As we begin learning about unschooling, we get very excited imagining the possibilities. Then reality hits and fear grows as we imagine going so blatantly outside the conventional education system. We waver. We wonder:
This is going to mean big changes. Will it really work out?
If it’s so wonderful, why isn’t everybody doing it?
Schools and teaching are big business—what makes me think I can do a great job of replacing that?
The myths and folktales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interests. The future is regarded not in terms of an unremitting series of deaths and births, but as though one’s present system of ideals, virtues, goals, and advantages were to be fixed and made secure. (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p. 49)
This is the timeless, internal struggle between the comfort of the known path (i.e. extrapolating today’s relative contentment into the future) and the imagined rewards beckoning from the unknown path. It can be so tempting to stay wrapped in the warm blanket of our established and familiar lives. To venture beyond that means opening ourselves up to the chill of fear and vulnerability found in not knowing.
One is harassed, both day and night, by the divine being that is the image of the living self within the locked labyrinth of one’s own disoriented psyche. (p. 50)
What dangers lurk there?
Will the changes brought about by the journey be for the better in the end?
These questions are good. Don’t try to ignore them, turning up the excitement volume to drown them out. By exploring the questions that arise, we can find that clear purpose and deep resolve that will help us on our journey. We need to find our courage, so we can move forward alongside our fear.
When you’re feeling frazzled by the enormity of the journey you’re considering, be careful not to berate yourself. Instead, breathe. Take stock. The vast majority of things needn’t be resolved in this moment. Find joy. Even better, find joy with your children. Play. Start fresh—when you’re feeling fresh.
And remember, refusal of the call can be a valid choice, “for it is always possible to turn the ear to other interests.” (p. 49) I know I’ve encountered that situation a number of times: first introduced to something, I get curious and excited to dive in and learn more; yet upon reflection, I decide it’s not for me. At least right now. You need to have—or make—the time to commit to a journey, and strong reasons to get started.
For example, if I’d heard of homeschooling before I had kids, I don’t think I would have immediately embarked on my unschooling journey. It would have been an interesting philosophical exercise, but I had other, more immediate interests to follow. It turns out I already had school age kids when I encountered it, and the enthusiasm generated by the call to our unschooling adventure was so powerful that after only a few weeks of consideration we chose to dive in.
Of course, our paths can vary widely. I’m sure others may find the sociological and educational aspects interesting, even without kids. For example, the young adults in graduate school who are behind some of the home and unschooling research surveys that cross my path.
What if someone wants what they see as the “reward” at the end of the journey—the strong and connected unschooling family lifestyle—without going through all the fuss and challenge of the journey? I imagine they’re tempted to look for shortcuts, for “the answer.”
“Just tell me what to do. No curriculum? Check. No rules? Check. Whatever they want to do? Check. This is easy!”
They’re looking for unschooling “rules” to follow, rather than doing the work to understand the principles deeply enough to evaluate and chose their own actions. We sometime cling to rules because they are familiar. When the things we’re doing feel risky, rules can bring a measure of comfort; signposts we can rely on to keep us on the path as we journey into the unknown.
So using what they interpret as “the rules,” they imitate the unschooling actions they’ve heard about. And life might look like unschooling for a while, but then what’s likely to happen?
Can you envision the chaos?
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail. (Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science, 1966.)
As issues arise, they pull out the hammer of those “unschooling rules.” But children are unique individuals, with their own personalities, experiences, and goals. What works for one family, one child, may not work well for others. Without a solid understanding of the principles of unschooling and how they can be used (a full toolkit), they’ll be stuck using that hammer, again and again, and wondering why that reward is looking further and further out of reach.
A lot of work and experience has gone into an experienced unschooling parent’s ability to make it look easy. Easy enough that sometimes others think all they need to do is imitate the resulting actions, and they’re doing it.
If you really want the reward, take the journey. Don’t look for a shortcut.
That doesn’t mean you need to understand everything about unschooling before you get started: we learn so much by doing. Starting unschooling with your family is the beginning of the journey—the departure in Campbell’s language—not the end.
It’s up to you.
Will you refuse the call or choose to commit to the journey?
If you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments! Here are a few questions about the “refusal of the call” stage to get you started:
1. Did you refuse the call one or more times before deciding to embark on your unschooling journey?
2. As you were first getting underway, what did you imagine the journey would look like?
3. Did you start out looking for the “rules” of unschooling?
4. What clear purpose gave you the courage to commit to your unschooling journey?
The road so far …
Departure phase of the journey
Call to adventure: We discover unschooling and excitedly imagine the possibilities.