Ideas and Links concerning Christianity and Unschooling

Concerns about Christians adopting ideas from radical unschooling

Cathy Koetsier sent this from a discussion she was on, December 1, 2010, and said I could put it on my site. The idea of how radical unschooling can fit with Christianity comes up fairly regularly, so this can be a resource and a link to other unschoolers in such instances. [Also, she said nice things about my book. —Sandra]

Cathy had written:
I am reading Sandra Dodd's 'Big Book of Unschooling'. I recommend it unreservedly. Buy it and read it... and read it... and read it again 🙂
Someone on a discussion list composed of Christian unschoolers responded:
I have been wanting to purchase this book, but haven't yet, because I have a hard time reconciling some of Sandra's ideas with the Christian faith. I do enjoy reading at her website, and do not intend to criticize or otherwise insult Sandra. On the contrary, I find much of her writing to be challenging and convicting and inspiring.

Would you mind sharing with me/us any thoughts you might have regarding how to best reconcile the non-Christian voices in unschooling with the clear teachings of Scripture. Actually, I guess "reconcile" isn't the best word here. But in general, do you have any thoughts regarding how a Christian parent can best glean the nuggets of wisdom from a non-Christian source. How much wisdom, particularly regarding parenting, is safe to gain from a non-Christian? At what point should we recognize that we should be seeking out advice from other, Christian sources?

This has always been puzzling to me, particularly in regard to unschooling, because there just aren't as many Christian unschoolers as there (at least appear to be) unschoolers who identify themselves as athiest or agnostic or pagan or whatever. I guess that's why we all like this group so much.

Please know that I'm genuinely asking for advice. This is not intended to criticize any one person. Like I said, I'd really like to buy Sandra's book. Maybe I will soon!

Cathy answered:
A very ‘real’ question, but one that is hard to answer briefly (… but then I suppose you are all getting used to me by know… Cathy does not really know how to answer anything briefly…)

I think it is best approached in the following way…. Sandra - and other unschooling writers - explain the PRINCIPLES of UNSCHOOLING, and illustrate their explanations with illustrations from their own experience. Because their experience is not ‘overtly Christian’, some of it will not apply/be relevant to a Christian, and some may make a Christian feel uncomfortable, because that experience is outside the pale of their own experience, and may even be forbidden/forbidden from their point of view (which of course amounts to the same sort of thing in practise). Whew… looong sentence! I hope you are still with me.

If I have a skin condition, I learn what to do from a skin specialist. The specialist is qualified to advise me, since he has spent many years studying in his particular field of specialisation. If he tells me to do something that is against my convictions about what is allowable as a Christian I will not take his advice. But other than that, I will do as he says.

If I am unschooling, I learn what to do from unschoolers.

My personal conviction is that there is no person writing about unschooling today who does it as well – and as much - as Sandra Dodd. She understands unschooling. And she can articulate that understanding. I respect her, admire her, dare I say it, love her for what she has taught me and for the freedom her clear insights have given me and thus my family. I met her briefly last year and it was one of the highlights of that year. She is an amazing person, (much ‘softer’ than she comes across on her discussion list) and I hope to get to spend more time with her in the future. Does this mean I agree with ‘everything’ she says? No. But then I don’t agree with everything anyone says… except God I suppose, and to be honest I argue with Him at times too.

Unschooling is about freedom. Freedom to choose, to discover. Unschooling is about joy. When Sandra talks about unschooling, I think, she is doing her very best to help us understand that freedom. And sadly, we tend to find it much easier to understand bondage than freedom. So her work is necessary, and life-changing for those who are willing to take the risk of thinking about that freedom.

Parents, ‘good’ parents, parents who are worthy to be called parents, are seriously concerned about doing the ‘right’ thing for their children. The problem is that this often means adding to rather than taking away. I think that unschooling gets one to think about what one can take away (ie ‘not do’) in the context of doing the ‘right’ thing. Most considerations of the ‘right’ thing involve loading more and more requirements on the shoulders of the parents… and then onto the children… so that there is less and less freedom, and more and more ‘have to’ things, which leads to a life of rules.

Increasingly I am discovering though that freedom is the milieu of relationship, so we pay a horrid price when we manage our parenting with rules and regulations.

So, to return to my opening statement… Sandra explains the principles of unschooling. Principles are not rules. So when she illustrates a principle by applying it in a particular way, and that explanation doesn’t sit well with you, don’t worry about it. Rather think about how the principle would apply within your context and situation.

Unschoolers - me too - share illustrations of a principle, sometimes for the sheer joy of sharing; sometimes because it is such amazing, wonderful good news, this message of freedom; sometimes in an effort to set others free to think differently; often (always) for the sake of the children, especially those children one knows who are being bound up in rules and regulations and requirements.

