When a Snake Shows up for Unschool

When a snake shows up for unschool, we take the moment to deep dive snakes.

When a snake shows up for unschool, the question “Is it a Copperhead?” leads to consulting field guides, referencing indexes, and quietly observing a living thing in its environs.

When a snake shows up for unschool, we search “pit viper pupils” and “goat pupils” and “eye evolutionary history”.

When a snake shows up for unschool, we interrogate our context (this snake lurks at water sources in semi-arid environments) and connect with a natural world we often forget we’re a part of.

When a snake shows up for unschool, we get fresh air, large muscle movement, and daylight.

When a snake shows up for unschool, we take photos, write a blog post, and then write a blog post about that blog post tying it to unschooling and recess and play and intrinsic motivation and classroom ux and publishing on the open web. 😉

We don’t need your mindset marketing.

Autistic Special Interest and ADHD Hyperfocus crush learning curves. Both are powered by passion and intrinsic motivation. Without agency to pursue passion, these rockets can’t take off.

We don’t need your mindset marketing.

We don’t need your behavior mods.

We don’t need your sticks and carrots.

We don’t need your compliance cult.

We need agency and acceptance.

Embrace the obsession. Special interests are “intimately tied to the well-being of people on the spectrum“. “Special interests have a positive impact on autistic adults and are associated with higher subjective well-being and satisfaction across specific life domains including social contact and leisure.

Noncompliance is a social skill“. “Prioritize teaching noncompliance and autonomy to your kids. Prioritize agency.” “Many behavior therapies are compliance-based. Compliance is not a survival skill. It makes us vulnerable.” “It’s of crucial importance that behavior based compliance training not be central to the way we parent, teach, or offer therapy to autistic children. Because of the way it leaves them vulnerable to harm, not only as children, but for the rest of their lives.” Disabled kids “are driven to comply, and comply, and comply. It strips them of agency. It puts them at risk for abuse.” “The most important thing a developmentally disabled child needs to learn is how to say “no.” If they only learn one thing, let it be that.” “When an autistic teen without a standard means of expressive communication suddenly sits down and refuses to do something he’s done day after day, this is self-advocacy … When an autistic person who has been told both overtly and otherwise that she has no future and no personhood reacts by attempting in any way possible to attack the place in which she’s been imprisoned and the people who keep her there, this is self-advocacy … When people generally said to be incapable of communication find ways of making clear what they do and don’t want through means other than words, this is self-advocacy.” “We don’t believe that conventional communication should be the prerequisite for your loved one having their communication honored.

Compassion and acceptance are practical and effective magic. They remedy a lot of problems and contribute to psychological safety. Acceptance matters. “A big part of our susceptibility to issues like anxiety has to do with how we were slowly socialized, either implicitly or explicitly, to believe that an autistic lifestyle is something that is defective and therefore needs fixing. A recent Independent article sums up the strong link between lack of autism acceptance and the development of mental health disorders in autistic people: Research shows that lack of acceptance externally from others and internally from the self significantly predicts depression and anxiety in young adults with autism. ” “We also reject the equation that accepting autism and disability means giving up. Research consistently shows that autism acceptance leads to better mental health for parents as well as autistic people themselves. Evidence is mounting that acceptance and accommodation provide a more reliable path to increased capability and independence than fighting autism or disability does. Acceptance isn’t a cure, but it does facilitate recognition and support of abilities that often go unrecognized and under-valued. We are better off when not only our disabilities, but our real abilities, are recognized.”

Source: I’m Autistic. Here’s what I’d like you to know.

PBIS is Coercion

This is an argument usually used for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), but it applies to PBIS as well. Because PBIS emphasizes the use of tangible rewards and teacher praise to motivate “appropriate” behavior, it often escapes this description.

The overall focus of PBIS is obedience or compliance with rules leading to a reward. The flip side of that coin is there is a lack of rewards or outright punishment administered for noncompliance. The pressure of complying with this system turns kids into ticking time bombs. Having to focus on compliance with school-wide and classroom rules stresses kids out and causes them to enter a state of anxiety when they come to school. In fact, I have seen this escalate to the point the school building itself was a trigger for panic attacks.

And, take my word on this, no one can identify and rebel against an unfair system as efficiently as a kid or adult with ID, except perhaps an autistic person. They know the system is unfair!

Source: PBIS is Broken: How Do We Fix It? – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.

Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.

It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.

In preparing a new Afterword for the 25th-anniversary edition of my book Punished by Rewards, I’ve sorted through scores of recent studies on these subjects. I’m struck by how research continues to find that the best predictor of excellence is intrinsic motivation (finding a task valuable in its own right) – and that this interest is reliably undermined by extrinsic motivation (doing something to get a reward). New experiments confirm that children tend to become less concerned about others once they’ve been rewarded for helping or sharing. Likewise, paying students for better grades or test scores is rarely effective – never mind that the goal is utterly misconceived.

