“Pam— I SO enjoyed reading your blog about the hero’s journey. Wow. That was spectacular.”
For years I’ve been fascinated with Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero’s journey.
The idea of venturing forth from the common or conventional world, undertaking trials that help us more deeply understand ourselves and our lives, and returning from this mysterious adventure and reintegrating with society, seemed ripe with parallels to the unschooling journey. I thought that looking at the journey of learning about and choosing to live an unschooling lifestyle through the lens of the hero’s journey might reveal new insights and a deeper understanding of the process.
The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 101)
I was not wrong! It took me six months to get through each of the stages of the journey on my blog—such an interesting journey all on its own. I loved it all!
And I’ve collected the links here for your quick and easy reference. 🙂
Departure phase of the journey …
Our journey begins in our ordinary world. But then, something happens. Something unexpected that opens our eyes to new possibilities. On our 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.
The unschooling journey takes courage and commitment, and refusing the call is certainly a valid choice. By exploring the questions that arise as we consider starting out, we can find that clear purpose and deep resolve that will help us on our journey.
Who guides you on your unschooling journey? Mythologically, guides tend to be elderly, having been through the journey and returned. But in a cool twist, I discovered the most important guides on my unschooling journey were, and are, my children.
For some of us, this can be a pretty easy step: register with the school board and be on our way. But for others, it can be very challenging. They may have in their lives custodians of the established bounds of society that are determined to discourage us from unschooling. They believe they are acting to protect us, and our children. Yet in a frightening twist, they threaten us not with mysterious monsters lurking in the dark world of unschooling, but with dire predictions that we will be creating monsters of our own children. They insist that if we take our children on this journey, they will become uneducated, unsocialized, out-of-control adults—failures to be cast out of the village, forever shunned. Our guides will become our monsters. Did I mention fear?
Our journey has another surprise in store for us. We may think that when we cross the threshold we can just step into this new world as ourselves and our existing understanding of the world in general—and in this case, of learning in particular—will be applicable, even helpful, along the way. But that’s not so. In fact, on our unschooling journey we will question so much of what we think we already “know.”
Initiation phase of the journey …
We’re deep into the unschooling journey now, on the road of trials. A tip for the road: remember to take note of those moments with your children where you see them—and unschooling—shining brilliantly. In scribbled words before bed, or quick photos of the moment, or vivid memories etched into your brain. These snapshots will help you build trust in the process, and can be a welcome ray of light during the more challenging trials.
In this stage, we explore our impulse to judge things as “good” or “bad.”
Campbell writes, “The devotee is expected to contemplate the two with equal equanimity. Through this exercise his spirit is purged of its infantile, inappropriate sentimentalities and resentments, and his mind opened to the inscrutable presence which exists, not primarily as “good” and “bad” with respect to his childlike human convenience, his weal and woe, but as the law and image of the nature of being.” (p. 95, The Hero with a Thousand Faces) What does that look like in our everyday lives?
This stage of the hero’s journey is all about the temptations that may lead us to abandon or stray from our unschooling quest.
Even if we’ve been unschooling for a while, sometimes fear cycles in as our minds replay the almost utopian unschooling lives we first envisioned, while our actual lives are playing out a different script. How can we move through these moments and what can we learn about ourselves?
This stage sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? It’s about control, power, and the need for the approval of others.
It can be a lot of work, yet so freeing when we make our way through it! We move beyond seeing our father-figure as all-powerful, all-knowing, and realize that they have their own experiences and filters through which they see the world. Just like us. We experience our “at-one-ment” with them, a deep-rooted epiphany that moves us beyond the need for their approval, and opens us up to accept others where they are on their journey.
Apotheosis is a stage of well-deserved rest. Who we are—inside and out—is the same. We no longer feel the need to hide or apologize for our choices, nor flaunt them—just live them.
“Having surpassed the delusions of his formerly self-assertive, self-defensive, self-concerned ego, he knows without and within the same repose.” (Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 140)
On our hero’s unschooling journey, we have achieved the goal of our quest!
