I don’t pay too much attention to anti-unschooling articles. For one thing, unschoolers make up a small percentage of homeschoolers, which are already just a tiny (but growing) fraction of the general population. It’s not for everyone. It’s not for most people. I get that. It’s also difficult for a lot of people to understand, and people tend to fear or mock what they don’t understand.
I’m happy with my decision to unschool. I’m confident in my decision to unschool. I don’t read a lot of negatively slanted unschooling pieces because I don’t want to give it my energy…. energy that could be much better spent making my life – and that of my kids – full and fun and interesting and happy.
Every now and then though, one slides under my radar. One that’s so full of both its own self-importance and myriads of misconceptions that it nearly begs me to ignore it. I wrestle with indecision. “I really shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. Oh… but I’m gonna.”
I don’t like it when people who don’t understand unschooling try to tell others why they shouldn’t unschool. And I really don’t like it when people who don’t understand unschooling specifically tell Christians that they shouldn’t unschool. Understand it FIRST, and then write about it.
I could sit here and talk to some experts and write an article about, say, the wrong way to reconcile a 941. Don’t know what that is? Oh don’t worry. I’ll explain it to you, in broad strokes and with sweeping generalizations. But until I understand it (beyond the fact that it has something to do with quarterly taxes) I will be first one to tell you that I’m not in a position to be advising on its procedure. I will send you right to my husband who will tell you everything you need to know, without disparaging anyone in the process.
And so it is with unschooling. It’s one thing to say, “You know what? I’ve done the research, and unschooling isn’t for me. This is why.” It’s another thing entirely to warn of unschooling’s dangers when you haven’t yet grasped what unschooling means.
This article, written by Grace Howard, starts out by telling us how us Christian parents should be “concerned” by unschooling. (Emphasis is mine)
But unschooling’s philosophy of education differs substantially from traditional homeschooling, and should pose some concerns for Christian parents.
Now, I’m not a fan of being told what to do as it is. But being told what to feel? What to be concerned about? All parents, Christian and otherwise, will have concerns. Absolutely. I’m concerned about hate. I’m concerned about prejudice. I am NOT concerned about when or why or how little Suzy learns long division. Unschooling is not concerning.
Unschooling is a “radical” version of homeschooling; it gives children complete control over their subjects, schedule, and interests. If children do not want to learn science, they do not have to. If they enjoy art, literature, or computer programming, they can spend all their time pursuing that subject
If you are new to the idea of unschooling, please do not give this definition any weight. Unschooling does not “give children complete control over their subjects, schedule, and interests.” To understand unschooling is to recognize that life is not divided into subjects in the first place. And having control over their own interests? Who else but you should have control over your own interests?? Children who “do not want to learn science” or math or history or whatever the case may be, are children who have learned – most likely through school – that learning is a chore. That learning is something that is forced upon us, rather than something that organically happens inside each one of us. That something that is momentarily hard or uninteresting or not useful is something to be feared and avoided. But it doesn’t work that way for unschoolers. Unschoolers know that learning is everywhere. Unschoolers know that they can (and will) learn science as easily and naturally as anything else. Science, math, history, social studies… they’re all intertwined, and they’re all around us. Unschoolers know that they learn everything they need to know, when they need to know it, as it makes sense for them in the life that’s unfolding around them.
In the most radical forms of unschooling, this freedom permeates children’s entire life: they control their bedtimes, meals, and chores
That’s fair enough I guess, for a rudimentary definition, in terms of the way most people view radical unschooling. My children don’t have parent-imposed bedtimes… but they get plenty of sleep, are well-attuned to their own bodies, and know when they need to rest. My children are not required to follow a parent-imposed schedule of meals… but they are healthy and strong, have a good relationship with food, and eat a cleaner and more varied diet than just about any other kids I know. My children do not have sticker charts or compulsory chores they must attend to every day… but they all pitch in as much as the next whenever they are asked, with everything from dishes to laundry to taking out the trash, because we’re a family and we all work together.
Christian unschoolers try to meld the limit-free teaching methods of unschooling with structured biblical parenting.
They do? This is the part that makes lots of people all kinds of uneasy, but… biblical parenting is not all that “structured.” It’s just not. Biblical parenting is about raising children in love. Raising children in a way that demonstrates both your love and God’s love… love for them, and love for each other. It’s about treating children how you’d like to be treated, and about behaving in the same truthful, authentic, honest and kind manner that you would want to pass down to the next generation. And yes, it’s about freedom. It is NOT about control, harsh discipline, and being in bed by 7:00 PM.
Elissa Wahl, co-author of Christian Unschooling: Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ, writes on her site, Christian-Unschooling.blogspot.com, that “Unschooling in my house is not unparenting….Although I am pretty radical in my educational beliefs, they do not carry over to letting the children do whatever they want, whenever, with no consequences. That would be unbiblical.”
