Saturday, November 28, 2009

Unschooling And...

I haven't had much of a desire to blog lately, and this will likely be short*. But I want to address something I see cropping up here and there in the unschooling community that's been bugging me. A lot of unschoolers - usually unschooling parents - seem to be making the assumption that unschoolers are, or should be, unified in also following some other specific "alternative" lifestyle. I've seen it with green living, Libertarianism, the Law of Attraction, home birth, veganism, you name it. Where I personally stand on these various topics is beyond the scope of this post, and also irrelevant. The point here is that it really pisses me off when anyone - especially people within the community! - assumes unschoolers are a monolithic group, who all have the exact same values and live the exact same way.

No. Despite how much more accepting unschoolers are likely to be of various political affiliations or lifestyle choices** that the mainstream rejects, unschooling itself is not synonymous with any of them. The one and only shared value that is required for unschooling is the idea that children should be respected as whole people who can make their own choices. Period. It has nothing to do with what you worship (or don't), who you vote for, what you eat, or where you shop. There are unschoolers who practice traditional religions, buy meat and eggs at Walmart, vote straight-up George Bush conservative, take antidepressants, hunt deer, thoroughly enjoy mainstream media, love to shop at the mall, love Starbucks, whatever. Some of these are things I do, some aren't. Some I agree with and some I don't. Maybe you think all of these things are wrong and would never do any of them. That's all beside the point.

What does matter is that there needs to be room for all of those things in the unschooling community. And most unschoolers consider themselves to be open-minded, accepting people. But statements like "I think unschooling goes hand-in-hand with green living" or "Unschooling has merged with LoA" unintentionally cast people who don't practice those things as outsiders. Newcomers who want a mostly-conventional life that just doesn't include being coercive toward their kids will be scared off. Maybe they'll be turned off of unschooling altogether, or maybe they'll just keep to themselves and stay away from the conventions, causing their families to miss out on valuable support and connections.

This isn't a knock at any of the ways of living I've named. I applaud anyone who stands up for their values and tries their best to live according to them (provided they do so without harming other people, of course). But making unfair assumptions about people makes unschooling less inclusive and less friendly, confuses people who are considering unschooling, and ultimately does no one any favors. I want to see the community be as diverse as possible. There's already a stereotype that unschooling is only a white, privileged hippie thing. I don't want to design my life as a response to stereotypes, but it's worth taking a look at what we might be doing, intentionally or not, to make people feel unwelcome.

*Yes, four paragraphs is short for me :p
**Note that I'm using "lifestyle choices" in the correct, literal sense, not the "dismissive euphemism for being gay" sense.


DarrenBeck said...

Great blog, Bonnie. I agree. As an unschooling dad, I'm not interested in raising clones. I get the most satisfaction in seeing our kids develop their own distinct points of view. For example, if I hear them repeat any political perspectives that I espouse, I quickly turn around and challenge them. I'll ask why they think that way. They can come to any view that they want, I just want them to apply some critical thinking and to justify it. Of course, some values are a must in our house - like kindness and respect for others, especially family. And, there are some values that I hope they adopt -- for example giving back through volunteerism, taking care of the environment, and eating a humane diet. However, those are their decisions. I only look to persuade them by modeling those values in my life and sharing how I've come to adopt those beliefs. That's the same philosophy that guides my relationships in our community of unschooling families. I'm not drawn to free spirits to evangelize to them. I'm drawn to them because they're open-minded. The bond that free-spirits/unschoolers share is that we each have a unique take on the world and what it takes to raise a family -- one that's based on respect for our kids and love for another. That's much more important to me that being a part of a community where each family unschools in the same way. You're right. Unschooling flourishes when parents can release themselves from their expectations. Assuming that our kids are going to come to all the same conclusions that we have in our lives, denies valuable insights that our kids may have discovered -- insights to which we may not have awaken.

Darren Beck
Twitter: @DarrenBeck

Sara said...

I agree. As with any philosophy, each unschooling person will interpret differently. With all the talk of freedom and respect for individuality, we expect more from one another.

Linda Clement said...

I also agree... but I see the same thing almost every month in La Leche League. Breastfeeding 'means' cloth diapering, diaper-free, vegan, non-spanking, green-living, homemade soap using... sometimes the victims of this thinking are wildly and angrily disappointed when they find out that their stereotype is not only inaccurate, but is not greeted with respectful enjoyment.

People (as Bonnie so clearly says) get pissed off when they are crushed into a stereotype --and it doesn't matter if 1/2 or more of the 'type' is accurate.

People object to being pigeonholed as much as children do.

Chris said...

As a Christian I've come across this same thing. I have my beliefs and my kids will grow up hearing about them, but families that are very pro green or organic eating will be heavily influenced by that, too. I think the difference is that unschooling families will allow their children to have different beliefs from their parents and will not try to force their beliefs on them.