Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Defense of Unschooling

Some folks will completely skip over this post, and they should. I don't mean that in a bad way, just that if you do not have an interest in Gilbert my son and what he accomplished last year during his 12th grade homeschooling year you should check your email instead! If you're curious about how it went then please read!

If you're a parent of a young man or woman or if you are a young man or woman who has struggled with schooling, you may also want to read this.

Just so you know it's real long!

End of the Year Paper
Posted on May 7, 2012
Homeschool Happenings, By Gil Giancaterino

After my junior year of high school I was running into undeniable flaws with my education. Lack of care, cause and commitment put a serious damper on my future, and the way I envisioned myself living. So for my senior year I chose a different path towards my high school diploma, homeschooling or unschooling as my mom calls it. It is a great challenge to take responsibility for one’s self and ones schooling, which became a recurring theme over the past year. I learned responsibility doesn’t mean paying for things you have to pay for or taking care of things you got yourself into, it means finding your own niche in the world in which these things come naturally. Over the course of the year, I have taken large steps towards becoming the self-sufficient adult I will become in due time. My schooling never focused on certain subjects and specific knowledge. I filled out some workbooks, but only those that fit into my grand scheme of my future. I read books that described independence, and attaining it, as well as books about knowing yourself and questioning when you feel you’re on the wrong path. Books like Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow make me question my own actions every day. I worked on an organic farm and their mission statement to not just be sustainable, but to give back to the land more than take. This should be true with all aspects of life. Sustainable is stagnancy, giving back is growth and that is the only way to become larger than your own life. All these things I have learned through this year and will take me much further than any high school credit or passing grade. The beginning of the year was a struggle; I wasn’t used to the freedom and spent time learning conventional knowledge. Learn some science, read a few books and let’s see how it goes. This was the start, and from where I am now I can see how I have changed. Still, I created with my own hands. This was my greatest connection with history, and while digging and planting my own food it gave me a sense of how our civilization and many others grew and developed. My knife, which has become a huge part of my life and a very useful tool, would get me expelled for even bringing her into the building. On the farm I needed the knife everyday serving many different tasks. The pride I have in using the creation of my own hands to create more is incomparable. I used it to make my own carvings and art, my slingshots for example. This would never be encouraged b public schools, but these schools don’t teach a connection with history and a most fundamental tool in the building of America, they teach the facts and dates wars. This creation led to new learning, involving the material I used to make the knife. I learned all about tempering knives. The steel for knives wasn’t born strong. It takes specific skills to make a random, soft piece of steel into a fire hardened tool. Carbon separates normal iron from steel, and more carbon makes for stronger steel. My knife was made from spring steel, very strong and resilient steel with a high carbon count. To make my knife the proper strength I had to use tools I had never learned to use, for example I experimented with a blowtorch for the heat treatments of the blade. As I kept making knives I had to continue to learn about the tempering process to grow and expand my interest. I eventually put all my gathered information together and made fire hardened knives for all of my families Christmas presents. It may not have been done completely correct, but it was the start of a lifelong interest in metallurgy. This interest eventually applied into my time on the organic farm I visited. Wes, the manager was impressed with the throwing knives I made, and even offered to let me make a real forge on his property. His goal was to be able to make his own tools, along with guiding me into building skills of my own. This learning is real, tangible and comes from legitimate interest. With the right materials, interest and proper guidance I went from wishing one day I could make my own knives and tools to actually accomplishing it, and that is more satisfying than any high score on a test. Another growing interest I had was building. I love to build things and take pride in the creating of a structure. I learned how to build a greenhouse this year, and followed through and make quite a few. It started as an interest in gardening passed down from my parents. I thought it would be neat if my house had a greenhouse out in the back yard. It took a while to even choose the right spot, we watched where the sun hit the ground and found the plot of land big enough for the structure with enough sun to sustain the plants. I leveled the ground, another tricky task seeing as our location was the former site of a tree stump. We had to cut out the sod, and move a lot of dirt around to have a perfectly level plot for our greenhouse to lie. Sourcing plastic and materials is another issue. All of this was worth it when I had drawn up my own design, and can see it built and ready for planting in the back yard. This is not where my adventures with hot houses end. Back at the farm, my manager had known that I built a greenhouse. He taught me the science behind how they work so he could