“Unschooling is about trust.” This is what I often hear unschoolers say. Sometimes I put it this way: “Unschooling is about having confidence in freedom, or free people’s ability to guide their own lives.”
The most basic meaning of unschooling is to homeschool without using a pre-packaged curriculum and instead the students follows their own interests. (Read more about the basic meaning of and difference between homeschooling and unschooling here.) But behind unschooling is this concept of trust in the individual.
On the other hand, school is really about trusting schools and the government in the case of public schools, the church in the case of parochial schools, and a strange guy from Germany who lived a hundred years ago in the case of Waldorf/Steiner schools, to guide the lives and education of hundreds, thousands, or millions of children.
Many of these organizations and people have some valuable wisdom to offer but most people would agree these entities are not necessarily trustworthy when it comes to directing the individual lives and education of children. People’s insistence on school may stem more from their fear of the alternative: trusting children, families, and communities (which is exactly what’s done in homeschooling and unschooling).
Peter Kowalke is a grown unschooler/homeschooler who made the Grown Without Schooling documentary about grown unschoolers and has spoken at many homeschooling conferences. I’ve been to a couple of his speeches and he often starts by asking the audience:
“Everyone raise your hand if you here think your child is evil? I don’t mean sometimes naughty or bad, I mean really, just evil? Please, don’t be shy, you can go ahead and raise your hand if you think so.”
And of course no one raises their hand, because most people don’t really think their children are fundamentally bad. But behind our need to control so many aspects of children and people’s lives in general is an often subconscious belief that there’s something wrong with them and a fear that they can’t really be trusted with freedom.
Of course, there are so many examples to support this viewpoint: children and people in general are constantly doing things that we don’t like and don’t think they should be doing. Unschooling has a lot of wisdom regarding this.
First of all, much of what we think is a problem is not actually a problem at all. (I have to say: Thank goodness for sitting around, playing around, and getting into trouble: so much of the good things in life directly or indirectly come from them!) And a lot of people’s behavior that we might find problematic in a given situation is a natural reaction to oppression: a lot of times we do things simply because we’ve been told not to!
But maybe the main thing is when you’ve never been trusted by others to manage your own life, you yourself can lose trust and confidence in yourself. It’s also possible you simply haven’t developed certain skills because you’ve never had the opportunity to do so. It’s atrophy: you’re not going to have the strength to lift heavy objects if someone is always lifting them for you; and you’re not going to know how to plan your future if someone is always planning your future for you.
People will see these inabilities and weaknesses and argue that they or others can’t handle certain freedoms. Of course, just because someone doesn’t have the strength or skills to do something now doesn’t mean they can’t over time: do some lifting, tear some muscles tissue, get sore, and soon you’ll be able to handle the heavy stuff; start managing your life and education, make some mistakes, freak out every once in a while, and soon you’ll have the ability and confidence to direct your own life.
It is a challenge: in some ways it’s easier to have someone else manage things, but what a wonderful joy it is too: to direct your own life and education.
More about my personal experience with unschooling and learning to trust myself more in the next post.