Training to Volunteer as a Spiritual Caregiver for the Elderly in Somerville-Cambridge, MA

Last month I started a class that trains people to volunteer as spiritual caregivers for the elderly in Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts. My sister took the course earlier this year and absolutely loved it. I’ve been trying a lot of new things this year, but it took me some courage to sign-up. I’m really glad I did.

This program came about when Nancy Willbanks was working at the Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services and noticed while we have all sorts of programs to help elderly people with transportation, medical care, food delivery, etc. there’s nothing in place to support elderly people when they are dealing with crises and are in need of spiritual support.


What is Spiritual Caregiving?

What does “spiritual support” mean? I’m not exactly sure. I guess most people would be more comfortable using the term “emotional support”. That is part of the job I’m sure but it seems to go beyond that. One of the points made in the course was that the types of issues we’re dealing with go far beyond Freudian psychology to bigger questions and anxieties (it’s worth noting though, that we aren’t working with people who are suicidal, have serious mental illness, or facing death: that’s beyond the scope of this program).

My uncle, Robert Gerzon, wrote a book called Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety. One of his central points in the book is that there are actually three different types of anxiety: natural anxiety (fear when we hear a loud noise in the dark, anxiety right before a performance, etc.), toxic anxiety (often repetitious, always unhelpful, negative thoughts and worries, OR an unrealistically positive “pollyanna voice” that sets us up for disappointment), and sacred anxiety.

Sacred anxiety is anxiety that comes from facing life’s big questions: our purpose, God/the divine, the nature of the universe, love, meaning, life, death, etc. Sacred anxiety is about issues and questions that might not have an answer. I think that’s what spiritual caregiving is about in this program. It’s about helping elderly people with their struggle and pain around those issues.

As I said, many of these issues don’t have “answers” or anything you can “solve” or “fix”. So a lot of the course concentrates on listening. Because listening is often the only comfort one can provide when trying to help people facing these issues. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy!

It takes a lot to stay centered and present and hold space while someone is dealing with these profound things. My goodness, it does.


Example of Helpful Course Material: Listening When Someone Feels Guilty

One of the things I found most helpful in the class is the part about listening in a balanced way when someone is feeling guilty and wants to share. We talked about different approaches according to different characters: Harsh Harry, Libertine Larry, and Caring Cary.

So Harsh Harry comes down hard on the confessor, who then just feels worse and/or gets defensive. And Libertine Larry insists right away that the person is not really at fault and dismisses their negative feelings. Both approaches don’t give the person a chance to really share and address how they feel.

I’ve noticed myself and others take both approaches. But it seems in my life I’ve noticed the Libertine Larry approach more often: people who might think they’re trying to be nice, but actually they’re refusing to really engage with the person and how they feel. Harsh Harry isn’t really engaging either. It can be difficult to engage with emotions especially when we’re trying to avoid our own.

Then there’s Caring Cary: he listens in a balanced way. He listens and doesn’t try to force the person to feel guilty but also doesn’t allow them to dismiss or rationalize away the appropriate guilt they might feel. Cary engages and helps the person process their negative emotion so they can forgive themselves and possibly try to do better next time.

And as I just read in another book from the course: you’re not going to instantly follow a new approach. In this case, talking about failing to be assertive: “When – not if – this happens be kind to yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back for being able to identify a nonassertive response, and take a moment to identify what you’ll do next time. And then let it go. Inconsistency is a legitimate part of the normal learning curve.You can’t develop new patterns without occasionally slipping back into old ones. Concentrate on what you’ve done well.”

The names of the two books I’ve referenced here are: Christian Caregiving – a Way of Life by Kenneth Haugk and Speaking the Truth in Love – How to be an Assertive Christian by  Ruth N. Koch and Kenneth Haugk.


Using Christian Books for an Interfaith Volunteer Program

Did I mention the course books are really Christian? And the woman who runs the program is an ordained Christian minister? And one of my fellow students who is Jewish by heritage and identifies as Buddhist, chose to leave the class because it seemed too Christian and/or theistic for him?

Actually, Nancy makes a real effort in class to “translate” much of the course material into general spiritual terms. And in the class handouts she includes writings and teachings from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and even Wicca.

When my sister told me about this course months ago she said excitedly, “When I read this Christian stuff, I can’t help seeing so many parallels to the Buddhist books I’ve been reading! It really seems to me like they’re saying the same thing.”

Generally, I have mixed thoughts and feelings about this sentiment. But my sister seemed genuine, I trust her judgement a lot, and I believe there is a lot of truth to the idea that ultimately great spiritual traditions are “all saying the same thing”.

Throughout Kenneth Haugk’s book Christian Caregiving: a Way of Life he says the book is for Christians and that Christians have a unique ability to offer the best caregiving. But all of the advice, information, and tools in the book seems very helpful for anyone. I don’t find it quite as easy as my sister but I am able to “translate” most of what he writes into terms I can appreciate, even though I don’t identify as Christian.

I think a lot of the information is very practical, honest, realistic, and beautiful for anyone. A lot of it is about balance, being present, realistic, and honest (including about your motivations for caregiving), and making sure to take care of yourself too.

I’m thankful the course exists and I’m thankful Nancy is teaching it in an interfaith way, as much as possible. I do wish there were books and courses that were from a broader perspective so people of all faiths could easily learn these skills and help others. By “all faiths” I include people who don’t have a religion. I know many people are turned off by the subject of religion, faith, spirituality, the soul, and so on, because of negative associations they have. I share many of those negative associations with religion and, honestly, Christianity specifically. This course has forced me to re-question some of my views on Christianity. Mainly, each Christian is an individual and even if I disagree on some things it doesn’t mean that person isn’t doing great things in the world and that I can’t learn from them.

(I will say, it seems like everyone in the class is very gay-friendly: not all devout Christians are homophobic, certainly not in Massachusetts.)


Wherever You Go, There’s Your Soul

And again it helps me to refer to another family member, this time my aunt Rachael Kessler who passed away a few years ago from cancer: she wrote a book called The Soul of Education: Helping Students Find Connection, Compassion, and Character at School. The premise of the book was that even if we want to keep religion and school (church and state) separate, students/young people are still going to bring their souls to school! And they are still going to face profound challenges (”sacred anxieties”) and need support.

I really appreciate this idea and how it applies to all of us. I wish I had expressed this appreciation more when she was alive. When the book came out in the year 2000, I was pretty closed minded to any reference to “school” that didn’t have the prefix “un-” attached to it.

My point in referring to her book is: even if many people don’t like thinking about or even believe in spirituality and soul, that doesn’t mean people don’t struggle with issues of meaning, purpose, life, the universe, and everything.

When my mom heard that the spiritual caregiving program serves elderly people who are facing a crisis she said, “Doesn’t that apply to pretty much every elderly person, all the time?” I would take it a step further and say that it applies to most people of any age pretty much all the time!

Imagine if people had more spiritual support and caregiving at other times in their lives: teens, young adults searching for direction, new parents, people in a midlife crisis, grieving people of all ages, etc. What a wonderful service that would be.

Also, the whole Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services program is state funded so it puts a very valuable, real human face on a social welfare program. Those so called “entitlement programs” often have a bad reputation. But it seem like the programs they offer are very helpful for people who really need help.

