Good Morning America: Don't You Love Your Children?


I really enjoyed reading some of the criticism leveled at the unschooling community this week after Phil, Christine, Kimi and Shaun appeared on GMA. I am in no way surprised that the initial mainstream reaction to unschooling, either as an educational choice or as a lifestyle choice, was negative. And I am in no way surprised that the mainstream parenting blogs are now coming out of the woodwork, some how buttressed and validated by a morning news program. My lack of surprise notwithstanding, I felt the need to recycle some old thoughts about the foundations of why we unschool, and the challenges that places upon us every day as a family.
Let me start by saying that I am not the parent who essentially turns my children over to local and state-run school programs for ten hours a day while I go to work to earn more money so I can buy more consumer goods that give me pleasure. I am not the parent who doesn't participate in my child's learning. I am not the parent who places blind faith in an education system that all Americans know is broken and has lead us to lose pace with the remainder of the world. And I am not the parent who sits back idly and recognizes that it is broken but uses it anyway.

No, I am the parent who cares enough about my children to learn about how children learn and adjust my own paradigms accordingly.
As an unschooling parent, you have to constantly double check to ensure that your children's decisions to reject or embrace certain things are indeed their decisions. There is indeed a fine line between modeling your passions, and restricting information or exposure in an effort to get a child to see things your way; that's coercion. Let's throw out the "unschooling" label for a sec and look at this pragmatically - we're trying to raise our children to think for themselves, to make their own assessments of good and bad, to see the world in terms of what makes sense to them. Only through truly free choice will our children learn a lesson in all it's nuances and subtleties, and therefore learn it deeply and permanently - and be able to decide, therefore, where their boundaries are and what can still be a moving target.
To do this as a parent requires a great amount of faith, with little real hope that our children will turn out to share our values. But for me, I don't want my kids to share my values necessarily - I want them to define their own values, and learn to question, and be anything but the sheep that so many of us become because we've not been entrusted with the responsibility to think for ourselves. The passion that we all model for our children needs to be unconditional - a true reflection of ourselves and our values, our likes, and our beliefs. THAT's what we're modeling - not the values themselves, but the joy of having and expressing them. Doing this is hard, no doubt. Many observers see us allowing our children to eat what they want, watch what they want, say what they want, etc, and make the natural assumption that we are indulging our children. They believe that these indulgences are short-sighted; that we are choosing the easy path of least resistance by being overly permissive now, but setting our children up for long-term difficulties as they try to adapt to the "real world." I understand that.
But I think it's bullshit.
I think that when you truly adopt unschooling, you're taking a long-term view of your child's life and setting them up for success beyond your wildest dreams. How? By setting up an environment in which we model the pursuit of our own passions without expectations or conditions; by allowing and encouraging our children's passions and exploration without judgment; by trusting that our children will do what's right for them even if it's not what we would choose for them or for ourselves. Doing this authentically and wholeheartedly helps our children understand that their views have value, that their passions have value, that their thoughts have value - that they have value. And that builds a confidence that enables them to try new things and explore their passions as well as their fears. But most critically, it enables them to see the world through their own eyes and to define success on their own terms. I'm no unschooling expert, but that, my friends, is a long-term view. And it is a beautiful journey.

28 comments:

  1. You're such a radical. Are you really willing to risk your children's future on your "theory"?

    (Yeah, me too...)

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  2. "And I am not the parent who sits back idly and recognizes that it is broken but uses it anyway."

    Yes. Yes. Yes. Thank you!

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  3. I'm totally willing to risk theory on my children...but the risk is pretty low when you consider the astonishing mess the school system is consistently creating. ;) Awesome post my friend!

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  4. I've been reading all sorts of responses to the GMA story and this is the best by far!

    "And I am not the parent who sits back idly and recognizes that it is broken but uses it anyway."

