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.


  1. If that's your "grumpy" let me introduce you to most of the rest of the internetz, where people who are angry are often far less articulate, use very violent language, and lack any kind of critical reasoning or compassion to ameliorate their rant. In short, your "rant" is understandable and frames difficult discussions with acuity.

    Doesn't it seem to you like the homeschooling parent talking about "learning" is very scared of those unschooled child? In other words this person might acknowledge learning happens at different paces, but no matter what, one needs to know the adult will be the one setting the pace, NOT the child - and unschoolers represent a giving-up of "control". Those are typical attitudes in USian culture about children and they reek of fear and limited understanding.

    It is true you can raise a homeschooled child that is docile (or gives appearance of) and does what their parents say most of the time (some of them eventually rebel, some of them force themselves deep down and suffer). I DO NOT HAVE THESE CHILDREN. I chose not to go that route and I swear they get stronger! There is no doubt in my mind they are better served by not being dominated. No doubt. If any homeschooler were to try to look in and find ways he/she could say my kids were slower or less polite or less "learned" (although right now they look "ahead of the curve" on many academic subjects, that may or may not last). If someone wants to go on such a mission and throw my kids under the bus to bolster their own methods without critically examining their principles, fine. [ shrug ]

    It does hurt to have "one of us" (in this case, homeschoolers) betray ideals we'd think we might have in common. The other day on a (usually awesome) unschooling group a member called another (schooled) family's daughter an "illterate, foul-mouthed slut". Imagine my surprise when this went unchecked by every other member and the moderator! Over time I realized what bothered me is that I'd been assuming unschooling families were better at respect and compassion. Not necessarily so.

  2. It's good to let it out Idzie, so I am glad you did. Now only for your own sake & well-being, but for those of others' too!
    We are unschooling our children. This is a path we've chosen, not one we were raised on. We encounter a lot of what you're angered and frustrated by. It is "nice" to hear that someone else feels the way you do. (and I put that in quotes because obviously it would only truly be nice if we didn't have to feel that way at all)
    You're right, we should be banding together, despite & because of our different approaches to homeschooling/unschooling. But in the moments when people don't do what they should, when times are dark and moods are darker, it is nice to know that you're not alone. There is light out there. And, Idzie, even if you can't see it .. right now, at this very moment, YOU are that light to others.
    Be pissed off girl, you have every right. And know that we love you for it.

  3. Yup, it's mostly about fear, as Kelly sez. And ignorance and whatever personal issues people have. Generally, ignorance reveals itself for what it is (and the link you've posted is a case in point).

    I think the trick is not to assume that just because people agree on one thing they will agree on other things. There are many different reasons why people don't send their kids to school...and some of them I don't agree with (to put it mildly). That's something I learned
    the hard way many years ago when I first started working with home-based learning families, and it hasn't changed.

    My husband Rolf has an ability I admire greatly. He truly doesn't give a damn what anybody else thinks or says. I think it makes his life easier than, say, mine, and it allows him to boldly pursue what he thinks is right and important.

    Anyway, there's nothing wrong with taking time off from important work when it stops being fun. (Something else I've learned the hard way.)

  4. Hey,
    don't worry about those people. They feel that freedom doesn't work and see freedom itself as the problem, when the real problem is that our society doesn't accommodate or cultivate freedom. The problem is with the lack of public spaces for children; the lack of free museums, Libraries, parks; parents with not enough time out of work who are stressed and underpaid; etc. That's why freedom doesn't seem to work.


  5. I wouldn't worry too much about the naysayers. I get this kind of attitude in my environmental work. "There's no such thing as climate change," "renewable energy will never work," "people will never change,"and so on and so on.
    But obviously,things are changing- and fast whether or not the wet-blankets like it or not. And education is an area that is being forced to change-like it or not.

  6. Yes, rfs is right that change is happening, as I've written in Life Learning:

    People sometimes struggle to keep up with the change that's right in front of them...and that's why we have the deniers.

    Still, those of us with strong opinions about trusting children, children's and young people's rights, etc. need to continue to lead. I do believe that what I would call unhealthy attitudes about children's place in the world will be among the last to change.

  7. Hey, Idzie, even "grumpy" rants can be productive!

  8. Eek, I clicked on another article that homeschooling mother you linked to wrote and you can see that she has some generally disturbing attitudes and assumptions.

