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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Kimi & Shaun - On Top of the World!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

If I'm right, are you wrong?

We've been thinking about why so many people respond so negatively to the portrayal of our unschooling lifestyle. Of course, many people just don't take the time to think about it - they react emotionally, and outright reject it without understanding what we're doing (frustrating - there's just no discussion to be had there). But others clearly put some thought into it, and ask some decent questions (very school oriented, but they are loooking for some information and can't ask from our point of view very easily), and still come away very negative. There are probably many reasons for this, but one of them is likely this: if you accept our choice for educating our children, then it invalidates what you are doing for your kids, and would make you wrong. (People don't like to be told, or to find out, that they are wrong.)

I can hear some people saying "yup, it's true - we're right, and they're wrong!" but that's not my perspective. I believe that many of us are really trying to say "we strongly believe that this choice is best for our children; just as we are free to decide what is best for our family, you are free to decide what is best for your family." I also believe that unschooling (especially radical unschooling) is *not* for everyone. I think, for example, that a family could be a good candidate to move to unschooling if they meet the following criteria:

1. The school system is failing your kid(s) in some important way (where 'important' is up to the kids and parents, not from the institution's perspective, e.g. just test scores).
2. At least one parent is willing to devote the time and energy required to unschool.
3. You are prepared to change the way you look at education and how kids think, learn, and behave.

Now, this is just one way to look at it, and I'm not trying to put all unschoolers in the same category. However, many people cannot provide a reasonable environment (and mindset) at home for unschooling; likewise, there are many kids who can handle (and are handling) the school lifestyle and are thriving. It's not my intention to tell someone that if school is working for them, or if they are not ready to devote the time and consider our viewpoint, that they should unschool anyway. I have heard the story from mmany unschooling parents of how they came to embrace unschooling, and in many cases they didn't know all along that they would unschool (it's true for some, but not most); rather, it was a journey that had many challenges for one or both parents. We have no idea how a particular family got to where they are (schooling or otherwise), so we can't say what they should do now in their lives.

So I need to make sure my message comes across as: "I've found a way of educating my kids that works best for us; it's not one that will work for everyone. Looks like you've found a way that works for you - that's great! After all, it's all about making sure our kids are ready for their future, right?" Or something like that. Of course, for those who really want to understand what we do, and to see if it's for them, I'm happy to engage in a deeper, more meaningful conversation.

If people are willing to listen to our core messages, and they are willing to accept that we have the right to make this choice, and they are willing to accept that our decision does not invalidate their decision, then I think we've accomplished a lot.


  1. Kudos for putting the message out there.

    One of the first homeschooling families I met is an unschooling family. Even as I was exploring the possibility of rejecting tradition schooling and moving towards homeschooling, I did not understand unschooling at all. It didn't fully grasp it until I had been living within the homeschool community for a while. Making the move from the traditional model, all most of us ever knew growing up, to even just homeschooling requires a leap of faith. Unschooling, let alone radical unschooling, requires an additional leap. Personally, I suspect that many of those that reject the idea because it means that their choice is "wrong," are people who wish they could live their lives in a similar fashion... a little bit of jealousy, perhaps.

  2. I have often detected a defensiveness in our friends when we discuss our homeschooling. Since we talk about the joys and opportunities our lifestyle provides, they sometimes feel we are judging them for living a different way.

  3. As our oldest has just reached schooling age, I find myself stuck in answering -- someone apologises during the day for interrupting schooling, or strangers ask which school she goes to.

    I feel defensive about my answers and yet so certain that unschooling is the right path.

    If only I could gain your confidence!