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Confidence or Arrogance?

Meredith Novak                       Sep 10, 2011 in a discussion on Facebook:
Since we weren't unschooling when Ray was little, still questing for "teachable moments" at every turn, I missed a whole lot. I missed watching him explore ethics by setting rules about "violent" play and movies and stories. I missed watching him learn to read and discover patterns. Instead I got to see his enthusiasm for "learning" fade to a succession of "do I have to's" as we launched in to homeschooling.

The one up side to all of that is I get a pretty clear picture of the advantages of unschooling. I don't doubt those advantages the way other parents do because I have the perspective of living without them.


In February 2008, Joyce Fetteroll responded to someone who had come to the AlwaysLearning list explaining patiently to us that there were other equally valid ways to unschool and all that.

Joyce:

There is probably not an idea about how to be with kids that you have that we haven't seen and turned over. (Sounds a bit snooty!) What I mean is, that 1000's of people have wandered by us with the ideas they have. We've held them up for examination to see "Is this respectful? How does this help a child? How does this hurt a child? Is there a better way that will nurture him *and* help him?"
Even though I thought what Joyce wrote was perfect, I was inspired to expand on it.
One of the charges about unschoolers in general (and me in particular) is "arrogance." "Unschoolers are arrogant," say those who are flitting from one curriculum to another (or maybe worse, sticking with the first one they ever heard of, because they want to teach their children to finish what they start).

I spend VERY little time and energy listening patiently while people tell me that the public schools are really pretty good. I attended public school (zipped through more quickly and happily than some, and kindergarten hadn't become required, so I was there for "only" 11 years). I taught in public school for six years (7th and 9th grade English). I've had custody of three kids who attended public schools (when I was younger, not in the past 20 years). School apologists won't say anything I haven't heard (or experienced, or done, or said myself).

I've sought out writings about all kinds of homeschooling. I read some of the most conservative Christian homeschooling magazines for a while: Home School Digest (scary) and The Old Schoolhouse (where I read that Pat Farenga's three daughters have all gone to school; he doesn't say that when he speaks at unschooling conferences I don't think).

Some people just want to learn as little as is necessary for them to go and do what they think they need to do to homeschool or unschool. I think it's a "Will this be on the test?" mentality—a souvenir of school.

I've researched methods I KNEW I wouldn't pursue in a million years, because I didn't want to be ignorant when the subject came up, and in the early days of online unschooling discussions there was no such thing as unschooling being discussed off in a corner by itself. It was always in and among the others, many of whom believed that there was no reason to homeschool other than God had called Christians to set their children apart, and that secular homeschoolers were riding the coattails of Christian homeschoolers.

I knew that wasn't true, but THEY didn't know it wasn't true. When I defended my stance I really wanted to know what I was talking about.

It wasn't too many years before we had our own corner on the AOL boards, and online chats (and the edited files of those available for download). People were paying $3 an hour for online access. There is more available to new unschoolers now, online sitting and waiting to be read for free, than existed in the whole world twenty years ago.

I'm confident. I'm not guessing unschooling can work, I know. I've also seen how it can fail, through my correspondence and discussions with so many other homeschooling families. I'm not hoping that kids can still get a job without fifteen years of practice bedtimes; I know they can. (And they would've been "practicing" for the wrong shift anyway.) I don't conjecture that kids can learn to read without being taught, I know. It's happened at my house, in three people's lives.

There have been people come by over the years who said "We should all learn from each other," meaning I should compromise with them, "meet them half way," admit that their ways were just as valid and useful as what I was doing. But none of them have brought any ideas or practice I had never seen and that seemed better than what was happening at my house, or that could do anything to improve the flow we already had going.