utilize my skills on the farm. He showed me how he wanted his hotbeds built, and set me to it without warning. With a little time and frustration I made two of his five hoophouses, which I then planted with seed. I was honored, frankly. As time passed I continued to show my skills in woodworking, so much so that I was offered a job building a huge greenhouse, 24×10 feet long. This is the largest greenhouse I had ever built. I spent roughly 2 days on the project, and right as I was leaving the farm it was completed. Now there will always be a large part of me right in the entrance of Firelight Farms. The first part of greenhouse production is frame selection. You can build from pvc, wood or metal frames. I’ve used pvc and wood to make the frames before, and attempted metal once. When you’ve selected your materials its time to build the frame. Making sure the ground is square and level is key to having a well put together structure, any discrepancies will yield unreliable measurements when cutting wood. Once the frame is up, then comes the fun part. Attaching the plastic coating can be very difficult to do. Pulling the fradgile plastic taught over the frame is tricky, and any holes in the plastic will leak precious heat in the winter. For our back yard we use almost clear plastic, at the farm I’ve only used completely clear. Each will yield edible results. You can staple the plastic in place, or use lathing (strips of thin wood screwed over the edges of the plastic to keep it in place, and airtight), and there are many other methods. You can even chose to cover your greenhouse in panels of clear plastic or glass. This large amount of experience I accrued over this short year is a life skill I will always carry with me. These experiences mean nothing if you cannot apply yourself, that is another thing I learned over the year. I started a very small business creating hunting class slingshots, made artistically from natural and laminated wood. This has been an interest of mine for around 8 years but only this year have I applied much of myself to this hobby of mine. I spent hours making these beautiful works in my basement and back patio, all the while connecting with banks, credit unions, customers and new friends I was forced to communicate with to help my business. By expanding my interests beyond myself I found a whole realm of satisfaction in my own work, untapped. It was always nice to hear from customers telling how much they loved their new slingshot. The first step was making an account in which only I had access, this was important for my own feeling of independence. I researched banks and alternative banking, like credit unions. I decided I wanted my money and my account to go through a credit union, the Franklin Mint Credit Union. The difference between between a bank and credit union is simple, credit unions are non profit. They aren’t using my money to make more money which I thought was a definite (moral) advantage. So I took a visit up the street and opened a checking account and requested a debit card with which to open my account with. This led to my online site and many people seeing my products that would not have otherwise. Over the course of the year I sold around 15 handcrafted slingshots, and made enough money from it to keep the excitement alive. Beyond that I learned about money management and gained a sense of responsibility to the people buying my slingshots. Saving money and finding a safe place for it can be hard. Conventional thought always told me all banks are the same, but in recent days we have seen what bad banking and greed can do to a society. Choosing a credit union helped me understand the differences and make moral, not just economic decision. I might not have learned the differences and had my own experiences in these situations if I had not chosen to pursue my love of crafting handmade slingshots. Another important lesson I learned this year was the importance of avoiding the many unhealthy temptations of life, which involves eating right. I read many books such as The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing and others up at the farm. These books were about the revolutionary attitudes of people wanting to change their surroundings, all in hopes of loving where you living. Reading about the debilitating effects mass produced foods and the negative health this cheap and easy alternative can provide in the long run has forced me to rethink how I live and eat. And having started eating better myself I can feel the difference. Only a healthy plant will pass on real nutrition, a plant fed its nutrients in a baron grow medium won’t be able to provide the same invigorating effects as natural energy grown the hard way. My manager Wes would not stop talking about full spectrum nutrition, this is when a plant has every nutrient it needs to grow available to them right there in the soil, and no fertilizers are ever needed. To have this you need to replicate nature in the variety of soil amenities you chose to grow your food in. 23 tons of volcanic rock dust on the property spread thin will provide all of the nutrients and minerals found in the earth’s crust that plants crave in order to grow to its full potential. Healthy plants make healthy people. Biochar is another natural fertilizer to jump up and down about. Biochar is made by superheating organic matter in the absence of a flame, so that all the plant matter is driven off and you’re left with pure elemental carbon. It is the only technology known to man to trap carbon permanently in one place and return it to the soil where it belongs. This act alone is astounding, but the fact that no one right now is using it for their soil is just as important, given its tremendous effect at reducing the carbon that would have normally returned to the atmosphere. Biochar started in South America, in the Amazon River basin. Civilizations used “Terra