… or why understanding the principles behind unschooling is so important
“My daughter has dumped all of our blocks on the floor, determined to build a tower to the ceiling. Meanwhile, her younger brother has excitedly grabbed his construction helmet and declared that any building over four stories needs to be demolished, and her older sister is complaining bitterly about all the noise because she’s trying to watch a documentary. It’s a messy scramble like this every day. Right now I don’t need to know the rationale behind unschooling, just tell me what to do to get them to stop arguing!”
Does that scenario sound familiar? Have you brought a similar question to experienced unschoolers and been frustrated by the vague nature or spectacular range of the responses?
But it’s because there is no one “right” answer. Each person in that scenario is a unique individual with a distinct personality, particular interests and goals, and their own knowledge base. Now, we can pass along some principles to guide you, share what worked in similar circumstances with our families, and maybe brainstorm some ideas to help get you started, but you’re still going to need to do some digging and figure out what will work with your unique family. And then tweak it, over and over, as each of you grows and changes with time and experience. Relationships aren’t fixed entities. Ditto for learning: your children likely have disparate interests, varying ways of pursuing them, and even what they each get out of the same experience will often be different.
Instead of learning what choices experienced unschooling parents make in similar circumstances and trying to mimic those, it’s more effective to learn how they make those choices.
How did we figure out which principles were most applicable in similar circumstances? How did we choose which actions to try, evaluate how they worked, and use those clues to move forward? How did we incorporate our understanding of each of our children’s personalities into our actions?
Interestingly, that’s really similar to one of the paradigm shifts I discuss in Free to Learn, but from the child’s perspective: “Instead of learning what choices to make, it’s better to learn how to make informed choices.” In that chapter I talk a lot about how giving your child the room to gain experience making choices not only better supports their learning in general (by pursuing the connections that most call to them), but it also gives them lots of experience with a skill that will benefit them throughout their lifetime. That it is applicable across differing circumstances speaks to its strength as a fundamental principle about learning.
Sure, mimicry may be helpful for a little while as you gain more understanding: “fake it ’til you make it.” Some people find that a constructive part of their learning process. (How do you prefer to learn new things?) But don’t stop there. Real learning, learning that is understood and remembered, isn’t about copying a successful or experienced person’s actions: “in this circumstance, do this”. That’s more like memorizing. The problem is that when a new situation arises, you’re stuck. You have to go back and ask, “Now what?”
Real learning is understanding the principles and processes behind the actions and how they fit into your personal worldview well enough that you can do some analysis and make your own informed choices regarding your actions, in any environment or situation. And specifically, as parents interested in creating a thriving unschooling environment, we want to gain experience in making choices that are compatible with unschooling.
As you more deeply understand how unschooling works, you’ll find your trust in the process, and in your children, growing. You’ll find your fears diminishing. You’ll find your reactions to the negative opinions of others less…fiery. You’ll probably find your urge to prove others “wrong” and yourself “right” falling away: convincing others is no longer needed to boost your own confidence. You know what’s working for your family. And why. And that’s enough.
One other thing to keep an eye out for as you learn about the philosophy that underscores unschooling is your filters. These are your closely held beliefs that can alter how you interpret what you see and read, often without you even realizing it’s happening. That’s how deeply ingrained they can be. The way a blue gel over a stage spotlight can give the scene a night-time ambiance, years of school experience can have you straining to see school-type learning when you watch your children in action. It can take a while to remove that filter and truly see the real learning that is happening all the time. Have fun exploring your own filters!
So if you find that each new twist in life sends you reeling back to the unschooling drawing board, remember:
Understanding the philosophy behind unschooling, the principles and concepts that underlie our every day actions, will help you more confidently make choices that better support your unique family members.
In any situation. Forever. That’s real learning.
And now that we’ve gotten the “why this is important stuff” question out of the way, next week we’ll start digging into some of the principles behind unschooling and the paradigm shifts away from conventional thinking that they can inspire.