Saturday, February 26, 2011

Duluth, MN

        The plane ride over was like most other plane rides. However, my plane was delayed 4 hours, so I ended up getting two free meals and a $100 voucher for my next flight. Thanks, Delta!
        While waiting for and on the plane, I wasn't in the mood to continue on with Lee Smolin's Trouble with Physics, so I just practiced my meditation. Time seems to go by pretty fast that way, and I snoozed a little. Of course, I had to wake up for orange juice and pretzels, though. Yah know, a lot of other planes are giving up on the snack and only giving out free beverages nowadays. Again, Delta rocks.
        Upon hearing the bing go off signaling that the plane was landing soon, I opened my eyes. Wow! A sunbow! I've never seen a sunbow before. I don't think the word even exists for such a sight, so I just combined sun with rainbow. It was a stream of light that curved along the horizon of the clouds, shooting out from the sun. I had to rub my eyes a bit before I believed it was actually, actually there. I could've taken a picture, but I knew the camera would never be able to capture the beauty I was seeing, especially through a plane window, so I decided to keep being mesmorized. The sun was setting, so the background sky had that pretty orange, pink, purple thing going on. The clouds were all fluffy beneath us, like ocean waves, or a cotton ball bed. I felt bad that sometimes I had to stick my face right up to the window and block the view of the guy sitting next to me, but I had to get the full effect. It was definitely the best plane landing I've had in my life so far. The plane kept teasing me by almost dipping through the clouds but then leveling out. Finally, we dove. It was a little shaky, but coming out of the clouds, I was introduced to a winter wonderland. We were over a residential area of Minneapolis, where there had just been a snowstorm. What a contrast after seeing the sun because the clouds blocked out all light. It was now dark. The roads were paved, but the pointed roofs and lawns were still covered in snow, and the street and car lights added a magical affect. I'd say it definitely reminded me of a Christmas storybook illustration.

        Oh, Duluth! I love this city. My mom once said, if a place is pretty on an ugly day, it's a good sign. So although the sky was grey and dirty snow covered the ground, I still saw beauty. Lake Superior was frozen over, with chunks of snow as decoration. It gave it a crunchy, stagnant, white wave look. Walking into Amazing Grace Cafe this morning, I was invited by music, two guitars, a saxophone, and a melodic voice. I sat down to enjoy a delicious omelet, staring at the people, learning more about Minnesota. I enjoy the accent very much, to the point where, already, my o's get that jingle.
        After breakfast, I used my free aquarium pass from MAAP. I do like animals, but I wasn't expecting anything exciting. But walking in, I noticed that this aquarium was different than the others I've been to. Immediately, I saw a giant opaque glass wall with water falling down over the different symbols for water, from Chinese to alchemy. The aquarium not only had fish, but information about Minnesota's environment, people, and recreational activities. Also, although I do hate to see caged birds, I talked to a bald eagle and danced with a parrot. I guess my communication with the eagle was more like a whistle, but it was definitely intrigued. It would turn its head around 180 degrees, perk up its feathers, and spread its wings. Then when it tried to talk back, I learned how to speak eagle, instead of the sparrow song. The parrot, on the other hand, was more interested in bobbing its head and moving from side to side, so I went along with it. If these birds have to be cooped up all day, at least I can give them somewhat entertaining company for a bit.
I explored more of the little city. It was nice to know how small downtown is. It's quaint, and then there are forests right up the hill, and hiking trails right down the lake. I'd love to come back in the summer. I'm seriously considering picking up a job here and maybe some cheap rent during tourist season.
        At the conference, I was a bit nervous about speaking because I didn't know my audience that well. After sitting in on the session before me, I quickly understood the mindset. “Standardization sucks, but we still want our kids to learn readin', writin', and 'rithmatic.” My session revolved around Paulo Freire's ideas of dialogue, praxis, and critical consciousness, so it was easy to intertwine the notion that no matter what we think is good for students to learn, maybe they don't think it is. My idea was to introduce Freire's ideas, then my own about student-directed learning, and then to encourage dialogue and demonstrate exactly how people learn the best, through determining what they value and asking questions based on that value. Instead of standing up there being an authoritarian-like teacher depositing information into the heads of these individuals like bank accounts, I acted as a resource with a specific perspective, and they were able to direct the conversation with questions, and I had questions for them as well. I received criticism, which pleased me so much! I saw before my eyes people not agreeing with me, still stuck in the mindset that success is determined by them rather than the individual that is supposed to be learning, so I tried to help them understand that I see that mindset as flawed, and if we want our children to be fulfilled, then we need to let them figure out what will make them fulfilled. I felt very good at the end of the session because I was able to address their concerns and show them where the ideas of value, fulfillment, and success really come from. It doesn't come from people acting on one another, but with each other. It was a group of people that care about children, and oftentimes when we care about someone, we try to make them like ourselves, but is putting a child in a narrow box really the way to go? Shouldn't we be letting them explore and create for themselves? Aren't we just being traditionalists, no matter how radical we may think our views are, if we are forcing students to learn a specific body of knowledge? Why can't children's minds be as dynamic as time? We are constantly in a state of change, so let those growing in the present determine what they need for the present. Schools are becoming obsolete when we consider how much open source material there is online. I enjoy Khan Academy, but compiles many different open source education websites.

