Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unschooling Isn't Parental Manipulation, It's Genuinely Respecting Children as People

Sometimes, actually quite often, the description of unschooling found in homeschooling books (and on homeschooling websites) is really, really not accurate.

And more even than simply inaccurate, I often find it rather insulting.

This is not a relationship built on dishonesty.
Because what's often insinuated, sometimes directly said, is that what unschooling really is, is not just "letting kids do what they want", but instead parents sneakily teaching their children what they, the parents, want them to know.  This is often written with a slightly conspiratorial and condescending air: isn't it wonderful how we let these children *think* they're allowed to follow their own interests, while really we're just pulling the strings?

Now, if actually put into practice, this would completely fall apart.  Kids know when they're being manipulated, and will often let their displeasure in this fact be known (I know that when younger, and faced with less respectful adults, my sister and I were definitely not impressed!); if they don't have any interest in something their parents think they should learn, and the parents force it anyway, it ceases to be unschooling; and if a parent shares an interest, asks if their kids want to go to a museum or sign up for a class, that's not in the least sneaky or manipulative, so doesn't warrant any conspiratorial aura.  All that is, is a parent openly asking their child if they'd be interested in doing something, or genuinely sharing a personal interest.

To think that all unschooling is, is teaching a child without the child ever realizing they're being taught is to completely misunderstand what unschooling is and how it works.  Well, I'm here to say that:

Unschooling has nothing to do with the covert manipulation of children.

An unschooling parent will fill their house with interesting things (or make available other resource rich places: libraries, cultural centers, co-ops, etc.).  They'll be happy to help their children pursue a passion or simply get an answer to a question.

Unschooling is a genuine respect for children, their right to choose their own learning, and their right to be supported in those choices.

Now if only people who have no actual experience or understanding of unschooling would stop pretending they do, it would make it much easier for people just discovering it to gain a solid understanding of what unschooling really is.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

5 Things Unschooling Is Not, and 5 Things Unschooling Is

Lists are fun. I like writing lists. So here are a couple of short ones on what Unschooling is, and is not.  

5 Things Unschooling Is Not
  1. Homeschooling (in the emphasis-on-"school"-sense): Usually considered a subset or method of home education, unschooling is nevertheless it's own unique philosophy, and one that shows little similarity to the philosophy of most home-schoolers.  Using the two terms interchangeably doesn't really work much of the time.
  2. Forced "learning": If you're being forced/made to do anything "educational" against your will, it isn't unschooling (though it may be relaxed homeschooling, or something similar).
  3. The same for everyone:  People sometimes like to latch on to something one unschooler says about the way they learn, and apply it to ALL unschoolers.  When in reality, in my mind one of the greatest things about unschooling is that no two journeys are the same.  As truly unique-to-the-individual education, every unschooler will be learning in a way that suits them best!
  4. Teacher-less: It certainly can be, but unschooling can also involve plenty of classes, teachers, tutors...  If chosen by the learner, teachers can be a wonderful resource for unschoolers!
  5. Individualistic: Or at least, I think the best way to approach unschooling is to realize that there are wonderful communities and resources out there to help you in your unschooling journey: everything from other unschoolers to give support, to the myriad of wonderful activities, groups, communities, etc., based around any interest you might have.  Unschooling doesn't mean going it alone: it means taking advantage of the vastness of the world around you.
5 Things Unschooling Is
  1. Exciting: When learning is chosen, and you realize that you really can pursue any interest you have, learning is fun, and learning is exciting!
  2. (Re)claiming your time: Doing what you really want to be doing with your time.  I think it was Grace Llewellyn (although I could be wrong) who said something alone the lines of "what is life but time?", in reference to the fact that schools steal your time, and thus your life.  An unschooler has control over what they do with their own time, and thus their own life.  They can dive headfirst into something and spend hours daily on that one subject, or they can research something for ten minutes before deciding they've had enough for now.
  3. Empowering: It feels good to know that you control your own learning, that you're steering your own course in life.  It's empowering to be trusted in doing so, and to feel confident that you're more than capable of living life your way!
  4. Gaining the tools needed to create a better world: A common criticism of unschooling is that unschoolers will never learn to do anything they don't like.  Though that's a false idea, I think it is true that since unschoolers are used to living a life that makes them happy, they're far less likely to just settle for the unhappy existence that so many people in our culture think is unavoidable.  Unschoolers know that there are better ways of living, so they're much more likely to work hard to make those better ways of living available in their (and others') adult lives as well!
  5. Respecting people of a wide age range: When outside of the false age segregation and imposed authority of school, you have the opportunity to interact on an equal footing with virtually every person you come across.  Because of this, instead of only making friends with people their own age, or very close to it, unschoolers value friendships with those from a wide age range.  The more we limit ourselves in our choices of who to spend time with, the more barriers we place between people, the fewer wonderful folk we'll connect with.  Realizing that people can be our friends no matter their age opens up so many wonderful opportunities for connection!
So there you have it: a few more things unschooling is not, as well as a few more reasons why I love this philosophy of learning so much!  Feel free to add your own additions to these lists in the comments.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Storytelling: An Art With Many Forms, or Why TV Shows Are Cool

I keep feeling a need to write, and have felt for the last few days like I should write a post on unschooling.  Because, you know, that's what this blog has become almost entirely about.

