What is Unschooling?
Children are the most discriminated against people in our culture today. Much of the damage that many of us are healing from is directly related to how we were parented and treated in our lives growing up. As children, we were controlled and abused, even if we weren’t aware of it. Control and abuse may have been all that the adults in our lives knew because it was how they too were raised. There is a better way – a kinder way to be with children which enables them the freedom to live with the joy and confidence that they were naturally born with.
We were raised in an era where the parental role was focused on obedience and control. As children, we were trained to believe that life is about taking orders, which in essence only met the needs of the adults in our lives. Children learn what they live. Being raised in an authoritarian paradigm, children learn that forcing others to meet their needs is what life is all about. This creates a cycle of narcissism that our culture actually blames on a parent not being controlling enough! Television shows like, “Nanny 911” actual perpetuate narcissism and abuse.
Unschooling is both a parenting and an educational philosophy. Most people who homeschool buy a curriculum and do exactly what schools do, only they do it at home. It is the same model and mindset, it just happens to be in a different location. They follow someone else’s plan of what they think kids should know at a certain age. They evaluate, grade, punish and compare their children with others in the same ways that schools do. Unschooling, on the other hand, means living life without school and all of the trappings that go along with it.
We do not break life down into subjects; we do not grade or make our kids do workbook pages or busy work. We trust that our kids will learn what they need on their own life path to be happy and in turn, be successful. Unschooling has a foundation of trust in children that is virtually unheard of in our culture because most of us were never trusted as children ourselves.
This has led to years of undoing for many of us to rekindle our trust for our inner voices and abilities in life. I am seeing every day that giving my children freedom and trust in every area of their lives serves to keep their inner voices, self-love, and creativity intact and strong. This is one of the greatest gifts that you can give another human being – to trust them!
I do not look at myself as my children’s teacher. I am not standing in front of them pouring knowledge into them as the all-knowing authority. My job is to give them as much of the world as possible to learn and grow from. I look at myself as a facilitator of my children’s interests and desires in life. I do not have to know all the answers. I do, however, need to know how to find answers through the resources that the world offers. Through the internet, television, books, video games, day trips, vacations, community resources, and apprenticeships, we offer our children more than traditional schooling could ever provide. Our kids are learning that answers aren’t always black and white. They are learning about others’ theories and philosophies and drawing their own answers and conclusions to the questions that we all ponder. In short, we are raising free-thinkers.
Another aspect of Radical Unschooling philosophy is giving my children the basic human right of allowing them the freedom of mind. We do not try to pry into their minds to assess what they know. Children today do not have this basic human right and their minds are constantly prodded. I believe that what my children are learning is their business, and it’s not right or necessary to constantly be trying to evaluate them.
Education is not the goal of unschooling. Our goal is the family connection and pursuing our interests together. Children do get an education as a side effect of living a rich, full, abundant life together, but education is never the main goal before what really matters. Our home is filled with exciting, fun things to do like music, art, games, and crafts. Our kitchen cabinets are full of ingredients for cooking and for experiments. Our library overflows with interesting reading material, informative magazines, and intriguing games and puzzles. Our home certainly doesn’t look like a home in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. Instead of viewing our home as a museum for our things, we view it as a workshop for our interests.
Children are human beings who are living in the now. Our cultural view is that they should always be preparing for the future, instead of truly living and just being. Constantly preparing kids for the future is like adults having to sit in a classroom against their will all day, every day, preparing for retirement. How fulfilling would our lives be if this was forced upon us?
Education is an important part of life, but not before laying the solid, important foundation of trust, connection, and joy of living together and doing things you love as a family. We choose to put family first. I cannot imagine needing to ask permission for time with my children or having to live our lives around a school’s agenda. The school’s needs always come before family needs. This to me is madness, and I choose not to have that be a part of our lives at all. We live our lives together because we want to be together as a family. Our kids want to be around us, and we want to be around our kids. Our closeness as a family and our personal freedom are our highest priorities. Nothing comes before that.
