When Juju Chang asked the teenage siblings featured in Good Morning America’s report on Radical Unschooling if they “ever miss or regret” not being in school, I couldn’t help but wonder if she would ask a survivor of a hostage situation if they “ever miss or regret” not being in bondage. Clearly, from the sitcom-like, satirical nature of GMA’s segment, Juju and George Stehanopolos spinned a patronizing, smug and biased attitude towards the idea of youth living in freedom- The way children, including Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and Margret Mead, had done it for millennia. This montage of painfully obvious bad edits and carefully selected quotes was patched together to make the Yablonski-Biegler family appear irresponsible, negligent and ignorant. What ironic fuel for the firestorm of oppressive legislators around the country who are already working to infringe upon the inalienable rights of homeschooling families!
The idea of free, authentic, truly joyful children is frightening to too many people, people who never were allowed to taste freedom themselves. The idea of brilliant, free-thinking minds, creative, inventive, internally grounded youth who question poisonous conventions and follow their passions and curiosities, is a dangerous blow to the institution of public schooling. The idea of children having the free time to develop on their own, research and study what they want, when and how they want to study it, and the freedom to reject the parched, mind-numbing curriculum of the government, is infuriating to those who believe the purpose of children is to be subordinated and molded. Through compulsory public schooling, governments are successfully training docile, subservient, homogeneous cogs to turn the well-oiled wheels of Capitalism, Globalization and apathy towards social justice and true democracy. The very existence of forced public schooling is antithetical to democracy- For 13 years you learn that you have no useful rights, no voice, no control over your body, mind, time or childhood and that any resistance is futile. This environment breeds an apathetic ignorance, a denial of the self, a toxic peer culture of oppressing those peers weaker than oneself, an indifference to the suffering of others and a belief that its ok for children to feel miserable in the name of “education”. The opening of the 1980’s TV show, You Can’t Do That On Television had it correct when it depicted, similarly to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, children walking robotically into a meat grinder for processing.
After 13 years of believing that this is the only way it can be, that this is the way it has to be, a phenomenon similar to The Stockholm Syndrome develops: When people are held in near total domination, held hostage with their needs and feelings exploited, people learn to adapt to the situation by aligning with their captors and justifying or embracing the oppression they endure. We see this phenomenon generation after generation when children who despised school and were beaten down by it later turn around and send their own precious children right into the same cute-sey clutches of the same system that wrecked indelible intellectual, emotional and possibly even physical harm on them. (The regimentation of children’s basic bodily functions no doubt has strong correlation to the obesity epidemic, eating disorders, migraines, urinary incontinence, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome unique to Western civilization and the booming pharmaceutical and medical industries capitalizing on this long term body damage.)
So, what is unschooling? Every unschooling family’s approach to unschooling is as unique as the individuals in that family. The Yablonski-Biegler family were more “radical” unschoolers; apparently imposing no rules on their children. Many unschooling parents have some basic expectations and principles for their children. As an unschooling mother of a 16 year old son, I do have expectations and principles securely built into our daily family life. For example, we do not watch TV and we eat a diet free of refined-sugar and other foods that have been coorelated to cancer and Type II diabetes. Parents need to decide what works best for their family.
Generally, unschooling is a return to the natural state of how all other mammals learn and how young humans learned for the millennia prior to 1850 when forced public schooling was instituted. Unschooling means learning by developing naturally, by interacting with the authentic environment of one’s community, the world around us and nature, by living now, not waiting until one turns 18 to live. Unschooling is being guided by one’s unique passions, talents, curiosities, interests, inklings, ideas, dreams and strengths and following the chaotic yet symphonic path where they lead. Unschooling is meeting a diversity of people of all ages, and building solid friendships based on mutual interests and goals. Unschooling means the world is one’s classroom, with no limit to the books, resources, media, people, mentors, places and ideas that can guide a child on his or her very personal journey through living an authentic life. Everyone can be a teacher, including other children. Most importantly, unschooling is about love, and deep, secure parent-child relationships. It means being with people who truly have their children’s soul best interests at heart, people who are deeply and passionately invested in their children’s joy, happiness and fulfillment.
Unschooling is endless possibilities, everything from running one’s own business, traveling the world, taking college courses, writing a book, running a club, playing in a band, orchestrating social justice work, inventing a gadget, making up a game, climbing trees, marveling at nature, cooking, running down the length of the ocean, learning another language, playing, dreaming, painting, building, walking, singing and doing whatever will advance one’s innate dreams and goals. Often, unschoolers find their way naturally through the same “subjects” as forced in public school, but unschoolers often discover them in a joyful, colorful, meaningful manner that is relevant to their lives. Some children choose textbooks because it fits their style of learning. Other children learn the same subject with their hands and bodies flailing around outdoors.
When infants are born, they are equipped to learn everything they need to learn on their own. Children, including the youngest ones, are capable of a frightening amount of innovation and wisdom; I use the word “frightening”, because it is frightening to me how much they are capable of doing and how little of that we see manifest thanks to the public school’s production-based definition of “learning”. We are all beautifully endowed with a brain and a mind that simply needs space, time, resources, an enriching environment and loving support to express all that it is capable of doing and expressing. Each human being has a unique chord to add to the symphony of life. Public school cuts this unique chord to pieces in each child, boxes it up and replaces it with a safe, controlled, predictable replacement, one that leads to depression, apathy and a sense of personal failure. Unschooling allows this chord to blossom into a vivid, wild, vibrant, beautifully attuned masterpiece, one that leads to happiness, joy, fulfillment and self-actualization.