When I had my first child, I started reading about unschooling. My baby was only months-old but I was devouring everything I could find about parenting methods, homeschooling and travel. I knew I wanted to keep traveling, so I was looking for information on how all of that would work. There wasn’t a single source, but unschooling seemed to fit best. That’s when I met Lainie Liberti. She started traveling with her son Miro in 2011.
Since then, Lainie has built a huge worldschooling community on Facebook and while I haven’t posted much, I have been a member. Worldschooling is a broad term to describe traveling families who use their travels as education for their kids. There’s also roadschooling, edventures, unschooling, homeschooling and life-learning. There’s a lot of groups, so it was strange when I logged into Facebook to see Lainie’s group now had a TM next to the name.
Trademarked? It took me by surprise because that word pre-dates Lainie’s travels. I was there. Just one quick example from March 2010, here is one family talking about worldschooling their daughter. Lainie and Milo started traveling in 2011. It’s literally impossible that she’s the source.
I’m not an IP lawyer, so maybe she has a claim to this name. I’ve heard rumors that Eli Gerzon originally created the FB group and lays claim to the word and has somehow “passed the trademark” to Lainie. The earliest source I can find for Eli is from January of 2008.
“Worldschooling” — This is a new term coined by Eli Gerzon that is essentially a more descriptive and positive version of unschooling that can apply to anyone even those beyond school age. Gerzon defines it by saying, “It’s when the whole world is your school, instead of school being your whole world.” Eli Gerzon has “unschooled through college” mainly by learning from his international travels but the term does not require you to travel the world, just as unschooling doesn’t forbid making use of school resources. Instead, it’s when one actively experiences and learns from the world around one: the home, family, friends, strangers of all backgrounds, libraries, parks, sports, forests, schools, towns, and of course the world and the world wide web. It also emphasizes that there is always more to learn from this wonderful, complex world regardless of whether one has a high school degree, is a doctor, or is solely self-educated.”
I remember reading that page, back in my research phase of unschooling and worldschooling and I never gave it a second thought. I think for most traveling families the name Eli Gerzon doesn’t ring a bell. However, that definition of worldschooling, written by Eli Gerzon on EliGerzon.com could be the original source. Did Eli coin the phrase? It’s hard to know but there are parked domains at worldschooling.com (registered in 2000), world-school.com (registered 1998) and others (although several have changed hands so it’s hard to know the original registration).
So what does this mean for those of us casually using the word? Will they go after the 26,450 photos on Instagram tagged #worldschool or the 26,827 tagged #worldschooling or just the 2,192 tagged #worldschoolers?
On Facebook, Lainie said, “We’ve noticed a lot of opportunists tapping into our community for commercial purposes, it was a way for us protect our community from others creating a commercial organization that exploits our community.”
That’s an interesting word, “opportunists.” Is worldschooling her brand or is it an organic movement? I’m totally okay with her making money from paid events and I believe she should benefit from her labor organizing the community. However, families are not traveling because of Lainie, they are traveling because of the internet. (See also: Tim Ferriss for good timing with the 4 Hour Workweek but he didn’t invent the tech advances that makes digital nomadism possible).
We’ve seen this before
If you were a member of Pantsuit Nation last year, you might remember when the group reached over 2 million members and the person who founded it got a book deal using the private messages of women on the group. The backlash was quick and severe. Six months later the book has not come out and the public FB page for Pantsuit Nation only has 100,000 followers. It killed the movement.
It concerns me that Lainie Liberti wants to control who uses the phrase that describes my family. It is disheartening that the dozens of long running groups could be at legal jeopardy for using a phrase that was shared freely for over a decade. It’s truly upsetting that anyone who has complained has been banned from her group. (Waiting for my ban in 3, 2, 1…)
The increase of traveling families over the seven years I’ve had kids has been dramatic. We’re getting written up as The rise of traveling families and world-schooling in The Guardian and there are multiple summits about the topic (I’m speaking at one in September, called the Family Adventure Summit and another in January called Worldschooling Central). I wouldn’t say there’s any real money in teaching families how to travel on the cheap, homeschooling as they go and often juggling side-hustle work and parenting. However, the movement is changing, maturing and has reached what I’d now call it’s “awkward teenage years.” There are 30,000 members in the World Schoolers (TM) group, a sign of just how many families now find this appealing (I remember the days when there were two dozen of us huddled together in private chats, the odd-balls in any travel forum).
The goal is to stop us from using the name
Ultimately we’re at a cross-roads. Lainie’s group was explicit in their intent to stop others from using the worldschool term: “Rest assured there is no evil intent in using our trademark now, we simply need a way to differentiate and protect ourselves from others using similar names, which has been confusing members as they assume those groups are run by us.” (Emphasis added.)
If they are successful, we may not have many options. However, the movement only exists because of the families that live it. We’re here, it’s ours and there is room for all of us. They say “our decision-making process is based on what we feel is best for not only this group, but for the worldschooling movement as a whole.” Here’s what’s best for the movement: keep it as open and free as possible.
UPDATE 6/23/17: My access to the Worldschoolers FB group has been restored and I’m currently a member. I’ve posted 10 questions (below in the comments) and received a partial response from Jen Silver but I’ve also forwarded those questions to Lainie Liberti. I haven’t had a response yet, but I’ll post when I do. I’ve also found a trademark lawyer to write a follow up post to discuss trademark law and the broad strokes around this specific case. It’s not legal advice but I think it will bring some much needed clarity to the community. The ideal situation in my mind is if we can find a way to peacefully co-exist together, both as individuals and businesses. Expect a new post next week.