On the other hand, the years of discussions of how to put principles into practice have expanded lots of peoples understanding of this subset of unschooling. Mine, definitely! I learned from others here about how well it can work to make housework fun and peaceful and kids would eventually volunteer to do things, in surprisingly cool ways. That has happened at my house, but I wouldn't have thought it up on my own. I learned that the idea of "a bad day" is much inferior to "a bad moment," from which one can recover immediately. From me sharing my experiences, some families have loosened up about bedtimes and wake-up times. From Robyn's and other people's success with being patient and kind with explosive kids, many fewer children are punished or shamed for having sudden outbursts of pure neediness. And interestingly, both Pam Sorooshian and I have been accused of not knowing anything about having such children, because our two explosive kids learned ways to deal YEARS ago with what some families punish or ignore or exacerbate. Those who know our kids probably wouldn't be able to guess which in each set of three was the scary-go-nuts kid when they were younger, because we figured out loving ways to help them recognize and deal with the emotions. And it's a physical thing with some people, that their emotional biochemicals come on QUICKLY, and hard. But they can learn to deal with it cognitively and physically, for the good of their own health and relationships, and for the good of others around them.

I'm not thinking that's true, I KNOW that's true.

This is confidence and experience.

Sandra

In context, if anyone's interested, the post is here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AlwaysLearning/message/32316.
Same list, April 2009, Jenny Cyphers' response to...

Sandra Dodd (about "real" unschooling; Capital U unschooling, which Diana Jenner proposed as a term)...

The argument will end, I've been told, when radical unschoolers accept that anyone who says she's unschooling should have her words taken at face value, and we shouldn't judge each other and we should all just get along and work together for the good of all homeschoolers.
Jenny Cyphers:
The proof is in the living! I will keeping on living the life that I'm living, because I KNOW it works, I SEE it. I don't doubt it at all! Other people will have to come to their own epiphany. I really like that word for KNOWing unschooling. I have little epiphanies all the time and on occasion a big one.

Some people will be happy to not have all the pieces to the puzzle, to live where they are, in their own little comfort zone of the knowledge that they have, completely content there. For me, with something so cool and life changing as unschooling, I want more and more and more. I want to know all there is to know and learn better and better ways of living peacefully with my kids. I've ruffled feathers because of my unbending stance on it. Everyone is free to live their life how they want to, but I don't have to agree and get along!

The only people whose judgement I truly care about are my immediate family, they are the ones I have to live with and whose lives are directly impacted by what I do. The beauty is, that I've met some pretty amazing people because of it!


Proof and Belief
I guess what makes me the most defensive is when people say, "I don't believe unschooling will work." Okay... based on WHAT? I want to say. Based on the fact that you went to school every day for twelve or sixteen years and "cooperated" and you want that to be the only possible way!? The fact that it has worked and DOES work (maybe not for everybody, but for a LOT of people) is right there for those who want to see it.

I might not BELIEVE a 747 could fly, but they do. Whether I can explain it or build one doesn't matter. They do fly.

I have friends with older kids than mine who do remarkable things their parents didn't teach them to do. They figured out how to do it.

The foregoing was written in an online chat in 1996 (or late 1995) when my oldest child was nine. In the fifteen years since then, my own three have done many remarkable things they learned in all kinds of ways—from other kids, other adults, the internet, and on their own. The disbelief of others has had no effect on our family. —Sandra

Just Add Light, September 15, 2011

Schuyler Waynforth, on how that confidence can come:
It is amazing that the epiphanies seem to come so frequently in this life. The other day I was baking a cake and David got back from the grocery store and had to deal with the leaking coolant on the car and needed help putting the groceries away. I was up to my elbows in batter and asked Simon and Linnaea if they could help. They both came in and put all the groceries away and went back to what they were doing. It was so sweet, so not coercive, so not eye-rolling. Just this generous gift of service. It came with an epiphany, an underscoring of these unschooling side effects that I see and read about from other people.

As you say, the proof is in the living! The rightness, the evidence, the closeness, the joy, those are all found in this life. You can read about them, but to experience them you have to get down on your hands and knees and play and hang out and tell stories and cuddle and talk and share and be willing to listen and to apologize and to work to make it better. And if you can do that without any other intention than enjoying being with them, without any ulterior motives, it plays out in ways that nothing else that I've ever seen does.

Schuyler

Descriptions of the moment people really understood unschooling

Morning (new beginnings for epiphanies)