Understanding the Value of Principles

The main principles page is here, but below is some more detailed examination.

I saved this without keeping the name, date or place and it's been a while so I honestly don't remember who wrote it at all. And I bet the author has changed her thoughts, so it's a relic and can stand without credit. It was from some unschooling discussion in 2004, and more recent comments will follow.
The reason this conversation is really bothering me, is because Sandra kept responding with other points that had nothing to do with my one and only question. (Her points are GREAT ones, and ones I in fact agree with, but they are points about something other that my one question: Should I give my 4 & 7 year olds that particular game? She never said Yes (and why) or NO (and why). You might ask yourself if you were trying to have a conversation with someone and they were skipping over your particular question, and making lots of other points that had nothing to do with what you were still trying to talk about!!! I'm not wound up and defensive and angry. Although I find myself frustrated, and now on the defense trying to tell you (and Sandra) that I agree with all those points she made, BUT IT'S NOT WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. That's all.
A question like "should I buy this, yes or no?" isn't the kind of questions others can answer very well. And if we did, we'd need to say WHY we thought so, which would involve explaining a principle. And with all of the best answers, it needs to start, "It depends."

If we answer questions with "yes" and "no," and give people what they claim to want, or what they think they want, we are chucking fish out instead of providing information on how to fish, how to make one's own custom fishing equipment and when and where the fishing is great. Unschooling can't work as a series of yes/no questions.

Another principle at work. Helping people learn to find their own answers is vastly superior to distributing answers on demand. And those who volunteer their time and experience are not willing to hold other's hands for years or months. They want to empower others. Empowerment is a principle, not a rule. Learning to examine one's own life and needs and beliefs is necessary for unschooling to work. When priorities and principles are coming clearer, such questions as whether or not to buy a particular game or tool or movie or food are EASY, simple, happy questions. That's why the mom quoted above didn't get the simple straight answer she thought she needed. No one wanted to waste time or energy sending her down the wrong path.


Rules and Principles and Math

Mary Ann, in a discussion:

I thought a quote from a book I'm reading was interesting.

I'm reading the first book, Shaman's Crossing, in the latest trilogy, Soldier Son Trilogy, written by someone I met about 25 years ago. (You can find her website at Robin Hobb.)

She is not an unschooler or a homeschooler, although she had four children. Her youngest is now a teen.

This quote touches on the differences between appearing to know math and really knowing math and between rules and principles:

I was good at math, but I was good at it in a rote way, just as a small child can recite "nine plus twelve is twenty-one" long before he knows what numbers are or that they signify quantities. I could manipulate numbers and symbols accurately because I knew the rules. Gord, however, understood the principles. He explained exponents in a way that made me understand that I had been looking at a map of mathematics and Gord knew the countryside of it. That is an inadequate explanation for such a subtle awakening, but it is the best I can do.
Mary Ellen
(on UnschoolingDiscussion, 11/05)

What Got me Thinking was... (about principles, but not about unschooling)

Here are a couple of examples, one very sad, in which "the rule" was followed beyond what made any sense.

We were at my mother-in-law's house and I offered to help with dishes, so she set me to dry, as she washed. The dish towel got so wet it wasn't doing any good, so I asked for a dry one. She said "Just use that one." I continued to "help," but it was NOT helping. I was just wiping a wet cloth on already-wet dishes, which wasn't drying them at all. If the principle of helping is to make things better, and if the principle of drying dishes is to wipe them dry, I was twice removed from what I had intended to do.

The second story, I've decided in the Spring of 2020, might be too sad to have here. I'll link to it, and it's a powerful example, but perhaps is best suited to people who are tough, medical types without any recent trauma who haven't given birth for several years. It's not about me; it's about a military hospital's procedures. Rules could have been ignored. It's here.

The dishtowel story above, in a different telling, is at Rules vs. Principles (with another about measuring ingredients for cookies)

Sandra Dodd

Photos are links:

Rules vs. Principles

How to Have a Respected Child

Living by Choice


Parenting ideas and resources for unschoolers