"Freedom," and unschooling
Unschooling: Words and Thoughts

"Freedom," and unschooling

In 2011, someone asked what it might look like if a family's primary goal was not learning itself. Meredith wrote of—

"...parents who idealize "freedom" as the primary goal. A focus on "freedom" can lead parents to neglect to give kids enough information and feedback."

In December, 2011, a mother whose daughter had been court-ordered to go to school created a facebook page called "The death of an unschooler." I went expecting to hear about someone dying, as Hannah Jenner did of leukemia, or as Sam Wilkinson did of falling through ice into a lake.

No. It was the story of a divorce, and of a judge ordering that the child should go to school, because the father wasn't in favor of unschooling. I objected to the name of the page, there, and the mother responded with these statements, and others.

"Unschooling is freedom."
"I have always told her she does not have to do anything she does not want to do."
The definition of unschooling is not "freedom." No parent has so much power and freedom that she can assure her own child she doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to do. No parent has the power to choose to do nothing she doesn't want to do and guarantee her own freedom from incarceration.

I think good unschooling needs parents who aren't in jail, and children who aren't removed by the government or ordered into school. And while none of those things are guaranteed, there are many easy steps to take to avoid jail and court orders.

So for purposes of this page and radical unschooling as our family lived it, and as I am familiar with it in very many other families, unschooling involves learning and choices, LOTS of choices, but is not absolute freedom.

I think since the beginning of human existence there has never been anyone with total freedom. Living in a group comes with restraints and restrictions. It's just the way it is. Cave men, Bible days, feudal society, pioneers settling the Wild West... all end up answering to other people about what they're doing, how, where and why. And when. "We're trying to sleep; get QUIET!"

While there is a great deal of rhetoric, slogan, poetry and art about freedom, the author of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" owned slaves.

SO. Unschooling. There are many arbitrary rules, expectations, school-related goals and milestones and competitions and rankings that unschoolers can ignore. A family can choose to be free of those.

There are many cultural expectations and traditions—what foods are for breakfast, but never for lunch; what time is too late for a ten year old to be awake; what music is for children and what is for adults—that parents can opt to disregard within their own home and immediate family. They cannot, though, by making those choices, cause anyone OUTside their home to think it's a great idea, nor to impose their new freedoms on friends or more distant relatives. If I let my children stay up late in my home, that doesn't even begin to give them the right to stay up as late as they want in any home on earth.

I think that's where unschoolers get confused. They think they're replacing a set of rules with another set of rules. And partly it might be English. The idea that you can "give someone freedom" can seem whole and absolute to someone else. If my child looks in a happily full fridge and asks "What can I eat?" and I say "You can have anything you want," the context suggests that I mean he can have anything he can find in the house, and perhaps something I could prepare upon request. It doesn't mean I will take him to any restaurant on earth right then and buy him anything. It doesn't mean he can go to the grocery store that's a few hundred yards out the back gate and eat off their shelves.

The foregoing explanation sounds goofy. It seems I'm explaining something that was so absurd that no one could possibly misunderstand it.

Early 2013, Karen James wrote, on Facebook:
Living in the world peacefully and respectfully are good places to begin to focus when new to unschooing. The best advice I was given was to look at my son. Not at ideals. Not at freedom. Not at school or no school. Not at labels. Not at big ideas. Look at my son. Be with him. Get to know him deeply. And, then to read a bit about unschooling. Give something new a try. See how it goes in the context of our real day to day life. I still do that. I'm still learning.

About the freedom parents can (but are free not to) choose to share, Jenny Cyphers wrote:
My kids grew up being able to do a lot more things than other kids they knew because their parents allowed for it to be so. We didn't have to, we chose to do that because we saw the benefit in doing that. If we had decided to change our minds, our kids would have had very little choice in that. If we had decided at any point to put them in school, they wouldn't have had a choice. That's a big responsibility and undertaking, to extend those big choices to our kids. There was a certain amount of freedom in making those choices. It allowed for things to happen that otherwise wouldn't have happened, but no where along the way did any of us have freedom to do whatever we wanted to do, not me, not my husband, and not my kids.

Marta Pires was working on editing one of the Wednesday unschooling chats and wrote:
I chose some quotes—all of them belong to you! :-)

Check them out to see if you want to put them anywhere, but maybe the "Freedom" page would be a cool place for them.

