You are the hero of your own story.
How I got here …
From bits and pieces and stories I’ve encountered over the last few years, I’ve come to imagine that the significant journeys of our lives may parallel the hero’s journey. And the unschooling journey is definitely a significant one! For the last couple of years I’ve been wanting to learn more about the hero’s journey and consider it in terms of my own unschooling journey. I’m very curious to see where it leads—if anywhere.
Yet life is busy (not full of busyness, but full of living) so I haven’t yet found time to follow this particular curiosity down the rabbit hole. Then last month as I was doing my year-end contemplation, it hit me: what about my blog? I already spend a few hours each week thinking and writing about unschooling here, why not use that existing time and process to dig into this? Yes!
My first thought was to fit it in as a monthly topic, but I quickly realized the posts would be super long. Plus I didn’t think a month was enough time to do it justice, to give it space to roll around in my mind, finding new and interesting connections to explore. Then I thought, this is my blog—it can evolve with me! Ha! So with calendar in hand and some scrap paper scribbling, I estimate that this will be a six month blog project / topic. Of course, I reserve the right the change it up if I find I have more, or less, to say as we get deeper into the journey. (See what I did there? The journey about the journey? This should be fun.)
So let’s get started with a touch of background.
The hero’s journey
Joseph Campbell analyzed countless mythological and religious stories from around the world and, in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949, outlined the commonalities he discovered between them. He called this the monomyth—the story, or journey, structure that underlies humanity’s rich history of stories. (The edition I’m using for page references throughout this series is the third edition hardcover, published in 2008 by New World Library, ISBN 978-1-57731-593-3.)
“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back.” (p. 7)
Campbell describes these rites of passage as a death-birth cycle: death of an old way, conquered by the birth of something new. His point is that the symbols of mythology, the stages of our journeys, are not manufactured but are part of the innate nature of being human, part of our psyche. Though of course, there are infinite variations on the theme, hence the incredible range and depth of our stories.
That goes for our unschooling journeys as well: I’m sure there are many variations in our individual journeys, stages that some of us find more challenging, while we breeze through others, dependant on the unique set of experiences and perspective with which we start the journey.
And here we go!
The first five stages that Campbell defines make up the departure phase of the journey.
The first stage is the call to adventure.
Our journey begins in our ordinary world. For many of us, that means a conventional outlook on education and learning: learning is the result of teaching; school is where trained teachers are; ergo, children go to school to learn. For others, homeschooling is already considered a viable option. They may even be homeschooling already, but still adhering to the conventional model of learning with teaching and curriculum. Others still may be living quite unconventional lives, but before having children hadn’t considered their perspective on education and learning.
We all start our journey from our own unique place. An individual perspective that is built upon our understanding of the world up to this moment in our lives. We’re reasonably comfortable here.
But then, something happens. Something unexpected that opens our eyes to new possibilities. As Campbell describes it, the call comes when the individual has outgrown some pattern of their familiar life. It marks a transfiguration, a spiritual passage. The herald, or “the announcer of the adventure,” (p. 44) may be a person or an event, but they are the harbinger of the journey to come.
It may even have been an ordinary event, but this time, it leads somewhere new. In fact, the herald is often an unlikely candidate for the job. Meaning not necessarily a person or event from the new world beckoning you in, but someone from your ordinary world who says or does something that, often inadvertently, sparks in you new level of awareness.
On the unschooling journey, it’s the moment when we realize that this way of learning is a possibility for our family. We decide to explore unschooling as a viable option. We have started down the path.
The call often evokes feelings of both adventure and anxiety. There’s the uneasy anticipation of trials to come, yet there’s also an inner glow of warmth and excitement. It feels like it might be a very good fit for your family. This might be “the answer” you’ve, maybe even unknowingly, been looking for. You feel the wonderful turmoil of choosing to move into the unknown: the call to adventure.
On my unschooling journey, the herald of my call to adventure was the head of the private school Joseph was attending. I can’t recall why we were meeting, or which of us had requested it, but we were discussing how Joseph was doing (we had pulled him from public school a few months earlier). I had come with a couple of printed articles and test results to discuss, and in the end she said “we’ll have to look for his gifts.”