At the start of this post I referred to the courage it took me to start this course. Actually, in class we often pair up and “practice” listening and caregiving. Sometimes we’re roleplaying a character but often we’re asked to share our own spiritual struggles. It’s scary to do and has highlighted just how rarely I do that even with my close friends and family. But it’s kind of liberating and comforting, both to share and to listen. Anyway, I’m glad I joined the course.


In Conclusion: There is No Conclusion

I don’t really have a point or a conclusion. These are just some things I’ve thought about and observed. I’m sure I’ll have more to say by the end of the course in December, let alone after I start providing spiritual caregiving for someone.

Anyway, writing this blog post is actually just a big excuse to avoid doing the reading for the class that’s due tomorrow. Just kidding, of course… but I better get to it now. Thanks for reading.

(Here is a link to info on the volunteer program which has a new training class starting in January, 2013: Aging and Spiritual Well-being – Spiritual Caregiver Volunteer – Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services.)

Radical Unschooling: the Negative Post

Years ago, I wrote a blog post called Intro to Radical Unschooling. In it, I described some of the things I like about radical unschooling. I said I’d write another blog post addressing negative things I don’t like about it. Finally, this is that post.

Why Now?

I heard of radical unschooling in 2007 at a large unschooling conference and was honestly somewhat skeptical. But the idea of total freedom for children was interesting, and I was excited by what a large and vocal following it had across the country.  So, I kept an open mind.

Over time, I noticed more and more things that bothered me about the philosophy, or at least how I saw it being implemented. My inspiration for writing about it now came from an unexpected source.

Recently, I was walking along and noticed a girl from my sixth grade class standing on the front steps of a house just a block down from me. I’ve lived in my apartment for exactly a year and never realized she lived so close. We’d only been in the same class for a year, but we still had plenty to reminisce about and catch up on. For example, I told her our classmate Josh just had a baby. Her jaw dropped and she said, “Wow! Must be a good looking baby!” (Oh, sixth grade and the crushes we had.)

Then she told me why she had gone to a different high school. Her parents had seen the track she was headed down and knew a change needed to take place.  Apparently, she had been hanging out with “the wrong crowd.” She was even taken home in a cop car a couple times when they all went out looking for trouble and found it. She said it was hard to fit in and that was one way she tried.

When she got to this art centered high school everyone seemed to be really focused on working toward their own goals. She said it had a good effect on her. In fact, she looked off down the street, took a breath and said, “It’s actually one of the best things to happen to me.” It made me think about the way some things can truly alter our lives and who we become.

Exceptions to Radical Unschooling 

Then it made me think about radical unschooling. This was a case where parents made their child do something, something major, without their child’s consent, and the child grew up to be very thankful for it. Definitely not an approach the radical unschooling community would endorse — but in this case, it worked.

This is also a good example of how we can be affected by our environment. When unschoolers, radical or otherwise, talk about people’s natural motivation to learn and do what’s ultimately best for themselves, they often don’t acknowledge the power of our environment. What I’m motivated  to do is affected by what’s available, what’s needed, what others are doing, what’s considered “cool”, etc.

My awareness of the significance of environment on a person’s life is part of what motivated me to come up with the term “worldschooling.” When we put ourselves in certain environments it can motivate or even force us to learn things, for better or for worse.

Maybe some radical unschoolers would acknowledge this case of parents sending their child to a school of their choosing as an exception where the radical unschooling approach was not the best thing. Of course, they might insist the parents should have taken her out of school altogether (and I might disagree because maybe she’d still run with the same crowd in town).

I did speak at an unschooling conference (with mostly radical unschoolers) and tried to make the point that sometimes it is best for parents to push their child to do things. One mother insisted she’d never force her son to do anything. I said, “What if you knew he was doing something that might get him killed?”

She replied serenely, “Well, maybe that’s his destiny.”

Now, I think she underestimates the power of her instinct to preserve her own child’s survival: she would try to stop him if she thought his life was in danger (regardless of her philosophy). There are no radical unschoolers in a foxhole.

But her words do show how far some radical unschooling parents go in insisting that not forcing their children to do anything is the ideal. Personally, I think the ideal is truly happy, healthy people who know themselves, and do their best to share their gifts with the world.

And I think there are times when that requires a parent or caretaker to override what the child says he/she wants. Usually, things are not as major as the story above. And definitely, it’s not always clear how best to act or whether to just let a child learn from her/his own mistakes.

Among radical unschoolers you do often hear the example, “If my child ran into the street when a car was coming, of course I would grab him/her.” But most situations are not as clear, and each parent does ultimately have to decide if and how to intervene in a child’s life. Again, I think most radical unschoolers would acknowledge that as well.

Then what is distinctive about radical unschooling?

If all parents have to decide for themselves when and how to intervene in their children’s lives, then what makes radical unschoolers different?

The Distinction of Radical Unschooling

I think that’s why radical unschoolers talk about video games, TV, food, and bedtimes so much: it’s something on which they all agree. Radical unschoolers think the best thing for children is if they are given unrestricted access to all these things and allowed to sleep whenever they want. They may have a lot of junk food, play lots of video games, watch lots of TV, and stay up really late during certain periods. But, according to the philosophy of radical unschooling, they will eventually develop their own healthy, balanced way of living if given enough time and trust.

Almost all parents who are not radical unschoolers think this approach to TV, bedtimes, junk food, and video games is ridiculous. By concentrating on these things radical unschoolers can differentiate themselves from other parents. Every group needs their own way of identifying themselves.

Personally, I think this approach doesn’t take into account the power of addiction and seduction. Sometimes we get hooked on something and then come back to a healthy equilibrium or stop completely. Sometimes we don’t. For example, I’ve heard young children have the ability to regulate their intake of proper nutrition given access to healthy foods. They might have “too much” salt or fat in a particular meal but measured over the course of a week it actually evens out perfectly. Then there’s sugar. Sugar is addictive, and given open access to sugar many children will continue eating an unhealthy amount.

Truthfully, I think what’s distinctive about radical unschoolers is their concentration on not forcing their children to do anything or impose any rules. They point out, I think rightly so, that when you trust your child you tend to need less rules anyway. But what about when rules are necessary? They avoid concentrating on or dealing with those instances by saying that following the radical unschooling philosophy guarantees the issue won’t arise.

Which brings me to one of my main issues with radical unschooling. The radical unschoolers I’ve met seem to think conflict between a parent and child is the most important thing to avoid, and that it causes irreparable damage to the relationship. As many stories show, including the one above, that’s just not always the case. Sometimes a parent will have to make a decision the child really doesn’t like and the child may be angry at her/him for a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do or that the child won’t eventually be thankful.

Pendulum Swing

The root issue here may be where radical unschooling parents are coming from. Many radical unschooling parents come from an experience of very strict, controlling, untrusting, or harsh parenting (or “traditional parenting” as many of them call it)Either their parents were like that to them or they themselves were very strict with their children before they discovered radical unschooling. Upon discovering this other way of parenting it may have been very challenging to let go and trust in a consistent way. But once they were able to really trust their child to find their own way, they found it much better than the stricter way of parenting they knew.

They seem to think these two extremes are the only ways of parenting. Maybe there’s a fear that if they don’t do radical unschooling parenting they will automatically go to the other extreme of harsh, untrusting parenting. Maybe they’re right. But that doesn’t mean their extreme is the only option or the ideal for all parents.

