This post is the first in a new series surrounding the discussion of ideas and myths about unschooling.
Each post alone tells only a small part of the whole and is designed to provoke thought and challenge these common criticisms.
I have recently read people (even in unschooling groups) criticising unschooling saying “there’s so many rules!” The truth is not that there are rules but that unschooling is incompatible with the rules of society.
So yes you could say that a ‘rule’ of unschooling is that “you should involve your child in choices that affect them”. But it’s no less of a rule than say consent is in sex – it’s bizarre and only because of rape culture that we have to point this out. Because of what I’ve started calling schooled culture, there’s much we have to set as boundaries to respect children and their learning and life. It’s only viewed as a rule to those who are invested in the opposite.
The focus and emphasis on what we as unschoolers are trying to do and not do is reflective of how they view learning, life and children. When people berate a ‘rule’ of unschooling, it’s almost always (when you break it down to the principles behind it) about children being given autonomy, respect and freedoms in their life. What they’re essentially battling with is their own schooled ideas about children and learning. Consensual learning for children and all it encompasses is only viewed as a ‘rule’ by people who are committed to the idea of removing that right.
I think part of the issue lies in the fact that many people confuse unschooling as a method of learning (like say Montessori or Reggio). Unschooling isn’t a method but rather a paradigm shift in how we view and treat children and learning. It’s a way of life that is founded by it’s implicit lack of schooling and the conditioning that surrounds it. Unschooling being a method is like saying unconditional love is a parenting method.
That’s a difficult thing about discussing a philosophy of education is that often people want a ‘how to’ and they’d like rules to follow. This itself is due to schooling. Furthermore, trying to apply it to unschooling is attempting to box the unboxable.
Like parenting respectfully, it’s not about what ‘works’ and creates the goals you already would have already been enforcing. We unschoolers have very different goals in education and life for our children. Unschooling is about the child’s right to respectful learning and the freedom and autonomy to learn how, what, why, and when they want. It’s about protecting their individuality and childhood.
Trusting children with freedoms is scary to us as we were conditioned as kids to believe that we were not worthy of or capable with such freedoms. Fitting the whole notion of unschooling into a system in your mind that is familiar means that people sometimes transform these shifts in ideals into rules. Also, because we find ourselves struggling with cognitive dissonance, we feel defensive of the choices we’ve made (and those that were made for us) so we attempt to poke holes in unschooling by trying to make it align with what we ‘know’.
I think people saying that there’s “too many rules” or that “unschooling is what you want it to be” are struggling with adjusting to the trust and deschooling needed in order to make the perspective shifts that are the backbone of unschooling. They are trying to retain control in some areas and choosing only the more comfortable bits to them. The difficult thing is that they identify as unschoolers so they can perpetuate these myths and muddy the waters of what unschooling is really about. Ultimately we can’t alter what respect and autonomy for children’s learning is and try to turn it into what we want.
“It could be said that unschooling has a recipe, but it’s not a recipe about unschooling. It’s a recipe about human nature. About people and relationships.” Meredith Novak