Learn Nothing Day, Compliance and Avoidance | Day 203 of my 2023 Journal

What ever they want blog

Are you familiar with Learn Nothing Day?

On the 24th of July each year, we celebrate Learn Nothing Day. It is a beautiful tradition within the unschooling community. Sandra Dodd invented Learn Nothing Day as a simple challenge for people to understand learning happens all the time.

People are obsessed with forcing children to learn and controlling their learning. The result is children who think they hate learning, do not trust adults, and try to avoid things or get them over with as fast as possible to arrive at the small chunks of freedom they can find between the demands. I am no saint myself, I was in this matrix, and I am forever grateful for the people who taught me about the basic ideas of unschooling.

Even with these wise women around me (Dawn Hoff, Luna Maj Vestergaard), it took TIME to understand what was going on and how it could be instead. Now, 17 years later, I find myself in a position outside of most people's reality, having a very different perspective.

A shocking diagnosis!

Just a few days ago, I learned something shocking. Truly chocking. I am still processing it, and it may be premature to share it at this point. I might even reveal myself as ignorant.
But listen then to my ignorance. Or my perspective.

Someone told me their child had PDA. This means Pathological Demand Aversion. As I had never heard of this diagnosis before, I asked for an explanation: what is it? As they explained, I just had to come out and say it: “I have that! My children all have that. My husband is an extreme case of that. Except leave out the P for Pathological”.

Now, everyone can have a level of avoiding demands. Still, people diagnosed with PDA have it more and experience anxiety when demands are perceived and will go to extremes to avoid them. These are the symptoms. They are not complying, becoming very uncomfortable when pushed.

I have that.

I totally have that.

My kids have that. Totally.

And let’s not even begin to talk about my husband.

But listen now. Please do. Keep reading. Spend ten minutes thinking about this. It circles back to Learn Nothing Day, I promise - as life will always line up perfect options for us, perfect dots to connect, ideal learning opportunities, and spaces for growth and joy.

Pathological Demand Avoidance - What is that now?

I looked it up, the diagnosis, as it is seriously making my jaw permanently rest on my chest. HOW is this a diagnosis?!

Only in the context where it is perceived as a PATHOLOGICAL problem when children do not comply with the compulsory demands made by adults around them.

Examples in the different autism pages I read yesterday were children not doing schoolwork even though it was easy for them to do it and children who would refuse to take a shower.

I have to ask: WHY OH WHY do we perceive it as normal development for children to comply to do things that MAKE NO SENSE for them to do? Why do we not embrace and enjoy and praise people of all ages, who will question orders and demands, who will need inner motivation, true reasons to do things, who want to live a meaningful and joyful life?!

The totality of this diagnosis is adults rigidly holding on to a perspective where they need to be in charge and have children who comply and obey, even to things that seem wrong to them, even to things that feel unnecessary, stupid, and meaningless.

There is no way I will ever get how this makes any sense. At all.

Anxiety is a real problem of suffering, but it does not arise from within the child stamped with these three letters; it stems from adults rigidly holding on to their version of reality, not wanting to change or learn, and seriously pushing their children to a point where they experience anxiety, conflict, fear.

So, here is my proposition.

Give up.

Give in.

Let go of the control.

Leave your children be.

It is not in the ICD or the DSM

I was relieved when I realized the diagnosis exists, but at least it is not accepted in the big American Handbook of Psychiatry nor the one made by WHO. So there are no official drugs for it.


Let us remove P for Pathological.

Unschooling is very much about learning to let go of exactly what creates situations where children get this kind of diagnosis. PDA. Let us remove the P; it is not pathological to not obey, to think for yourself, to feel within your rooted soul whether something is right for you or not, and to want to do your own thing at your own time. It is INDEPENDENCE and INTEGRITY. We like that.