Unfortunately, I’ve met radical unschooling parents that seem to think they’re better than other parents. In fact, some seem to think that if you’re not parenting their way then you’re abusing your child. To be fair, many do not promote this way of thinking. In fact, Dayna Martin, author of Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun, gave a speech all about trying to reach out to other people even if they don’t have the same views on parenting. I don’t necessarily agree with Dayna on everything, including the title of her book, but I really appreciated that message.

Still, there are enough radical unschoolers conveying a message of intolerance that it becomes offputting, especially to people who are interested in unschooling/homeschooling. What’s sad to me is that many people could really benefit from leaving school and homeschooling with a curriculum or not (a.k.a. unschooling). But I’ve heard stories of people almost scared away from the whole idea of homeschooling because they had negative experiences with radical unschoolers. And I’ve also met radical unschoolers who insist that the only real unschooler is a radical unschooler, and that you shouldn’t bother to homeschool unless you’re going to unschool.

(Sectarian Tangent – Taking a step back, it seems so historical: like Protestants and Catholics, Sunnis and Shiites, or Orthodox Jews and Reform. “You’re not really Christian/Muslim/Jewish unless you’re our kind of Christian/Muslim/Jew.” Same in Buddhism only even more complex perhaps. Radical unschoolers will even insist they are the ones who properly interpret the words of the founder of unschooling: John Holt.)

In the past, I’ve definitely looked down on people who don’t choose unschooling. I feel sorry about that now. More and more I see that homeschooling while using some curriculum works well for some people. It doesn’t seem to cause severe damage for sure. And some people even seem to do really well in certain schools.

I still think homeschooling is something from which a lot more people could benefit. I think many people have no idea what young people (or they themselves) are capable of learning if given the freedom to (re)develop motivation. And I think radical unschoolers are right: many adults don’t give children enough freedom, trust, or respect. Sometimes people do unhealthy things simply as a rebellion against rules imposed upon them. But there are billions of other reasons why people do things that might be unhealthy.


That’s ultimately my disappointment with radical unschooling: it doesn’t give you any other tools or even acknowledge that you may need other tools, to deal with the complex challenge of being responsible for a child. Their only tool seems to be trusting and being supportive. They have some great, creative ways to use that tool. They insist if you use that tool properly you won’t have any other problems. That does not seem to be the case to me. When that tool doesn’t solve every problem radical unschooling doesn’t have anything else to offer.

I’m sure every individual parent or caretaker does in fact develop their own skills for how to deal with different problems where just trusting and supporting aren’t the answer. But again, radical unschoolers seem to avoid getting in those situations, facing them, or even talking about them in my experience.

Radical unschoolers talk about going off and having a revolution, but ultimately, many seem to really want to create their own world and find the outside, mainstream society to be inhospitable to their way of life. They say that’s why they go to conferences: to be surrounded by people who are like minded. I can understand that. They talk about the “unschooling bubble” often in very positive terms.

I guess that’s where they lose me. I’m not big on bubbles.

I’ve noticed there can be tolerance within the “unschooling bubble” for behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated outside of the community. In the name of freedom, respect, and trust the behavior isn’t addressed. But you’re doing a great disservice to someone if you allow them to develop behavior and habits that are going to close doors to them, regardless of your stated motives.


I left school and started unschooling when I was 15 years old with high hopes for what unschooling could do for the world. I wrote, organized information nights, and gave speeches (once in front of an audience even). Then I traveled the world and didn’t concentrate on unschooling for years. In 2007, I was introduced to the national unschooling scene and radical unschooling. It was very exciting even though the direction they seemed to be going was somewhat in contrast to some of the valuable lessons I learned while traveling. I had high hopes again for unschooling.

I still do. But I realize things are a lot more complex than I thought as a teenager. (What a surprise, right? God bless teens: keep doing what you’re doing. But yes, things are often more complex than you think. It’s great.) And I don’t think radical unschooling as it’s conceived is the answer.

Actually, I think we need to look deeper to discover who we really are and what the real challenges are around us. I think it’s hard to overstate how difficult it can be to truly do that:

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. Carl Jung

Or even more apt for unschooling:

Men are not free when they are doing just what they like…. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes, and there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some diving. –D.H. Lawrence

We need to go to the root of ourselves and the problems around us if we want to create real change. That’s actually what “radical” means: “to the root”. But I think radical unschooling is in some ways superficial: “Look! My child is truly free because I let him/her play video games!” So radical unschooling needs to figure out what it really is about if it wants to live up to some of its grand hopes.

At the very least, radical unschoolers could work on being more welcoming to everyone, regardless of their views, if they want to encourage people to try the wonderful world of learning and living without school. That’d be totally radical.

Messages from Occupy Wall Street Via Slogans and Chants from the October 15th March

Occupy Wall Street began one month ago and this Saturday, October 15th, 2011 there were marches in cities all over the world in solidarity with it. I went to the march in Boston and it was an amazing experience. People really want to know exactly what is the protesters’ message. I thought the chants and slogans we shouted during the march are a great place to start:

“We are the 99%!” – This movement’s most distinctive chant. This movement represents the interests of the vast majority of the population. The top 1% in the U.S. has about 50% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 80% has 20% of the wealth. The wealthiest people and corporations continue to make more money while most everyone else sees less job opportunities, higher prices, reduced wages, and increased debt.

“Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” – One of the clearest injustices of the last few years is the government bailing out the banks that contributed so much to our economic collapse. Meanwhile the average citizen has suffered the most and gotten little or no help from the government, while the banks make huge profits and raise their fees.

“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” – This chant is common in many protests. Democracy is about people governing themselves. It will never only be about voting for candidates. But especially now, the point is that people are dissatisfied with how most politicians, regardless of political party, have not represented the interests of the vast majority of the population.

“How do we fix the deficit? End the war and tax the rich!” – The U.S.’s national deficit has been a big topic this year. While politicians contemplated cutting programs that help people, the 99% has other ideas: The people in this movement agree we need to end our unjust wars and stop supporting other militaries around the world. And the rich, people AND corporations, need to be taxed their fair share, instead of getting tax breaks and using tax loopholes to pay less than the average citizen, who has so much less.

“Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!” – Again, we need to spend our money on educating people and creating jobs. Bombing and occupying foreign countries directly and through aid to oppressive and aggressive countries is not how we want to spend our money.

“Whose streets? Our streets!” – This one is pretty clear. This is a democracy and the country belongs to all the people, not just the top 1% who have taken control of so much of the country. Furthermore, the 99% has paid the vast majority of taxes which have been used to pay the workers, also part of the 99%, who maintain the streets.

“Off the sidewalk into the street!” – Often the marchers shouted at the onlookers on the sidewalks we passed, or even in restaurants and cars, for people to join us. Again, insisting that this is about them as well and that we need to get off the sidelines and take action.

Just to give you an idea of the sound and feel: these chants are shouted over and over again usually for a few minutes. Many slogans had a call and answer. Someone would shout (sometimes using a bullhorn in Boston where it’s apparently legal but not in New York): “How do we fix the deficit?” And the crowd around them would shout back, “End the war and tax the rich!”

There were also some slight changes to these main slogans and chants. Often people shouted “YOU are the 99%!” instead of “We are the 99%!” Other times after “We are the 99%!” people would shout: “And so are you!” pointing to onlookers around the march. Again, insisting this is about the vast majority of the population.