My particular sphere has been within Christianity. Why? Well, because I am a Christian, and so my thinking takes place within that context. But also, and maybe more particularly, because I see far too many Christians bound up with all sorts of limitations and rules and requirements… but Jesus came to set us free. And sometimes our efforts to do what is ‘right’ and to please Him with our lives (noble aspirations those) become the chains that bind us, because we put all sorts of requirements in place that – if we stop to think about it – have no real basis in relationship with Him at all.

This is why unschooling philosophy is for the courageous – it requires that you stop and rethink all your paradigms (rules for living) and keep only those that are really real. Too many paradigms, when challenged, disappear like mist.

The illustration of unschooling that continues to work best for me is that of a pasture. The pasture is the place of freedom, of doing what I want. All pastures have boundaries, and the boundary is the limit of the freedom. Boundaries are part of pastures. This is true for all people. What is not true is that the boundary is fixed and that there is one specific boundary for all people. In reality, every group of people defines its boundaries, and hopefully the boundaries remain flexible and adjustable and moveable as the people in the group change. So to give an example, in one home there is no alcohol because one of the parents came from an alcoholic background. In another there is wine with every meal. Neither are wrong, and one is not better than the other. It is a preference, and the boundary is set according to the need of that family group.

So often, a person struggles with the freedom of another, because for whatever reason, they do not allow themselves that freedom.

Am I a relativist then? No. I do believe there is absolute truth. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe He is the Way, and the Truth and the Life. But sometimes we Christians make more and more and more truth for ourselves and call it Truth. Like the Jewish law of not mixing meat and milk. The Scripture says ‘Do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk’. So Orthodox Jews, in their honourable and real determination not to offend the Lord, keep even separate sinks in which to wash the dishes – one for milk dishes and one for meat dishes. Visiting a special friend once, I carelessly put the milk spoon in the wrong sink, causing her a tremendous problem, as her kitchen was immediately no longer kosher (I can’t tell you how awful I felt about that, even while I thought it was all a bit ridiculous, because does Scripture not tell us that God looks at the heart?)

Bottom line for a Christian is that we are endeavouring to live in accordance with the principles of life outlined for us in Scripture. We are called Christians because we are trying to be like Christ, and we succeed and fail at this all the time but yes, we do have a pretty clear idea of the objective. So it is a freedom to be and to become something.

For Christians the boundary of the pasture is Scripture. (This, btw, is not the same as someone’s interpretation of Scripture, but Scripture as it stands… and my resulting struggle to understand and apply it in the particular contexts in which I find myself.)

Freedom is scary, especially if you are unsure where the boundary is. If you are afraid, do what I did when I first began exploring unschooling… ask the Lord to protect your mind from deception and trust Him to do it … and then get on with the job of learning about unschooling.

And take another look at the chart on the bottom of this page:

Cathy Koetsier

Note from Sandra Dodd

After Cathy wrote the response above, she expanded her website, and there is a page about me which she wrote after I stayed with her family the first time, near Winchester. I have since visited with them twice more—once an outing without sleepover, and in 2016 I stayed with them at Goose Green Barn in Norfolk.

That page is here: Sandra Dodd. Some of it is what's above, but there is an introduction with more (by Cathy) and some links to my site.

also on

Resources for Christian Unschoolers (links to discussions and pages, current in late 2010)

The Christian Homeschooling Movement (brief commentary, by Joyce Fetteroll)

Unschoolers and Spanking

HISTORY (some history) of the Christian Home School Movement in the U.S.

Who Stole Homeschooling? (lengthy commentary by Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, not about unschooling but about political realities and incidents concerning Christian homeschoolers in the 1980s and 90s—useful for a historical perspective)

Those are late-20th-Century stories, told in retrospect, by someone who was deeply involved. This page has links to part of what became of the politics in those times, 30, 35 years later: Christian Politics in the days of Trump, Pence, and shortly after. One of the articles is by someone who was homeschooled in that way. The tie-in is that there was an overt plan to train boys to become men who could get involved in politics and "take America back."

When people thought I was separating myself from Christians, perhaps, in those days it was me trying to make a separation between "Christian Home Schoolers" as those groups defined themselves in the U.S. Part of their rhetoric was that they had created homeschooling. They were claiming that liberals came along and jumped on their bandwagon; they wanted us to stop.

As an unschooler, I knew that John Holt, his book Teach your Own, and the magazine Growing Without Schooling predated the Christian Home Schooling movement by ten years or so.

Cheryl's article is also here:
The article is also here: Who Stole Homeschooling?, but a bit difficult to read there.

Principles vs. Rules

The Big Book of Unschooling

Moving a Puddle