Let us remove D for Demands

Then let’s move on and remove the D. Demands. Why do we demand things from our kids?! Who are we, really, to demand? We are not kings nor Gods; we are mere caregivers, parents, and servants of a universe of love. Hopefully, we were loved when we were young and supported, trusted, and helped into this life in a community of parents, siblings, extended family, and community - the job is not to DEMAND; the job is to support and witness.

If we have a trusting and loving relationship with our children, they will listen when you explain why you find something important. If you have that relationship, you, the adult, will listen if the children explain why the could-have-been-demand does not resonate with them.

Kids are smart. They are.

And it might be the most important life skill they will ever evolve: To listen to their own feel for things and question what is going on around them so they can make up their own mind. That is to THINK. And to be authentic.

How about removing the D for Demand and instead installing respect for each other, proposing to children, sharing perspectives and experiences, and BE with them? There is no need to hold on to all of the mainstream demands for childhood. Instead, we could enjoy any “no” from our children as an opportunity to question a thing we always did or thought so that we can grow.

Let A for avoidance evaporate.

Finally, we get to A for aversion. If we have already removed the idea of Pathological, and Demands, replacing them with Personal Freedom and Loving, Respectful Relation, there is nothing to avoid. Still, it is relevant to think about the concept of aversion.

In my language, an aversion is something you strongly dislike. Very strongly. We use the word not to describe the quality of an action but as an emotional response.

My core family, all of us, and very strongly my mother too, have that emotion when presented with demands. We do not become aggressive, but we do leave the room. Or the context. Or the country! This is not pathological behavior; this is staying true to who we are, wondering whether we want to comply with the demand because the trade-off is worth it or it is too stupid, and we have to leave.

I see no problem.

There is nothing wrong with avoiding things we do not feel are right for us. Really. There is a lot wrong with NOT doing it. Look at world history and observe just how bad it can go.

Sandra Dodd and Learn Nothing Day

Circling back to Lean Nothing Day, we have to celebrate Sandra Dodd and the thousands of hours she has put into discussing unschooling with people all over the planet and how she has preserved so many conversations in written form, helped, supported, and inspired. She invented Learn Nothing Day as a simple tool for skeptical people to realize learning happens all the time; it cannot be avoided.

Even if you let go.

Here is the challenge. On the 24th of July, from midnight to midnight, you do your best to avoid learning ANYTHING. If you fail, you share it on social media or Sandra's website. And with your friends. While you are at it, you can send her your congratulations as it is her birthday.

Let go of diagnosing, controlling, and judging children

And maybe you then would join me in letting go of the idea children are pathological when they refuse to comply with a reality made up by someone else. There is probably an anarchist gene going on; some people need their freedom just as much as they need oxygen and water.

These people might be the ones to walk in front, changing the world from the madness going on right now and back into something that makes sense and has a future.

We could go there (and discuss how to save the world by staying true to who we are). Still, I will only take a sneak peek, poking a small hole in the box: If we are to save our future, we do not need people who blindly comply with demands when the demands make no sense and feel wrong. We need people who can feel themselves, be authentic to their inner life, and work wholeheartedly and passionately with the things they do. This is what they need. And this is what the world needs.

Launching a new podcast - Ladies Fixing the world

These ideas are extreme, and I might lose a friend or two over them. I am therefore excited to at the same time announce my new podcast: “Da Ladies Fixing the World,” a conversation-style podcast to be released once a month where I talk to 3 wise radical women about - the world. I genuinely believe women who bring up children outside of the matrix HAVE to question everything and come up with insightful perspectives on the autopilot-style mainstream lifestyle - and this will eventually become a big part of how we can fix the world.