Democracy Now! reported an inspiring example in New York of a slight change in a chant and the fact that it’s about more than just the protesters. At one point on Saturday, there was a tense moment between protesters and the police in Times Square. But Joseph Esposito, the highest ranking uniformed police officer in the NYPD, told the other police to back off. The tension immediately dissipated. People cheered, said “I love you!” to the police, and shouted: “The police are the 99%!”

The most hostile it got in Boston was when walking down Newbury Street (the most expensive shopping street in Boston), a few, just a few, people shouted: “How do we end the deficit? End the war and EAT the rich!” as opposed to taxing them. In all modesty, I don’t think that’s a very productive or practical proposal. And is not an official stance of the Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street, or global occupy movement.

But really, the demonstrations, protests, and marches around the world were all peaceful events with an exception of a few people in Rome vandalizing property (there’s a long history of Vandals in Rome; considering that it went well).

I should say, these are the chants I heard during the Boston marches. I assume the chants were similar in most English speaking cities but definitely leave a comment if I missed any good ones! I’m curious what sort of things people chanted in other countries and languages, as well.

In the end these are just chants and slogans. But I think they give a good indication of the very real, legitimate, and basic grievance upon which all the protesters agree. And I think people are listening, thinking, and talking about these issues more than ever before. There was a lot of support from the people we passed by on the street in Boston and even mainstream media outlets like the New York Times and even Fox News are publishing articles that are sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street and the 99%.

Inspiration from Jewish Voice for Peace: Young, Jewish, and Proud

Tonight is the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah! This past winter I visited Israel and the West Bank/Palestine. It was an amazing experience but I had mixed feelings to say the least. I’ve had a hard time articulating this or much of anything as you can see from my lack of posts!

But I was very inspired by this website:

There’s a concern among Jewish people that not enough young adults are actively involved in Judaism. And there’s also a very strong push to support Israel and not speak out against the injustices the state commits against Palestinians.

These young people declare: they are for peace and justice, they are against the injustices against Palestinians, and they remember why they are proud to be Jewish.

Here’s the video of the declaration of Jewish Voice for Peace: Young Jewish Proud:

(You can also read it on their site.)

One thing that really stuck out to me was about remembering, especially: “We remember how to build our homes, and our holiness, out of time and thin air, and so do not need other people’s land to do so.”

I wasn’t raised Jewish but I have Jewish heritage. My grandfather on my father’s side was Jewish. For whatever reason, that has always been important to me, maybe more so than anybody else in my immediate family.

While traveling in Israel and Palestine I realized what was important to me about being Jewish has to do with two main things:

1. Remembering my ancestors who have survived and thrived as strangers in strange lands and

2. Pride in all the Jewish people who have been and are today leaders in so many areas, especially in expressions of truth through social justice and art.

The obsession with nationalism and land I encountered in Israel, didn’t have meaning to me. Certainly, the taking of other people’s land, persecution, oppression, lies, denial, and fear to speak the truth doesn’t represent Judaism to me.

At the same time, I will admit, I’ve been afraid to speak some truths myself! I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing. I’ve been worried how my words will be received or if I’ll be able to say things “the right way”.

Again some inspiration from these young people: last May I watched an interview on about a girl who interrupted a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I loved what she, Rae Abileah, a Jewish-American activist of Israeli descent for Jewish Voice for Peace and Code Pink, had to say when she was interviewed about it.

Again you can also read the transcript on Democracy Now.

But I wasn’t sure how I felt about her interrupting the speech by shouting like that: it seemed maybe too rude and out of line. But I also wonder if maybe sometimes you have to sound rude and be out of line to make sure the truth is heard.

It puts in perspective my fear of not quite saying the right thing about my less high stakes subject matters like: my life and unschooling!

Having said all this about Jewish people, I have to say there are so many Christians, Muslims and non-religious people who are fighting for peace and justice in Isael and Palestine. And people want peace: I was so amazed how welcoming Palestinians, Muslim and Christian alike, were to me and my Jewish friends. I was also impressed by the number of helpful Christian organizations in the West Bank. I just think Jewish people hold a special responsibility since the state of Israel claims to act in their name.

Anyway, I am going to try to write more this coming year about all sorts of things. I think the year will be better and sweeter for it.

To a good and sweet year for everyone and may we all speak our truth as best we can: shanah tova umetukah!

A Debunkery of the Thanksgiving Myth….

Over Thanksgiving weekend my sister Miranda and I responded to the inquiries of an English friend about the American holiday Thanksgiving. The truth we reveal (involving nationalism, consumerismconspiracies, Christmas, and delicious food that just wasn’t selling well) was too powerful and enlightening even, nay especially, for our fellow Americans, we realized it needed to be shared with the world.

Miranda wrote on her friend’s Facebook wall (that’s where all of the best scholarship is done these days, just ask Sarah Palin):

“Miranda Gerzon: HAPPY TURKEY DAY, TOMMY G!!! gobble…gobble…
(it’s thanksgiving over here in the land of the free)”

To which “Tommy G” responded:

“Thomas Michael German: USA! USA! Do you also eat Turkey at Christmas as well?
Isnt Thanksgiving about a dinner with some native American Indians?
Enlighten me Gertie!”

Oh, enlighten him we did:

“Miranda Gerzon: Well Tom…

American mythology does purport the first Thanksgiving to have taken place with the “Pilgrims” and the native inhabitants. However, like many federal holidays in the US the truth paints a much less rosy picture. So, please allow me to drop some knowledge up in heezy.

Thanksgiving is in fact a nationalistic holiday invented by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. This occurred within the broader heretofore unprecedented global trend towards nationalism and national identity in the 1800s. Unbeknownst to the general public, Thanksgiving was only regionally and sporadically celebrated prior to this. Establishing it as a national holiday was intended to unify the nation around a common mythological origin of shared American identity.

In fact, the first permanent English settlement of the present day U.S. was established in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, for capitalistic purposes. The second permanent settlement, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was established in 1620 for purposes of religious freedom. It was chosen for this common origin to give further emphasis to the North during the American Civil War between the North and South.

The Pilgrims sought a land where they were free from religious persecution. In the “New World” they were free to oppress themselves and be even more uptight than the English; symbolically exemplified by the belt buckle around their hats and their generally boring clothing (please see photo).

The American Pilgrim displaying his literally uptight belt buckle hat, boring clothing, and commitment to American capitalism in the form of gluttonous consumption of turkey.

Thanksgiving also had the added benefit of promoting the distinctly American but floundering at the time, turkey and cranberry industries (the two most essential and traditional dishes of the Turkey Day feast).

As it always falls on the fourth Thursday of November, it also creates and marks the beginning of the holiday season. By celebrating the holiday at this time we are able to both spend time with our family as well as be reminded of our patriotic obligation to partake in excessive mass consumption as a means to express our undying love for our family and country. The Friday following Thanksgiving statistically generates the biggest shopping traffic of the year. Combining consumerism and competition, it is recipe for an all-out, all-American full contact carnival of capitalism.

But hey, it is a time to give thanks and the food is delicious. So there you have it.


P.S. Eating turkey is only reserved for Thanksgiving. On Christmas we eat anything.

P.P.S. 9/11 was an inside job.”