But you know what I really want to write about today?  I want to write about TV shows.

A couple of years ago, I hardly watched any TV shows.  There were maybe one or two I watched with any sort of interest or regularity, but that was about it.  Yet in recent times, I've come to truly appreciate about ten different shows, and really, really love a couple of those ten.  Having discovered the joys of watching shows on DVD when possible, I've devoured whole seasons in the space of a few days, caught up in wonderful worlds filled with compelling characters.  Current favorites include:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Though a classic of modern television to most people, I only started watching it in July of this past summer, after having heard rave reviews from multiple people.  I was quickly sucked in (no vampire pun intended), and after having gone through all seven seasons during the course of the summer (and very early fall), I can say that this is my favorite show, ever.  Terrific, hilarious dialogue; genuinely believable character development; great characters; clever storylines...  I was by turns literally falling over laughing and bawling my eyes out.  So yeah, it's just great!

Being Erica: A sweet, funny, and moving story about a woman who's building the life she truly wants through time traveling "therapy".  My only favorite Canadian show, since, well, there don't seem to be many Canadian shows to choose from at all, so considering the overall small percentage, the good ones are few and far between.  But this one is a real gem! 

Supernatural: My newest discovery (I'm currently nearly finished the first season), this show is about pretty guys fighting malicious spirits, demons, shapeshifters, and various other creatures of the night.  Since I'm someone who likes both fantasy/supernatural stories, and pretty guys, how could I resist it?  The interaction between the two main characters is great, and there's plenty of humour, a must for me (I can't think of a single show I like that isn't funny at least at times...  If there's nothing to laugh at, I get bogged down in serious shit and just get bored).

Sherlock: Really a mini-series more than anything, I've decided to count it anyway because it's a recurring mini-series (can't wait for the next season!  I sure hope it's longer than the first one...).  By far the best on screen take on Sherlock Holmes I've ever seen.  Set in modern day, this fast-paced, sharp, and witty show is just wonderful.  Also?  I usually (well, okay, mostly) refrain from shipping non-canon couples, but it's obvious that Sherlock and Watson are made for each other (and the show's creators totally play on that!).

Other shows I enjoy include Inspector Lewis, House, The Mentalist, and Doctor Who.

And what's the point of my telling you about a few of my favorite shows, you ask?  Well, besides recommending them to you, I want to talk a bit about storytelling.

You see, some people have this idea that storytelling is only worthwhile, only a valid way of spending time, if it fits a certain format: most often, those who feel this way consider books to be that format.  Yet storytelling is an art-form, or more, a collection of art-forms, that are incredibly diverse: books, comics, plays, movies, TV shows, puppet shows, musicals...  All of these are different ways to tell a story, all can be equally, though in very different ways, captivating, interesting, thought-provoking, and just plain entertaining.  I think there enters a certain snobbishness though, as people try to cast certain forms of storytelling as "better" than others.

There is the argument that TV has many harmful messages: that there's obvious sexism, racism, classism, homophobia and transphobia, fat-hating, and other really nasty things present in most shows.  And that's completely true.  But, since we live in a society that is sexist, classist, etc., everything created by members of this society, be it TV or novels or puppet shows, is as likely to perpetuate oppression as anything else.  In a society where oppression is so ingrained, it's virtually impossible to find something, anything, without at least some nasty shit in it.  I suppose you could decide to not come into contact with any media whatsoever, and in the right circumstances that could certainly be managed, but even then, if you still talk to people, you're going to encounter those some attitudes and things you're trying to avoid.  Which leads to my next point:

There's a big difference between passive absorption and active engagement.  The first is what I think most people against television picture when they think of TV: blank faced zombies sitting in absolute stillness in front of a flickering screen, their brains passively absorbing whatever passes over said screen.  Yet in my house, that's not how watching TV works.

To start with, it's a social activity: I virtually never watch TV shows alone.  All four members of my family like Sherlock and Inspector Lewis; the three women in the house like House, Being Erica, Buffy, and Doctor Who.  Emi and I like Supernatural.  And we like discussing what we watch.  And when I say discussing, I mean we talk about everything from how hot that guy is, to the fact that in this show, that person is being treated as the Token Gay Guy, or how police are glorified in many shows.  We discuss the building of stories and characters, scriptwriting etc., as well as how commonly found stereotypes and social norms are reinforced in TV shows, and how that might affect the people who watch said shows more passively than we do.  It's not unusual for one of us, when watching a show on DVD, to snatch up the controller, pause it, and bring up some interesting point about something that just happened on the show.  Active engagement might seem like a strange way to describe watching TV, but for my family, it seems pretty accurate.