On the podcast, I talk to Luna Maj Vestergaard, one of the central figures of unschooling in my home country, and my personal friend, a fierce and fearless mother of four traveling the world and unschooling, very good at enjoying life and growing all the time. Sara Beale, an Australian radical Unschooler, joins us. We all met in Grenada in 2019 at the World School Summit. Sarah has become a big superstar of radical mothering; she is a friend of mine, the kind of woman that makes me feel safe and almost normal, loving and reasonable and radical in the perfect mix. Last but not least, I have Carli Flawer on the team, a Spanish mother from Tenerife, based out of a van with her husband and two children. They have been traveling for five years just like we have, and Carli has this soft and yet strong power going on, always ready to help and share and learn, always faithful to what she sees, and never letting go of her perspective to please or comply, just making sure life is a loving adventure. These women are amazing and have great perspectives, so we decided to record a monthly conversation to share with everyone else.

To launch in party mode, we release the first one on Learn Nothing Day, a day to celebrate like New Year's Eve or Christmas, to remember the essential strategy of questioning everything. And fearlessly say what we mean, what we find true.

Please bombard me with your questions, so we can keep the conversation going.

Oh, how I could go on. Instead, I will challenge the ones who did read through the whole thing here to ask questions: What perspectives do you need me to unfold? What do you think about demands for kids? Where do we need to let go more, and where do we need to hold on? Is PDA really a thing, or could all symptoms (=all suffering) be avoided with a perspective change by the surrounding adults? Where does responsibility fit into this rampage? Are you ready to let go? What would happen if you did? What are we all afraid of? And more: Hit me with questions, and I shall see if there is another morning with coffee and dog walkers outside my van, where I can sit down and write a stream of consciousness from outside the box.

Love and light


Cecilie Conrad

Wilderness Wood | Day 202 of my 2023 Journal of my 2023 Journal
Moving North | Day 204 of my 2023 Journal




Jeg beundrer jeres livsstil og din side så meget.

Jeg er desværre skilt og far har fået bopælen på mit ældste barn pga. mine alternative valg.

Min dreng er virkelig sin egen. Kravafvisende kalder børnehaven ham. Jeg har som hjemmepasser "ødelagt" ham. Men han er måske vanskelig? Hos mig bestemmer han meget selv. Jeg reflekterer over om jeg formår at være leder.

Mit serviceniveau er relativt lavt så han har været vant til at være relativt selvhjulpen. Men er han for usikker pga. Ikke tydelige voksne (mig?).

Jeg synes han er skøn. Der er ikke en udfordring han ikke tør kaste sig over. Senest lavede han et hjemmelavet raslelegetøj til lillesøster - krydderidåse med skruer i. Opfinder. Fantasifuld. Stærk.

Skal voksne tvinge børn for at lære dem krav?

Og et morsuk. Kan jeg beskytte min drengs ild? Hvordan skærmer jeg ham for uforstående pædagoger, en normalfikseret/hævngerrig far?


Read more
Read less
Cecilie Conrad

Hej Dirgis, 

Tak for komplimenten :) den luner. Jeg skriver og skriver og du aner ikke hvor få gange jeg faktisk får noget respons, en fornemmelse af at der er nogen derude, der har glæde af alt det, jeg fortæller. 

Og "kondolerer" med din skilsmisse. Det kan være virkelig virkelig vanskeligt at dele ansvaret for børn efter en skilsmisse! Det er en ekstrem opgave at balancere det felt, men det er nødvendigt at tage opgaven på sig og på den ene eller anden måde embrace den. Lære af den. Stole på livets proces og at der kan komme en lys vej ud af det. Ellers risikerer man at drukne. 

Kravafvisende tror jeg er det samme som Demand Aversion, et totalt nederen begreb. Måske kunne man bare droppe det med krav? Hvem er vi til at tro vi overhovedet har ret til at stille krav til andre mennesker? Kan nogen kræve noget af dig? Ja, hvis du vil have noget. 

Jeg kan godt sige til mine børn, at hvis de vil se en film i dag, må de stå for aftensmaden for ellers løber jeg tør for timer. For eksempel. Men det er ikke et krav. Det er en konkret løsning på en konret problematik i en konkret situation. 