“The many trials and tribulations of our journey have prepared us for this moment, bringing us to a place where we are able to live and learn in the world with grace. It has been a lot of intense, personal work! What I love though, is that the journey starts out focused on our children, and ends up being a boon for ourselves, yet one that fully—and joyfully—includes our children in its embrace. It has also grown beyond unschooling itself into the realm of life.”
Return phase of the journey …
The goal of our unschooling quest attained, what’s next on our journey?
“The process isn’t as simple as just stepping back out, as many hero stories attest. This return phase of the journey is as intricate as our departure into the world of unschooling was, and will have us figuring out how to re-integrate with the ordinary world in ways that work for our family.”
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell notes that not all stages are necessarily a part of every hero’s journey. And the magic flight stage is certainly one of the more optional ones. But I definitely think we can put an unschooling twist on this stage! What about when people in our ordinary world don’t want us to return?
If we dawdle in our unschooling-centric world, we may well find ourselves being pulled back to the ordinary world by others. Or, in another interesting unschooling twist, maybe it’s our child knocking from the inside, looking out to the wider world. Be sure to listen for it.
Returning to the conventional world isn’t about converting or convincing others. It’s about integrating our unschooling lives into our ordinary world. Unschooling becomes living. Unschooling is living. Yet as we move more and more into the ordinary world, it can be challenging to describe our multi-faceted lives in the more black-and-white terms others will understand. How does that play out?
At this stage on my journey I found it helpful to envision these two worlds as a spiritual/inner world and the material/outer world. Bringing the two worlds together was—is—about achieving an easy flow between them. What might that look like?
As we come to appreciate change as our lifelong bedfellow, we begin to see choices shining everywhere. Releasing our fear of not knowing where change may lead feels like a weight has been lifted. Possibilities start to bubble up from our depths. Wow!
Unschooling Journey Interviews
I also thought it would be really interesting to hear about the journeys of other unschooling families, so each month I published an interview with an unschooling parent about their experiences. What spurred them to undertake their unschooling journey? Did family or friends try to discourage them from setting out? How did they build trust in unschooling?
Anna Brown, from North Carolina, USA, shares some wonderful insights from her unschooling journey. Like this one: “I am so grateful for the time. We have time to get to know each other, to let things unfold, to THINK, to play, to learn and to grow. It’s a rich, wonderful life!”
Susan May, blogger at Together Walking, has some great insights to share about her unschooling journey, including: “Our present life is something more beautiful and wonderful than I ever had dreamed of and even more incredibly I can no longer imagine it any other way. Which to me is the awakening of unschooling—once you know about it, you can’t “unknow” it—the possibility has been revealed to you and will forever influence you.”
Jamie generously shares some experiences and insights from his ongoing unschooling journey, including what moving to unschooling looked like for his family: “Since our kids weren’t yet school age, and we’d already been exposing them to lots of different things and following their interests without any real structure to the learning, unschooling felt like a pretty seamless and natural next step. The changes were mainly for my wife and I, and how we reacted to different situations. It’s worked out great so far, but we’re still early in our journey.”
“One of the offerings of the conference was a movie night. I watched Karen Lindberg lovingly set up her boys Oscar and Clyde for the movie. In my mind, not only was she “letting” them watch the movie, she had pillows for them, drinks, snacks—she was helping to make this the best experience it could be—she was supporting them, loving them up in this experience. The complete opposite of controlling and restricting. In that moment everything changed for me. I got it. Life got so much better, so much easier when I let go of the judgement, fear and controlling and embraced loving and trusting at a deeper level.”
Thank you, Sandy, for so generously sharing some personal experiences and insights from your unschooling journey!
Vicky’s children are now in their early 20s and she shares some beautiful insights into how the day-to-day joy in their lives is directly related to the years they spent unschooling.
This month’s unschooling journey interview is with Anne Ohman. A wonderful way to wrap up this project, she writes about her now grown children’s always unschooled lives with gems like:
“My fears in life were ANSWERED by unschooling, and so I was able to eliminate my fear and just enJOY the journey. I didn’t project into the future… I Trusted where my children were In This Very Moment and I Trusted that what they were getting from*this* moment would lead them to the next moment… and that they would get all they needed from the world no matter where they were, no matter what they were doing, as long as they were following their own instincts and focusing on Feeling Good about themSelves.”