I forgot I had midterms this week. Free Minds will update tomorrow when I’ve finished studying. Sorry everyone!
I want to use my first official post here at Free Minds to give you a little background on me: who I am, how I got here, whether I am remotely qualified to run a blog about education (spoiler: NO.)
My name is Heather McFadden. I’m 21, a part-time college student and a veteran of almost every style of education the world could throw at me. I went to public school until the age of eight, was unschooled until 11, spent two years in a small charter school and finished up in a state-sponsored home schooling program. I received a valid, entirely normal-looking high school diploma, then entered community college, where I remain three years later. I’m not a teacher, an education major, or any other kind of authority: just an average person interested in how, when, and what we learn.
Each of my educational experiences has taught me something beyond the facts and figures it intended to impart. Together, they have shaped me and given me a deep interest in the ways we learn in this society, both conventional and alternative, overt and covert. I pay attention to my teachers and see what they’re really trying to teach me, and I watch other students and myself to see what we’re really learning. The people who obsess over “getting into a good college so you can get a good job so you can support a family” have one thing right: the course of your education shapes the course of your life. Just maybe not the way they think.
In public school, I learned about conformity, and I think that’s what most people do, and are intended to, learn in that environment. When I entered kindergarten, I was reading and writing at a genius level. By first grade, I learned to dumb myself down, refrain from raising my hand or even deliberately give wrong answers. The looming fear of being different, being singled out, was a constant. I got rewarded for being smart in the classroom and punished for it on the playground. By the third grade it was clear to my parents and to me that I had to get out, and luckily, our family situation allowed that.
Influenced by the work of John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down, The Exhausted School), my family began to “unschool:” free-form home schooling without classes or a curriculum. I think now that these were my most formative and most educational years. I learned what many people never seem to: how to structure my time without constraints. There were no bells ringing, no teachers telling me to stop thinking about this and start thinking about that; it was just me and what I wanted to do. This has had a big effect on my life since: I’ll talk more about that, and the ins and outs of unschooling, in a later post.
The two programs I entered later — first a charter school and then a community home schooling program called Vision — gave me a sense of how groups of people work together, or more often, don’t. I began to see that what a teacher says they are teaching, and what they are actually trying to convey, may be quite different. I saw how great intentions can deteriorate into a mediocre curriculum. I learned to surf my way through a chaotic and inefficient system and get what I wanted without getting pulled into the morass of red tape under the surface. All of that has stood me in good stead later in life.
Now I’m in community college and I’m still learning, and still not off of a syllabus. I find it fascinating to watch other students and see what their previous education has taught them about how, why, and often whether to learn.
What my history as a whole has taught me is that there’s no one way to learn, or to live. I want to know: how do you learn? What interests you, and how do you find out about it? Did your formal education actually teach you anything, and if so, was it what they intended? Where do you go to have your mind challenged and your creativity stimulated?
Let’s think about this. Let’s talk about it. Let those of us who want to learn, learn together.
Free Minds Zine is open for business! First, a quick business post before we get into the good stuff.
What Exactly Is This?
Free Minds Zine is the brainchild of unconventionally-educated writer Heather McFadden. (That’s me.) Bored with the constraints of conventional college after an extremely varied elementary education, I decided to create a forum for discussion about the topics conventional school avoids. Like:
- What is learning? Does it only take place in the classroom?
- What does unconventional learning look like?
- How can we structure our lives to maximize our opportunities to learn?
- What is truly valuable about learning and creativity, and how can we maximize that?
- If a textbook falls in the forest, does it make a sound?
In addition to education- and creativity-related topics, I want Free Minds to be a showcase for art, fiction and poetry. Not because it’s particularly relevant to the main topic, just because I like those things.
Free Minds is designed to be a discussion, not a soapbox. To that end, submissions of essays, opinion pieces, and creative work are always welcome. Payment will be in the form of credit and links to your personal blog or website, and publication will be at my discretion solely. Email submissions to freemindszineATgmailDOTcom.
How Will it Work?
Free Minds is set up as a combination online and real-world publication — that’s why I call it a zine and not a blog. My plan, which I freely admit is half-baked and which may be changing, is this:
- The online portion of the zine will update twice a week. Essays and opinions on the stated topics, by me and others, will go up on Saturdays. Creative work, if there is any, will go up on Wednesdays. That will be by others only, so it will only happen when people send me things (hint, hint). I won’t be contributing for a couple of reasons, but mostly because I already have a pretty heavy schedule and one deadline a week is plenty. If you want to see my creative stuff, check out my personal blog, Unlikely Writings: there’s a link in the sidebar.
- The hard copy, featuring a list of titles, some teaser paragraphs and possibly a full essay or two, will update once a month. My current plan is to lay that out as a PDF, then post it here so that readers can print and distribute it in their area. I’m not very tech savvy, so we’ll see how that goes.
Who Is This ‘Heather’ Person?
See today’s post for a little bit about me, my history and why I decided to start Free Minds.
One Last Note
I want to be sure and give my policy on controversy right up front. I will not delete comments nor refuse essays that are controversial or give opinions I disagree with. I will, however, do so for comments or essays expressed in profane or disrespectful language. I have the final word on what constitutes such language.
I hate to have to say all that — I’d much rather assume that all my readers will be wonderful, respectful people who can handle controversy like adults — but this is the internet, and I think we’ve all seen some of the abuses that take place if the boundaries aren’t clearly stated.
With all that said, let’s get going. Welcome to Free Minds!
Free Minds Zine is coming soon!
There’s more to education than textbooks and lectures, and learning doesn’t stop after college graduation. Free Minds is dedicated to spreading creativity, independent thinking and an appreciation for unconventional learning. Plus, every week we’ll showcase fiction, poetry and visual art from free minds everywhere.
Launching in one week, on February 20th, 2010. Stop by and see us!