Alt det pladder om krav og grænser er noget af det væreste jeg ved i familiedebatten. Kom nu bare ind i virkeligheden folkens, i stedet for alt det teoretiske bavl om hvad "børn skal kunne" og "børn skal accpetere" og "børn skal lære". Ævl, siger jeg. 

Nå, men det ved du jo. 

Dit morsuk tror jeg vi skal tage i en samtale, det er for komplekst at svare på lige her. Du kan booke en tid, bare skriv til mig på +4531223007. Jeg giver rabat til enlige forældre :) Det er lettest at bruge sms i stedet for bookinsystemet, som ikke er opdateret med min kalender lige nu (jeg har for travlt med at skrive alt muligt til at huske mine admin opgaver)

Read more
Read less
Sandra Dodd

Thank you for sharing about Learn Nothing Day!  I hope you have fun with it.

I think you're right about "PDA."  It turns out I have a page discussing PDA a bit, and the similarity to ADHD.    There's no "disorder" if kids aren't asked to pay attention to something they don't care about, or can't begin to understand, for 45 minutes.  There's no "deficit" of attention in a child who IS paying attention to what is interesting and engaging. 


I hope more teachers will find sweeter ways to be, and that fewer kids will be labelled deficient or pathological.

Read more
Read less
Cecilie Conrad

Thank you, Sandra, for inventing Learn Nothing Day - so much more important than the PDA discussion that seems to take over this thread of comments. 

The real problem is the disorder is not in the child avoiding demands but the adults holding on to the demands, even putting demands in the first place. 

One reader told me PDA could even be about bodily functions, not wanting to "obey" your needs for food, water, and bathroom. I get some kids are struggling to enter this life and find a balance. I get that for some parents; it is seriously hard to help them. What I do not get is why it even makes sense to call it pathological. For the very few for whom it presents a physical problem of medical level, okay, there might be something to discuss. 

But the risk is it will spread like wildfire, just like ADHD spreads like a virus, once the diagnosis is presented. It is toxic to give humans the option to call something pathological, and I believe we have to be very aware of what we are doing when we call something "not normal". We are creating a narrow field for people to enter, making it harder for more people to come after us, and we are making it too easy for this force of the mainstream to take over. 

I am NOT judging any parents in particular or any teachers. I am trying to send a warning to all of us as a community and apply for a worldview with more space and more peace, and more kindness. 

And less demands. 

Maybe no demands?

Read more
Read less
Luna Maj Vestergaard

Brilliant post! And as synchronicity would have it, I literally just wrote one the other day, saying something much along these lines. I think PDA might be my new pet peeve, mouhahahahaha.

Read more
Read less
Cecilie Conrad

I am not sure what to say about this, my friend. I am still in a state of chock. Would you share where you wrote about it? In your magazine or social media or other?

Read more
Read less
Naomi Reid

Hi . I’m going to try and hold back but I have found your article insulting and upsetting. 

It is obvious that you do not understand PDA.

My daughter is autistic with PDA profile and three years ago my husband and I had to turn our lives upside down to support her. Or rather, or world exploded and we needed to find a way to forge a new life in the circumstances that we found ourselves. This came out of necessity because her mental health had become so poor, at the age of eight, that she was suicidal, terrified of leaving the house, and aggressive. Our family of three was barely holding together.

We started low (almost “no”)-demand parenting and child-led learning. No more school, no learning programs, no restrictions (ie bedtime and screens), no rules (ie showering, dressing etc), no expectations. As parents, we had to let go of control so that she could feel safe. Almost no boundaries, the opposite to what kids generally need to feel safe. I had to quit work to support her full time. You can imagine the toll on our family.

Three years later, her mental health is much improved, her extreme fears have gone, she leaves the house occasionally, our family is connected, and she is learning through her interests. 

All of those things have improved but she is still PDA. She still needs almost complete autonomy. I still need to support her as a PDAer and she struggles with PDA daily, and, as a family, we live with the limitations and frustrations and grief that PDA brings. 