        Luckily, my keynote speech was received well. If you're interested, here's the video courtesy of Aaron Grimm.

        Also, I have been playing with the idea of adding a “Donate” button to this blog. I thought it would be silly for someone else to fund my life for me because I've grown into the notion of personal responsibility and independence. However, after my speech, people shared with me the value of my experience. If I take time out of my day to share my journey with others, it's like I'm writing a book, and if they find worth in that and/or want to continue to read about it, then they may be inclined to donate money, or maybe even a useful object to help me. I would like to start traveling on my own or with another person, so I will not be fed or sheltered by the Halldorsons any longer. I certainly can pick up odd jobs here and there or play ukulele on sidewalks, but those might become boring things to read about. So, if you would like to donate anything, I would be more than grateful and use whatever funding to create memorable experiences to share with you and others throughout the world.


  1. Erica,
    We SO enjoyed having you join us for the last few days. Your insight, wisdom and maturity were evident the more that we talked. I'm glad we were able to chat and explore some further conversation. Your message and your mission is so admirable. I wish you nothing but the best and hope that our paths will again cross in the future. Best of luck to you. As I told you at the conference, you're my new hero! :) Keep up the great work.

  2. Craig,
    So glad to have met you! I can just tell you're full of positivity and love for our youth.
    Glad you exist,

  3. Erica,
    Thank you for this fantastic blog. As an over-achiever-turned-adventurer myself, it is encouraging to see that I am not alone in exploring this big crazy world of ours. I hope our paths cross some time! It would be great fun to exchange stories. If you ever find yourself in Evansville, Indiana by some sick and twisted coincidence, I'd be happy to give you the grand tour of all things free and interesting in this conservative Midwestern town. Best of luck in your travels and I look forward to reading more.


  4. Jayson,

    Glad to hear. Perhaps we will cross paths!

    All the best,

  5. Your new adventure reminds me of my friend Zero's adventure... Check out his story - although he's double your age, he's doing something similar.

    If you make it up to Dallas, drinks are on me


  6. You speak a language that few even recognize as a language, but many are waking up. I don't know where you are headed in life or what your dreams are, but I see a natural born leader and a potential icon in the quest to re-define and transform the learning culture. (Culture Transformation is where I live. I'm on a mission to replace the factory farm classroom with a freedom-fostering habitat.)

    I have addressed the question and come up with an answer to the question: What do we grow and how do we grow it inside a system that has learned how NOT to change? I would like to have a conversation with you. I know you are busy, but I do believe that you have come face to face with the knowledge and power that comes from taking risks and action. You need to find the right path forward related to the future of education. I believe that you would be very interested to see the path that I have blazed. As a social entrepreneur, I have both a vision and a plan for involving parents and kids of all ages in the mission and movement of culture transformation. I hope that I have struck a chord of curiosity and that you can do me the courtesy of a speedy reply.


  7. Hi Jeff,

    Feel free to contact me on Facebook!


  8. Hey Erica,

    Hello from sunny South Africa! I belong to an online homeschooling group in South Africa and I'm an unschooling mom myself. Your speech at your graduation made it into our conversation and someone pasted the link of your speech, for us all to watch. What you're doing is fantastic! It reassures me, as I sometimes feel frightened that whether what I'm doing is the RIGHT thing for my boys. I am so glad that there are actually other people out there who shares the same views. I Sometimes I think that the majority people I know, think that I'm nuts with all my "extreme" views.

    Thank you once again for making me proud of the path I chose.

