Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Unschooling and what are you afraid of?

For those of you who never having heard of unschooling, received the extremely biased and negative introduction to the topic from ABC News (Good Morning America) this week as a first exposure, you can be forgiven for your initial outrage at what could be perceived as a irresponsible and negligent way of raising kids.
But my patience stops there.
As I would suggest with my own unschooling kids when confronted with a bewildering issue/question, I want you to dig a little deeper within your own self and ask yourself why is the idea of unschooling getting you upset?

Because, as with every other topic/concern/idea in this world, opinions need to be formed based on intelligent investigation, rather than a reactionary response.
Lets follow then for this occasion, the approach any unschooler child would take. Are you ready? Let me take your hand....

The first lesson, O New Comer, that the unschooling child would demonstrate to you is to approach a new thing with an open mind.

The beginner unschooler would then google the topic (or if he is too young, ask for your help doing this). He would take out books from the library; he would speak to the experts-other unschooling families.
This is known as research.

Find out all you can about the philosophy: this is the act of learning.

We think of it as immersion into the subject matter.
As unschoolers, we are unafraid of spending months, even years on one particular subject area: and this is called developing expertise.
After all, which would you rather:the doctor with loves his job, who is constantly adding to his knowledge and learning new ways to be a better doctor, or the doctor who is not really into doctoring, would prefer to be a playwright and spends most of his time dreaming up scripts?
Questioning, seeking understanding is what the unschooler is raised to do; all of which is natural to humans but gets booted out of people after years of being made to conform.

Are you still with me? Now that you have a better comprehension of the topic, you are now in the position to make an intelligent comment, O Newly Initiated.
From this beginning, a whole new world will begin to unfold. You might learn the history of education in our western culture and that institutionalized public education has only been around for 150 years; you might learn about the Greeks who preferred to learn in groups of 5 or 6 out in the world rather than in a classroom, you might learn about other sorts of educational strategies and opportunities such as apprenticeships, mentors and self education.
You might from there, become interested in history (and this is called following your interest) which might lead you to learn about slavery and how once upon a time, slavery was considered the norm.

Or by following this interest you might discover another passion; the history of women and their contributions and following that you might learn about a scientific method that intrigues you and that you can apply in your work.

When you get to the root of the word, etymologically the word education contains educare (Latin) "bring up", which is related to educere "bring out", "bring forth what is within", "bring out potential" and ducere, "to lead." (

You might actually discover that learning is a natural thing; and what is education if not a journey of self discovery; the bringing forth of that which is already there?


terriachmann said...

Brava! Well stated! I didn't see the ABC show, but I'm so glad you have responded in this way. Fear of the unknown can really bring out the worst in some people! Such a shame, really.

rfs said...

Thanks Terriachmann. It's incredible how people who have only a rudimentary understanding of a topic will say whatever comes off the top of their noggins.

Anonymous said...

Love the satire here. People make dumb assumptions and spew off their unfounded opinions for all the world to hear.
Educate yourselves first people.

Anonymous said...

This post reminded me of my own journey to accepting unschooling.

After my son was just born I started to question all mainstream parenting practices and ideas. Coming out of a highly abusive/controlling marriage, I saw too many parallels between normal child rearing practices and the way my husband treated me. In good conscience I knew I couldn't do the same things to my son but at the same time I was conflicted about the apparent irresponcibility of doing otherwise. I started looking around for some kind of validation that my instincts were right and that control and coercion were wrong - regardless of who it was done to or why. I didn't really know what I was looking for, just that when I found it, I'd know.

I first came across unschooling in this mindset. Yet, my innitial reaction to it was still, "Darn it. I know I'm going to end up doing this because it's the right thing to do - but I don't WAAAANT to." (Please picture me whining and hanging on dearly to the idea of molding my son into a theoretical physicist, with or without his consent.)

And then you know what I did? I stopped looking into anything to do with unschooling or alternative parenting and I started looking into myself. I seriously questioned why I was having the gut reactions I was having and what my defensive feelings were all about. For four months I examined my feelings about it and in the end I did decide unschooling was the right choice, regardless of how I felt, and I had no right to impose on my son's life in the ways I had always imagined doing.

So I gave up that dream. I realized there were better dreams to dream. I dreamed instead of a son who was whole and happy and confident and wasn't judged for his intelligence or accomplishments (at least not by me) and was instead loved unconditionally and valued for who he truely was - and nothing more.

It was only at this point that I began again to look into unschooling - this time more deeply. It came as something of a surprise to me that all the personal issues that I had worked so hard to overcome were really unfounded fears in the first place and that choosing to unschool was not ever something I needed to feel conflicted about. Theoretical physicist aside, I had mistakenly equated unschooling with unlearning and thereby 'educational neglect'.

And yes, I found a way to be okay with that within myself. I changed my veiws of life and of children so drasticly in that four months that any standard measure of intelligence or education didn't seem to matter in the face of what was at stake if we didn't unschool - my relationship with my son, my betrayal of my own values, but son's wholeness and happiness as an individual.

I'm glad I came to unschooling in the way I did. I think if I hadn't stopped to reflect on my own issues I would have been drawn to unschooling for the wrong reasons (if at all). I now know that no sacrafice is being made in order to unschool (quite the opposite!) but in the end I didn't choose radical unschooling for educational reasons. Instead I chose to unschool as an extension of choosing to raise my son with as much freedom, love and respect as possible. Everything else is secondary to that.

Sorry for the long comment, but this post is right on the money. "I want you to dig a little deeper within your own self and ask yourself why is the idea of unschooling getting you upset?" :)

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