As an aside, we must admit perhaps some of the scathing cynicism in this essay may originate from the fact that our oven, stove, and dishwasher all broke on Thanksgiving morning 2010. Nevertheless, every word is true.

Eli Gerzon leads Worldschool Travel Tours to various countries around the world (i.e. Mexico and Japan) that are as educational, fun, and mind blowing as the above essay. A high school drop out (though sometimes he says he “homeschooled” or even “unschooled”), Eli studies history for hours on end without any coercion whatsoever and claims to enjoy it.

Miranda Gerzon is on the brink of graduating from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she majors in International Development and Social Change. For the past few years she’s had to constantly write essays like the one above, only for serious.

Recap of Worldschool Travel Tour: Japan in Summer 2010

Worldschool Travel Tour: Japan in Summer, 2010 was a great success! We stayed all three weeks in Kyoto and took day trips to Tokyo, Nara, Osaka, and Hiroshima. This trip there were three teenagers, all girls, ages sixteen to eighteen in the group.

We went to beautiful temples, interesting artistic shops, lots of great restaurants, a couple summer festivals with fireworks, and some powerful historical museums and memorials.

I’ll let the photos below (and their descriptions) mostly speak for themselves. But there were some great museums we went to that didn’t make it into the photos: the International Manga Museum in Kyoto, the Edo Tokyo Museum, Kyoto Museum for World Peace, Liberty Osaka, and the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo devoted to the beloved anime movies of Hayou Miyazaki’s and the other Studio Ghibli filmmakers.

One place that did make it into the photos but I wanted to make a special note of was our attending Hiroshima Peace Memorial Day on the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on August 6th, 1945. There were people singing, offering incense, and sending paper peace lanterns off onto the river directly over which the atomic bomb was dropped.

All of this was for remembrance of those who suffered and as a prayer for peace, especially international nuclear disarmament. It was a terrible thing to remember but beautiful to see what people can do with tragedy.

We had some powerful experiences, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun! I hope these photos offer a good glimpse into it all:

Golden Pavilion Temple Kyoto Japan

At the start of the trip: all of us in front of Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple or Golden Pavilion, one of the most famous temples in Kyoto and all of Japan.

Isuien Garden in Nara, Japan

View from the Isuien Garden with the gate to the Todaiji Temple in the background in Nara, Japan.

The Daibutsuden, "Great Buddha" housed in the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. One of the largest statues of the Buddha in the world, inside what may be the largest wooden structure in the world.

The Daibutsuden, "Great Buddha" housed in the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. One of the largest statues of the Buddha in the world, inside what may be the largest wooden structure in the world.

Nadia offering incense in front of the Great Buddha statue, the "Daibutsuden", in the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. This is a common practice at Buddhist temples in Japan.

Nadia offering incense in front of the Great Buddha statue, the "Daibutsuden", in the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. This is a common practice at Buddhist temples in Japan.

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Lauren underneath one of the many gates or "torii" at the Fushimi Inari Taishi Shinto shrine in Kyoto, Japan. This is the main shrine to the "inari" god or "kami": a fox god devoted to rice, business, and wealth. Each gate is donated by a different business or group of businesses.

Standing in front of the famous huge Shinto torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Bay, Japan. It's one of the most famous views in Japan.

Standing in front of the famous huge Shinto torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Bay, Japan. It's one of the most famous views in Japan.

The group in front of a Jizo statue (protector of children and travelers in Japanese Buddhism) with Hattori-san, a Buddhist monk, at his temple, Jikei-ji, in Mikuni, Osaka, where I used to live.

The group in front of a Jizo statue (protector of children and travelers in Japanese Buddhism) with Hattori-san, a Buddhist monk, at his temple, Jikeiji (, in Mikuni, Osaka, where I used to live.

Tenjin Matsuri summer festival float, Osaka 2010

Men carrying a float during the Tenjin Matsuri summer festival in Osaka, Japan on July 24th, 2010.

Women dancing during the Tenjin Matsuri summer festival in Osaka, Japan, July 24th, 2010.

Women dancing with fans during the Tenjin Matsuri summer festival in Osaka, Japan, July 24th, 2010.

Yodogawa Fireworks summer festival over the Yodogawa River in Osaka, Japan on August 7, 2010.

Yodogawa Fireworks summer festival over the Yodogawa River in Osaka, Japan on August 7, 2010.

Hiroshima Memorial of floating lanterns to remember the dropping of the first atomic bomb on human beings and to pray for nuclear disarmament and peace around the world. The A-Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings still standing after the bomb was dropped, is seen on the right in the background. Taken August 6th, 2010 on the 65th Anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial of floating lanterns in remembrance and prayer for peace. The A-Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings still standing after the bomb was dropped, is seen on the right in the background. Taken August 6th, 2010 on the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The girls posing for the photo in various Japanese ways in front of Takeshita Dori (street), in Harajuku, Tokyo, one of the fashion capitals of the world.

Posing in various Japanese ways in front of Takeshita Dori Street, in Harajuku, Tokyo, one of the fashion capitals of the world.

Mary posing with a Harajuku girl in Harajuku, Tokyo. Later on when Mary added some bows and other accessories she was the one people were asking to pose with!

Mary posing with a Harajuku girl in on Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, Tokyo. Later on when Mary added some bows and other accessories she was the one people were asking to pose with!

Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan.

Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan.

Nadia (above) and Mary (below) show off the nails they got down in downtown Kawaramachi, Kyoto.

Nadia (above) and Mary (below) show off the nails they got done in downtown Kawaramachi, Kyoto.

Various bags and purses made from beautiful fabric from a shop in Kyoto called the Chiri-Men Craft Museum.

Various bags and purses made from typical beautiful fabric of Kyoto from a shop called the Chiri-Men Craft Museum.

An excellent example of Japanese English, aka "Engrish" or "Japanenglish" found on a bag sold at a convenience store in Osaka, Japan: The day when I was troubled all day: My pretty puppy, the place is not your rooms. Please, please come out! Are you no use with the soft cushion of this place?"

An excellent example of Japanese English, aka "Engrish" or "Japanenglish" found on a bag sold at a convenience store in Osaka, Japan: "The day when I was troubled all day: My pretty puppy, the place is not your rooms. Please, please come out! Are you no use with the soft cushion of this place?"

Nadia feeding cabbage to a deer in Nara, Japan. The tame deer roam freely and are considered sacred by the Japanese people.

Nadia feeding cabbage to a deer in Nara, Japan. The tame deer roam freely and are considered sacred by the Japanese people.

Mary petting a tame deer on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Bay.

Mary petting a tame deer on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Bay.

Lauren feeds a monkey on a mountain in Arashiyama, in the northwest of Kyoto, Japan. And don't feel bad: the monkeys were free; it was us humans who had to get into a cage to feed them!

Lauren feeds a monkey on a mountain in Arashiyama, in the northwest of Kyoto, Japan. And don't feel bad: the monkeys were free. It was us humans who had to get into a large cage to feed them!

The Worldschool Travel Tour: Japan in Summer 2010 group at Akihabara, "Electric Town" in Tokyo, Japan.

The Worldschool Travel Tour: Japan in Summer 2010 group at Akihabara, "Electric Town" in Tokyo, Japan.

Setting sun on one of our last evenings in Japan on a train from Osaka to Kyoto.

