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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Waking up My Blog for a Little Unschooling Chatter

I was all set to simply ignore the ABC news piece on unschooling that aired last week and its slightly improved follow-up piece. I’m a writer, after all, and I happen to know from experience how easy it is to latch on to a word or a key phrase and put a spin on things to suit your own set of beliefs and experiences rather than provide an accurate, unbiased, complete report. Then our local paper published Betsy Hart’s commentary on the matter and I decided I’d be able to more quickly clear my mind if I went ahead and spilled my thoughts on the matter.

Most of those reading here know that our family homeschools and many of you who have spent any time with me (or my kids) at all, have probably heard me use the term unschooling. At the very least, you’ve heard me describe unschooling in action.

It’s very disheartening to hear our very full and active lifestyle reduced to lists of things un-done. There are times when I have even had this difficulty with other unschoolers, though I understand the sense of freedom and relief most converts feel upon breaking away from the traditional boundaries of classroom thinking. It’s a choice, and for many/most it becomes a lifestyle, a way of looking at the world and all the opportunities available to us, as well as to our children.

Unschooling may result in no textbooks (at least not used in the “traditional” manner), no curricula, no tests, no grades, but the lack of these things is certainly not the meaning of unschooling, as Hart asserts. The way we chose to live our lives is not about lack, but abundance.

My biggest gripe, however, is Hart’s leap from unschooling to “unparenting.”

Really? If I truly had a desire to neglect my children, wouldn’t it be easier to just put them in school for the majority of the day? I’m sure I could find plenty of chocolate donuts to eat around here and would enjoy the freedom of choosing my own television shows all day long rather than having to coordinate the fulfillment of my passions with the rest of the people who live in my house.

I do realize the above paragraph might come across as very insulting to my friends who send their kids to school. Please know I’m not suggesting your decision to put your kids in school is actually equivalent to neglect, but I think everyone would agree that neglect happens in many settings.  

I know my husband sees “unparenting” every day in his job as a legal aid lawyer. I hear teachers complain about it, probably more than anybody else. It’s a problem, and it’s likely that it’s getting worse, but it’s certainly not a term that can be applied across the board to unschoolers, homeschoolers, or even public schoolers.

I wouldn’t assume, for instance, that every happy and engaged family I come across is unschooled. Experience has shown me that there are wonderful families/engaged parents/successful kids in many, many settings.

My experience, biased as my outlook may be, is that unschooling parents are among the most engaged parents there are. They may be as driven by their passions as their children are, but they work at it, too. It’s a huge commitment, taking on the world as a classroom.

Here’s the thing I don’t see being talked about in popular media:

Sometimes kids are content to watch a lot of television, play a lot of video games, read a lot of books. Sometimes keeping up with their passions is easy. Trips to the zoo, hiking, digging holes in the yard. Looking up an enormous variety of topics online or at the library, drawing, painting, building towers from legos or things pulled from the recycle bins: all these things are easy. Exhausting on some days, but generally doable.

Sometimes you get bored with the daily routine or your kids get bored and you have to get creative and expend a little extra energy to shake things up and make things work again. (Sometimes you just admit that the “lack” of pursuing, in whatever form it takes, feels good and must be necessary and tomorrow will be yet another day/opportunity.)

But sometimes kids are drawn to things that really push parents outside of their comfort zones. I know there have been times when I, for one, feel like I could have made my life a whole lot easier if I’d just been content to tell my kids what they need to learn and when they need to learn it. The variety and creative approaches to facilitating the passions of the children in unschooling families is enormous. There are the obvious classes (yes, even school classes) and private lessons and seeking out mentors to fill in where the parents’ own interests don’t help. I know kids who have gotten jobs and kids who do volunteer work. I’ve seen kids start their own businesses and kids who undertake self-study endeavors worthy of masters degrees.

And yes, you see all these things in some public school children, as well, which just takes me back to my point. I won’t assume all happy and successful children are unschooled, and you shouldn’t assume my unschooled child is neglected.

Just for fun, trying turning homeschooling around for a moment (from The Onion, if you have a sense of humor about these things).  

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