Saturday, February 7, 2015

I Didn't Unschool My Children

One of the most challenging things about helping people who are new to, or interested in, unschooling, is that at times, it feels like we aren't speaking the same language.  Because there are several paradigm shifts, or complete changes in ways of thinking about things, between us, the questions people ask often aren't phrased well, and they focus on things that seem the most important to them, but are not necessarily what is really going on, because they simply don't know enough to know what to ask.

It isn't a problem that they ask those things. We were all beginners once. It's part of the process.

The problem is that the answers are often incomprehensible to them.
Any attempt to clarify terminology may cause an emotional reaction, because people get defensive and start calling things "semantics" "nit picking" or say that they are being jumped on. Once someone is emotionally triggered, they can't listen.

But sometimes, a shift in language is an important part of understanding.
We are what and how we think.
Intentionally changing how you think about something can make a HUGE difference, especially for rooting out and eliminating ingrained habits of thought and perception.

One of the ones that frustrates me the most is when people ask anything about how (or if) you "unschool your child."
How long did you unschool your child?
Is it possible to work and unschool your child?
Why did you decide to unschool your kids?

It's a little bit like asking someone if they've stopped beating their wife.
Or like asking a vegan how they cook steak.
There is an erroneous assumption built into the question.

I DIDN'T "unschool my child."

Unschooling is a thing someone does in their own life, not something that can be done TO them.
It is an active process, a way of being in the world, not something that can be externally imposed or controlled.
Goals are set from within, by the individual (whether they are stated or not), and not something a parent is trying to reach.
I can create and encourage an environment in which unschooling thrives, but I can't unschool anyone.

Here's the problem:

If I answer their question by pointing out that I didn't unschool my child, that it's not possible to do that, that my kids live their own lives, with my partnership, companionship, and at times, assistance, but not with my control, I'm not answering the question they really meant to ask. 

It comes across as telling them they are SO wrong they don't even know how to ask their question- and even though that is, in a way , true, it isn't a value judgment, it's simply the condition of most people brand new to a subject. This is part of why most unschooling forums ask that people read a while before asking anything- hopefully, that will help them get in a better place to know what to ask. It might help them "learn the language" and start to see how things differ from their assumptions. Instead of doing so, many people start asking questions the moment they join, and then, they get upset and leave in a huff when they don't get the answers they expect (that reinforce their current beliefs). In a word, they get butthurt if they came looking for VALIDATION, not information.

But if I DON'T point that out, I'm allowing them to continue to think of unschooling as just another way of schooling, really, but perhaps kinder and gentler, or more fun, but still something arranged and controlled by the parents. They'll continue to see the world through a schooled perspective, looking for "better" ways to cover school subjects, and THAT is not going to help them become unschoolers AT ALL. 

I've long since lost track of the number of times I've seen someone's question and wanted to tell them to stop, back up, start over, and change their perspective before asking questions, because the questions they are asking don't really fit into an unschooling paradigm. They need to have a better understanding of some basics, before the answer to their question will have meaning to them.

Everyone starts a new thing at the beginning.
Everyone has questions.
All change starts somewhere, with some act.
Considering starting with some reading and thinking and observing before doing much specific asking.
The first thoughts and questions that come to your mind are most likely the SAME first thoughts and questions that come to most people's minds, and have been asked and answered countless times before. Look through some of that, so you have a better foundation when you ask about the parts that you still don't understand.
Most unschooling websites have a FAQ, and most unschooling related facebook groups have pinned posts or a files section. Respect people's time, and help yourself get a good start, before expecting everyone to start over with basic definitions, just for you.

Maybe the next time someone joins a group and immediately, without having done any research, asks some form of "What is the difference between unschooling and homeschooling?" I'll answer with "It's the difference between someone who is willing and able and interested in finding information and resources for what they want to know, using a wide variety of tools, and someone who has been taught to expect someone else to condense and feed it to them."

Is that too unkind?
Maybe that should be another blog post. :-)

1 comment:

  1. Love this. I have an amazing self motivated independent 17 yr old learner and goal setter. I love unschooling. I tire of new folks trying to mold their 3 year old to BE an unschooler.