So, I said (or at least on Twitter I did... I'm not sure if I did anywhere else) that I was going to write a post on the unschooling community, and how welcoming, or not, it is. It's a big, as well as touchy, subject, but I'm going to take a stab at it, and hopefully I won't insult anyone, because that's really not my intention! Instead, I'd simply like to bring attention to something that is very important (at least to me) yet is rarely talked about, or at least rarely talked about openly.
Long before I became involved in the unschooling community in real life, when all of my interaction with fellow unschoolers was through the internet, pretty much everyone online wrote about how very welcoming and accepting the unschooling community was. That everyone was welcomed with open arms, despite their differences or personal oddities. Because of that, I think that both I and many other people who had yet to be a part of a large group of unschoolers had rather unrealistic expectations. I can't know if this is the case for a lot of people, I can only accurately speak for myself, but I have also encountered a couple of people online who felt the same. Because the truth is, unschoolers are still, when it comes down to it, a fairly normal (feel free to interpret the word "normal" however you like) group of people. There are most definitely cliques, and there are often people who get left out or feel ignored. That's not to say that there are not tons of awesome unschoolers, because there most certainly are! My problem is that the unschooling community as a whole portrays itself as something it is not. The unschooling community is by no means perfect.
At the Northeast Unschooling conference, which I attended recently, this was actually a fairly common topic, as I had discussions about cliquey-ness and acceptance with multiple people. Many of the conference goers, both young and old, had known each other for years, so it was especially hard for newcomers, who, it seemed, had a tendency to feel rather left out, since everyone was happily socializing with old friends and often forgetting to make an effort to include the newer folk. Those who are new to the community do most definitely need to make an active effort to get to know people, but I think the important thing is that they feel welcomed. This wasn't really an issue for me personally, as I made friends and quite enjoyed my conference experience. I know that is was an issue for one or two people though, and even a couple of people feeling unwelcome is a big deal to me, especially since this is a place that's supposed to be a haven, somewhere where people actually understand the life path that they're on! Just something to think about.
Another common discussion topic was welcoming "the minorities withing the minority", as one person put it. Welcoming those from different ethnic backgrounds, those with different sexual orientations, different economic backgrounds... Another thing that the part of the unschooling community that goes to conferences (and this is a big point. I think there is far more diversity in the greater unschooling community, just not so much in the group that shows up to conferences) really needs to do is recognize that it is really not a very diverse group. The great majority of conference attendees are white and middle class, and I'm rather embarrassed that this fact didn't make more of an impression on me when I first started attending unschooling gatherings (though admittedly I haven't attended very many!). I have Erika Davis-Pitre to thank for that. She has so many important things to say on a variety of topics, and such wonderful insights. I enjoyed every talk of hers I attended and every conversation with her I had!
My point in all of this is not to be judgmental. I do, however, get exasperated whenever I see someone raving about the absolute perfectness of unschoolers, because that simply isn't the reality. I believe one-hundred-percent that unschooling is the best option out there. That doesn't mean that just because you unschool, you, or your life, will be perfect, and it certainly doesn't mean that if you take a whole bunch of unschoolers and dump them in one place that you're going to get a perfect community. There's always room for improvement, and there will always be important issues to address. I think what we need to do is recognize that, admit it, and then see what we can do about it!
I want to thank all of the people whom I talked to at the Northeast conference. I had many wonderful conversations, important conversations, and conversations that really got me thinking... There are quite possibly some more posts coming thanks to all those fascinating people...