Sunday, June 10, 2012

What is unschooling?

From our Unschooling Catholics email list...

Susan : I thought it might be good to address that idea about the difference between relaxed, eclectic, etc.  The labels can always cause some issues, but we need words to try to have a dialogue, so we work with what we have and hope
to gain understanding.

I have seen many dismiss unschooling, even saying they have 'tried' it for a month, a year, during a challenging time when they couldn't manage curriculum, etc.  But I think a primary difference between unschooling and other 'styles' comes from a complete shift in one's way of thinking. I recently had a friend say that she had 'homeschooled' her children one day when it was a snow day.  I told her that it was more a shift in lifestyle and doing a workbook one day with your dc doesn't give the flavor of what you might do.  I think the same about can't be merely dabbled in.  It involves a willingness to change into a different type of lifestyle even than 'relaxed' or 'eclectic'.  The journey gets turbulent at times (well, it has for me).  On the ouside, it may look any different way...busy, hectic, slow paced, relaxed, high pressure, highly structured or loosely structured.  The key differences are on the inside.

I know that despite the fact that I read some John Holt  when I first decided to educate dc outside the school setting, it took a lot of introspection to see the many ways I still had an agenda for my dc.  I still wanted to pour knowledge and information into them; I still wanted to have them love and learn form the great opportunities I would provide.  I still wanted them to know their math, how to read well, spell, etc.  And I admit I even hoped they might excel 'early'. 

For me, it was a real journey of self discovery in examing all the things about school and how they had permeated my thinking.  And a real journey in observing dc and their learning.  A real journey of I trust God to inspire them?  Do I  trust the diverse gifts given by God can be 'enough', even if they don't follow "what your whatever grader needs to kow"?  Can I trust myself enough to really be present with my dc?  To accept, and love them on their own life journey. Do I have it in me to actually *be* the example of  someone they ought to emulate?

And it is a challenge to be this in a society that measures and looks at results, expectations what have you been 'doing'?  Sometimes I don't know - we live, we love, we laugh and enjoy.  Sometimes we work through conflict and difficulty,  Life brings us so many experiences, and it is all worthwhile.

We are fortunate here to have some members who have lived and experienced this for years.  And have felt a desire to provide a place to converse openly with others.


Leonie: I think unschooling implies attentiveness - to the child and her needs, to the family and the season of family life.....I think the time spent in planning lessons in more conventional homeschooling becomes time spent with the child and in attentiveness. And sometimes it means time spent on one's own passions - modeling the following of a passion  and thus that learning happens all the time, throughout life.
I said once that not everyone has to unschool or unschool in the same way. I stand by that. :-) I think there is a definition of pure unschooling ( perhaps Rue Kream's book Parenting a Free Child has such a definition) and then there are definitions like Suzie Andres' one ( in Homeschooling With Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling).
I think we find our own paths and sometimes the paths meet with ideas from Charlotte Mason . Sometimes the paths meet or we re-trace our steps.
Family life, and thus unschooling, for me is never a recipe or a straight flow - it is the ebb and flow, the changing seasons. :-)
I think, for me, unschooling also means questioning my paradigms so, I really question why we might behave one way in parenting or why we might want a maths book ( or whatever). 


Susan: As usual, wise words from Leonie!  I agree that unschooling is not for everyone.  And for those who go this route, I almost wonder if it makes an unschooling family as unique as a snowflake.  Each family constellation made up of unique individuals, and each family group with its own ebbs and flows. (I sometimes wonder if that’s why I find it challenging to find unschooling families irl.  I know of a few in this area, and we are all very different enough that we don’t cross paths often – though it is always lively and fun when that happens.)
I do think that while John Holt coined the term and wrote prolifically, some ideas cross over into others thinking and being with children, discovering how they learn, respecting dc as Jesus did… “ A little child shall lead…”  And many of the ideas that affirm unschooling for me can be found in the writings of many saints.  Also, the historical perspective comes into play…school ‘systems are such a tiny blip on the radar of history, and schools systems in industrialized societies even smaller.  Learning has occurred throughout human history, and our faith informs us that right relationships, loving God in the first place and others – that has a higher importance.