Thursday, September 13, 2018

Some experiences unschooling

A few people have recently asked about how and why we are unschooling, and in the moment I usually mumble something incoherent about autonomy. I wanted to reflect a little more deeply here, though not comprehensively, as supporting our kids' education is inevitably complex. Noah would be in Grade 2 this year, and I've written about unschooling in the past (though I cringe at some of those posts). School can seem really innocuous to those who thrive in those settings (or seem to), so I'm grateful for a firstborn who is sensitive and challenged so many of my assumptions.

The experience of unschooling, to me, has been a move away from outcomes, towards the journey, and towards connecting with my kids. If you've ever read this blog, you know I plan and scheme and will suffer seemingly endlessly for a goal (I think this is partly a result of school). This can serve me well, at times, but it also means I struggle to be present for the ride.  It also means that my tendency is to think of the future for my kids-- and inevitably, because I'm that kind of person-- to constantly be measuring my kids' successes.

In fairly Calvinist (conservative Christian) settings as a child, during college and our early years of marriage, there were a lot of fairly awful ideas about children. Alongside these were also quite negative ideas of God-- and these were tightly wrapped up in a highly patriarchal social structure. What was terribly confusing is that God (and parents, leaders, and teachers) did not necessarily have to be kind or considerate-- they could do anything and say it was "for our own good." A consequence of being in this kind of setting is that one cannot trust one's own feelings. Don't even get me started on what it was like to be a girl and a woman in these settings! Not only could we not trust our own desires and motivations, we also could not trust God to be good, all the time. I am not sure if this influences how kids in schools are being taught around the world-- I am outside of that world right now-- but I want to move away from my tendency to see my children as vessels to be urgently filled (with skills, or knowledge, or even values), whether or not they want that skill. While self-reflection is powerful-- I want my kids to be the ones doing the reflecting on their desires and motivations, not me or another adult. In this sense, unschooling is less about learning and more about relating-- knowing that in healthy relationships it is easy to learn and grow.

There are a lot of people who believe God is always good who don't unschool, so I think my experiences are the result of a particular, non-universal, journey. Still, unschooling has brought a helpful consistency: In imagining a more relational, less capitalist, less power-based, less shame-filled/competitive society, a lot of ideas align, albeit messily (and inconsistently). We can enjoy our lives while remaining responsible and responsive to our contexts.

So as I grow with our kids, the value of unschooling is less about outcomes and more about finding ways to be consistently kind and support our kids, while being careful to attend to our own journey, responsibilities, and boundaries. It is a way to trust our children and try our best to connect with them, which is harder than it sounds. It does not mean leaving them to do their own thing, but finding opportunities for them to get to know themselves, and to shine. It means creatively finding ways to meet all the needs of all family members, and be explicit when we are struggling to do so because of financial, time, or energy constraints. What I want them to feel is an abundance of opportunity, and an abundance of love-- a complicated abundance, given friendships with those who have much less than we do-- but abundance nevertheless.

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