I’ve been criticized recently for being too black and white with regards to “the type” of family that should consider – or more importantly, not consider unschooling as an option. I even wrote a blogpost last winter addressing this, Should YOU Unschool?
In looking back, of course that list was black and white. How else do you juxtapose two very different ways of parenting and looking at learning? And I guess I should have somehow conveyed that NO ONE is constantly on one end of the spectrum 100% of the time. We all have bad days. We all have moments that are DEFINITELY less than stellar. But we don’t just write them off and say, “Unschooling is anything, so that’s ok too!” We step back and readjust. We try to improve and overcome our own shortfalls. We try to make our behavior (that is sometimes deeply rooted because of how we were raised) more aligned with the parenting and educational philosophies that we have consciously chosen.
Any parent can look at my list and see, in a general way, which seems to be the better fit. Lots of parents think they want to unschool for a variety of reasons – and they’re not all good reasons. So, if you get really honest with yourself and where you are in your own life, you can see if unschooling is a good fit for you.
Here’s the issue that keeps resurfacing. When people say:
- They require Math worksheets
- They let their babies “cry it out”
- They believe children are always trying to “get away with something”
- They enforce rules in their house that their children neither agree with or have a say in
- They scream at their kids
- They blow off their kids’ questions and curiosities
- They keep firm boundaries between adult interactions and kid interactions
- They resent the time they spend with their kids… for all kinds of reasons
These are the kinds of things that do not work well with unschooling.
I’m often criticized for making that statement.
The argument is, “You can’t say that to people because they’ll walk away from unschooling thinking that they cannot do it, or aren’t doing it right.” And, my answer, as heartless as it may sound, is, “So? What if they do?” If they are really interested in unschooling, they will think about it some more and come back to the idea again. How many times does that happen to us as parents, we make a decision, only to find ourselves facing it again down the road? Or maybe they’ll make some other choice that works better for their own family.
But if we sit here nodding with all kinds of parental choices, we are agreeing with them. Doesn’t someone have to stand up and say, “Um, no. Please hear this, in the gentlest of ways: That is not going to go well. That is not going to create the best loving nurturing relationship.” I am not saying that the relationship will be without love and nurturing – but if you’re looking for the best possible outcome, you’re creating your own obstacles!
Here’s a scenario:
A parent is new to the idea of unschooling and seeks out more information. In doing so, they feel criticized for something they’re doing. They are told it’s not in alignment with unschooling. They throw up their hands, and say “Oh! Well then I am not an unschooler!” And walk away.
I can’t relate to this. If I am curious about having a better relationship with my kids and choosing a better educational path, someone’s comment is not going to derail my process. I may choose to look for info somewhere else. Or I may even just listen because there are some concepts that I’d like to understand better. But that one critique will not rechart my course. And if it does, then I am just blowing whatever direction the wind blows. Not good.
Now that my kids are 18, 21, and 23 – all happily thriving in adventures of their own – I do have some experience under my belt. These are three of the most different human beings and their paths have been so distinctly their own. That has given me this fabulous opportunity to look back, retrospectively, and see what worked and what didn’t. Some parenting and educational choices were pure luck, and other’s were incredibly well-thought out. And, because I am HUMAN, I screwed up plenty of times. But then I tried to realign myself with what I thought was the best way to interact with my children. I tried to catch myself, and correct the course. Sure, I could list all of my mistakes – and maybe that would make me more relatable – but I don’t want to give the impression that those mistakes are good things.
People want to say that Unschooling is not black and white – that it’s all gray. But I disagree. It’s the PEOPLE who are “gray.” People have shortcomings, bad days, etc. We’re not computerized, and we have all kinds of emotional baggage that surfaces from time to time. Our implementation is sometimes gray because we’re on a continuum. We don’t start our parenting lives knowing exactly how to do everything right. Most likely, we will not get through it without some regrets. But if we can set our sights on a goal – and get really clear on what that looks like – we will move along the continuum in a positive way. And we will land where we feel is right.
But the philosophy of unschooling your children stays constant.
Maybe even, black and white?