I just got home from some errands, sat down at my computer, and found a rollicking discussion going on on the Radical Unschooling Info page on facebook.
It starts with a link to an article by Pam Sorooshian, on her blog. The article is "Unschooling is not "Child-Led Learning"."
Pam makes some excellent points, and I may get to them in a minute, but mostly, I want to comment on the responses to that article. Between the time it was posted (4 hours ago) and when I first saw it (half an hour ago) there were over 50 comments. At first, as I was reading through them, there were several comments that I wanted to respond to. Then a few more. When I realized that I could probably write an entire book trying to respond to each detail, the overall feeling I had was that some people try to make unschooling SO complicated and forced.
For some reason, many, many people fight and resist understanding unschooling for a very long time. They are full of "but what if?" and "How about when...?" in response to every suggestion. They bring in extremes as their examples. They argue straw men. They want to discuss grand generalities, rather than specific, real situations. They want to worry about twenty years in the future rather than their relationships right now. They want rules. They want to know if they should offer, or wait until asked, or if they need to find a way to get their child to ask. They want to know what to do, step-by-step. They want someone to blame if it "doesn't work."
It's fascinating to observe.
The most fascinating part is that people seem to want to complicate something that is, at the heart of it, very simple.
In reading through those comments today, one thing I recognized is that there are people in the discussion on two different sides of a paradigm shift, as is often the case when someone new to unschooling tries to discuss it with people who have been living that way for years. It can be very, very difficult to communicate across that divide, especially when the new person wants ANSWERS rather than information. When they are unwilling to do some reading and research and come to a basic understanding before starting to ask specific questions, they don't have the context in which to connect with information they are given.
A simple example: "the kids do whatever they want" means entirely different things to people on the different sides of the "unschooling paradigm."
To people who don't understand unschooling, it sounds like a free-for-all, with kids running around wild, running roughshod over everyone else, uncontrolled and uncontrollable. They don't do anything that they don't want to do, which means, naturally, that they don't do any of the things the person who is stressing about it considers in the category of "things people don't want to do." People have long lists in that category, also sometimes called "things NO ONE would ever choose to do." These kids doing "whatever they want" are in opposition to everyone around them, and will "never learn" how to get along in the world, this world that is "full of things people don't want to do."
To people who understand unschooling, it is a matter of people choosing how to spend their time, prioritizing the various things in their lives. It means an understanding that people learn what they are interested in and emotionally connected to, they learn what they need to know, and everything leads to everything else, it all being connected. If someone has a need for certain information or skills in their lives, it is a fairly simple thing to find that thing out, or learn how to do something, as the need or interest comes up. Kids "doing whatever they want" means that they have the freedom and time to really explore their interests, to become experts even at a young age. It means learning to balance everyone's needs in the family and not automatically disallow something just because one person (often a parent) doesn't care for it or prioritize it. It means finding ways and means to reach out and connect with things and people outside the usual confines of childhood, not assuming that children are only interested in child-centered things. In an environment of respect and honesty, "doing whatever they want" tends not to involve disrespecting others.
Those are two EXTREMELY different images of the same concept.
And that is only ONE of the concepts that splits across that divide.
The thing I noticed today has to do with the different perspectives on each side of the paradigm.
On one, the world consists of parents, children, and other people. Parents are responsible for their children, and must teach them, or have them taught, various important things. There are subjects that "everyone needs to know." There is great fear of what might happen if someone has "holes in their knowledge."
In that world, when people first consider unschooling, they still have those fears and the separation between various groups of people. They want to be kinder and gentler, and respect their child, and perhaps, even have the child "make some decisions" about what they want to learn and how. They understand that people learn in different ways, but ultimately, still see learning as a separate subject in and of itself.
The parent needs to give the child what they need.
Or, if they are trying to go to the other extreme, the child is in charge, and the parent has to wait for "indications" from the child, or for the child to ask for what they want.
The thing about unschooling is that all of that is trying to categorize and measure and define (all left-brain activities) something that is all-encompassing and connected and shared (all right-brain things).
