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Monday, January 11, 2010

What do you do when the shoe doesn't fit?

 (this is a cross post from my home schooling blog, as I felt it fit here as much as it does there)

This blog post was brought to my attention this morning, and I really enjoyed it.  Here's an excerpt.

 Now, on the whole, I've found unschoolers to be one of the most tolerant, kind, accepting groups of people there are. In my experience it's pretty rare to see an unschooler behave in a way that is blatantly racist or homophobic, and furthermore, unschoolers in general tend to be accepting of a wide variety of personalities and interests.


I've also seen an awful lot of negative attitudes towards religious people, particularly Christians.

I have seen and experienced this myself a number of times, and I just admit, it has left me very jaded about my fellow unschoolers.  In fact, I've found myself frequently questioning the tolerance of the self-professed tolerant, and along with anti-Christian sentiment, I would also include political, geographical and other ideological intolerance as well.

While the writer talks about how few unschoolers there are compared to more regulated styles of home based education, I would say that has a lot more to do with where one lives, and what support groups are available.  In all our moves, I've found the majority of my fellow home schoolers are more on the unschooling side of things than the stereotypical school-at-home style.  If fact, I don't recall ever meeting any hs'ing family in the school-at-home extreme, but I've met quite a few that could be considered "radical" unschoolers.  (Personally, I don't think either extreme is a good idea.)  Most of the families I've encountered over the years tend to fall more towards the unschooling side of things - they have routines and maybe even purchased curriculum, or make their kids do sit-down bookwork at certain times, but are still very relaxed about things. 

There's a general assumption made about the different styles of home schoolers.  School at home types are viewed as Conservative, Right Wing, and Christian (and, by extension, racist bigots) - the more regulated the schooling style, the more to the right their political views, and the more extreme their religion is assumed to be.  There is also a tendancy to view this category of home schoolers as anti-science, as well - young earth creationists and the like.  There is probably some truth to the stereotype (after all, there's a reason stereotypes come about), but I just haven't encountered it personally.  I've only read about them.

Unschooling types, on the other hand, are assumed to be left leaning, more socialist, and have little or no religion at all (agnostic or athiest), to be Unitarian if they're Christian, or Pagan, Buddhist (or at least their version of Buddhism), Secular Humanists, etc. In my experience, the left leaning tendancy of unschoolers leads to a higher number of AGW believers, and greater levels of environmental extremism.

Over the years, I've seen a very strong divide between the home schooling ideologies, and unfortunately, the most bigoted, least tolerant views I've encountered have been from my fellow unschoolers.  I used to be part of a large, active Canadian home school email list.  I finally left it when a troll was allowed to spew his vile unchecked, while those who tried to counter his bile were clamped down on by the moderator.  This, on top of the anti-Christian sentiment and other bigotry I saw allowed on the list was the final straw, and I left a community I'd been part of for almost a decade.  Sadly, I am seeing similiar intolerance within our local community as well - especially when it comes to topics such as AGW and environmentalism.

We are an unschooling family.  Not out of ideology, but because that's what worked with our older daughter, and we just kept it up with our younger.  Quite simply, our attempts to school-at-home, even slightly, were failures and set the girls, especially Eldest, back considerably.  My definition of unschooling, however, is very broad, and I think a lot of unschoolers would disagree with me.  I do not, for example, have any problem with sit down bookwork, or using a curriculum, text books, etc.  To me, these are just tools and methods to be used or discarded, based on need.  Some families simply do better with a more regimented schedule, and some kids need a more orderly learning style.  As far as I'm concerned, as long as the methods are used because they best suit the child, not because of external beliefs on how education "should" happen, it's still unschooling.  I know teens who have chosen to go back to high school.  As far as I'm concerned, they're still unschooling, because it was their choice to use the school system as an educational resource.  If a family is unschooling because the parents decided that this was the "right" way to educate children, but ignore that their individual child actually thrives better on something more regulated, I cannot think of that as actually unschooling.  It's still a method that's forced onto the child, regardless of that child's needs or desires.  The key, to me, is that the methods used are suited to the individual child, even if the parents don't necessarily think it's a good idea.

We are a Christian family.  I am an ex-Catholic, but not anti-Catholic.  Over the decades, as I've looked at different religions, belief systems, and the different types of Christianity, I find I still have greater respect for Catholicism than any of the others.  I would, in fact, still consider myself catholic, as the word means "universal church," and therefore really encompasses most, if not all, the Christian faiths.  I respect people who follow different faiths, even if I don't agree with them.  What I've found, however, is that there is a very strong anti-Christian sentiment among unschoolers, and that tolerance for Christian faiths (except, possibly, Unitarianism, which I'm not sure is even a Christian faith at all) is very low.  Secular Humanism and environmentalism are frequently the religions of choice (and yes, I consider both to be religions, every bit as dogmatic as the "fundamentalists" they often profess to abhor), but any religion that can be viewed as opposite to Christianity is acceptable.  Heaven forbid this bias or religious double standard is pointed out, though.  On the email list I mentioned before, people were supposed to be welcome to discuss their own beliefs, but in reality, people who expressed their Christian sentiments would be accused of proselytising.  Christian bashing was allowed, but if anyone pointed out that that's what was being done, there would be a great outcry of how it wasn't really bashing, and besides, the bashers were right.  Point out the double standed, and there would be another outcry, denying that there was one at all.  It got very tiring.