Setting sun on one of our last evenings in Japan on a train from Osaka to Kyoto.

Interviewed for Radio Free School blog and re: unschoolers living and succeeding without college

I was recently interviewed on the Radio Free School blog as part of their series of interviews of grown unschoolers who also chose not to go to college. You can check-out the interview here.

They’ve already interviewed Idzie who writes the blog “I’m Unschooled. Yes, I can write.” and Cameron Lovejoy who ran the Autodidact Symposium this year. (Now you can also read the interview of Jessica Barker, writer of the Life Without College blog.)

For many people, being able to get into college and do well  there is the proof they want to show that homeschooling/unschooling works. Since I started researching unschooling in 1999 this list of colleges that admit homeschoolers was available from the great site Learn in Freedom!. Basically, every college I could think of, including good old Harvard, was on the list. And the list has grown.

But what I find really exciting is realizing that as homeschoolers, unschoolers, or anyone, we don’t NEED to go to college to succeed or prove ourselves. In fact, I see real hope in people trying to find their own path and create new ways of living that actually work. That’s part of what I talked about in the interview.

Awhile ago, I wrote a post called Unschooling College: Many Ways about the many options for people to “unschool college”.

I also recently discovered a great blog called Life Without College. It’s by Jessica Barker, a 19 year old unschooler who has tried some college classes but really found it didn’t work for her. She’s decided for the time being not to go to college and that she in fact doesn’t need it to succeed in life.

She’s actually written two posts about success: Defining SuccessPart One and Part Two. The posts have started an interesting discussion in the comments section mostly about whether college is inherently bad.

Personally, I don’t think college is inherently bad. I’ve learned a lot from and enjoyed the college classes I’ve taken. Just again, it’s people trying to find their own way and creating new things that gives me hope.

You can do that before, after, or maybe even while attending college. But I don’t think it’s encouraged in college. And college really does get you in the habit of thinking and functioning in a certain way.

And at the end of it you’re often in huge debt. Then it’s hard to really explore the world in a free and thoughtful way with open eyes. You’re too busy at least thinking about how you’ll pay off that huge debt.

Anyway, it’s wonderful to see more people questioning college in the unschooling scene. The scene sure has grown a lot over the past few decades.

Many of my readers already saw the family of radical unschoolers on Good Morning America. A local Massachusetts family, who I know from conferences, was interviewed twice on Good Morning America and on the Joy Behar Show on CNN. They did a great job introducing many people to the concept for the first time.

Idzie did a nice post about it with commentary, links to the video interviews, and links to other cool blog posts about it: Unschooling Gets Publicity… in a Big Way!

And I liked the comment she quoted from Wendy Priesnitz’s Twitter account: “In the 70s, people were scandalized by idea of homeschooling; now [they’re] scandalized by unschooling. This will pass. Evolution happens.”

Here’s to all of us continuing to evolve!

How to Travel Cheaply

I’m at the InHome Homeschooling Conference in Illinois! I’m leading 4 workshops on Friday and Saturday. Lots of people signed up for the “How to Travel Cheaply” workshop. Here’s the handout I’m giving them with tips and links to help people travel on a budget.

Probably the first thing I’ll tell them at the workshop is that traveling around the world is often less expensive than living in the U.S. and it is quite doable!

Well, here it is:

Cheap flights
Tips for finding cheap flights
-Fly different times: much cheaper during certain months of the year (peak OR non-peak season) and different days of the week: usually Tues. or Wed. is cheapest but check all
-Fly from and to smaller, nearby airports: sometimes much cheaper
-Save money by taking inconvenient flights: overnight, early morning, non-direct, etc.
Flight Search Sites – searches almost every other website to find the best deals; prices already include taxes and fees; easy to use w/ many options: flight times, nearby airports, multi-city, etc. – sometimes has deals that Kayak doesn’t – special deals for students, teachers, and those under 26, many offices around the world – special deals for college students: even if you’ve only taken some community college classes you may still qualify as college student

Places to Stay
-Great, fun, cheap places to stay; not just for young people!; many are lovely, clean, comfortable, family friendly and conveniently located but some are not
-Read reviews online and talk to other travelers; change to another if one isn’t working
-Great way to meet lots of other independent or solo travelers: share experiences and travels tips; find casual travel companions for as long as you want – an afternoon, a week, a month, or more
-Group dorm rooms are cheap and great way to meet other travelers; often have bunk beds and shared bathrooms; sometimes separated by gender; tend to be very safe and include personal lockers for your valuables
-Hostels usually also have nice, inexpensive private rooms with private bathrooms – many cheap hostels and hotels in many cities around the world; easily book online; has photos, stats, and most importantly read recent positive and negative customer reviews about comfort, staff, cleanliness, noise level, convenience, etc. – another option: very similar and sometimes has hostels does not; but it doesn’t have those helpful negative customer reviews; but some positive reviews reveal possible negative sides too: “This is a great party place!” etc.

-Some cheap hotels you can find on the hostel websites and most of the flight search websites also include hotel searches:,,, etc.
-As always: ask other travelers and read reviews online
-Some places are too far off the tourist path to have hostels but may have very inexpensive hotels

Houses and Staying in People’s Homes
-Rent a house for a whole month, especially slightly off the tourist path, for a great deal: really get to know a place and use as your hub for day trips in the area or – join these networks for a small fee to swap homes with other travelers around the world – join this network to find people who will let you stay on their couch or extra bed for free; the organization’s motto: “Participating in Creating a Better World One Couch at a Time” – similar organization around for 60 years now: stay in people’s homes for free for a couple nights or more; their motto: “With every true friendship we build the basis for World Peace.”

-Cook your own food when you can: another advantage to hostels, homes, and houses – they usually have kitchens where you can cook and in hostels you can cook with other travelers
-Eat at local restaurants and markets: have the authentic and usually much cheaper and more delicious food that local people eat
-Find cheaper restaurants often just a short walk from main streets and tourist areas

Guide Books
-These books can be a great resource for things to see, good cheap places to stay, safety tips, great restaurants and markets, etc.
-Includes wonderful and important historical and cultural information
-Often has very helpful and accurate estimates for your daily expenses (though this can change quickly over a couple years if the book is older)
Lonely Planet – Most popular book for independent and budget travelers; they have books for many countries and regions
Let’s Go – Made by students from Harvard for younger, budget travelers but helpful for any independent traveler; they mostly have books for European travel but a few other local and international destinations
Rick Steves – another great line of guide books by a popular travel tour guide

Learn the Local Language
-When bargaining for merchandise it helps if you can speak even a little of the language!
-But mainly this enriches and adds value to your travel experience: learning some of the local language(s) helps you connect with the people and culture in a fun and meaningful way, which is what travel is all about

Also, two great organizations I forgot to include on the handout I made for the workshop:

Willing Workers On Organic Farms or WWOOF – this organization enables travelers to work on organic farms around the world in exchange for room and board; great way to meet local people, work, and  get a unique view of a country; no guarantee on the quality of the work, bedding, food, etc. but you can leave if it’s not working for you

Volunteers for Peace – has a great searchable database of many volunteer work opportunities around the world; camps last for as short as one week or as long as 6 months; they charge you for the camps (about $300) but includes room and board

Worldschool Travel Tour: Japan in Summer 2010 Itinerary

Believe me when I say, many of the best travel experiences are unplanned and unexpected. Nevertheless, I hope this itinerary will help people imagine the experience of going on Worldschool Travel Tour: Japan in Summer 2010 and will help give us a basis for our 3 week trip.

