Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Facing an Unschooling Train Wreck, Part 1

"Sell crazy someplace else. We're all stocked up here." 
 --Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets

Montparnasse Station, 1895

This morning I listened to a podcast on Unplugged Mom Radio called, "Liberation from the Unschooling Gestapo," hosted by Laurette Lynn. This was not a talk against natural learning. In fact, these people are advocates of what unschooling originally meant--living life as if school did not exist; interest driven, child centered learning; treating children with respect and allowing them choices; customizing education to the individual's needs, learning styles, temperament, etc... 

The radical unschooling concept that later developed with the aid of "expert" gurus became what Laurette calls a tyrannical religion, a dogmatic cult. She brings up the same concerns I have about parents abdicating all authority and asserts that "the deliberate act of encouraging your children to learn is not force. Coercion is an act of violence. Lovingly teaching your child to read is not coercion."  Thank you, Laurette!

She talks about parents going to FB forums with questions on things like what to do when a child doesn't want to brush his teeth, and getting the answer that it isn't right to force the child to do this. She asks, why are parents so vulnerable to begin with? Why do they ignore their own intuition and ask strangers for advice in areas that should be obvious? The extreme case mentioned was a 10-year-old girl who wanted to have sex. She had seen pornography on the internet, as her parents did not believe in limiting her access, and the girl's 12-year-old boyfriend was pressuring her. The mother was actually considering, under RU philosophy, letting her daughter make the choice to have sex, and her only job was to help her daughter through the decision-making process. But surely, you may be thinking, this is just an isolated case, not the status quo. You would be wrong. I witnessed the bullying on RU forums myself, and the zombie-like adherence to this "freedom" dogma. Considerations of safety, morality, health, and developmental appropriateness are pushed aside. Otherwise, you are trying to "control" your children.

I found this podcast while I was looking for solace. I was asking myself, why did I fall for radical unschooling? I was never entirely sold on the idea, but a part of me wanted to be. Why was it so appealing? Let's go back to the RU guru, who I will call "Dee", that I mentioned being embroiled in a scandal a couple of posts ago. She has stopped writing about it on her blog, and I was disappointed. I wanted resolution. The truth is, I didn't want her crown to fall off. Maybe all of the sick things she did were a product of alcoholism, I rationalized, since she said she thought she might be a binge drinker. Maybe it was the disease, and not her real self, causing all the trouble. I wanted to ignore her admission of looking for love and sex outside her marriage. I didn't want the joyful picture of her beautiful family to be shattered. And since all of the people involved in this scandal seem to be highly dysfunctional, maybe they had exaggerated or misrepresented Dee's problems. But she admitted that much of it was true, and that she had destroyed her family.

How did I allow myself to get sucked into caring about all of this?

- First of all, unschooling appealed to me because of similarities in philosophy to Montessori and Charlotte Mason. I agreed with not forcing learning and allowing children to work at their own pace. I agreed that there is not one, universal body of knowledge that everyone must learn, and I agreed that the real world is not divided into subjects. I have never been a fan of boxed curriculum, though I'm not against it. I prefer to design my own curriculum. Unschooling seemed like a possible fit.

- Then there is my history of living with active alcoholism and the adverse effects of having friends and family members who are alcoholic, drug addicted, and/or mentally ill. This makes me susceptible to the crazy-making of others, and there is that care taking tendency of wanting to help in some way. Dee's distress was able to grab me over the cyber waves!

- When we are privy to the lives of celebrities, we can feel like we know them. Dee has appeared on reality TV and numerous talk shows and has many youtube videos, a blog, and a website. I liked her.

- I don't want to find out I've been duped. I want to think I am smarter than that. I suppose I am, considering that I had already distanced myself from RU before Dee's story of destructive, dishonest, unprofessional behavior became public. Still, I had ignored the signs that something wasn't quite right with her family. For example, her blog post showing a picture of her preschooler flipping off the camera (a.k.a. giving the bird with the middle finger).

- And perhaps I still need to work on my confidence as a homeschooling mother. The RU message seemed empowering. But what was at the root of my need to feel more empowered? Stay tuned for Part 2...

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