Schuyler sent this Joyce-writing which appeared on the Unschooling Basics list in May, 2009. The poster to whom Joyce was responding are in bold, and other words are Joyce Fetteroll's:
Subject: Re: [unschoolingbasics] pushing vs. allowing interests
I have a friend who's interested in unschooling but feels that her
rather shy daughter would not have varied interests if she hadn't
pushed her at certain times.
Mom pushed her to try a 4-H horse competition which the kid found
she rather liked after doing it.
There are adults who were pushed through music by well meaning
parents who are grateful for the pushing.
There are adults who were pushed through music by well meaning
parents who have so wrapped the memories of coercion and tears and
powerlessness around music that they want nothing to do with music.
(Music can be filled in with anything: basketball, cleaning up,
writing, math, horses ...)
Both shed tears and complained, so how does a parent know what the
outcome will be? Unfortunately we so want to give kids all the
advantages that the stories of people who are grateful they were
pushed, the times when our kids find happiness in something we pushed
them into, loom larger than the far more common stories of people who
avoid what they were pushed through.
How many people were forced through 12 years of math and hate it? How
many love it?
So, are the only two options pushing while praying or not pushing?
No. But this is a slippery slope because helping kids past the humps
can end up being pushing. So, the first idea to examine is that each
time we push, we run the risk of the child deciding they need someone
else to push them, that they can't move past the difficulties on
It will be also helpful to keep in mind that you could be wrong. It
might be the worst thing for that child. And you'll be helping your
child with another life skill by letting them assess and decide if
it's right. Each time they decide, they learn a bit more about
So, with that in mind, I'd talk it over with the child. *Don't* begin
with the idea of convincing them they should let you push them since
you feel it's a good idea for them. Listen to them.
And while she pursued that she was not pursuing something else. Maybe
the other things would have been something she liked even better. Or
not. Mom says she wouldn't have so much knowledge about horses now and
wouldn't have found out she enjoyed such a class if she hadn't been
pushed a bit to do it.
The point is that there are a million choices we can make, a million
things we could get interested in. Everytime we focus on one, there's
nearly a million others we're not choosing. We can't ever know we've
found the ultimate, best thing. But having the freedom to choose and
explore is even better than certainty.
The daughter might even agree. But the most important thing is the
mother is deciding on the value and that the pushing yielded
something the mom values.She feels it's human nature to go the easy route instead of trying
things that are tough.
The focus should be on the child. What does the child want? We know
less what the child wants, less about who the child is—the child
knows less!—the less we listen and the more we push.
My daughter Kat's a very good distance runner and loves running. She
joined the school cross country team. My husband loves running too
and was on the same team when he was in high school. He loves
competition. Not one of those rabid beat 'em types, but he gets
jazzed setting up goals for himself. He tried to help her train to
beat the cream of the crop. (Not a huge stretch since she's a natural
at it.) At first she enjoyed it. But as she continued, she started to
realize the goal of beating someone (and the possibility of failure)
didn't float her boat. She just loved to run. It was hard for Carl to
even grasp the idea of not caring about competing and there was a lot
of strain until he finally accepted that someone could have great
talent but want to do something other than what he'd do with it.
It's human nature to avoid what we feel is a waste of time, energy
She said when she was growing up maybe if someone had pushed her
more to take tougher science classes, she would have become a vet.
It's also human nature to pour energy into what we find fascinating.
If someone is made to climb a mountain, they'll find the easiest
path, and perhaps even cheat.
If someone desires to climb a mountain, they may even make it more
difficult—challenging—for themselves if the route doesn't light
If it were human nature to go the easy route, I wouldn't be sitting
here writing out a response! No one would write a novel. No one would
climb Mt. Everest. No one would bake a cherry pie from scratch. No
one would have kids ;-)
It's much easier to blame others for our failures than to accept
She knows of people who perused the college catalogues, saying
"Hmm, what are the easiest classes to take."
That sounds harsh and judgmental. It's meant as a universal truth.
When we decide we aren't capable of something and feel that we can't
accomplish something unless someone else uses their power over us to
make us, we can absolve ourselves of failure. It's not our fault we
aren't doing x. It's other people's fault for not pushing us, or not
clearing the way for us.
A far more useful life skill for kids is knowing they can do whatever
they set their minds to. That trumps a knowledge of horses or guitar
skills or ability to spell or whatever someone's personal need is.
While it would be *easier* if her parents had pressured science on
her. (*And* she had liked it.) Now, not being a vet isn't their
responsibility. It's hers. She'd be living the idea that you can do
anything you put your mind to if she decided to become a vet right
now rather than modeling that you can blame your failures on others.
For a shy child, it would be far more valuable for mom to help her
find ways the daughter can use to get past the humps to do the things
the daughter wants to do. If the daughter gets the idea she needs the
mom to push her, she could end up at 20+ wishing her mom had pushed
her in science so she could be a vet.
When college is seen as another hoop they're pressured to jump
through, why wouldn't they choose the easiest route? It isn't until
school change to be relevant to people's lives, it isn't until a
college degree isn't seen as the key to success, that kids won't be
choosing for expediency's sake.
Focus, Hobbies, Obsessions
When college is seen as one option to explore what fascinates you,
then interest will be the determining factor in choosing courses.
That's what will carry over from living a life exploring what