preta”, their term for biochar, to beef up their soil. The art of making biochar died along with them. But as a growing need for good food is starting again people are realizing the need for this compound in their soil. When using biochar you must first inoculate it with a nutrient, like compost. Biochar sucks in nutrients and then gives them back to the soil over time, so putting bare biochar in soil would strip it of nutrients at first, this is why you give it something to feed on first. People who know of the effects of biochar say up to 10 percent of soil structure should be biochar for the healthiest plants. A healthy plant will fend off disease, it will resist being destroyed by bugs and will grow large and vibrant with color, but most important it will fill bodies with exactly what nature has to offer, the most available nutrition we crave. This is a real thing happening. The world is changing and we have few options. We can stick with the new way of life, which will inevitably lead to a baron planet with baron people who do not see the problems that are staring them in the face. Hard work, responsibility and health have become secondary to the new technologies that make our lives so much easier, but not simpler. This year I set out to change myself, rework what living in the public eduation system has taught me. But what actually happened was I found myself facing global issues instead of my own. This taught me how to change things, how to be a part of something bigger than myself, which I had no motivation to do while in high school. Pride in what you have made, I made an amazing knife and learned my country’s history in the process. Now you can go to Wal-Mart and buy fifty shovels if you wanted, but a craftsman didn’t make them. No one fed their family with the labor of smithing a well-made shovel. Pride wasn’t on the line, a livelihood. That is where I feel I am now and belong there. Building with your own hands to achieve a goal, learning all the while, that is true learning. I spoke to a mason the other day on the street who had been laying brick since he was fifteen, his work was very good. He told me you didn’t need the book knowledge to create what he had made. Learning on site to pick up skills is the only way to become proficient. Whether it’s making your own tools, learning to live right or starting a business that has always come naturally to you, it’s not hard to change the world. It takes drive, willingness and a brain in your head to tell you what you feel you should be doing. Knowing about this organic hippie stuff is one thing, but acting is the hardest. The future of our foods system is at stake, giving back to the land we eat from is necessary to maintain the balance of our race. Working and living in the movement has changed the way I see my own future, and I know now that I want to be a part of it all. It’s a lifestyle that we all have in us and are meant to achieve, but the comforts of life can pull harder on us. This is part of the reason I started homeschooling, and may be the point in my life where my ideals shifted. Looking toward the future I am more hopeful than ever because of the people who I have met that are actually making a difference and I am honored to have worked with them. My final month on the farm was beyond rewarding. My hard work paid off in many ways. My manager offered me a job at the farm and said I was welcome any time I pleased. This was a great offer because I was very unsure of what I wanted to do once I completed high school, and being a part of the farm for a whole season will inevitably lead to much new learning, and growing. This year I realized a dream of mine, one that took a lot of the skills I have learned over this year and gave them all a purpose. Building your own home, with your own land and knowing it must work for your own livelihood that is the goal I set for myself. To live and work and love where you’re at, that is happiness. You cannot change the world by protesting or complaining. Before you can change the world you have to change where you are, and make it suit your needs. If you cannot love where you are then how will you ever have the passion to change the world? These things are not on any test yet I feel it’s the most important thing I have learned, and it applies to every living thing. I can attribute all of this learning to this year of high school. I assure you I had no intentions or dreams before I had the time to seek them out. School can be stifling and difficult, and for me it was obvious I didn’t belong in that system. I have learned more meaningful knowledge this year than I could have in any class at school. I thank everyone who made it possible for me to have this kind of personal and academic growth happen in a few short months.

 If you've gotten this far the pictures are your reward. Gilbert is the man in the fine straw hat.
 This is the greenhouse Gilbert built on the farm.
These are the seedlings he spoke of.

If you go to my Labels under homeschool you'll see more of the day to day stuff he worked on at home. If you really got through all this please leave a comment that you were here and feel free to ask any questions!


  1. Florida GrandmomAugust 09, 2012

    No questions...just a huge amount of pride in the man you have become. Much love...Florida Grandmom

  2. Ha should start a book now and tell others of what he learns on a day by day basis. The things that we take for granted sometimes are a mountain to others. I can see he has the skills and other young people could be helped. He is over coming problems that we all face in life. I wish him well in all he does.


  3. Wow, this was written so well. He is so right about all the points he brought up. Not every person is meant to go sit at a desk and work at a computer all day. He was very lucky to see that he was not on the right path, and have this opportunity present itself.