read your blog I think yes! this makes sense! I can do this! But as soon as I walk away, I lose my faith...
Thanks again. You have been so helpful, as always!

Comment by Lori Pickert on July 24, 2010 at 02:31 PM

i'm sorry about the situation at your daughter's school. i hope you can keep the faith. :^)

it is a *process* of working toward something, of becoming something .. you don't start out doing everything right, and the most you can hope for is to get to a place where you feel many things are coming out right .. and you are comfortable with your mistakes, as they are stepping stones to further understanding.

it is really a coming together of children and adults to make something meaningful together. i think it is well worth the effort!

Comment by Lisa on August 2, 2010 at 09:57 PM

This goes just as well for so-called "poor" students. Like my son, for example. He voted with his behavior [which verged on uncontrollable] when bored out of his skull in school. He has REAL interests and is happily at home working on them. As for the person who wrote the piece in your post I'd say to him/her "Congratulations, you've taken the first step away from your addiction." Maybe after some "de-schooling" he/she can find out they love weaving or raising goldfish or discover an innate love of running a hedge fund! Hopefully they will now have time to find their passion.

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