Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gospel of Freedom

Your own holiness is the best “gospel of freedom” you can offer. If you are holy and happy, people will know you are somehow different, and they will want what you have.

— from Catholic and Confident

This passage from the Franciscan "Minute Meditations" that I receive daily in my email inbox reflects the freedom within peaceful borders that I have been talking about in relation to unschooling. I was really turned off, when I spent some time with Facebook groups, by the radical unschooling notion that "freedom within limits is not freedom," a direct quote I read on one of them. It comes down to how one defines freedom. Anarchy is not freedom. For me, life without Christ and his Church is not freedom. I still wonder whether I should claim radical unschooling as a Catholic after all, for the sake of redefining what that can mean for a person of faith. 

It disturbs me to witness Christians being sucked into the secular rhetoric of radical unschooling, where it is implied that only in very specified terms can peaceful parenting be practiced, and only in being what some consider "fully RU" are children truly "free". Indeed, this is often billed as the only authentic form of unschooling, and its their way or the highway! Where does this nonsense come from? Well, the short story is that John Holt coined the term unschooling, by which he simply meant homeschooling--learning without the confines of school and its traditional trappings. But it was felt by some that the Christian community had taken homeschooling over with the development of their own curricula, so unschooling was branded as a different animal, and any curriculum use or set schedule became anathema. 

Then Sandra Dodd decided that the unschooling philosophy must be applied to all facets of life, which for her and many others somehow translates into children doing whatever they want, whenever they want. Somehow living by "principles" rather than "rules" (though these are in certain ways synonymous) will save the family from bedlam, and everyone will be balanced and self-regulated. But that isn't what is happening with, for instance, the mother who let her kid drink as much soda as he wanted, and then that's all he wanted for weeks. He stopped eating food, and she felt like she couldn't interfere because that wasn't "RU"!! This boy was 6 years old. Somewhere along the way, perhaps having become disenchanted with being slaves to a curriculum, some Christians picked up unschooling and tried their best to apply it within a Christian framework. The question is, can this be done?

Ironically, this radical unschooling version of freedom for children requires the adherence by parents to a strict system of rules put forth by such unschooling gurus, to the extent that the word "cult" started to float around in my brain. I just got so frustrated, wanting to embrace some of these ideas yet so repelled by some others. Too many parents seem to have ceased to think for themselves or to use an iota of common sense that I just couldn't bear to be part of the unschooling groups any more. I even left the Christian and Catholic ones--though the extreme problems were much less prevalent there--so I could clear my head and begin with a clean slate. Do I let the dream of living and learning joyfully that unschooling promises die, or do I dream a new, truly Catholic dream for unschooling? The thing is, many of those radical unschoolers are miserable and their children tell them they hate them. When they ask for help, the gurus and other RU parents often just tell them they aren't doing it right; they aren't "RU" enough. That is certainly not the case across the board, but these poor souls need a better way.

Suzie Andres wrote the book on Catholic unschooling, but I think it has got to go deeper, because the secular voices are so much louder. Radical unschooling as it stands allows for spirituality, but only in the sense of religious indifferentism, because it really has its own dogma. Despite what Suzie and her philosopher husband concluded about unschooling not being an ideology, and therefore being in no conflict of interest with Catholicism, it just is not so when it comes to the radical version. Unless, of course, we Catholics entirely redefine what it means to be radical. It really shouldn't be that hard. The Church has been around for 2000 years, while radical unschooling has maybe a few decades under its belt. You want radical? Then be a Catholic. 

Why not just leave off the word "radical" and be done with it? Because if we say that ideally there should be no separation between learning and life, which is essentially what unschooling means, then it is by nature radical; that is, all encompassing. In that I agree with Sandra Dodd. Radical literally means "from the root". And Catholic education is supposed to be an entity that does not separate learning from the Faith, according to the Magisterium. Again, we have a deep sense of rootedness. By its very nature, it follows that Catholic unschooling is radical, but obviously not in the way Sandra Dodd means. Hence my desire to set this dish on a clean plate.