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  5. I just read your blog thanks to a link on a friend's FB page. I say often that my son's upbringing and education is an "experiment" and though the outcome may be uncertain, I know it will certainly be better than anything a institution would have provided him. I hope that your message will get out to those that really need to hear it - not those of us already unschooling and not worrying about going against the tide. No, I want those that have lost all hope in their children's education to read your words and know there is an option!

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  6. Your post made me do a "happy dance." Keep on keepin' on!

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  7. It's interesting that so much of the criticism of the "radical unschooling" lifestyle focuses on the "overly permissive" aspects. My son has been out of school only since 2002, but I've been doing that "overly permissive" stuff as a parent since my always schooled daughter was born in 1985 and she turned out just fine, so I rather suspect that it's actually a very good idea in itself and that my son will turn out just fine too.

    Always a pleasure to read what you write, Jeff.

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  8. "And what a beautiful journey it is" indeed.

    Our evidence is building here, too, to support your theory. I'll risk it. Excellent response, Jeff!

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  9. "To do this as a parent requires a great amount of faith, with little real hope that our children will turn out to share our values. But for me, I don't want my kids to share my values necessarily - I want them to define their own values, and learn to question, and be anything but the sheep that so many of us become because we've not been entrusted with the responsibility to think for ourselves."

    This, right here, is the very core of what scares the beejeezus out of the institutional people, I think. It also happens to be exactly why we've unschooled for 13 years and counting. Great post!

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  10. Great post!
    Wow! Loved this line
    "let me start by saying that I am not the parent who essentially turns my children over to local and state-run school programs for ten hours a day while I go to work to earn more money so I can buy more consumer goods that give me pleasure."

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  11. Amazing post. It literally brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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  12. Sandra is funny! I have often wondered why the burden of proof rests on those of us doing something "new", when the "old" way (meaning the current public education system, which isn't actually very old per se) has tons of evidence proving how it *isn't* working. I'm surely *not* willing to risk my kids' future on *their* theories!

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  13. I am not the parent who criticizes other parents' choices.

    I never criticize people's decisions to homeschool. I have to wonder why a homeschooling parent like yourself feels the need to criticize my decision to use the public schools.

    "I am not the parent who places blind faith in an education system that all Americans know is broken . . . "

    Come on! Some schools are good, some are bad, some are excellent. I think you are "schooling" your children on how to make gross generalizations.

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  14. My older child spent an hour in her gifted class, making a paper mache model of a tuatera (not sure if I spelled that right), and writing a humorous little essay about it. In science, she used potatos to conduct electricity. In reading, they discussed Where the Red Fern Grows. In recess, she finally crossed the playground on the monkey bars.

    My younger kid watched a live Native American dance, performed in a show in front of the school, sold things in the school store, and watched as some chicken eggs hatched. All that in one day.

    That's what happened in school today for my two kids. I do wonder how many unschoolers can report a day with so much fun. I'd inform yourself before you decide that ALL public schools are "broken."

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  15. 3 thumbs up! thanks jeff! knew your insight would come forth!

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  16. Hi, Jeff. I did read the posts you mentioned (some I had read earlier). All very interesting stuff.

    My feeling is--you don't need to trash the public schools in order to justify homeschooling.

    Homeschooling is a very valid choice in and of itself. And, really, being a public school teacher is great, but doesn't give you information about every public school in every district. And it is impossible to make generalizations about "the vast majority of students"--unless you've surveyed them. My apologies if you've done a comprehensive survey of kids around the country.

    I think homeschooling is great--I've thought of doing it myself. But my kids don't want it. I've offered it and they say the idea is "horrendous." And their opinion is somewhat informed--after all, they spend weekends and vacations at home. They love home, but they love being with their peers all day at school.

    I have also noticed that many homeschooled kids are secretly curious about recess, spending the day with one's peers, assemblies, gym, school dances, the school bus. . . Just as you may have know public school kids who "hate" school, I've known homeschooled kids who wish they were in school. They often don't have the courage to tell their parents that they just don't want to spend each and every day with mom and dad. It gets boring. Or they half-believe their parents, who have told them public school is bad, and so school seems like a scary place. What a shame!

