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.