It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.

Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn

Since reading NeuroTribes, I think of psychologically & sensory safe spaces suited to zone work as “Cavendish bubbles” and “Cavendish space”, after Henry Cavendish, the wizard of Clapham Common and discoverer of hydrogen. The privileges of nobility afforded room for his differences, allowing him the space to become “one of the first true scientists in the modern sense.”

Let’s build psychologically safe homes of opportunity without the requirement of nobility or privilege. Replace the trappings of the compliance classroom with student-created context, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and BYOC (Bring/Build Your Own Comfort). Let’s hit thrift stores, buy lumber, apply some hacker ethos, and turn the compliance classroom into something psychologically safe and comfortable to a team of young minds engaged in passion-based learning. Inform spaces with neurodiversity and the social model of disability so that they welcome and include all minds and bodies. Provide quiet spaces for high memory state zone work where students can escape sensory overwhelm, slip into flow states, and enjoy a maker’s schedule. Provide social spaces for collaboration and camaraderie. Create cave, campfire, and watering hole zones. Develop neurological curb cuts. Fill our classrooms with choice and comfort, instructional tolerance, continuous connectivity, and assistive technology. In other words, make space for Cavendish.

My cave, campfire, and watering hole moods map to the red, yellow, and green of interaction badges (aka color communication badges). The three-level communication flow used at my company and other distributed companies reflects the progressive sociality of cave, campfire, and watering hole contexts and red, yellow, green interaction moods. These triptych reductions are a useful starting place when designing for neurological pluralism. When we design for pluralism, we design for real life, for the actuality of humanity.

Source: Classroom UX: Bring Your Own Comfort, Bring Your Own Device, Design Your Own Context

 

 

 

 

Planning, Productivity, and Budgeting as Curriculum

Our style of unschooling is to bring the kids into the processes and flows of managing the family. The rhythms of keeping a household and budgeting money are important survival skills. The whole family is involved in setting priorities and making decisions and following through.

I nudge the kids toward laptops and keyboards instead of more compulsive and consumptive touch devices, especially pocketable, phone-sized ones. Keyboards are for hacking. (“Which side of the command line should our kids be on?”) Touch screens are great assistive and augmentative tech. We use them both, but we center the laptop.

I’ve been sharing my laptop productivity flow with them, bit by bit, going with the flow of their passions and intrinsic motivations. I’ve helped run businesses, a massive open source project, and a family with this flow and its antecedents. This is knowledge, earned over decades, worth passing along. I want to help them fill their tool belts with what works for them by sharing what works for me.

With laptops open, we review our budgets before spending. We do double entry, zero-based budgeting with You Need A Budget. Each kid has their own budget. They have allowances. They have bank accounts backed by the family budget. They track their cash and deposit it into their bank accounts when they want to do some online spending.

We give our kids chores so they can learn to work and contribute. They are part of a family and it is important for each of them to do their part, and appreciate the contributions of one another.

We give them money—an allowance, totally independent of chores—so they can learn how to manage money.

We used to attach commissions to different jobs. When we ran into some quality control issues, then we were paying based on how well your chores were done, how few times we had to ask you to do them, or whether or not Mom was in a good mood when payment came due. It was impossible to be consistent. Not to mention it felt like anytime we asked them to do something they were expecting to get paid. The balance was all off.

Now, we pay our kids an allowance every week. It is the same amount, every single time. It has nothing to do with chores or behavior. You just get it.

Source: Chores and Allowance Should Have No Bearing On One Another | YNAB

 Allowance is not a wage that you receive in exchange for a task accomplished. It’s not something that you use to pay kids for chores. To my mind, the two things are separate. Chores are things that we do around the house because we love one another because we want our homes to be well functioning, and so we perform those tasks as a duty and as an act of joy and an act of love and commitment to the people that we live with.

The money that you get in the form of allowance, that’s a tool for learning. Money in that context is for practice and we want kids to practice with money, the same way we want them to practice their musical instruments or practice with their art supplies or practice with their athletic equipment. We want them to get good at money, the same way we want them to get good at all of those other things. So yanking the money if they don’t do their chores doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, in the same way that I don’t think we can yank their books or their art supplies or their violins if they don’t get their chores done.

Source: Are You Doing Allowance All Wrong? | YNAB

It’s been a smooth transition. What I hadn’t expected was the growth I’ve seen in our daughter. With some guidance, she has developed and maintains her own budget, separate from the household budget. She has a cash account, a bank account, and an A-LOC.

