Read part 1 and part 2.
Isolation and socialization
One of the reasons it took us, as a family, awhile to truly embrace unschooling was how isolated we felt: the fact that we didn’t really know any other local unschooling families. I know that feelings of isolation are a problem for many unschoolers, who find the local community of school-at-home-ers don’t always provide the support and reassurance needed. To unschool, for both parents and kids, can feel very difficult at times. We all need to feel that we have a community, a “tribe” as some people put it. People who think and feel similarly enough to you that they get it, and I think that finding that tribe is very important when you’re tackling living a lifestyle that’s different from the mainstream. Finding this community can involve many things: joining Yahoo or Facebook groups, or becoming part of the unschooling or Twitter community online is a good start. Going to unschooling conferences or gatherings, looking for local unschooling groups, or starting you own are even more important in my opinion, though. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction, and being around other unschoolers is a truly wonderful thing! So for anyone who doesn’t have a local group, I’d encourage you to consider starting your own. I know that I was really surprised when I started a local unschooling group at just how many local families there were! If you’re in a smaller town, there probably won’t be as many as I found in Montreal, but there are still quite likely a couple of other unschooling families within reasonable distance from you to connect with…
As much as finding other unschoolers can be difficult, finding people in general, the whole “socialization” thing that seems to worry so many school minded people, is not a problem, as every homeschoolers and unschooler knows. Because this is such a big issue, in that pretty much everyone I’ve come across who’s against school-free learning brings it up, I feel like I should take a moment to address it.
I think we all know how untrue it is that those outside of school will lack in time spent with other people, if they so desire it. And that’s the important part: if they desire it. Inside of a school, children and teens experience a version of forced “socialization” found in no other part of life. Whether they want to be around specific individuals or not, or whether they want to be around huge groups of people all day every day or not, they have no choice in the matter. That’s just the way it is. And being in this type of environment, from everything I’ve seen, is not healthy. In every large group of random high schoolers I’ve ever been around, I’ve felt emotionally unsafe, and nervous about openly expressing myself. The amount of politics, backstabbing, dishonesty, desperation to fit in, and social manoeuvring is always an onslaught to my senses. This really isn’t meant as a criticism of schooled people, as much as it might sound like one. Whenever I see school-free learners dissing schooled kids, it really bothers me. I think it’s important to remember both all the wonderful schooled people out there, and the fact that even among the schooled social groups I would never choose to spend time around, it’s not their fault. They didn’t choose to be in an environment where they’re often forced to be either a bully or victim. That was forced upon them against their will: “for their own good”.
Good socialization, in my opinion, is making the conscious choice to be around a variety of people: choosing when to be around people and when to be alone. Choosing to interact largely with people who lift you up, not knock you down, and having the freedom to leave people or situations that make you feel unsafe. The option to interact with a wide variety of ages is another big bonus, and is something that I think is very important. But ultimately, with socialization as with everything else, I think the most important aspect is freedom. As Adele Caroll said:
“Forced association is not socialization.”
Dealing with doubters
It would be nice if socialization was the only thing that both strangers and loved ones frequently worried about, but sadly it’s not. Doubters abound, and dealing with doubters usually isn’t much fun, especially when those doubters are people who are close to you, people you care about. But, like it or not (and I’d generally say it’s a not), if you’re open about being unschoolers, constant questioning quickly becomes the norm. However, though the repertoire of questions you get (over and over again) is pretty standard, the place individuals are coming from, the way they approach the questioning, differs more widely, and I think can be quite interesting… So I wanted to share something I wrote on my blog awhile back, about the different types of questioners you’re likely to run into…
What I've been thinking about today is the vast array of *types* of question you run into. There are many different people that ask questions about this lifestyle in many ways, but there definitely seem to be some trends in what feeling is behind the questions. Now, over-generalizing is rarely a good idea, and that's definitely what I'm doing, but most of the people who've asked me about unschooling do seem to fit (roughly) into one of these categories! :-P
- The hostile questioner. "Aren't you ruining your life? How will anyone ever hire you if you don't go to school?" This person is instantly suspicious and disapproving. For whatever reason, be it jealousy that they never had the option of learning (and living more) freely, or something entirely different, they are determined not to believe in any alternatives to conventional schooling, and will do anything to disprove whatever you say. Their purpose is not to learn, but to devalue the lifestyle you're living. To invalidate it, and thus validate their own choices as the clearly Right ones.
- The well-meaning yet ignorant questioner. "But what about socialization?" This individual is simply curious, and entirely uninformed, the questions asked being slightly annoying only because of how often you've answered them before! This person hasn't usually thought through the questions at all, they're just repeating things they've heard before in regards to home and/or unschoolers. They really do want to know more, and just haven't really thought much about any type of education, other than school, before.
- The confused questioner. (After having just explained unschooling) "So, is your mom a good teacher...?" This person, no matter how many different ways you try to explain things, just isn't grasping the concept. They're not confrontational or anti-unschooling in the slightest, they're just either very set in their ways of seeing the world, so much so that nothing else even computes, or you just think in a way that's too different from them, and can't explain things in a way that they'll get.
- The cautiously optimistic questioner. "So, you can get into university?" The idea strikes a chord with this person. They kind of like it, but aren't quite sure they should, and are worried they're missing something crucial. This is one of the most rewarding scenarios for an unschooler who wants to share this philosophy with others. This person is very likely to be helped by finding out about unschooling!
- And, recently at the anarchist bookfair, I've been exposed to another type of questioner. I'll call those who approach things this way the constructive questioner. They're coming from a place that's already supportive of freedom, and their questions are intelligent and well thought out. Their desire is to learn, and build on the basic knowledge they have, not to tear down the idea. I found that quite delightful, and really enjoyed the panel discussion I was a part of there.
And that’s the end of the blog post.
Read part 4.
Read part 4.