Thursday, January 2, 2014

French Twist & Saying No to Unschooling

I just read an excerpt, linked above, from the book French Twist, by Catherine Crawford. I promptly ordered it from the library. It seems like just the remedy I need! The remedy for what, you ask? Oh, it's a book about an American mother's experiment in adopting the French parenting style, inspired by a French friend of hers. Crawford observed herself and parents in many American cities having lost total control of their children. By trying to keep her children always completely satisfied, and in line with the modern trend toward respecting children to the point of abdicating all authority, she found herself exhausted. While Crawford's daughter was throwing a tantrum in another room, the French mother gave this advice:  If there is no blood, don't get up.

This is what I need--a sense of humor about the whole situation. Now, my daughter is a pleasant person and she doesn't throw fits. But I fear that my foray into unschooling has only been helpful to the extent that I am feeling more and more like it doesn't sit right with me. In the long run, by abandoning the whole unschooling project, I hope to forge a better, saner path. While it provided me with much-needed inspiration, and I am grateful for that, it also gave me some guidelines on how not to parent. Gentleness and peace can be cultivated without subscribing to unschooling philosophy.

With my own child, it's the arguing, albeit with general politeness, that wears me (and especially her dad!) down. And particularly because she is an only child, it's the pressure to be the entertainment committee and alleviate any potential boredom that drives me crazy. How does this relate to why I think unschooling reflects a less than ideal parenting style?

Here is the type of question people ask on unschooling forums: "Should I let my 6 year old watch The Hunger Games?" Um, no, obviously. The scary part is that parents lack confidence to the extent that they go online and ask strangers for advice. And the type of advice they get is to allow the child to watch the movie, perhaps explaining first that children get violently killed, and the movie might cause nightmares. If it is scary, you can stop the movie and discuss it. Then maybe continue on, or maybe the child will decide that she doesn't want to see it. This isn't just an issue with homeschoolers. It is nothing less than a nationwide parenting crisis. My duty as a mother is to teach my child and protect her from harm, not merely to facilitate a child-led learning process.

I agree that it's a good idea to get at the root of undesirable behaviors, to respect children as people, and to give them practice making choices. But this new "partnership paradigm" in the relationship of parents and children, in my opinion, has gotten out of hand. It doesn't simplify life (at least not for me), and it doesn't necessarily make for a more peaceful home (as attested by many FB unschooling group members). It puts too much responsibility on the shoulders of children whose parents should be in charge. There, I said it. Parents should be in control. Control in the unschooling community is a very nasty word. This whole idea of "trusting" kids to know for themselves what they need to learn, when they need to go to bed, and what is okay to watch on TV is a big pile of schlock--like a sandwich oozing with way too much peanut butter and jelly, like Ally Sheedy's lunch in The Breakfast Club. Authoritative is not the same thing as authoritarian. Family relationships and our relationship with God should come first in any notion of education, and the parents should lead the way.

I have another book coming from Amazon written by a Catholic mom in the 1950s. It isn't a homeschooling book, but I need advice on how to raise my child in a Catholic home that makes some sense. Some good old-fashioned solid advice that allows a mother to say, "No. Because I said so." Now wouldn't that be truly radical?