Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Parental Right?

Whenever I hear people saying things like "Unschooling obviously wouldn't work for everyone, but parents should have a right to choose what's best for their kids," or one of the hundred other variants on that same sentiment, I always feeling a niggling sense of unease.  It's never a statement I've agreed with.  But until recently, I wasn't entirely sure why it bothered me!  I mean, there's the obvious in that I believe unschooling can work for anyone, as unschooling is really free choice in education, so a child could choose something very structured, like their parent teaching them with a curriculum or going to school.  But there was something more than that bothering me, and I only realized yesterday what it was.

That type of statement puts the focus on parental rights.  "It's a parents right to educate their children however they choose!"

But to me?  Unschooling isn't about parental rights.  It's about children's rights.  A childs right to choose their own path in life, with the support and assistance of parental or other care-giving figures in their life.

Me and my sister, playing on the beach. (I needed a picture of kids, so why not one of my sis and I?)

In a society where children are truly an oppressed class, denied the rights given to older people, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that something I see as potentially majorly liberating for children, the right to take control of their own education, is couched as being a parental right instead.  For sure, I think it's important for parents to have the right to make decisions about their children's care, instead of the government or other powerful institutions, but in talking about a "parents right to unschool," I feel like we're taking away the power, in words at the very least, and words to a large extent shape thoughts, from the children themselves.  And that's definitely not something I think anyone should be doing.

Am I, once again, just quibbling over small details in the language used?  Perhaps.  But when something unsettles me, even if it seems like just a small something, I feel it's important to examine why, and I often just like working out or sharing my reasoning here on the blog!


  1. This isn't quibbling at all. In fact, the U.S. hasn't ratified the United Nation's International Convention on the Rights of the Child (along with Somalia!) because some think it conflicts with parental rights.

    As for who is doing the "unschooling," I wrote about that recently: http://www.wendypriesnitz.com/blog/grown_unschooler_is_an_oxymoron

  2. Your timing is impeccable! At this moment Swedish homeschoolers must leave Sweden because their government has passed a new law which makes homeschooling virtually impossible (allowed only in the case of sever chronic illness, basically). The law comes into effect in a month. It violates the UN's Rights of the Child, but Sweden IS bound by that!
    Here's a link to the situation:
    I can also send you a link to a video interview with a family who escaped one month ago, plus English translation if you wish.
    Regards, Mary Jack summerenglish@hotmail.com

  3. You're definitely not quibbling. It an important issue. It bothers me a lot when people, especially unschooling parents frame unschooling as if they are doing it, rather than simply supporting the kids in being themselves, as any good parent should.

  4. This is why I don't like the word "Unschooled" too much. School still implies something done to children to most people who hear the word, even if you put the prefix "un" in front of it. We use the term interest-led learners in our home because we learn things we are interested in, the whole family, not just the kids. And it also implies that I can share interesting thing with my children and the can share interesting things with me too, unlike the term "child-led learning."

  5. It IS about children's rights! Excellent post!

    Beautifully said Christina! I am not a fan of the actual word "Unschooled". I LOVE interest-led learning! That sounds more along the lines of what "Unschooling" is all about. We refer to it as Life Learning. We, as a family, never stop learning! :)

  6. And while I agree that children have rights and when it come to their education they should get to chose how they want to learn it is still the parents responsibility to make sure they are learning, even if they are just supporting the child's choice, because when it comes down to it the parent is going to get in trouble not the child if something goes wrong and that child is the parents responsibility so it is also the parents right on how they chose to educate their child or how they let their child chose how to be educated because in most places until a child is 18 their parents are responsible for them, which includes their education. Now I plan to let my children chose how they want to learn and hopefully that will be interest-lead, but I will still be responsible for them and their education until they become legally able to. So while I think that it should be and is the child's right to be unschooled in the end it will always come back to the parent and that is where it becomes their right to educate their children the way they please because it is the parent's responsibility.

  7. I love that you have taken the focus of the parental rights and put a spotlight on the children. I think this is a two-way street. I as a parent do have a right to help my child learn in what way I see is best for my child but I also agree that my child has the right to learn in a way that is natural to her. This is easy for me to say because we don't send our daughter to an institution and I give her every opportunity to learn what she wants to. So for our family, we agree and parental rights and my child's rights do not conflict. I have a sneaky suspicion that this would probably be true for all if we just let ourselves relax and be true to us.

