Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Life, Unscripted.

One great thing that Dayna Martin addresses in her Radical Unschooling book is that there is no radical unschooling script. First let's consider that sometimes it does help to have a few useful phrases on the tip of one's tongue. In conflict situations in the Montessori classroom, for example, we taught the kids to begin with, "I don't like it when you..."  I felt like I got free assertiveness training along with my teacher education! I found that the same things that worked with young children worked with drunk men in bars. "I don't like it when you (name the offense)," was met with amazement and a cloudy understanding. Oh, women don't like that! Good to know. You could see the wheels turning. But I feel that to be authentic, one shouldn't be a walking, pat response. Using someone else's parenting style or scripted lingo will feel uncomfortable and false to both you and your children.

If unschooling results in a one-size-fits-all method of parenting, it is no better than mainstream patterns of punishment, abuse of authority, coercion, or generic curriculum use. In other words, there should be no "unschooling police", no bossiness about what you absolutely can and cannot do when it comes to unschooling. This would be failing to see the forest for the trees, and it would violate unschooling principles! I have discussed my understanding of unschooling as a method of education that does not separate learning from the rest of life. It is open source learning, not placing limits on learning according to time, place, or persons. Anyone in the child's life can be a teacher. Unschooling follows a child's interests and abilities, custom tailoring the education according to his or her needs.

Radical unschooling seems to have as its basic premise the extension of freedom and trust in education to other areas of life. But does this mean that there can be no limits, no rules, that the child should have everything and anything he wants, when he wants it? I think common sense alone would tell us, no.  Luckily we don't have to rely on common sense as Catholics, though. Original sin means that we have a tendency toward disorder in our desires, though we are, as creations of God, innately good. We must not fail to take either of these truths into consideration. We can also rely upon the particular trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us and our children, rather than some nebulous conception of blind trust.

Catholics do not consider immoral choices acceptable. Our freedom of choice is a freedom within limits, within the parameters of a set of definite values and guidelines established by the Church. And these are set forth for the benefit of all people and for their ultimate happiness, both in heaven and here on earth. So I can agree with Dayna that happiness should be the basic goal of education, but perhaps with a somewhat different slant. Radical unschooling for Catholics could still be possible within these boundaries, allowing for flexibility of rules, bedtimes, chores, food, etc.., which are determined according to a family's unique situation, values and principles, and depending upon such things as a child's age, maturity, personality, etc...

Radical unschooling certainly means respecting children as persons. According to Dayna, it is the path of balance, designed to meet the needs of all family members. It does not over-emphasize the rights and needs of the child. When I reflect upon my Montessori experience, the first school in which I taught was entirely child-centered and did not take into account the needs of teachers at all. This was extremely energy draining and spirit crushing.

Radical unschooling for Catholics could mean eliminating punishment. A partnership paradigm between children and adults is still possible along with the understanding that the parent is under the authority of God and teaches her children accordingly. We can establish our authority without being authoritarian. Most of all, I think it means freedom for each member of the family to be who God has created him or her to be. And it means that all families are free to be who they are. Unscripted.

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