That quote makes me sad. I have read that book (I think it’s even on my bookshelf somewhere) and I enjoyed it. I am absolutely certain that Ms Wahl is a lovely person, and has no doubt done good things for the unschooling community. But when even “experts” in the unschooling community are perpetuating these misconceptions, is it any wonder that people are so confused? Radical unschooling, whether Christian or otherwise, does not mean “letting the children do whatever they want, whenever, with no consequences.” It’s just not a fair definition, nor is it accurate, nor is it kind. It lends itself to the supposition that unschooled children are ignored, that they are just wildly flinging about the house, with nary a parent in sight. Unschooling parents work with their children…. as partners, facilitators, and friends. At its heart, unschooling is about respect. Respect for the children, yes, but also respect for yourselves as parents. Respect for the family. Respect for the process of living and learning together in freedom. It is not unbiblical. You can read my series on Christian Unschooling for more.
Combining unschooling and biblical understanding of child raising is hard, though, because unschooling grew out of the work of author John Holt, an atheist who argued that parents who exercise discipline “probably destroy as many good qualities as we develop, do at least as much harm as good.”
The more my “biblical understanding of child raising” has increased, so has my realization that it is VERY much aligned with unschooling, not opposed to it. As for John Holt… I have been reading his books for over 15 years now, and I didn’t even know that he was an atheist until I read the above quote a week ago. So to say that it’s hard to combine biblical parenting with his teachings on unschooling – simply because he’s an atheist – is unfair. And interestingly, the Holt quote from above, cited as a reason NOT to unschool as a Christian sounds an awful like a verse from the Bible itself: “Parents, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.” (Colossians 3:21, The Message)
Author and Patrick Henry College provost Gene Edward Veith, a proponent of classical liberal arts education, fears that unschooling’s narrow scope could make a person “very narrow and brittle….The beauty of a liberal arts education is that [students] try a bunch of different things, and see what they’re good at. In the course of that, they find what they most want to focus on, but they still have a foundation and basic understanding of a lot of different things.”
A “narrow scope”? I almost couldn’t respond to this because I was laughing so hard. A “narrow scope” would serve as an excellent antithesis for unschooling. Unschoolers have the entire world as their “classroom!” Unschoolers are living and breathing and experiencing life OUTSIDE of the narrow scope that is compulsory schooling. As for trying a bunch of different things to see what they’re good at… my youngest son, at 7, has already tried a countless number of things that I wasn’t even exposed to until high school (or ever), despite the wonder and the beauty of my liberal arts education.
Veith believes that unschooling follows Rousseau’s philosophy of a naturally innocent and good child. Rousseau never advocated the unschooling method: He believed in removing children from their parents and placing them in the care of a tutor. But Veith says that both Rousseau and Holt defined freedom as meaning, “I’ll do whatever I want.” Veith says, “That’s not Christian freedom, that’s license and slavery. A child who is following his own impulses is not free. He’s a slave to those impulses. Freedom comes from teaching [children] “to develop self-control, self-discipline, to develop their mind and their conscience….That’s real freedom.”
Whew. Let me first say that I believe wholeheartedly in freedom. If you take nothing else from my blog, please take that. I believe in freedom. Freedom for myself, and freedom for my kids. Freedom, by most any definition, is something to aspire to for sure:
FREEDOM: The quality or state of being free, as in: a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b:liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another :independencec: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous <freedom from care> d:ease, facility <spoke the language with freedom> e: the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken <answered with freedom> f: improper familiarity g: boldness of conception or execution h: unrestricted use <gave him the freedom of their home>
If you’re going to define “freedom” using the slightly negative sounding, “I’ll do whatever I want,” then you’re likely to assume it means doing anything you want regardless of effect or consequence on yourself or on those around you. And if you’re continually making poor choices and doing things that are harmful to yourself or others, then I agree with Mr Veith. That’s not really freedom, or at least not a healthy freedom.
But to Veith, and to everyone else who is harboring this misconception:
That’s not unschooling!
Unschooling isn’t about ignoring your children while they become “slaves to their impulses”. Unschooling is about respecting your children, and nurturing their individuality, and yes, giving them the freedom to explore and learn from and experience the world in a safe and healthy way, according to their own interests and their own timetable and their own unique path in life. If I am imposing my will on my children, then I’m not giving them freedom.
I’m not teaching my children to develop self-control… but because they are loved and cared for by people who practice it, they are learning it. I’m not teaching my children self-discipline, but because they are given trust and respect, because their interests are valued and taken seriously, they are learning it. I’m not teaching my children to develop their mind and their conscience, but because they’re honored for the unique individuals that they are, because they are self-confident and feel good about themselves, because they respect themselves, respect others, and respect the process of life and learning in general… they are developing. My job as a Christian parent isn’t to mold my children, to shape them into something of my – or even God’s – choosing. He’s done that already. They were each individually and uniquely and perfectly created exactly as they were for a reason. My job is to honor that. My job is to love them, to nurture them, and to protect them. My job is ensure that they are happy, healthy, and learning, and that they have all the space and the resources and the support they need to follow their own individual paths. That is freedom.
Christianity and radical unschooling do not have to be – nor should they be – mutually exclusive, despite the morass of articles such as this one that tell us otherwise. So I’ll continue to write about it, even while recognizing that this gross misinterpretation is still so widely accepted.
It’s a shame too, because it’s a pretty great way to live.