Please, as a fellow human, because I’m tired of being judged, and particularly as you are broadcasting your opinion, I beg you to look deeper and reconsider your opinion on PDA. 

Thanks. Naomi.

Read more
Read less
Cecilie Conrad

Hi Naomi

Thank you for not holding back so much, so you did not say anything. I am happy you wrote to me. 

I know my text is provocative and hurtful for those living with this diagnosis. Yet, I think it is important to challenge the reality people face, where this kind of suffering even exists. 

I am not in the game of hurting people; this is not my goal. But at the same time, I think this conversation is very important. 

So, thank you for not just shouting at me or giving me hate but starting a conversation. 

That said, the first thing I want to say is I am truly sorry about the pain your family has been experiencing and the trouble you face every day.  I wish you all thriving and happiness, and after reading your text, I am hopeful you will find it. 

I know many autistic children. I know kids with all kinds of diagnoses. I tend to befriend children, and I get in touch with a lot of children due to our lifestyle. 

I truly believe all these children would have had a better life in a world not asking them to fit into a concept of normal so narrow and so one-sided, and in a world where normal could be several things, and a world of more kindness (in general, not the specific child; they tend to have lovely parents) with a different set of values focusing on what you might call feminine values, allowing for "success" to have many faces and for everyone to unfold who they are in stead of living up to standards, curriculum, and other narrow measuring sticks. A world that would have stopped what-ever was going on (for the child) many years before a child becomes suicidal and changed the premise. 

I am sure, what you do is right for your family (now), and that you are open to all sorts of solutions, maybe eventually to not see the "condition" as a problem but as a blessing. 

I am not going to change my mind. We need a different world. A different perspective. That is what we need. Not the diagnosis. 

And again. This does not mean, I think you are making it up or that your child is not suffering. I hope you see the difference. I am trying to be clear, but the thing is complex and peoples feelings get hurt. 

May the sun shine on you and yours


Read more
Read less
Sophia Cosmas

As the parent of PDAer there’s something of this article that implies there’s choice in this for everyone. Sure, when you’re managing a severely disregulated child, there are options about how to deal with what’s happening, but there is no give and take, no choice for the PDEer when they can’t eat or toilet or wash, let alone go to school or the shops … or anything. It IS pathological it just doesn’t need the judgement the author is saying goes hand in hand with a diagnosis. Not everyone is PDA, just because it’s human to avoid things that need doing. PDA is an extremely crippling and cruel nervous system disorder and understanding that without judgement is a critical step in management.

Read more
Read less
Cecilie Conrad

Hi Sophia Cosmas, 

Thank you for reaching out. 

I want to underline, as I have done in my other replies, I know something is going on, and for some children, it isn't very easy. And so, it complicates things for the whole family. I am not saying there are no children who have more intense problems with demands. I am saying something is wrong with a world demanding so much of children, making the space for diagnoses such as PDA. 

And I am NOT judging the kid or the behavior. I am judging the value system behind how most of the modern world understands childhood, family life, and parenting. There is a "common sense" that makes no sense from my point of view. 

Please read my other comments, as they cover the same question; maybe begin with the one to Naomi :) 

I am not without understanding there is a difference between those suffering and those who are just annoyed. I AM saying that there is something wrong with that not being okay, and with naming that Pathological. 

We have to watch out for "normal." It can be toxic. 

I wish you the best, and I hope you find a good balance. 


Read more
Read less

First of all, thank you for all your sparks of inspiration and enlightenment! So much...muchness (as the Hatter would say) in your life. I do feel we, I say we as we're also an unschooling (albeit not traveling) family, sometimes gather ourselves a bit too much on the fringes of things though. As if the world is a mental state and we're the dissociative ones imagining we, partly, are free of all the trauma inflicted on the rest of our entangled states. I would say,yes, some parents may feel like their kids need drugs to help them cope with the world/school/etc and thus seek a diagnosis to that end but I will dare to say that mostly, there is a deep urge to understand their kids and also to be able to access support in going down this road trying to navigate this neurotypically built and neuro-normative world. In that sense, maybe diagnoses are also to some, preferable to other kinds of labels thrown out there, such as 'difficult', 'aggressive', 'reclusive', 'disruptive', 'demand avoidant'...