    So, from my perspective, both options can be good or bad. I would never say all homeschooling was bad, and it surprised me to read that you felt the entire public school system was "broken." That is far from the truth.

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  17. I'm a parent who has one child unschooling (age 13) and one who chooses to be in public school (age 11). The one in public school really wants to be in school, she loves teachers and kids and being busy. However, she's having a miserable year and we can't wait for it to be done. There are no gifted programs for our child (tho' we've had her tested privately and she definitely qualifies), there are almost no field trips (lack of money, lack of teacher motivation, lack of time b/c they're trying to meet No Child Left Behind standards), there is nothing but work, work, work. This week and last week they are taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. Last week, on a testing day, they were being "too noisy" at lunch (whew, after all those hours testing, yes) so now and for the REST OF THE YEAR they have assigned seating at lunch. 1st grader, 5th grader, 1st grader, 5th grader...Yesterday my daughter LIED that she had peanut butter in her lunch so she could eat at the peanut butter table as she is regularly assigned to eat at a spot right across from the kid who has threatened to kill their teacher several times this year. You know, writing this makes me want to pull her out of school RIGHT NOW. I have been nudging her along all year, trying to make sure she keeps her "commitment" since she chose to go to school this year. But this is ridiculous!

    My 13yo unschooled son, meanwhile, is constructing geometric shapes with math manipulatives on the floor next to the day care baby we care for and singing songs to him. He has spent the morning reading, caring for the dog and helping with babies, and looking up favorite books online plotting how long it will take him to earn/save enough money to buy what he wants.

    We live in Central Minnesota, "top of the nation" for schools. My husband is a public school music teacher. We desperately want schools to work, but each year it becomes more and more obvious to me they're not.

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  18. -=-writing this makes me want to pull her out of school RIGHT NOW. I have been nudging her along all year, trying to make sure she keeps her "commitment" since she chose to go to school this year. But this is ridiculous!-=-

    If school were slowly poisoning her, would you tell her to stick it out?
    If you bought a dozen donuts because they were as inexpensive as half a dozen, would you tell her to eat them all because you didn't want them to go to waste?

    Finishing fifth grade is worth absolutely nothing in the real world. They would NOT put her back in fifth if she went back next year. They would put her in 6th, or maybe you could test her into 7th (though the kids would be tacky about it, as when kids are locked up and tend to be tacky about just about everything).

    Take her out and let her eat lunch in peace and think about what she wants to do next fall.

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  19. Ooops and sorry:
    I wrote "are coming from people who might never have been an unschooling family in their lives." because I was deciding between "been around" and "met" and I botched the edit.

    The point is that Jeff and all those other unschoolers writing here know a great deal about school, AND they know a lot of real-life unschooling families and their children. If unschooling was horrendous, people wouldn't be coming and asking us how to do it.

    If school is fine with your kids, then fine! No problem. If school is not quite so fine with your kids, I know it's frustrating for us to point out that you have a choice, which makes you more responsible for the damage that happens to your children at school, and I'm a little sorry about that, but you DO have a choice.

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  20. You're right Sandra. I will be mulling this over, and making a decision with her by the weekend. Nothing like seeing it in black and white.

    p.s. I put my full blog address in this time...in case anyone tried the link.

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  21. I really enjoyed your post, esp this part "we're trying to raise our children to think for themselves, to make their own assessments of good and bad, to see the world in terms of what makes sense to them." Well said! Laurie

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  22. Thanks Jeff!

    The mainstream will probably never get it and that's their choice. I'm just praying that in their stress to fix their broken system, they don't gain too much mob mentality and seek out unschooling to headhunt as their cure all.

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  23. I don't know where you get your information that ALL schools are broken.

    Our school is great and we love it! Have you visited it (we live in Ohio)

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  24. Kimberly Sharpe-SlageApril 30, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    Thanks Jeff! You rock!

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