Thank you, Marta!
  • People use words like banners, so they're waving their freedom banners and not meaning exactly the same thing. And some of them are saying "freedom" and declaring "I am free" without much examination of politics and history. People forget the next layer of terms, where free things come from, and who offers freedom or liberty. Things can be granted. People can be liberated. People can be freed. When people live in a fairly friendly environment, they have some of the freedom that comes down from someone else who is guarding that someOTHER-one else doesn't come and take everyone's freedom away. Replace "freedom" with "cave near the stream," and that's been going on for... a long time. People pop out of some mom somewhere, TaDaa! And their "rights" and "freedom" start, one way or another. It's not God-given and it's not "natural."
  • Gratitude and abundance help, with thoughts of "freedom." I'm grateful I've never lived in a war zone. I'm grateful that we have a house and the ability to lock it up and not let anyone in who doesn't have a warrant. That's pretty cool. But God didn't do that, and it's not natural. I'm the recipient of lots of random factors, and some good luck, and years of not pooing in my own nest.
  • When people say "Unschooling is freedom," it means they don't know, really, what to say about unschooling. It might be a factor in freedom from homework. Freedom from getting up at 6:30 to get a 7:15 schoolbus in the dark of freezing-ass winter. But it is not from or of or the creator of "FREEDOM." And I've used "freedom" in several articles and essays I've written, assuming that people would understand it in context and not tear it out, put it on a stick, and say I had told them to give their children FREEdom.

    My children are about as free as they're going to get, honestly. Always have been. Yet there are all these real-life limitations and considerations. They're free to ignore them. And the state of New Mexico (county of Bernalillo and City of Albuquerque) are not only free, but OBLIGATED, to protect other residents from any over-reaching acts of wild "freedom."

  • Jill asked: There is a freeing feeling with unschooling, what other word could be used besides freedom?

    Sandra answered: I think it needs qualifiers. Free from school. Free from pressures. Liberated from the treadmill. Free of the assembly line. Free to play, free to dream, free to sleep late. There can be a LOT of freedom, but it comes from the parents, not from God and not from the universe. And parents can get in trouble for giving kids too much freedom. (...) Because the parents don't have unlimited freedom.

  • "Free" is some old, old word from Indo-European that has to do with peace, like free from danger free from war, I think. It's always a "from," when there's a "free" and "dom" means the place where you are. Stand in the place where you live.
  • Some parents give kids freedom. To do what they want. And then the parents feel that they are limiting the freedom if they make suggestions, or don't buy them a big snake. So in those cases, again, "freedom" confuses the parents. A parent could arrange for their children to be free to ride a new bike, or to sleep in a cool tent, or to visit their cousins. But some parents seem to think kids should just be free to do [reference to the movie "Napoleon Dynamite"] "whatever they feel like they wanna do." That's really not much freedom, if the child's range is limited by being home. So freedom (the word, the idea) once again creates confusion. I like rich life, lots of choices, new things, comfort things, variety.
  • Maybe it's because I've visited lots of unschoolers, but it always surprises me when someone writes (with feeling and conviction) "We have the right to unschool our kids if we want to." No, we don't. And who's "we" anyway? Usually they're including a large discussion with people from 80 jurisdictions (50 states, ten provinces, some other nations). There comes the problem again. So first level of unschooling is academics, and finding fun ways for kids to learn non-schoolishly. Then comes "why should it end there, and what about health/nutrition?" and then comes radical unschooling. So when someone wants others to say "Yes! THIS is what unschoolers do! Welcome to our tribe," they will go for appearance, rather than substance. They will act like unschoolers (the way they think the other unschoolers are acting) and not BeCOME unschoolers.
  • Running around whooping "Freedom!" while a child is "free" to be ignored and neglected isn't good for the family or for learning or for unschooling. I think I will start saying "free to do what? or "Free from what" when people casually use "free". But it really is a very hard concept. Most people are very uncomfortable when a conversation turns philosophical. When I say they only have SOME freedom and it comes from the government, I'm like a big party-pooper.
  • People will use unschooling to release themselves from responsibility for their children's actions. That's not moral or legal or courteous or sensible. There are people who come to unschooling after other kinds of parenting, and they hear someone say "unschooling is freedom" and they don't find a good balance, they (the parents) do wild "out there" things just to prove they can, and they let their children behave badly because they beleive somehow that it makes them better unschoolers. But there are parents who seem proud when their kids are up way late making too much noise, or they'll brag about having taken their kids out for food, or to the store, or to a park, at midnight.
You can read the "freedom" chat by clicking here.

This was quoted in the chat on "freedom," too. It's from a longer essay; click it to go there.
"If you are choosing to be a mother, move beyond playing at it, and *be* it." —Pam Laricchia

Freedom from... Freedom to... Other terms that can confuse unschooling