For our own part, unschooling found us, in a way, as we tried to/are trying to figure out how to parent a child we intuitively felt could not cope in an institutional setting. We are, however, white, middle-class and from the same hemisphere as yourself and all the privileges that come with that, enabling something resembling choice. Not all are so blessed to be able to choose to live on the edges of things or to know that they can. Let's try and remember our entangled parts of all this mess.  

Read more
Read less
Cecilie Conrad

Hi Signe, lovely to meet you - I am sorry if I know you already and do not recognize your name. It seems to me we might be from the same country.

I think I might need to write another thing on this theme altogether, as there is so much to say about it. Of course, I am not condemning the parents who find a diagnosis to their children in a search for a better life. i truly believe all parents do their best to ensure the best life for their own. 

I am trying to call out the foundation: A reality where it is normal to hand out the diagnosis in the search for a better life, and B where the inner need to avoid demands CAN even become understood as pathological. I find that reality pathological, if anything. A reality where we can not accept different structures of human engagement with life and where so many different "neurodivergent" half or whole-hearted diagnosis show on the scene. 

I am not sure, but it might be that some people are so challenged it needs a name. But I am not sure it is helpful in the long run. What would be helpful would be a flexible world, a larger understanding of "normal", a mainstream with less power, and a society flexible enough to cope with people being not-the-same and not wanting the same. 

I am sure all, as in one hundred percent of the families believing one person "has" PDA, are truly struggling, and my heart goes out to them. Really. Especially to the children caught in this net. 

But I believe there is something wrong with the world these children "have to" participate in, much much more than with the children. And this wrong-ness if you like, is pushing the children and the parents to suffer much more than needed. 

I remember reading the book Highly Sensitive People about 15 years ago, and it felt so great to understand what is "different" about myself and most of my kids because I then understood there is NOTHING wrong with my husband (very telling; I was sure, I was right and he was wrong), just he did not have the senses I have. 

The great thing about this research and this book is no one is calling it pathological. On the contrary, this "condition" is underlined as within NORMAL, and our take is not to demand anything from our surrounding world. We know our systems are wired like this, and we have earplugs in our daypacks, sleeping masks in our backpacks, eating a radical diet, and in general, just avoiding our triggers. 

I KNOW IT IS NOT THE SAME (not for you, Signe, but just to make it clear for everyone) - but what could have been the same is the perspective: This is non-pathological, within "normal" (whatever that is) and we can adjust without suffering, without missing out. 

About privilege, I agree: We are in a very, very good place. And for this reason, because we have all of this surplus of resources, we have the moral obligation to call out what we see as BS when we see something going very wrong in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons to save everyone from a very dysfunctional world. 

There is nothing wrong with the children of this world. There is so much wrong with the ideals, the structures, the pressure, the mainstream, the chaos, the speed, the stressors, and the general direction everything is moving in. 

This is why white middle-class rich people need to say it out loud, risking hate and losing friends, because what needs to change has to change and will never change if we are so afraid of our point of view we hide inside tolerance and understanding. 

Of course, I know it is hard for people suffering, and of course, I know a lot of children do not thrive in the system they live in, and many parents see no options to change the context. The suffering is real, the attempts to solve the problem are real, and the urge to find a way is beautiful. What is ugly is the premise. 

Did I babble, or did I make it clearer?

Read more
Read less

Leave a comment

Have you read the latest articles by Cecilie Conrad?

Here you can find my latest writing - It is a mix of my blogposts and 2023 journaling. I hope you will enjoy it :)