I don't think we can Catholicize an educational method and lifestyle that preaches a freedom without limits dogma. That being said, I don't believe that even the most RU parents don't have their limits. What I have seen in these unschooling groups is a state of deep, secular humanist indoctrination. That is why I opted for the label, Catholic Natural Learning, instead of Radical Unschooling. Happiness and Freedom outside of the Church? Forget about it! But religious issues aside, the way of living some families have adopted by following the RU dogma as they understand it is not healthy by any standard.

I really wanted to be done with this topic, but I can't leave souls drifting and confused and mislead in this sweet-smelling radical unschooling muck. It almost happened to me, because a lot of what Dayna Martin (author of Radical Unschooling: A Revolution Has Begun) says is truly inspiring, and I admire her in many ways. But I kept hearing the Virgin Mary quietly clearing her throat. So I'm probably not done--not by a long shot.   

 "The Virgin Mary in the Rose Garden," Albert Gustav Aristedes Edelfelt (1854-1905)


  1. I don't have time to read your whole article thoroughly but from skimming I want to say this: Unschooling is not unparenting. There are many different ways to unschool. Check out the book A Little Way of Homeschooling and also the FB Group and Yahoo Group Unschooling Catholics for a real picture of what Unschooling looks like.

  2. Honestly, it drives me nuts when people "skim" an indepth article, and so fail to understand the whole picture, and then make irrelevant comments. I read that book and Suzie's other one, which I mentioned, and joined the FB groups. I have seen the "real" picture of radical unschooling, and it isn't pretty. That does not mean I am against unschooling, as I have written extensively about it's positive points in this blog, and my attraction to some of its philosophy. Please read the full article before commenting in future. Thanks!

  3. Rita,

    We are Catholic. We unschool. We live by principles and not by rules, so I guess my children are free, in theory, to do what they like. They however choose to do what is right and necessary, in accordance with our Catholic beliefs. They do not choose to act in a manner which is alarming or harmful to their health or morals. Unschooling looks very different in different families which can be expected. What happens in one family won't necessarily happen in another. I am absolutely sure none of my children will ever choose to drink and eat nothing but soda.

    Parents have a huge influence on their unschooling children. Unschooling is not hands-off and anything goes parenting. I think the thread running through our lives is mutual love and respect, and grace from God. With those, a parent can share successfully with her children all she feels is true, without imposing control and rules. Children will listen. Connectivity... I've been thinking about this. My children are very connected to me. Why shouldn't they respect my values and want to follow my example?

    We initially thought of unschooling in terms of education only, but the longer we unschool, the more I come to realise it is a way of life. I can see why Sandra Dodd has applied unschooling to all areas of her life. This doesn't mean I adopt her values and beliefs. They are unique to her family. Our Catholic family is very different. That's okay. I have found it unhelpful to make comparisons between families. I wouldn't want to judge others because I know I would hate someone doing that to me.

    I can see you are spending a lot of time thoroughly researching unschooling. This is something I never did. We just arrived at unschooling in a gradual and natural way, and it is only now I am looking back with wonder at the whole process. I feel so blessed to live this life with my children. When it comes down to it, I think unschooling has to be experienced to be understood. It is like love. It looks so different as a theory on paper.

    "I don't think we can Catholicize an educational method and lifestyle that preaches a freedom without limits dogma." This assumes that unschooling children will automatically choose to use their freedom in a way incompatible with the Church. In my experience with my own children, this just has not happened.

  4. Thanks, Sue! For now, I simply have to abandon the Radical Unschooling moniker because it does teach a freedom without limits dogma, and as a Catholic and simply as a person living in this world, I don't believe in it. What I said doesn't assume anything about children, but about adults giving children too much responsibility for their choices when it isn't developmentally appropriate or responsible to do so. I am looking for a new path toward Catholic Natural Learning that does not depend upon unschooling philosophy, which as I have said, does have its positive aspects. It's just that those aspects are already found within our Faith and can be practiced using any homeschooling method. If unschooling is simply doing what works best in your family, then I am all for it. But secular humanism is so prevalent, and so many have been led on a path of neglect by trying to follow the RU dogma, that I feel the need to go deeper. Dayna Martin is right, that we are always on the journey. Thanks for sharing! Your blog is very inspiring. What I found with the unschooling Catholics in Suzie Andres' book seemed to be in reality relaxed/eclectic to me, so maybe that is closer to what unschooling is for most Christians.


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