    But to get off the possible ad-hominem track I'm landing on, I was wondering about some of her other assumptions. I'm guessing (and I might be wrong) that, based on the homeschool co-ops I have experience of, these children are generally of the elementary school age. My two younger children (8 and 10 years of age) are in a homeschool co-op a couple of days a week and I've seen that they tend to have a hard time dealing with some of the more "controlled" activities, particularly if they are not in them out of their own choice. For instance, I signed us up for a couple of museum field trips recently and dragged them along. I won't be dropping that kind of thing on them again in a hurry ;-).

    However, my two teenage children (13 and 16) have a totally different handle on things, even though they have been unschoolers practically all their lives. They dedicate themselves to the activities and interests that they have chosen, even the tedious aspects, and where they get landed in a situation that is not of their choice (for instance, being dragged along to one of the field trips mentioned above), they go with the flow. When they were younger, they weren't much better than their younger brothers at adapting to controlled environments, but they have matured enough to be able to do that now. They are just lucky that they don't have to do it all the time and most of the time it is by choice.

  9. Rants are good. It's a way to vent and yours is very well put. You have the right to get fed up with negativity and always having to repeat yourself over and over to those who don't understand it. Let the anger out it's good for you.

  10. I don't think most unschoolers use a 100% child led approach in the way these negative commenters might think. Parents still choose the people and ideas their children are exposed to. A child can only really choose to pursue something that they've been introduced to by friends, family, and environment. A good parent would be very involved in the unschooling process, and they will probably lead their child somewhat just by what the omit from the child's life, especially young children who wouldn't be as able to seek out information on their own.
    Parent opinion matters.

    I think that's what's confusing people. They imagine a Lord of the Flies scenario where little kids are left with a pile of books and a computer then expected to figure stuff out. I think unschooling parents encourage their children a lot more than that. Parents help their children learn if the child is interested in something.

  11. i've found (sadly) that although the reasons are many and assorted, a majority of people who *school* at home, do so out of a measure of control. The reason for the perceived need for control seems to vary....but that would explain why attitudes like that very enlightened (snark) woman you linked to (and oh my, but she has an opinion on just about everything, it seems :P) are so common in the homeschool vs. unschool debate.

    Sure, it would be marvelous to think we could all just agree to disagree...but fundamentalism in any form is going to create rifts.

    I think it's a very worthy that needs examining if we are to ever breach those gaps -- to at least meet somewhere in the middle -- and you are a brave and pioneering spirit to take up the fight.

    *fist bump*

  12. Brilliant Rant.

    I love this bit: "We're supposed to be on the same side, dammit! ... We should be banding together, not attacking each other or getting into petty disputes over who is doing a better job. Really and truly. "

    Sing it, sister!

  13. I hear ya! It's so, so frustrating.

  14. Closet reader. Just wanted to say, I linger around looking for wisdom and examples on this topic because it very much appeals to me as a "homeschooling" mother and I unofficially sort of kind of am embracing it this year.

    But you always second guess yourself and wonder if you're doing the right thing. And I admit that half the time I'm not sure I even understand what unschooling is at all. I always want to ask questions like, "What did you do, or learn, or study, during the year that would have been 4th grade?" Just out of curiosity!

    What I wish, is that your mother had a blog so we could read from her perspective!

  15. Rant on, rant on!!

    Fear of the unknown makes people say and do incredibly irrational things. They jump to defend what they're familiar with, regardless of the correctness of the idea or practice. They attack that which they don't understand simply because it's easier than admitting they could have been wrong their whole life. It's also easier than giving thought to something that's contradictory to what you've believed for a lifetime. That's a tough thing to do.

    Well, I say this as someone who went to college to "become" a teacher. I was wrong. There's more to life than an "education" and learning doesn't just happen M-F between 8 and 2:30, with time off for Holidays and vacations.

    Today my son, with no prompting, made a connection that I'd never have expected him to. The actual connection isn't the important thing here. The important thing is that he did it, all on his own, with NO prompting. If he'd been IN school, or even in a structured homeschool routine, the opportunity for this connection likely would NEVER have been available.

  16. I totally do agree with you... However, I feel like there might be some confusion as to the difference between unschooling and neglect. Maybe some home schoolers are looking at other home educated children who are actually being neglected, not unschooled, and therefore gather the wrong idea about unschooling.