  8. You make a very good point, which I can just imagine being torn to pieces by many people I know who'd say "Would you let your kid choose to jump off a cliff too?" or something about keeping kids under control.
    I agree though. Parents should be guides and facilitators for growing, young people, not dictators who stifle the unique process of the child. It's not only a disservice to the child, but to the community and possibly humanity as it's that uniqueness that has brought mankind it's greatest achievements, comprehensions, and advances.
    It's a shame so many people don't understand that. But to those of us who do, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! :) If the norm is that critical of it, we're probably on the right track.

  9. You're so "right"! :-) Thanks to dare talk about it.

    What I see is that all humans have the same needs and that is what we should talk about because they are not fulfilled, in cultures such as our. There is no parental rights or children rights (though I hesitate to write this sentence, because too many people could jump on it and remove it from the context), there is the right to life, which comes with life. That's it. Too simple for humans whose intellect is over-stimulated and which consequently, are no longer connected to their very nature? Too bad! As a mother, it was only me connecting on to my children that make me reconnected to my proper nature, and it is the only path to real life, towards a true unschooling (life-learning), thus toward freedom.

  10. You're not quibbling. When parents talk about why they send their kids to school, what I usually hear behind their words is that they don't believe that facilitating their children's learning should be their responsibility. And more than that, the people who say to us, "Oh, I could never do that," when they meet us, usually mean that they couldn't cope with having their children around with them for a whole 7 days a week.

    I've come to believe that in my country (UK), people have children with the subtle belief that once they turn 5 they get to hand them over to the State via the School system, and then their parenting load gets "easier" because it becomes a part-time job for them.

    When I had my son, so many people said to me, "Oh, the first 5 years are the hardest, and then it gets easier when they start school."

    I just don't know why people have children to then hand them over to someone else - often someone they've never met before and do not know from Adam - to be raised, controlled and taught within the system. And children really have no choice about this. They are taught to accept that they have to go to school because it's the law. No wonder teenagers rebel, try drugs, suffer from depression etc.

  11. I think it's an important point, Idzie. I agree, and I love that there is a whole movement of people out there who give children the respect due to them as autonomous people.
    As a mother I have a different perspective though. I'm fine about the constitutional right to choose an education being ascribed to the parent. That means that I am the one the law deals with, not my daughters. I can fight to protect that right.

    At first when we began unschooling, people would ask 'who teaches her?' and I would laugh and say 'Enid Blyton, mostly!'. But that made some people so uncomfortable that now I just give them whatever answer I feel they need to hear. I only tell other unschoolers what I really believe. I don't mind having conflicting views to my friends & family, but I feel the need to protect my daughters' privacy on this one.

    That attitude only works for kids who have like-minded parents though. What if we were to change the wording of that right, to reflect the rights of the child to choose their education instead of the parent? (Is it a legally recognised right in Quebec? It's enshrined in our constitution here in Ireland.) I wonder would that give more kids the option to choose. I can't imagine kids managing to choose freely without the support of their parents. Maybe publicly asserting the child's right to choose would at least give a child's argument some credibility with an unsympathetic parent...,,

  12. My children are 6 and 11 by the way. So very different perspective than if they were late teens I'm sure.

  13. I agree that there are a lot of instances of circumstantial depression, in which if the depressed individual's life situation can be changed, they will recover from their depression, but there are some people who suffer from depression due to chemical imbalances and who really do need medication to recover, I am not saying they should be forced to take medication or that they should be institutionalised if they won't take it, they have the right to decide what is best for themselves, but some people really do find that medication is an important part of managing their depression so they can become happier and more productive (the latter is less important than the former as far as I'm concerned, and maybe function better is a better way of wording it that "productive).

  14. Also, by "some" I mean "lots", I don't know what the ratio is for circumstantial to chemical depression, but people who need the meds are not a rarity amongst depression sufferers. I am not on anti depressants, but I do take an anti-anxiety medication, and it certainly helps. It doesn't turn me into a zombie (nor does the ritalin I take for my ADHD), it just stops me from being constantly overwhelmed by my intrusive thoughts without respite, the ritalin helps me focus, which is very useful because it makes it easier for me to accomplish things when I want to or need to... I've just realised that I said I was only going to check if I'd recieved an email I was waiting for and see how much money is in my account but I've been on here for hours now lol! Well, at least your blog is interesting enough to merit a good look :) See, told you it didn't turn me into a zombie (and I really hate when people say that, they act like you're spending all your time on heavy sedatives).