The first thing I try to explain to people, and this is so important that I'm careful to eliminate certain phrases from my vocabulary, is that unschooling is NOT something parents do to or for their kids. I do not "unschool my kids." Likewise, I don't "unschool sleep" or "unschool food" or unschool anything at all. My kids don't "unschool themselves", either. "Unschool" is not really a verb. I'd really rather not even describe us as "unschoolers" because it implies a verb, but it's a word that is understood by some people, and I sometimes use it as an identifier rather than a description. The title of this blog, for instance, has the word "unschooling" in it so people can easily recognize what it's going to be about- but most of my posts don't have anything to do, really, with specifically "educating" anyone. They are about stuff I'm doing, or thinking about.
And that's what unschooling is.
Doing and thinking about. Talking about. Wondering about. Looking at, creating, sharing.
This whole "strewing" thing that poor Sandra probably pulls her hair out over people seemingly intentionally not understanding, is another part of this "two sides of a paradigm" thing. It's not about finding things to intentionally place strategically around the house so that your child will "find" them and then become inspired to learn something in particular, and therefore, a way to be sure that they "come across" the things you want them to know, thereby guiding them to that list of "things everyone needs to know," but in a kinder, gentler, less obvious and coercive sort of way.
It's far simpler than that.
We are a family.
We share living space, and we share each other's lives.
We share some interests, and have others that are unique to each of us.
Each of us brings things to the whole that we find of interest. It may be a physical object, like a book or CD, or it may be a link to something online, or a game or song, or it may be an idea, a conversation, a train of thought. It might be a way of looking at something, or it might be the thing at which we are looking. Or all of the above. Or something else, entirely.
All of this sharing is done from the perspective of wanting to share with each other.
Sometimes, it's that one of us hopes the others will be interested, so we can explore something toegther.
Other times, it's because we already know they will be- like finding a book for someone because you know that it's something they have been wanting.
It is very rare that the primary reason for sharing has an overtone, or undertone, of "you need to know this."
There is very rarely any serious disappointment if someone isn't interested in what is offered. If they aren't, they aren't. It's not a big deal. It's not like my interest and enjoyment of something depends on someone else's opinion of it.
Do we all learn from the various things/thoughts/conversations that are shared?
Of course we do.
Learning is what people do. Like breathing.
But it isn't that any of us is trying to make anyone else do or learn something.
We don't do these things SO THAT people will learn, we do them because it's what we do.
It has been a fascinating journey to share life with three maturing humans, and to spend time exploring their interests as they have grown and changed and developed. Likewise, it has been a life of my own growing and learning and maturing, which I have been able to value with the same heart.
I once had someone tell me that now that she was older, she "doesn't want to have to learn anything new ever again."
That sounds like a good description of "hell" to me.
The amount of stuff we each learn is roughly the same, considering that all of us are learning all the time. Some of the stuff my kids are learning, or have learned, as kids, I'm learning as an adult. Something my daughter is learning at 18, I might be learning at 50. So what? All those fears of "if you don't learn it when you're young..." are bullcrap. Some of what I'm learning now is that I am actually learning things that were "taught" to me years ago, but I didn't really learn them. Some is stuff I wasn't interested in until recently, and some, things I've wanted to know for a long time, but there are only so many hours in a day, and it takes time to get to everything.
My point here, at least one of them, is that one of the biggest challenges to understanding unschooling has to do with that pre-unschooling separation of EVERYTHING. It puts things in opposition, that should be connected, cooperating, sharing.
Forget, or eliminate, the "kids vs parents" separation. Be a family.
Forget, or eliminate, the separation between different subjects, like "math" or "science." Instead of trying to learn those things in isolation, DO THINGS. The things that you do will involve all those "subjects" without any need to force them.
Pay attention. Observe. Explore. Touch. Describe. Discuss.
THAT is what unschooling is.
Not some sort of rules, or "philosophy" or "teaching method" or even "learning method" (for those who are trying to get rid of the word "teach"). It isn't what the kids do, or what the parents help the kids do, because life is something we all are living together, sharing space and time. It is ongoing and all-encompassing.
Share space and time with your family and friends.
Be together, physically at times, mentally at times, emotionally all the time.
Share your joys, your sorrows, your interests. Give to each other freely and enthusiastically. Accept from each other in the same spirit.
Move through the world with interest, with wonder, with fascination.
Fill yourselves up with life.
Expand your being.
It's that simple.