Today we welcome Kerry McDonald as we travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts and learn how Dale Carnegie, sipping local craft beer, and limitless human creativity inform the policies of Kerry’s writing life. Make sure the laptop is charged and let’s go …
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a Senior Education Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). My articles have appeared at Forbes, Newsweek, Reason, NPR, Education Next, City Journal, and Natural Mother Magazine, among others.
I’m a Board member at the Alliance for Self-Directed Education and a co-founder of AlternativesToSchool.com. I’ve got a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts with my husband and four children.
In which genre do you write?
How many published books do you have?
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I would love to say that I have a quiet spot and a special desk and a dedicated mug of coffee to trigger my creative writing, but the truth is that as a mom of four unschooled children who also does public policy work, I write whenever and wherever I can. I bring my laptop with me as often as possible and seize any quiet—or loud!—moment to write.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished reading Rich Karlgaard’s new book, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed With Early Achievement. The longtime publisher of Forbes, Karlgaard offers a refreshing view on parenting, education, and career success, arguing that our societal push toward early achievement may be causing all of us unnecessary angst. He suggests that a longer, more personalized time horizon for learning and career may be preferable, as we gain perspective, skill, and wisdom.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I am cooking, cleaning, and connecting my children to the many community resources tied to their interests. I also enjoy reading, listening to podcasts, jogging, and sipping local craft beer on the front porch with my husband after the kids go to sleep.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author or famous person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
The book that has probably had the most meaningful impact on my life is Dale Carnegie’s bestseller, How To Win Friends and Influence People, so I would definitely have coffee with him. I read it as a teenager and its timeless message of self-empowerment has stuck with me. I find that it informs much of my own writing and speaking, as I think of how to communicate my message persuasively to an audience, as well as help others to tap into their own sense of personal agency.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
The most surprising things I’ve learned is that motherhood makes me a very efficient writer and that human creativity is limitless. Parenthood focuses us squarely on organization and output, which has helped my writing tremendously.
What is the most amusing, crazy or inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
I recently had an article of mine at the policy think tank where I work, FEE.org, go viral, with over one million page views and counting. It was an incredible experience to know that my message—which in this article focused entirely on parental empowerment and parental choice in education—reached so many parents and educators around the globe. That was both inspiring and humbling.
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
I started working on my Unschooled book several years ago, and was frustrated that it was taking so long. In hindsight, I realize that the timing was perfect. During those years, I fine-tuned my writing skills by publishing frequent articles in both mainstream and niche media sites, built more relationships with individuals and organizations that are featured in the book, generated a much more robust platform on social media and elsewhere, and found an incredible literary agent who was able to sell my book to a great publisher in just a few weeks. Once everything came together, it was clear that this book was meant to arrive now and not a minute sooner.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
I’ve long thought that my best personality trait is execution, or the ability to get things done. That is very helpful as a writer, meeting multiple deadlines, and as a parent, managing the different needs of four lively children.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
I spend a lot of my time in Atlanta where the think tank I work for is located and I have really fallen in love with the South. As a lifelong New Englander, there is something special about southern warmth—emanating both from its people and its climate.
Thank you Kerry for joining us on MTA. I am an unschooling mom of two, so I cannot wait to read your book! My oldest just graduated as an unschooler and the youngest is headed into the high school years. It was wonderful to learn more about you and your writer’s life. –Camilla
Where we can we find the book:
Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom is available wherever books are sold,
either at your local bookstore https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781641600637
or on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2JU8mWP
or directly through the publisher, Chicago Review Press https://www.chicagoreviewpress.com/unschooled-products-9781641600637.php?page_id=21
Connect with Kerry:
Follow her on Twitter @kerry_edu
Facebook and Instagram @wholefamilylearning
Her blog: WholeFamilyLearning.com
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