Counterculture Boing Boing Founder Mark Frauenfelder on DIY, Mistakes, and Unschooling


Mark Frauenfelder, is editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine, founder of the collaborative weblog Boing Boing, and author of the book Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World.  He sat down with's Ted Balaker to discuss cigar box guitars, the value of mistakes, and what the Do-It-Yourself movement can teach us about education.

Approximately 9 minutes.  Shot by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick.  Edited by Austin Bragg.

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  1. Hey, I’m first!!!

    Also, the video does not work. Says it’s “private”

  2. I’ll have to remember to watch this later (when I’m not at work!). I’m a big-time, hardcore DIY’er. I’ve got just about every tool there is. General carpentry, finish carpentry, plumbing, wiring, woodworking, and even a little bit o’ blacksmithing and welding – I do it. Maybe I should switch careers and start doing it for money.

  3. What’s up with featuring the commies from Boing Boing?

    1. Mark is a libertarian.

  4. Speaking of unschooled DIY mistakes… chainsaw kickback, anyone?

    1. OH MY GOD.

      I might have actually gotten a little light-headed for a moment there. Ugh. Ack ack ack.

      Thanks for that.

  5. There’s no way you learn about physics by flying a kite. Someone’s been smoking the hookah a little too much.

    1. +11

      And when he mentioned a “7- or 8-year-old” kid who couldn’t read, I cringed. I’m also a little skeptical of the claim that he was out-reading his peers in a few months after being illiterate at 7 or 8. Unless these people live in the hills to avoid the regulations…then he actually might be out-reading his (toothless) “peers”.

      That isn’t to say that I’m all for strong regulation and that I’m anti-home-schooling. Just that I doubt that this “unschooling” stuff will really work for most (or any) kids.

      I’m also betting that these marvelous “unschooling” success stories are the sons and daughters of fairly bright and independently-minded folks (hence, genetically gifted and encouraged by their parents not to be redneck losers).

      1. I’m a grown unschooler, and I learned to read at age 9. I’m now an avid reader and published writer. The school imposed timetable for when things *should* be learned is ridiculous, and doesn’t match when most children will best learn that subject matter!

  6. I love MAKE magazine, its second only to reason.

  7. Hmmm, I am deeply skeptical of these unschooling shenanigans. Illiteracy at seven or eight years old strikes me as utterly unacceptable.

    Anecdotal evidence: I worked as a camp counselor last summer, and the two most disruptive, self-centered, unpleasant kids were brothers “unschooled” by their mother. They had few social skills, short attention spans, and low tolerance for any activity that wasn’t exactly what they wanted to be doing.

    Also, I suspected one of them was the Anti-Christ.

    But the DIY stuff sounded like fun.

    1. Nah – it was the love child of Chad and Tony šŸ™‚

    2. In Scandinavia and much of Germany kids often don’t learn to read until 7 years old or later. Doesn’t seem to harm them any.

      1. Huh. My paradigm has been shifted.

        Now that I think about it, seven or eight seems “late” to me only because I was assuming that what was true for little bebbeh Duckie is true for all.

        Bad Duckie.

    3. See my earlier comment about the reading thing.

      And, yes, unfortunately, there are unschooling parents who believe unschooling means not doing *any*thing – luckily, they are few and far-between, at least in my experience. Most unschooling parents I know 1) Wouldn’t send a kid to camp if they didn’t absolutely want to go, and even then they wouldn’t send them if they didn’t know for sure they were ready and 2) Model and explain proper and kind social behaviors so their kids won’t be at a loss in public.
      Don’t extrapolate from your one poor sample!

      1. Small sample size + unrepresentative sample = crap conclusions.

        After reading your post below about reading ages, I’m thinking perhaps I was knee-jerk judgmental on the subject. My experience will not be everyone’s experience and all that.

  8. I’ve read interviews with many happy, successful college students who were unschooled. I know a kid whose dad is the best teacher I’ve ever met (and having been one, I’ve met a lot) and he couldn’t read when he was 8. Not long after, he decided he wanted to learn and was reading Harry Potter on his own when he was 10.

    When raised in a home with curious people, kids will usually be curious, and the benefits of learning how to read and do basic math become self-evident.

    More and more people are doing it and they’re doing it successfully.…..iner-email

    1. Hmmm, interesting stuff. Thanks for the link!

  9. Wow! I want to start making my own guitars now. I guess I have to start smoking so I can have some empty cigar boxes.

    I know some states are really strict on their home school requirements and others are a lot more lenient. If the parents are motivated enough to go through the effort of unschooling their kids, they can probably do what it takes to technically reside in one of the lenient states, even if they spend some time in a strict state.

  10. The ability to read happens for different kids at different ages; what school does is pathologize later reading, so many kids believe they *can’t* read, when if they had been supported where they were, they would have been reading just fine in their own time.
    More here:…..elves-read (make sure to read the comments)
    As a long-time unschooling mom, I’ve certainly seen kids unable to read come into the ability seemingly overnight, with the spectrum of learning to read from ages 3 – 13, with most kids learning around 7 – 9. Given a supportive, print-rich environment, kids WILL learn to read, in their own time, without developing reading aversions or falsely believing they have a disability of some kind because they didn’t fit into a school timetable.
    Add absolutely, physics is learned by flying a kite. What is physics? The science of matter & energy, perfectly exemplified in part by flying a kite. What most kids learn in school are the formulae and “language” of physics; given the time and freedom to explore the world, kids can LIVE physics, then when they have a need to learn the formulae and language, it comes to them very easily; it’s not just abstract for them.

  11. Robots!

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