Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Unschooling and Conscience

One argument for unschooling is that people - or at least, children - are inherently good. I won't tell people not to believe this, but what about people who can't? Is it possible to be realistic about all the hatred, violence, and injustice in the world and still unschool? I believe it is.

Just tonight, I've grown up a little bit, because I realized I'm in mourning for my naive childhood belief in inherent human goodness. First came denial, in which I grabbed tightly onto the belief that goodness comes naturally to people, and held on for dear life. Then came bargaining - believing I had the power to force people to be good, as if this would somehow prove they had been good all along. A long period of depression and anger followed, which simply resulted in trying to shut out the noise of other people's hate. And finally, now, I seem to be reaching acceptance: people simply are not as naturally good and kind as I once believed them to be.

Before I go on, I want to clarify what I mean when I say that I have lost this belief. I'm not saying that I believe people are inherently bad, or that they lack inherent worth. I believe all life is worthwhile and exists for a reason. I'm not even saying that I believe people don't mean well. I think most people do.

But I do not believe people are born naturally inclined to do the right thing, or even to know what the right thing is. To do that, a person needs to develop a strong conscience and continue working on it throughout life. Conscience is like a muscle that needs to be exercised, and the way to exercise it is by making decisions. Deciding what to wear, what to eat, what to say and how to say it are all actions that exercise conscience. It follows, then, that a weak conscience comes from not making decisions. How can a person who is told what to do and where to go at every moment ever exercise conscience? How can a person who has external rewards and punishments dangled in front of them ever learn what their own inner voice says to do?

I believe in unschooling for two big reasons that have nothing to do with its ability to result in academic knowledge. First, my own conscience tells me it is immoral to take ownership and control of another human being in the way that schools and most parents try to do with children. Second, I believe that people learn to be accountable for their decisions by learning early on that their decisions affect other people and things in the world. But they can only learn that by being allowed to make decisions. I don't believe people are inherently kind all the time, but I do believe unschooling produces people who are more kind and think more about their decisions, because they've had more practice. I want people to have that practice a lot more than I want them to have practice at spelling and math.

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