I used to consider myself an environmentalist.  Growing up on a subsistance farm, it was kind of hard not to be aware of the environment.  Of course, going through the public school system, I got some of the indoctrination that was increasingly becoming part of the curriculum at the time.  I am a strong believer in responsible environmental stewardship.  I cannot, however, call myself an environmentalist anymore.  What passes for environmentalism today has become a religion.  It's assumed that if you're "green" you are against capitalism, and that you agree with a long list ideas, whether it's views on global warming, the use of DDT, or that humans are a blight on the planet.  Responsible environmental stewardship has been co-opted by a political ideology that I find very disturbing.  Here, the political left/right divide is very strong.  Among environmentalists, I see the word "conserivative" used as an accusatory insult a lot, and it's assumed that if one is "green" they are also "liberal."

I am not a Darwinist.  Now, to many, this automatically makes me a Right Wing extremist, a religious quake, a young earth creationist/ID nutbar who denies science and evolotuion.  They would, of course, be wrong but, like environmentalism, Darwinism has become dogmatic.  Part of the problem is that most people things evolution = Darwinism, and it doesn't.  Even what people think of Darwinian evolution doesn't have much to do with what Darwin actually said or, according to his writings, believed.  It turns out there are all sorts of alternative theories of evolution out there, and Darwin's is not even close to answering the problems of evolution.  Unschoolers, in my experience, have been the most viscious in attacking anyone who dares question Darwinism, and no matter how much one tries to point out that there are alternative theories that are very bit as legitimate, they insist on calling those who disagree with them as religious, anti-science, anti-evolution, Right Wing nutbars.  It's not quite as bad as, say, disagreeing with AGW, but it gets pretty close at times.

Politically, I tend towards libertarianism, but I'm not a Libertarian (when I looked into the local political party, I found them to be a bunch of anarchists).  While a lot of my views can be considered conservative, others are considered liberal or socialist.  I find the definition of Classial Liberal fits my views very well, but it doesn't seem to exist any more.  This leads to all sorts of confusion in conversations.  When I mention I am an unschooler, I've had other unschoolers assume I am also Liberal, or Green.  When I mention my views on AGW, people assume I'm Conservative.  What I mention my thoughts on Darwinism vs evolution, I've found myself dismissed as a religious nut.

So where do I fit?  I've never been one to put labels on people, but there is a purpose to categorization.  I don't seem to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.  I seem to be more like a dodecahedron trying to fit into a pentagon.  Only one side fits at a time, but that leaves 11 other sides that don't fit anywhere.


  1. noviembre7:40 AM

    Hi there, nice to see your post. I am a few months in to homeschooling, so fairly new, but prior to going into homeschooling, I read a lot of John Holt and Montessori and really liked the whole unschooling concept. I consider myself an unschooler - well, actually... used to, because after unwittingly mentioning not allowing my children to go to sleep whenever they want and not allowing them to watch TV all day long everyday on an unschooling forum, I got completely ripped to pieces. I know this is not unschooling at its purest, but I joined such a forum for support and advice, not to have my sentences completely picked apart and twisted and to be called anti-unschooler (which makes me a troll?) and a bad parent on top of all that. I feel that as a parent, all I want is to try and do the best I can, because every single decision I take can be wrong, everything I do can be wrong. Its just not the easiest thing to do, knowing that whatever I do for my children, there's no telling for sure what will come out of that, and I would be devastated if I did what I thought was best for them and then it turned out it was the worst possible thing. What I've found from joining an unschooling forum is that although they may say they offer support for anyone who's thinking of doing this, the people who populate the group can be as narrow-minded and intolerant about different people's situations as those who condemn unschooling as "child negligence". I understand that people can get very passionate about their beliefs, but there's no getting away from the fact that unschooling, just like any other pedagogy, is just a method which may not work for everyone or suit everyone's life situations or personalities. The premise for unschooling is based mainly on a belief (I feel) that it is the best form of education for a child, but you get other proponents of other pedagogies who think their pedagogy is the best too. Scientific evidence? I think can be construed by people in any way they like as long as they are good at arguing their point across - more like who can argue it best really. I am not a very articulate and scholarly in the way I communicate, and I am not the best person to argue for or against a pedagogy, and will never be considered as poster-child material for unschooling (I think). But that shouldn't in itself be reason for me to be condemned on a forum on which I went to seek support because I believe for a large part that this way works best for me and my children.

    I would caution any unschooling newbie joining an unschooling forum to be prepared to be treated insensitively and rejected by some of the experienced unschoolers on board. Perhaps if you already have a thick skin, this would be okay. I admit I'm quite a sensitive person and I feel everything!

    Perhaps the best thing would be to seek out some experienced unschoolers on the group whom you know are accepting and open and have a good long chat with them. I know I did, and felt so much better afterwards and know I have the strength to try to carry on doing this. Unschooling is tough because most of us went through schooling systems and have some baggage left from our childhood experiences which will be the ones that will give us problems along the way and make us question and doubt ourselves. I don't even know if we are going to be unschooling forever, in fact I thought this was the beauty of homeschooling - that things never have to be set in stone - you just do the right thing for your family, whatever it happens to be.

  2. Thank you, noviembre, for sharing your thoughtful comment. I agree with your statement - I, too, felt the beauty of home schooling was that flexibility. I still do, but it has sometimes meant people I thought were our friends no longer accepting us. I'm not about to compromise what's best for my kids for their belief systems, so I guess it's not much of a loss.


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