Whether rescued from without, driven from within, or gently carried along by the guiding divinities, he has yet to re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has yet to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend. (p. 186, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell)
The range of reactions Campbell describes is so familiar! It gives me goosebumps how timeless and universal the hero’s journey is. It also reminds me to keep my mind open, especially in areas where I may still hold rather conventional ideas.
I want to point out that “confront society” needn’t mean being “in your face” about it. Just by living in the world we are seen by others—they will know we exist. And if or when they are ready to consider what our children’s joyful lives might imply about their conventional understanding of learning and education and parenting, they’ll do so. They may even ask us questions about our lives as part of their own unschooling quest.
And I like that Campbell refers to others in the ordinary world as “good people.” Parents who aren’t unschooling are not “wrong” or “bad.” Unschooling isn’t necessarily a good match for every family. And we know that conventional doesn’t mean “right” or “good” either.
I think the key is parents knowing that they have a choice. The compulsory school system has barely been around a hundred years yet it’s become synonymous with childhood—the idea of choice has been buried.
The other day I read a post on Peter Gray’s blog, Freedom to Learn, and this bit jumped out at me:
Here is the scenario I envision for real educational reform in our society. The trend for people to walk away from the conventional schooling system will continue and will accelerate. It will accelerate because with each new person who leaves the conventional system, the less weird that choice will seem to everyone else. We are creatures of conformity, at least most of us are. Few of us dare to behave in ways that seem abnormal to others. But as more and more people walk away from the system, we will reach the point where everyone knows one or more families who have made that choice, where everyone can see that the choice led to happier children, with no loss at all in their chances for success in our society as they grow up. Gradually, people will change their attitude. “Hey, it’s not necessary to do schooling as it is dictated by the conventional schooling system. You can play, explore, enjoy your childhood, and learn in the process.”
People will begin to understand that they have a choice. (Is Real Education Reform Possible? If So, How?)
Knowing that they are free to choose the environment in which their children learn will encourage people to consider their unique family and explore what works best for them.
As we cross the return threshold to the ordinary world, Campbell reminds us,
Nevertheless—and here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol—the two kingdoms are actually one. (p. 188)
These worlds—unschooling and ordinary—are illustrative, not literal. 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 part of our integration will include interacting with people outside our family. Campbell nails one of the big challenges:
How to translate into terms of “yes” and “no” revelations that shatter into meaninglessness every attempt to define the pairs of opposites? (p. 189)
As we move more and more into the ordinary world, we can find it challenging to describe our multi-faceted lives in the more black-and-white terms others will understand. It reminds me of unschooling articles researched and written for mainstream publications, both print and online.
Experienced unschooling parents, living happily with their children and excited to share, agree to be interviewed. The journalists—good, well-meaning people—try their best to quickly understand what their lives look like. The unschooling parents try their best to answer the questions, which are, unsurprisingly, conventionally-slanted.
And time and again, upon publication we see that the answers stubbornly refuse to come together in a cohesive, meaningful picture of unschooling. In fact, most times we’re happy enough when we don’t look crazy.
For example, in an online article about unschooling published by a Canadian magazine a few years, unschooling parents used phrases like “they’ll figure it out themselves,” “choose what they want to learn,” “consensual decisions,” and “no bedtimes” to describe their unschooling lives. These are definitely accurate descriptions of the unschooling lifestyle that many of us have developed over the months and years on our journey.
But imagine the pictures that those phrases would likely conjure up in the minds of conventional adults who haven’t deeply questioned their most basic assumptions about children and learning. The scenes playing out in their minds are probably so different! Like the difference between playing in a field of flowers on a sunny day and a day spent in the Hunger Games’ arena. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but the conventional paradigm of adults versus children is strong.
Our children’s actions are a result of the environment we create for them and the lens through which we observe them.
Where we see our children choosing what they want to learn, they see children who never “want” to learn anything. Why the discrepancy? Because in their worldview, the only learning topics that count are those in an approved curriculum and the only way to learn is to be taught by someone, preferably a teacher/expert. So much of the learning that we see, they dismiss outright. In fact, they probably see children actively avoiding learning (i.e. school).
When we say “no bedtimes,” they envision chaos and crankiness. And from their perspective, if they were to just “drop the rules” (like bedtime) and leave their kids to their own devices, there’s a good chance they would find themselves immersed in pandemonium.
So it’s really no surprise that the comments look like this:
- I fear for the future of “unschooled” children. I fear for the future of those who have to live in the same community as, and end up supporting “unschooled” children.
- How incredibly stupid. So these parents have decided to go back to giving their kids the type of education that people had before schools existed. how nice to deprive your kids of an education.
- I’m scared to think what our society might be like in 20 – 30 yrs when these unschooled kids are supposed to be the leaders of that generation…scary indeed.
I think one of the big reasons this vast disconnect happens is because journalists focus on actions. “What do you do for this?” (math) “And this?” (socialization) “Do you do this or that?” (teach them or leave them) The nuances are already lost just in the way the questions are phrased. And they leave little opportunity to reference the extensive inquiry and self-reflection that’s been integral to our journey.
Yet that’s not surprising—they have likely been asked to deliver a piece that describes what day-to-day unschooling looks like. And they are most often on a tight deadline—they don’t have the luxury of the many months we’ve dedicated to this journey, delving into the paradigm-shifting ideas that form the strong foundation of relationship on which our actions are built. So though we are using familiar words to describe our lives, they have a richness to them that we discovered on our unschooling journey which is invisible when viewed through the conventional “yes/no” filter.
Where they see anarchy and parents leaving their children to flounder and fail, we see strong and connected relationships and parents actively supporting their children as they explore the world.
On our journey we’ve worked hard to see things through our children’s eyes so we can better understand their choices and actions. And it can certainly help to take the time to understand the perspective and motivations of those in our ordinary world as we re-integrate.
But it ain’t easy.
The easy thing is to commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock-dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. (p. 189)
So, why return?
To expand our own horizons, and our children’s. The world is a wondrous place! And we are an example of living joyfully without school for those around us, helping them see possibilities beyond the ordinary.
This is the sign of the hero’s requirement, now, to knit together his two worlds. (p. 196)
It’s definitely worth the effort.
Because really, there is just one world. 🙂
If you’re inclined to share, I’d love to hear about your journey in the comments! Here are a few questions about the “crossing the return threshold” stage to get you started:
1. Have you found that the words you use to describe unschooling are sometimes misinterpreted by others?
2. What motivates you to knit your two worlds together?
3. Has unschooling mostly become synonymous with living for your family?
The road so far …
Departure phase of the journey
Call to adventure: We discover unschooling and excitedly imagine the possibilities.
Refusal of the call: The many implications of choosing unschooling hit. Do we commit?
Supernatural aid: Our children guide us on our unschooling journey.
Crossing of the first threshold: Confronting the guardians who claim to protect us.
The belly of the whale: Transitioning to a learning mindset.
Initiation phase of the journey
The road of trials: The heart of deschooling.
The meeting with the goddess: Seeing the value in all experiences.
Woman as the temptress: Accepting our nature.
Atonement with the father: Accepting others where they are.
Apotheosis: Moving to compassion.
The ultimate boon: Unschooling with confidence and grace.
Return phase of the journey
Refusal of the return: Will we choose to step back out of our unschooling bubble?
The magic flight: Finding a safe place in the ordinary world.
Rescue from without: When the ordinary world comes knocking.