A-LOC stands for “allowance line of credit” and represents money her mom or I hold for her (I know, I know–it’s a debit account, but A-LOD doesn’t sound as cool). When we spend money on her behalf, it comes out of her A-LOC. If it’s empty, she transfers funds to our checking account, gives us cash, does optional chores, or waits until allowance comes in.

She tinkers with her budget by creating and combining categories, and dreaming up new savings goals for herself. Spending categories like “movies with friends” and “junk food” stay mostly static while savings categories like “east coast trip,” “hedgehog,” and “car” have been slowly growing. I’m biased, but it’s irresistibly adorable.

Source: Allowance Wizardry | YNAB

Just like with adults, in order for kids to budget, they need to have money. You might be inclined to require them to earn it by helping out around the house or doing yard work but, according to Ron Lieber, a New York Times columnist and author of The Opposite of Spoiled, that’s not the way to go.

See, there’s a difference between teaching kids how to earn money and teaching kids how to managemoney. And, furthermore, helping out around the house is a duty that the entire family should share, kids included. Everyone does chores! You don’t get a reward for doing what’s expected, you just do it.

And allowances? They serve a very important purpose—to let kids experience having, spending, losing and saving money (and all of the corresponding emotions). If your child fails to do chores, you wouldn’t take away their school books, right? Ron suggests that, for the same reason, you shouldn’t take away their allowance, either.

Source: Teach Your Kids These Three Money Lessons & Watch Them Soar | YNAB

We use 1Password for Families to securely share passwords and account information. Via 1Password, the kids have access to a credit card for tapping their virtual bank accounts. When they want to order something online, they do the whole process. They go through the checkout flow, fill the shipping and payment information with 1Password, and record the transaction in their YNAB budget. Later, when the transaction clears the credit card company, they will mark the transaction as cleared and reconcile their account with our virtual bank’s records. In this way, they are getting real experience with two important necessities of modern life: budgeting and password and identity management.

The YNAB approach to budgeting is organized around four rules:

  1. Give Every Dollar A Job
  2. Embrace Your True Expenses
  3. Roll With The Punches
  4. Age Your Money

I like these as heuristics, as rules of thumb. They are humane and achievable diligence with a simple guiding star metric (Age of Money). These rules make for a good piece of software. The influence of “Roll With The Punches” is evident in YNAB’s interface, and it is a defining difference between YNAB and other budgeting software.

I enjoy the flow of double entry bookkeeping. It feels right. Inflows and outflows. Sources and destinations. Our water, electricity, information, and monetary systems flow. YNAB goes with that feeling.

We also use our laptops to help us “flip the switch from not now to now”.

If we’re going to be in front of our laptops, use them to get from not now to now. With my more tech-obsessed kid whose ADHD gift of “hyperfocus when intrinsically motivated” kicks in when exploring new software and tech, we’re experimenting with setting recurring tasks with reminders in Things with some success. I frame the use of a task manager in terms of a helpful cognitive net, a coping system of minimum effective doses that helps you flow, that you iterate as part of the phases and changes of continuous fluid adaptation.

In fact, nothing has been fixed or broken. We simply have very fluid coping strategies that need to be continuously tweaked and balanced. Because a child or adult goes through a period of having very few meltdowns, that doesn’t mean they’ll never have meltdowns again. If something in their life changes, for example the hormonal storms of puberty, they’ll need to develop new coping strategies. And until they do, they may begin having meltdowns due to the mental, emotional or sensory overload caused by the new development.

Being autistic means a lifetime of fluid adaptation. We get a handle on something, develop coping strategies, adapt and we’re good. If life changes, we many need some time to readapt. Find the new pattern. Figure out the rules. Test out strategies to see what works. In the mean time, other things may fall apart. We lose skills. We struggle to cope with things that had previously been doable under more predictable conditions. This is not regression to an earlier developmental stage, it’s a process of adapting to new challenges and it’s one that we do across a lifetime of being autistic.

Source: Autistic Regression and Fluid Adaptation | Musings of an Aspie

An important part of the process is showing them why they need it.

I forgot to teach the students why they wanted this. Why they needed it. How it would make them more comfortable in class. How it would give them security and control. Basically, I forgot to show them why they should care.

The next step was initiated by the students. They wanted their schedule like my book.

Source: Teaching Students How to Succeed Means Teaching Them How to Plan – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

We’re not here to impose a one-true-way on our children and students. We’re here to share our cognitive nets and coping skills so as to help kids build their own cognitive net and fill their own tool belts with what works for them. Be a cognitive net, not a wagging finger. Show them why it matters. When we show them what we actually do, the techniques that help us cope and live and navigate sentience and senescence, the why is easier.