These days are full of beautiful, new, and exciting things but there’s also plenty of time to wander and time to relax and process all our experiences.

Our schedule is also open to suggestions from the unschooling and homeschooling teens and young adults on the tour, based on their own interests in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Enjoy and I hope some of you can join us!

Basic info:
Dates: July 20th-August 10th, 2010 (three weeks)
Cost: $4,000 w/ airfare from San Francisco, lodging, & Japan Rail Pass
Estimated expenses during trip: $1,000
Group size: 5-6 young adults
Recommended age range: 15-20 years old

Last year's Worldschool Travel Tour group joking around amidst the shining lights of Osaka's restaurants.

Last year's Worldschool Travel Tour group joking around amidst the shining lights of Osaka's restaurants.


Tuesday, July 20th, 2010: Departure
Leave San Francisco, CA, U.S.A.

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010: Arrive in Japan
Arrive at Kansai International Airport, in Osaka, Japan, in the evening. Take JR (Japan Railways) trains to Kyoto Station. Settle into our new 3 week home base in Kyoto, the center of Japanese traditional art and culture.

Thursday, July 22nd: Explore Kyoto
Walk around our neighborhood of Gojo Paradiso right near the center of town and get a great view of the city from the famous Kiyomizu-dera “Pure Water Temple”.

Friday, July 23rd: Buddhist Temples in Kyoto
Visit Buddhist temples of Kinkaku-ji, the “Golden Temple” on a garden lake, and Ginkaku-ji, the “Silver Temple,” with Zen sand sculptures and moss covered gardens.

Ginkakuji the Silver Temple with sand sculptures in the foreground.

Ginkakuji the Silver Temple with sand sculptures in the foreground.

Saturday, July 24th: Explore Downtown Kyoto
Wander bustling markets, beautiful art shops, souvenirs (including swords and lovely fans), modern department stores, and a Japanese video game arcade for those interested.

Sunday, July 25th: Rest and Reflect Day
Rest and reflect on the trip so far with group discussions and activities, and special time for individual journal, blog, and e-mail writing. Dinner at a real Japanese sushi bar.

Monday, July 26th: Soak in Hot Springs in the Mountains
Take a scenic train, plus light mountain hiking, to Kurama Onsen: a traditional outdoor, healing hot spring in the sacred Kurama Mountains north of Kyoto.

Kurama Onsen (hot spring) in the mountains north of Kyoto.

Kurama Onsen (hot spring) in the mountains north of Kyoto.

Tuesday, July 27th: Fascinating Museums of Kyoto

Discover more about Japan by visiting art and culture museums, plus the sobering Kyoto Museum of World Peace: “takes a refreshingly honest look at Japan’s wartime behavior”

Wednesday, July 28th: Beautiful Nature in Kyoto
Explore Arishiyama Park, just northwest of Kyoto, with beautiful river views and lovely walking paths surrounded by bamboo groves. In the evening we have game night.

Thursday, July 29th: Shinto Shrines in Kyoto
Visit shrines of Japan’s native Shinto religion including Fushimi Inari Taisha the number one shrine devoted to the god of foxes, rice, business, and prosperity.

Teens from last year's tour walking under some of the many torii (gates) at the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shinto shrine.

Teens from last year's tour walking under some of the many torii (gates) at the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shinto shrine.

Friday, July 30th: Explore Kyoto
More options for seeing Kyoto, open to people’s interests: including a samurai film studio, the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and the historical Gion District.

Saturday, July 31st, 2010: Tokyo Excursion
Hop on the famous Shinkansen “Bullet Train” to explore the bustling metropolis  of Tokyo including Harajuku, famous for its creative “cosplay” costumes. Later get a night time view of the city from a skyscraper in Shinjuku, during the Sumida River Fireworks Display: the largest in Tokyo.

View of Tokyo at night from the Tokyo Municipal Government Building.

View of Tokyo at night from the Tokyo Municipal Government Building.

Sunday, August 1st: Day of Reflection and Huge Fireworks
Halfway through the tour, during the first half of the day we check-in and discuss the trip so far. Later we go to Osaka to the PL Fireworks Festival, the largest in Japan, and a great chance to experience a traditional Japanese summer festival where we can eat great food and see people in yukata: lovely light summertime version of the kimono.

A woman in a yukata, light summertime version of the kimono, and a man with that style of shirt at a fireworks festival in Osaka.

A woman in a yukata, light summertime version of the kimono, and a man with that style of shirt at a fireworks festival in Osaka.

Monday, August 2nd: Rest Day
Spend the day resting after the busy fireworks festival weekend.

Tuesday, August 3rd: Himeji Castle
We get on the Shinkansen train again to see the most impressive medieval castle in Japan: Himeji-jo. Climb the tower for an amazing view of the old castle grounds and the modern city.

The sun setting on Himeji-jo Castle.

The sun setting on Himeji-jo Castle, the most famous castle in Japan.

Wednesday, August 4th: Scenic Mountain Hike
There are many wonderful day hike options from Kyoto that we can choose from on this day: we can see waterfalls, amazing trees, flowers, narrow gorges, rivers, and Biwako, the largest lake in Japan.

Thursday, August 5th: Open Day
This day is totally open for the group to decide what we do: take it easy, play arcade video games, sing karaoke, visit another temple, shrine, or museum of your choosing, explore markets, etc.

Friday, August 6th: Hiroshima on 65th Anniversary of Bombing
Take Shinkansen to Hiroshima to see the Shinto shrine and the famous huge floating torii (gate) on Miya-jima Island. In the afternoon visit Peace Memorial Park on 65th anniversary of atomic bomb being dropped by the US and attend memorial service where thousands of paper lanterns are floated down the Ota-gawa River as commemoration for the souls of those who died in war and a personal commitment to peace.

Memorial Service in Hiroshima, Japan with floating lanterns on the river in front of the A-Bomb on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Memorial Service in Hiroshima, Japan with floating lanterns on the river in front of the A-Bomb Dome on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Saturday, August 7th: Osaka Fireworks
Today we visit the second largest city in Japan and my home for most of 2004: Osaka. There are great markets and exciting restaurants in Shinsaibashi, Spa World in the center of the city, Osaka Human Rights Museum right next to Osaka Castle, etc. In the evening we’ll go to our last fireworks festival on the Yodogawa River.

Fireworks from the Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival in summer 2004.

Fireworks from the Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival in summer 2004.

Sunday, August 8th: Nara, Big Buddha, and Deer
Our last excursion we visit the old capital of Japan: beautiful Nara. We see the amazing Todaiji Temple with Daibutsu “Big Buddha” statue and feed cabbage to tame deer that wander around the town.

Last year's Worldschool Travel Tour Japan group in front of Todaiji Temple in Nara.

Last year's Worldschool Travel Tour Japan group in front of Todaiji Temple in Nara.

Monday, August 9th: Saying Sayonara
Last minute souvenir and gift shopping in Kyoto and saying sayonara to Kyoto and Japan.

