A couple of weeks ago, there was a maddening thread on one of the Yahoo! unschooling groups that began, innocuously enough, as a discussion about TV. As people chimed in attempting to be helpful, and some people dug their heals in attempting to fight back, a couple of distinct camps came into being. The first camp, the one which I definitely consider myself a part of, seemed to believe that unschooling is journey of letting go, in which we gradually come to trust that our children will turn out the way that they are supposed to turn out - not the way we would choose for them to turn out, necessarily, but the way that they choose to turn out based on their own spirits, interests, abilities, and world views.
The other camp, which was fairly small but surprisingly vocal given the fact that it was on an unschooling list, came from a very different tack. These few folks were of the opinion that children should be able to learn and experience what they want so long as they did it within the parents' value and belief system. Now, I get that, I really do. I remember when I believed that, when I felt that I truly had so much amazing perfection and control over my children that I could actually assure an outcome just by willing it to be so. Over the years, I came to see the truth - not yours necessarily, but ours - that not only is it dangerous to impart our own preferences onto our children, but it is also nearly impossible to do joy with permanence and joy.
Why is it dangerous?
Because telling anyone - especially your own children - how to live their lives, what to be interested in, what to believe, and what to value ultimately robs them of the self-discovery and self-determination critical to their self-confidence. That sounds like a lot of "self", and it is . . . but if we want our kids to be able to think for themselves and fend for themselves, we need to be able to step back and give them the tools they need to be able to do just that. There is no better way to do that than to stand right next to them while they explore in freedom, ready to coach and guide and support if need be. Now, of course you can and should express opinions and offer ideas and ways to expand critical thinking. But raising you kids in your own image? Maybe not.
Some people think that is really, really stupid - that providing that degree of freedom and choice is simply abandoning our fundamental responsibilities as a parent. They view this attitude as lazy and short-sighted. But 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 I don't want my kids to share my values neccessarily - 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.