I thought it might be time for another unschooling on Tuesday post.
I stopped writing these for a while for a few reasons. Firstly, it is impossible to capture everything that happens in a day. This has really been highlighted for me recently. All of my kids have had a few moments in recent weeks where they tell me about something (bees, mythical creatures, maths, architecture have been a few) and I think, I am with you all day and I have absolutely no idea where you learnt that! They are surrounded by books, the internet, movies, friends, life. Learning comes from so many different places and no matter how involved you are or how closely you feel like you are watching, it often doesn’t involve you. And, as I have learnt, sometimes the learning is instigated, researched, absorbed and then life goes on without you even noticing.
Secondly, it is hard not to make these posts sound too contrived. I’m not trying to make my kids out to be some kind of prodigies or try and make everything they do have some higher learning purpose. This isn’t the motivation. I can see how for someone who isn’t living this life, it might seem implausible for a child to suddenly really want to learn how to write in cursive, or learn about multiplying fractions or delve into the finer details of evolution. But on the other hand, this may very well be what kids get up to when everyone else gets out of the way of their learning. So even when I talk about my kids doing something quite ‘academic’, it isn’t because I care at all about the comparison, it just is what it is. Their questions and curiosity in that particular moment.
So here we are. I do think these kinds of posts are useful for people who are wondering what unschooling might look like. Or if you are like me and you take on some voyeuristic persona when it comes to reading about what other families living this wonderful life are doing, you will probably enjoy it too! I love hearing about and reading about how other families are spending their days.
We were thinking about catching up with friends today, but there wasn’t consensus amongst the ranks about what we should do, so we decided to stay close to home. I thought it might be a good day to record what we got up to.
I thought about tip-toeing around this issue, leaving gender out of it, because I guess this applies to #allchildren, but then I thought screw it. We can’t address an issue if we pretend it isn’t there. Males hold an overwhelmingly disproportionate slice of the perpetrator pie for domestic violence and sexual assault. This is a gender issue. And at the heart of it, I want to raise boys and men who respect females.
I am a feminist and I take the concepts of enthusiastic consent and respect very seriously. I am also the mother of two sons who are going to venture out into this world and a daughter who is going to encounter a whole lot of men out there.
For those of you scratching your head about enthusiastic consent, this is a great article. Basically, enthusiastic consent means ensuring that there is positive, mutual engagement in an activity and frequently checking in for any signs that this enthusiasm has been withdrawn. Simple, right?
A couple of things have happened lately. Those kind of awkward goings on in public. When you parent respectfully, and your children are used to having a voice and expressing emotion and being heard, you can find yourself in situations where you stand out. Sometimes, it can feel hard to stay true to your values. The thing is, that a lot of these pressures come from situations that are fabricated in our minds. Maybe you think you caught a disapproving stare. Maybe you are being triggered by a situation because you were taught that certain normal responses were inappropriate as a child. Maybe you are reading too much into a passing comment. When we sense this judgement, what we are actually sensing is our own discomfort. It is internal work, not changing our approach, that needs to be done.
If you are an unschooler, you will be nodding your head (or rolling your eyes) here. We have all had this question, and somewhere along the deschooling journey, we have all thought or worried about this too. Will this be enough? In fact, as I read through forums and other blogs and interact with other home educators, it is the one area that I notice people have a reluctance to part with formal learning. ‘We unschool except for maths.’ ‘We do our own thing with a bit of maths each day.’
And to be honest, while I don’t agree with these concerns, I understand where they come from. Adults who have been through a traditional education system are conditioned to view maths education in a linear way that culminates in very abstract concepts you are unlikely to encounter naturally. It has left many of us feeling like this fountain of mathematical knowledge will only be bestowed upon the holder of textbooks and memoriser of principles.
The further down this road my family travels and the more studies I devour, the more confused I get. It is so perplexing to me that people still see unschooling and respectful parenting as a bizarre fringe movement. Unattainable for some? Sure. Physically impossible for others? Ok. Without merit? Now I disagree. How did we get to the point where treating children with respect and empowering them to make choices about themselves defines me as a change-maker? When did nurturing a love of learning become an illegitimate pedagogy?
I’ve sat on this for a while. Rewritten it. Thought about what it is that I really want to share. I guess it boils down to this growing unease inside me. Simmering frustration. I want you to see that this is not just some mommy-blogger with her wack ideas about child led learning and mutual respect. There is so much out there, and it would be impossible to include everything, but this post is heavily hyperlinked to examples of the books, articles and studies I have found useful.
We live in a world with access to extraordinary minds, an incredible amount of research and an ever growing understanding about the human psyche. Over time we have begun to piece together the optimum way that humans learn and the ideal conditions for emotional development.
Being in touch and able to lean in to emotion is a hallmark trait of emotional wellbeing, resilience and healthy relationships. Basically, all the good things we want for our kids. Yet, so many children are not allowed to feel negative emotions. ‘Don’t cry’, ‘don’t be sad’, ‘why are you upset over that?’, ‘calm down or we are going home’, ‘don’t get angry at your sister’, ‘if you cry over tv, I’m turning it off!’ When children get the message that they are not allowed to feel something, or when they attach shame or distress to those feelings, those emotions get suppressed. These emotions don’t go away, and living in the subconscious, they have the potential to lead to a whole range of emotional disruption.
This post was going to be about something else, but I got carried away with storytelling and we have ended up here. Passions.
Like most parents, we want our children to follow a path that allows them to explore their passions. Radical unschooler or not, I really believe that most parents want their children to find something that makes them truly happy and for them to be able to make that a big part of their life.