Tuesday, August 10th: End of the Tour
Depart from Kansai International Airport, Osaka, Japan and arrive in San Francisco, CA, USA around midday of the same day. We say good-bye to the group and each fly back to our homes with some souvenirs, memory cards full of photos, and hearts full of life-long memories.

Notes: I write in certain days that we’ll have special time to rest, reflect, process, or write e-mails. But every day we’ll have time to check and write e-mail and stay in touch with family and friends back home.

And every day we’ll have group check-ins to see how everyone is doing, process our experiences, and address any issues in an open and safe way.

Some days we’ll get up early to take advantage of a full day and other days will be much more relaxed.

The whole time we’ll have a great traditional Japanese house in a great location all to ourselves, to hang-out, play games, and watch movies.

Please feel free to post any comments, questions, or suggestions!

And please contact me if you have any questions you’d like answered directly; or you or your child would like to take advantage of this opportunity to travel with a bunch of independent learners around the rich, beautiful, and complex country of Japan.

Worldschool Travel Tour: Overview of Japan in Autumn 2009 and More About Summer 2010 Tour

My newsletter all about the Worldschool Travel Tour: Japan in Autumn 2009 with six homeschooling/unschooling young adults. Plus, info about the upcoming Japan tour in summer 2010 (see the itinerary for that trip): including a chance for a parent-child pair to attend the tour! Also, announcement of a tour to Europe in 2011.

Stranger in a Strange Land Newsletter: January 2010

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! What a year and what a decade it has been!

Since I last wrote I led a three week Worldschool Travel Tour around Japan in November, 2009 with six homeschooling/unschooling young adults!

The trip went really well. One of the most encouraging things is that two of the teens who came want to go on the next Worldschool Travel Tour back to Japan this July-August, summer 2010!

I’m excited about that trip and planning other tours as well. More info at the bottom of this newsletter about future tours, plus some changes to the Japan in Summer 2010 tour including a chance for a parent-child pair to be part of that trip!

So I said, the Japan 2009 trip went well: but what did we actually do?

Well, we climbed a castle.

We saw beautiful Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

We fed deer and saw a huge Buddha statue in the old capital of Nara.

Nara - Rachel feeding cabbage to the deer in Nara.

Nara - Rachel feeding cabbage to the deer in Nara.

Nara - Daibutsu, Great Buddha statue in the Todaiji Temple in Nara.

Nara - Daibutsu, Great Buddha statue in the Todaiji Temple in Nara. (Photo by Tomoko: thanks to Tomoko for all the great candid shots of us at the sites, not just the sites themselves!)

We meandered through markets full of pottery, fans, world-class cooking knives, swords, sweets, and manga (Japanese comics).

Market in Shinsaibashi, Osaka - Eli and Conor admiring the cooking knives.

Market in Shinsaibashi, Osaka - Eli and Conor admiring the cooking knives. (Photo by Tomoko)

We wandered around Kyoto discovering unexpected gems. We sang karaoke. We soaked in an onsen (hot spring) in the mountains.

Karaoke - Sarah and Hannah singing karaoke!

Karaoke - Sarah and Hannah singing karaoke! (Thanks to Conor for getting this great shot in that room with poor lighting!)

We marveled at Tokyo’s Ahkihabara “Electric Town” and the fantastic cosplay shops in Harajuku with costumes from Elizabethan England, to punk, to 50s greasers. They love their costumes and electronics!

Ahkihabara, Tokyo - "Electric Town" in Tokyo.

Ahkihabara, Tokyo - "Electric Town" in Tokyo. (Photo by Hannah)

Harajuku, Tokyo - "Typical" cosplay shop in Harajuku! (Photo by Tomoko)

Harajuku, Tokyo - "Typical" cosplay shop in Harajuku! (Photo by Tomoko)

We ate delicious food including udon and soba noodles, tako yaki (fried octopus dumplings), sushi, good Italian food, and a favorite of many on the trip: okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake fried right at your table, filled with cabbage and your choice of seafood, meat, noodles, etc.

Okonomiyaki - "fried as you like it" - eating Japanese pancakes

Okonomiyaki - "fried as you like it" - eating Japanese pancakes. (Photo by Tomoko)

We also visited Hiroshima and heard a presentation by a woman whose mother was there when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb. The mother has been volunteering for many years, talking to people about the horror of that history and the humanity on both sides. Now her daughter carries on the work.

Hiroshima -  Daughter of a survivor talking about the history of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Hiroshima - Daughter of a survivor talking about the history of the dropping of the atomic bomb. (Photo by David)

We were also able to be part of a special ceremony my little sister went to for seven, five, and three year olds: “Shichi go san”. We saw so many beautiful kimonos on the adorable kids!

Monks chanted and played traditional drums as part of the ceremony. Drums cross through all cultures and affect everyone I think. Anyway, I know these powerful vibrations seemed to go deep into my bones!

Shichi go san - Tomoko and Yuni in beautiful kimonos on the way to the temple for the ceremony for seven five and three year old children.

Shichi go san - Tomoko and Yuni in beautiful kimonos on the way to the temple for the ceremony for seven five and three year old children. (Photo by Becki)

Beyond getting us access to amazing, unique experiences like that, Tomoko Shibuya, my co-guide, was so helpful with giving us the inside info about Japanese culture and just making my job of leading the tour a whole lot easier.

It was definitely a steep learning curve for me with a group this size and trying to balance freedom for them and my responsibility to make sure everyone was okay. It worked out well, but I’m excited about future trips because I know there are plenty of things I can improve.

As is my goal with these tours, we all learned a lot about the culture and ourselves and went through a lot of personal growth.

In the words of a couple of the parents:


“I feel she enjoyed every aspect of the trip and has more confidence and determination to do the things she wants to. Many things have shifted since this trip. The biggest shift for us all I think is that I trust her more and more with her own life! What a relief that is as a parent!”

-Margaret S. from Louisiana, mother of Sarah

“I think he is counting the days until he can go back, he really loved it there. It truly was a great learning and growing experience for David and we do appreciate all you are doing and have done to open the world up to young adults.”

-Sherry T. from California, mother of David

I’m really thankful for the people who came on the trip, their supportive families, Tomoko Shibuya for helping lead the tour, and just for the fact that I can do this work I love and has so much meaning to me.

Wishing you all the best in the coming year!


P.S. You can see all the blog posts I made during and after the tour, with photos and more details about many of the places I mention above, here.

Upcoming tours:

Worldschool Travel Travel Tour: Japan in Summer 2010

There’s still space for young adults on this tour and space for a younger child and a parent who is willing to help chaperone the tour! I’ve been hearing from more parents interested in taking their younger child on one of the Worldschool Tours so this is a great opportunity to do that with a discount!

I’ve now made an application form with some basic questions. Those interested please e-mail me and I’ll send you the application form.

More info about this tour on my site here.

I have had to raise the price of the tour to $4,000. That’s about a 10% increase from the last Japan tour: flights are more expensive and I now realize how much everything adds up.

The estimated daily spending money seems to have been accurate: an additional $1,000 can cover transportation, food, admission costs, and a good amount of shopping as well.

Worldschool Travel Tour: Holland and Germany in Spring 2011

Four week tour of canals, tulip fields, medieval cathedrals and historical Berlin with price and exact dates TBA. I’m excited about leading my first trip to Europe and looking into different options right now.

Stay tuned for updates in this newsletter and on my blog and contact me if you have any questions!

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