    If you are ever in South Africa, please feel free to look us up! That is, if you have not inspired us to the point where we are doing the exact same thing as you! :-)

    Wishing you lots of good travels!
    René Blom

  9. Liked the speech... especially the bit about wisdom vs knowledge. Youve got a knack for walking the line between relatable and too trippy to take seriously.

    I dont think I agree with your position that school "brainwashes" students into a certain perception of what learning is worthwhile and valuable. I think you might be selling the student short. If one is constantly critical of the presentation of the information as well as the information itself, there is much to be gained from a k-12 and college education. I think you're an example of this truth; I dont think you would be as capable of artful articulation without some guiding hands - a skill that you, no doubt, consider valuable at this juncture in your life.

    Also that bit about 10% of your brain is untrue. Neuroscientists now think it's MUCH MUCH higher... they might eventually find it's somewhere near 100%. For future reference.

    Lemme know next time youre home in coxsackie. We should get together. Nathan.

  10. Hey my dear thank you,

    I have my 13teen year old daughter watching your school graduation,

    I hope it will inspire her to think and feel what right for her self,

    From a 44 year old Scottish man

    Light and love

    Lak-ech my friends

  11. Leon CatchatoorianMay 20, 2011 at 1:29 AM

    OMG Erica,

    Erica, I was REALLY touched by both your VD speech and this clip, to write this to you dear person, dear fellow human being.

    Your wisdom is phenomenal. Just to think that all modern teenagers are not into mindless video game playing, eyebrow pencil, eyeshadow, lip gloss, toe nail polish, high heel shoes etc and being brainwashed into Gender conditioning and can think for themselves so nicely like you have demonstrated soooo clearly.

    My passion is to see that Male Genital Mutilation (Circumcision) is stopped WORLDWIDE, and the brilliant work of Dr. Frederick Leboyer MD in his great simple small book “BIRTH WITHOUT VIOLENCE” you can actually read it online.

    Look who's killing each other in the Middle East, Jews, Muslims and Christians (all so-called monotheistic “Abrahamic Faiths”) DUH???

    You mentioned Buddhism, the Dalai Lama HAS never spoken out against Circumcision? WHY??? I don't remember who said “Religion is the opiate of the masses”

    I was taking notes watching how you spoke and fielded those questions. Nothing fake, all from your heart and only; what 17 years old now? You did that Valedictorian Speech Last year??

    EXCELLENT, BRAVO what an inspiration you are, tears of joy were rolling down my face. I'm 65 years old, was born and raised in Calcutta, India, am Armenian by ethnicity, came to the US to be a Western Opera singer, changed majors to Bachelor's of Music Ed but lost faith and got discouraged so I never pursued being an Opera singer and never taught music but have taught Hatha Yoga for now well over 27 years and its my passion to help people become in “excellent health”.

    I am also the Organizer of the Fresno Raw Foods Group MeetUp and try and help people and took note of your advise of “being a role model” and “being the change I want people to be” (that was Mahatma Gandhi's words.

    I sing at times when I teach my yoga classes and really do what “I” want to do and teach and not what's in the “BOX” as I'm supposed to act as a “Yoga Teacher” I crack a lot of jokes and this relaxes people no end and then I slip in some key Yogic concepts and practices.

    BTW, A follow up study was done by a group of psychologists on those babies that were born non-violently with Leboyer's Birth Without Violence. 104 kids 9 years later were tested and guess what, not 1 not 27 not 50 but ALL 104 (now 9 year old kids) were AMBIDEXTROUS. I'm trying my best to get to the source of this, have come close but NO ONE wants to talk about the suffering of newborn Jewish 8 day old male babies, the agony of Somalian, Ethiopian, Egyptian girls that get circumcised, infibulated etc. I attended the first two International Symposium on Circumcision and have been an Intactivist now for well over 35 years. I myself am intact as are 85% of the males on this planet.

    This is my passion to try and stop MGM and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)

    My Chess Hero Bobby Fischer was also an excellent critical thinker.

    Thanks ERICA for being you, I love your energy and its extremely heartening to see that there ARE young folks nowadays that think and act like you.


  12. Very insightful speech Erica! I've kept an eye on your blog after watching your valedictorian speech.

    I'm a former school overachiever who moved to Europe two months after graduating college (summer 2010). I'm currently also in the process of "unschooling" myself, and I've learned more in the past year of "unschooling" than I did throughout my high school and college years.

    You're a wonderful and brave soul! I hope you continue with the blog as well as your adventures.


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