Understanding Unschooling

"I don't need to stuff him full of who I need him to be, because he's already full of who he is."
—Schuyler Waynforth
March 29, 2014
Gold Coast symposium

From Unschooling Basic, JJ Ross responding to:

"I guess it's just hard at this point in time to see that letting him continue to play as much as he wants, especially if I decide to do unschooling, that anything is going to change. But I guess it's not something that I will know unless I try it."
This part is not hard! Think about it as a logic syllogism: what you do already know, you don't like and can see is not working. In fact, you can hardly stand how things are, to the point that you're searching to connect with real change you can believe in. So in the choice to "let" your lives continue this way or else change, that's easy, no-brainer! You choose change.

Unschooling is change, believe it! :)

Whole-life unschooling changes just about everything (why do you think it's called radical?)

The hard part is changing yourself, not the object of your desire for change, and learning to believe that THAT is what will change everything else for everyone.

"I realize some of this is my issue and my own tension in listening to his frustration. I need to find a way to let it go. . .
But. . ."
So that's what you need to change first. Thinking "I realize BUT" and then going on and on and on about the child who needs to change and the father-son relationship that need to change, with yourself as a passive listener and bserver (do you notice most of your writing literally casts you as the observer like a narrator or audience member, not as co-star in this real-life family?)

Unschooling is not about learning to let it go. It's about learning how to get up on stage and grab hold! It's like improv theatre, not better tricks to sit still without complaint in the darkened audience while a tedious show you don't much care for, plays out before you.

JJ Ross, June 2011
(sent in by Kelly Lovejoy)

Pam Sorooshian, on the Always Learning list, June 2011:

I didn't get to observe radically unschooled kids before coming to the conclusions I did about how children learn. I'm sure it helps build confidence to see grown unschooled kids—that's why my kids and I make ourselves available. But it isn't necessary. For me, it required confidence in my own logical thinking ability. I reasoned things out and did what made sense to me. I gathered ideas from a lot of people, including you (Joyce) and Sandra (but all of us still had young kids back then, so there was no evidence of older kids or young adults yet). My willingness to think for myself—to analyze, critique, to be open-minded, and to trust my own conclusions—that was how I came to understand unschooling. Well, that and actual trying things out in our own family and paying attention to what happened and, again, thinking for myself. This whole unschooling journey was very very much an intellectual process for me—a process of developing deeper and deeper understanding by reading and listening to others, thinking hard about what I'd read and heard, applying what made sense, paying attention to how things were going, waiting a little, trying out other ideas that seemed to make sense, and continuing that process for all the years I had children—taking in input of others ideas and experiences, considering and analyzing, acting on my own conclusions, observing my own family dynamics—all at the same time.

Unschooling happily and successfully requires clear thinking. I don't think it works as well when people just look at those with young adult kids who are happy and successful and try to copy them without doing the hard thinking and building their own clear understanding of unschooling. When they try to emulate, they are still following rules - unschooling rules. Unschoolers always say yes to everything. Unschoolers never make their kids do anything. Kids always decide everything for themselves. And so on. But those "rules" are not unschooling. Unschooling well requires understanding the underlying philosophy of how children learn, and the principles that guide us in our everyday lives arise from that philosophy. It isn't some new kind of parenting technique that can be observed and applied without understanding.

Pam quoted this from Joyce Fetteroll:

It's important to observe radically unschooled kids rather than kids in general because kids in general are shaped by the relationship they have with their parents and their freedom to explore. Kids who are controlled behave very differently from kids who are supported in their explorations. They are as different as zoo animals kept in cages are different from animals who grow up in their native habitats.

Most of the world assumes schooled, conventionally parented kids are what kids are like. But for most people there's no control group for them to compare those kids with. They don't know what kids are like who are raised in homes where who they are, their likes and dislikes, is supported, where they are seen as whole people who seek out growth and change. They only know kids who are seen as ill-shaped proto- adults that must be fixed before they can be released into the world.

I would especially apply the above to any statistical studies done on children (such as the effects of videogames on children).

-pam


Robin Bentley quoted from Pam's, and commented indentations are Pam Sorooshian's words:
For me, it required confidence in my own logical thinking ability. I reasoned things out and did what made sense to me. I gathered ideas from a lot of people, including you (Joyce) and Sandra (but all of us still had young kids back then, so there was no evidence of older kids or young adults yet). My willingness to think for myself - to analyze, critique, to be open-minded, and to trust my own conclusions - that was how I came to understand unschooling.
This ability (and willingness) is sorely lacking in too many people, especially those who come here *not* to read and think and absorb, but to fight and feel put-upon. School affects people that way, sometimes .
Well, that and actual trying things out in our own family and paying attention to what happened and, again, thinking for myself. This whole unschooling journey was very very much an intellectual process for me - a process of developing deeper and deeper understanding by reading and listening to others, thinking hard about what I'd read and heard, applying what made sense, paying attention to how things were going, waiting a little, trying out other ideas that seemed to make sense, and continuing that process for all the years I had children - taking in input of others ideas and experiences, considering and analyzing, acting on my own conclusions, observing my own family dynamics - all at the same time.
Heed these words, folks. Really.

As Sandra also says "Read a little, try a little, wait a while, watch."

Lots of people want easy answers. They want to get the test questions right. They don't have the patience, nor want to cultivate it. They don't want to do the work to figure things out.

Some people want to rail against unschooling principles. They look at "observing my own family dynamics" and think "what I do in my family is unschooling, whether you like it or not."

That's not what Pam is saying at all.

Unschooling happily and successfully requires clear thinking. I don't think it works as well when people just look at those with young adult kids who are happy and successful and try to copy them without doing the hard thinking and building their own clear understanding of unschooling. When they try to emulate, they are still following rules - unschooling rules. Unschoolers always say yes to everything. Unschoolers never make their kids do anything. Kids always decide everything for themselves. And so on. But those "rules" are not unschooling. Unschooling well requires understanding the underlying philosophy of how children learn, and the principles that guide us in our everyday lives arise from that philosophy. It isn't some new kind of parenting technique that can be observed and applied without understanding.
I see this a lot at conferences. New unschoolers can be overwhelmed by the freedom other families seem to exhibit and either let go of everything they do right there and then, or clamp down harder on their kids. They get angry in presentations because they feel they're being told they're wrong, when what's being presented are ideas to consider and chew over. They don't realize that it takes examination and partnering with their kids to get to the point that plenty of already- unschooling families feel entirely comfortable with.

Some newbie unschoolers want to be part of the in-crowd, but they haven't figured out that it takes time and reflection and maybe being with their kids in a different way. When the focus is on learning, everything can be understood through that lens.

I think it's great, for instance, that an unschooled teen has been interviewed on NPR. But how many parents are thinking to themselves "How can I get *my* kid on NPR? What do I have to do to make him/her *that* successful? What rules do I have to follow to make that happen?" instead of looking at their child directly. Instead of thinking deeply about learning and how they can facilitate learning for *their* child?

I so appreciate the deep thinking and the joyous exploration of life that families like Pam's, Sandra's and Joyce's have done. I see some things in my daughter and how she learns, in their children. But she isn't Roya, Roxana, Rosie, Kirby, Marty, Holly or Kathryn! She needs me to be "her" partner, as she is, through my understanding of unschooling principles. And I continue to learn, all the time.

Hooray for this list.

Robin B.


Getting It Learning to See Differently Unschooling: Seeing It