Does this mean I think that people who don't watch TV shows or don't own a TV are seriously missing out?  No, it doesn't.  If going TV free makes someone feel freer, more whole, more relaxed, or in any way happier, hell, I think it's great!

This also doesn't mean that I love modern technology, or think it will exist in the future.  I see a future of radical decentralization, and a return to truly sustainable communities: technologies based on exploitative practices have no place in that future.  But seeing as I'm a part of this culture for now, as are we all, I either embrace (like Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or tolerate (like money) many aspects of it that I might think hold no place in an egalitarian and sustainable future.  

Life is adaptable, and perhaps I'll decide at some point, maybe even in the near future, that I think the negatives of TV's and TV watching outweigh the positives, and decide to make some changes around TV in my own life.  But for now?  For now I want to see if Emi wants to watch the season one finale of Supernatural, because I can't wait to see what happens...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Struggling With Unschooling Negativity

Warning: this is a grumpy rant.  If you're not in the mood for negativity, or think you might be offended by some good ol' fashioned grumpy ranting, then you might want to skip this post.

Normally, the negativity people express about unschooling doesn't really bother me that much.  I'll get slightly annoyed, yes, upon reading or hearing stupid comments or ignorant misconceptions, but I'll calmly share my personal (positive) experiences, or send them a link that I think might help them understand unschooling if they wish to do so, then move on.  If I wasn't able to easily move past annoyances with people's perceptions of unschooling, then I don't think I'd be able to be as public about unschooling as I am!

But lately, in the last week or so, it hasn't been so easy.  In short, I've been kind of crabby.  But especially crabby when it comes to unschooling!

I read someone saying that:
"Child led learning is fabulous but 100% child led learning, in my opinion, does not prepare them for most modern day jobs." 
And I scream internally YOU HAVE NO EXPERIENCE WITH UNSCHOOLING, HAVE NEVER EVEN MET AN UNSCHOOLER, SO YOU CAN'T SAY THAT! Your statement is based in ignorance. Please be less ignorant before making statements.

And that's just my reaction when the statement is made in complete ignorance.  My anger jumps considerably when I stumble across a homeschooling mother who states:
"As the director of a large local homeschool co-op, I've had the opportunity to see first hand the differences between 'unschooled' homeschoolers and 'schooled' homeschoolers. There is a vast difference in their ability to keep up and move forward. The 'unschoolers' also struggle with understanding time restraints. Because they are allowed to 'learn' at whatever they happen to be doing, they struggle to succeed in an environment that is controlled and has direction." 
Don't you love the fact she adds quotes on "learn" when speaking of unschoolers?  Apparently her bossy personality is very annoyed when these unschooled kids are reluctant to drop whatever project they're working on and engaged in, to move onto something else they're not currently interested in ("struggling with understanding time restraints").  Apparently these unschooled kids learn at their own pace, and refuse to follow this seemingly very narrow-minded woman's view of where they should be in relation to other kids ("their ability to keep up and move forward"), and apparently this does not make her very happy. 

If I can't help getting annoyed at those who make judgments about unschooling in ignorance, at least I get it.  I understand that unschooling is something vastly different from most people's experience, and something that's difficult for many people to understand.  So while I might be annoyed momentarily, I don't hold it against the individual at all.

 But when a homeschooler thinks it's their duty to explain disapprovingly and condescendingly how bad unschooling is, how incompetent the parents are, how we're totally doin' it wrong and are giving a bad name to the REAL homeschoolers, now that to me is simply unacceptable (and I have come across this type of attitude among homeschoolers a LOT).  We're supposed to be on the same side, dammit!  I'd never put down homeschoolers in a public forum like that.  We're all misunderstood by the general populace: all targeted by restrictive laws and disapproving people.  We should be banding together, not attacking each other or getting into petty disputes over who is doing a better job.  Really and truly.

So that's how I've been feeling lately.  Fed up with dealing with the vast amount of ignorance and disapproval around unschooling, fed up with (though in no way planning to stop) explaining unschooling, time and time again, to people who just don't get it.

I'm not truly angry at the people who don't get it, though.  I'm just angered by a culture and system of schooling that's created a situation where something as simple and beautiful as life learning is incomprehensible to most people.  And I'm saddened by how many people react in harsh judgment and condemnation to something they simply don't understand.

This mood will pass.  In a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, I'm sure I'll go back to being able to brush the negativity off with an easy smile and a patient response.  But right now?  Right now it just pisses me off.