The idea of quitting something doesn’t exist in our lives because a child will complete as much as they want of a topic until they are personally satisfied. When they’ve gained enough knowledge or information that meets their own needs, they move on. Our children’s work doesn’t have to be finished or completed according to someone else’s standards. Unschooled kids can go as far as they can understand or desire. This aspect of natural learning is different than in a forced learning situation where children are not only made to finish things but are also graded on how well they do. The focus when it comes to learning is not on content, but on compliance and obedience above all else.
We respect our children on their own paths in what they want to know in life. Radical unschooling is focused on trust, freedom, and the belief that humans learn best when they are internally motivated. When children are driven by their own desires they learn what they need to, and it will not be according to someone else’s idea of what is best for them. Learning is pleasurable when it isn’t forced.
We are not all meant to know the same things in life. Kids in school are all being forced to learn the same thing. Unschooled kids have as much knowledge as any child in school, but it is perfectly catered to who they are as an individual. Their knowledge far exceeds a child in school who has a cookie-cutter experience. Our kids own their knowledge and what is in their minds is their business, not ours. All I know is that they have a perfectly individualized education.
My children have learned to read, simply by being surrounded by the written word. It is total-immersion learning. They ask us how to spell something and we communicate with them. We don’t tell them to go look it up. We help them and become a resource for them. My son, Devin learned to read by playing the online game, World of Warcraft. He was so motivated to play the game and chat with his friends that he picked it up very easily and joyfully. He learned when his mind was ready and when he was internally motivated because reading was a tool in his life to helping him get more of what he wanted.
Reading, writing and, math are tools to help us get more of what we want and need in life. These useful tools would be learned easily if we weren’t so convinced that learning them was tedious and difficult, taking years of practice, training and focus. In our lives, these tools have been picked up easily, quickly and naturally.
Our children’s interests and passions are something we respect as an extension of who they are. I do not judge one interest as having more value in their lives over another. I see the learning in all that my kids do. School subjects are what most of us were brainwashed to believe were most important to focus on. I believe that the most important “subject” in my child’s life is whatever they happen to interested in at the moment.
My child’s interest is the nucleus of their learning at any given moment. So much learning branches off from a passionate interest. Although we don’t live life broken down into subjects, if you were to view it with school goggles you would see that through pursuing an interest we touch on all of the traditional school “subjects”. Learning Science, Math, English, History and Geography are just naturally a side effect of delving into one’s interest thoroughly. We live life holistically, flowing with passion, and in doing so our children get an education perfectly catered to whom they are as individuals, without ever having to force them to do anything that they don’t want to do.
Parents today are doing the best they can with what they know, yet many are feeling empty and wondering why their kids do not like them or want to be around them. We hear words like rebellion and chalk it up to normalcy, but what if there was nothing to rebel against? What if we lived the respect for our children that we demand they have for us? What if we could recognize that the punishments model meanness, that through using power to control another person we are teaching them to do the same? It is through loving kindness and understanding that our children learn about love and peace and in turn, will reflect this back to the world.
Unschooling families do not deal with “rebellion” from their children because we are never the wall standing between them and their desires. In fact, we see our role as helping our children get what they want in life. We move from power struggles and control to connection and partnership. When we make this shift, we discover the love and deep feelings of joy that we are naturally meant to experience as parents.
Adults interact with children very differently than they interact with adults. They’re constantly training them: good job, bad job, don’t do that, do this. This constant control and judgment is an unnatural way to interact with another human being whom you value and love. Children instinctually know this and feel the negative energy of control from the adults around them. Not only that, but living in a role viewing yourself as your child’s trainer, rather than their partner in life, is exhausting and not pleasurable for either parent or child. It is simply not conducive to a joyful family life.
Mainstream parenting is based in fear-of-the-future living rather than being present, in the Now. There is a huge distinction between the two viewpoints and contrasting ways of living with children. People do not see training a child as being unkind, but it’s very frustrating for the child to have someone attempting to control their behavior all the time and never valuing or attempting to understand the true needs under their behavior. Children are not adults, and being in a relationship where they are constantly being prepared for them for adulthood is damaging to a child and the parent/child relationship.
Unschooling is a parenting and educational philosophy on the leading-edge of new thought. It is based in instinctual wisdom, yet it is revolutionary. The partnership parenting paradigm is gaining momentum as we are evolving as humans at this point in history. Our culture needs to realize that how we treat our children is the most important responsibility we have to create world peace.