When I left her office, I was elated. Finally, they were going to actually pay attention to him, to see him. But that evening I realized what it really meant: their environment didn’t allow him to shine either. If it did, they would have already seen the engaged and interested (and interesting) child that I see at home.
In my research leading up to that meeting, I had come across an article that had mentioned homeschooling—I hadn’t heard of it before. And it sounded intriguing.
Campbell also talks about how, when the hero is ready, the proper heralds automatically appear. I’ve noticed this throughout my life: when I’m ready for something, even if I don’t quite realize it on a conscious level, it soon appears. I don’t think it’s really the case of it magically appearing in the moment, I think it’s more that it was already there, but now I’m open to seeing it. Not just visually—we can “see” things without processing them i.e. background noise—but now I actually notice it, bring it into my mind to connect with other things.
A simple example that always makes me smile is cars. Driving around, there are lots of cars. I notice a few here and there, the odd Porsche or VW Rabbit that remind me of a couple of summers I spent as a teen at local race tracks, working pit crew and track cleanup. The amazing Batman replica car in town that I spot during the summer. But mostly, I just see cars.
And then we’re looking to purchase a car and we get a Kia. A what? I think at first. Then, all of a sudden, I notice how many Kias there are on the road. I see them in front of me at the stoplight. In the parking lot. On the highway. And I smile. Because I know that people didn’t suddenly start buying Kias en masse. They’ve been around me all the time. But it’s only now that I notice them. Just like when I bought my first car, a red Mazda 323 hatchback, and all of a sudden I noticed how many people drove red cars. Before that moment, they were just background noise.
I’m sure it’s not only me that happens to, so I just did a quick search. It’s a cognitive phenomenon called frequency illusion, or colloquially, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It’s the result of selective attention: our brains are great at picking out patterns, once we’re struck by something new. (If you perceive that these new-to-you sightings are new to the world at large, i.e. are signs of “overnight success” or an incredible deal at the local Kia dealership, that’s an additional process at work, confirmation bias, where your brain lends more and more importance to each new sighting.)
So it wasn’t until Michael was interested in karate that I started noticing how many dojos were scattered about. And when he began performance martial arts and stunt training, all of a sudden I more clearly noticed all of the stunt work in movies. What before was a fist fight on a TV show, became familiar moves I could distinguish.
And once I was exposed to unschooling and the idea that learning is all around us, with that idea now spinning around in my subconsciousness, when I looked around, all of a sudden I could see it everywhere.
All that is to say, I totally get what Campbell means when he says that when the hero is ready, the signs appear. They were already there. We’re just now ready to see them. 🙂
I think it’s helpful to note that these signs from the heralds are not typically blinding, immediately understood revelations. But as we ponder the meaning of these signs (as I did the real message behind the school owner’s remark) our curiosity about this unknown world we’ve heard of grows stronger and we may find our original, conventional world feeling “strangely emptied of value.” (p. 46) Our familiar activities can begin to feel less meaningful as we’re drawn to unfamiliar, at least to us, territory.
In our minds, this uncharted world seems to hold both “treasure and danger.” (p. 48) (Ha! This may explain why I’ve always been drawn to illustrating unschooling on my website as a treasure map! You can check out the original full map here.) We hear of the strong and connected relationships experienced unschoolers have with their children and it seems impossibly delightful. We hear stories of things they do, or don’t do, and it seems almost unimaginable. I remember when I first read about things like “no bedtimes” and “eat what they want” and I thought well, we won’t be doing that bit. Perceived danger.
Yet we are inextricably drawn to this world, and the one around us now seems strangely muted, and a bit uncomfortable.
This call to adventure signals a shift deep in our core.
Are you ready?
If you’re inclined to share, as we explore the depths of the unschooling journey in the context of Campbell’s monomyth, I’d love to hear about yours in the comments!
Here are a few questions about the “call to adventure” stage to get you started:
1. What spurred you to begin exploring unschooling?
2. Was there a person or moment that heralded your call to the adventure of unschooling?
3. Or was it an internal shift that had you considering this new world?
4. Were you already homeschooling when something triggered you to explore learning beyond a curriculum?