PAM: Welcome! I’m Pam Laricchia from living joyfully.ca and today I’m here with Philip Mott. Hi, Philip!
PAM: We first met on Instagram a while back and I’ve been enjoying following you and reading your thoughts as you’re sharing them there. And I’m really looking forward to learning more about how your unschooling journey is unfolding. To get us started …
Can you share with us a bit about you and your family? What’s everybody interested in right now?
PHILIP: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think one of the posts that we first connected on was, you had talked about how many former teachers you were having conversations with. And I chimed in. And I think maybe you were having a lot of guests who were former teachers recently. And so, you mentioned that. And I’m running into a lot of former teachers who are interested in unschooling, too.
So, let’s see, we’ve been unschooling maybe technically for only four and a half years since we first started exploring some different preschools for our firstborn. But we really knew about self-directed learning when he was about one and that really led into unschooling on its own.
So, we have a seven-, a five-, and a three-year-old now. The adults in the family, my wife and I, are really into exploring tabletop gaming together. And she is getting really into actually designing her own games. She found a lot of the games that were designed for kids were lacking a level of creativity and theme that she really wanted. So, she started exploring creating games for the family. And so, we’ve made some connections, too, there. So, she started actually prototyping those games and pitching them to publishers, which is really cool.
I’m getting into improv. I used to try doing standup comedy in my younger years. And so, I’m kind of reconnecting with those roots of my younger self of just trying things. And so, I’ve been doing improv classes for the last year, which has been fun.
The oldest is super into Pokémon, the trading card game. And so, he does that a lot. His younger sister enjoys following him around and she likes making her own games, like mom does. So, whatever mom is working on, she’ll get her own stuff out and start working on her own game. And then the youngest just gets in everyone’s business and watches Frozen whenever she can. She’s lovely.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. That’s wonderful. I love how you’re picking back up your interests from stand-up into improv. I think that’s something that happens along the way, a little bit as our kids get a bit older, but also as we sink more and more into unschooling and just into the lifestyle and we see our kids doing their thing and it’s like, oh, I can do this, too.
PHILIP: Yeah. It’s really cool.
PAM: And your wife’s gaming, that sounds like it developed naturally from your experience with the games that you have access to and then just the inspiration to start developing yourself and then growing from there. That is so fascinating. That’s why I love this question, because it’s just so interesting to hear what other families are up to.
And even the Pokémon trading card game, it’s another game-based thing. So, it sounds like you guys are very busy playing.
PHILIP: Yeah. It’s weird, because my wife, there are two things that she never thought she would do. She never really liked board games, because her parents, their family just didn’t really play board games. And when they did, she didn’t like him. And she never thought that she would be a homeschooler at all. I mean, she wrote that off. I was always interested in it, because my family did it for a few years. I was never really officially homeschooled. But some of my older siblings were and some of our family friends homeschooled all the way through school.
And so, I had a positive view of it, but she went to private schools growing up and she just never had a positive view of it at all, which I thought was really interesting. It’s ironic how we end up doing some of the things that we always hated. We make those switches in life.
PAM: Yeah. That’s fun to see her shift as well as your shift. It was something that you didn’t really end up doing, but just had it in the back of your mind that that might be something interesting. And actually, that leads us very nicely into the next question.
I am very curious to learn how you discovered unschooling. I don’t know whether or not that was in your vocabulary when you were younger, because you mentioned homeschooling, or even if that was a word or a term at the time, because so often back then, it was really just all called homeschooling. And I’m curious how your teaching experience, as well, wove into your family’s choice to move to unschooling. So, I’d love to hear what that looked like.
PHILIP: Yeah. So, I took some notes about this. I tried to think about what were some of the key events or experiences in my life that led me there. So, one of them was my siblings were homeschooled. I had already had a positive view of it. And I did not have a positive experience with school. I liked being around other kids. I think that was never really an issue for me. It was always the relationships with the adults. There was one teacher, I think, that I liked in school and that was not until my sophomore year in high school. There were other teachers I think I got along with enough, but no one that I really wanted to spend time with.
And it’s interesting when I run into other former teachers, they generally had a teacher in their life that was early on that really inspired them to be a teacher. And I never really felt like I had that.
So, I didn’t have that positive experience. And then, in my mid-twenties, I was feeling aimless. I hadn’t gone to college. I didn’t really have a steady career choice. And I was encouraged to go into teaching, because I was doing private music lessons at the music shop I was working at. And people said, “You would be a really great teacher, because you’re really patient with kids.”
And so, I went back to college and went that route and I learned about constructivism and your listeners might be familiar with one of the big names, which is Jean Piaget, his theories about how knowledge is constructed. And my instructors in college really impressed on me that children can learn without being taught, which you wouldn’t think would be something that you would learn in teacher preparation, and that we can leverage a child’s interests in order to teach them things that are important to us, too, which for me, was like kind of a halfway step to unschooling. What unschoolers do is we tend to remove ourselves entirely, where a constructivist just removes a big part of our direction.
And then, when I started teaching, I saw that the schools talked a good game. They talked about mental health. They talked about the whole child, meeting the needs of the child, but it was not practiced. We were creating the classrooms that I grew up in, and that was it. It was nothing like what I had envisioned from my teacher preparation.
And then, finally, we started our family. And we watched a documentary you might be familiar with, Class Dismissed, and they interviewed many of the influencers in the unschooling field. And then we learned about John Holt and learned about Sudbury Valley and realized that there was actually a term for what we were looking for, for people who were not doing any academic work. So, that skips a few steps along the way.
I think one of our big influences was when we came across Magda Gerber, who had written a lot about self-directed learning in infants and babies and toddlers, and we started practicing her methodology of observation and we were just blown away by what our 13-month-old could do on his own. We were always told that you had to keep an infant entertained or else it would just be chaos. And we would sit with our young boy and watch him just entertain himself for 30, 40 minutes at a time. And it just blew our minds. And we thought, well, if this is possible when they’re an infant, then what else can they do that we don’t think they can do? And so, it really led us on that self-directed path.
So, anything that had any sort of like, “We need to teach kids this,” was like, nope. And then we discovered the actual unschooling, that there was a whole framework that explored that.
PAM: So, your wife just gently, through those experiences, got comfortable with the idea of homeschooling?
PHILIP: Yeah. Yeah. And now I’m more open if my kids would want to go to school. I’m like, yeah, that would be fine if they want that as part of their experience, where my wife is like, “I don’t want them to. I’ll try to talk them out of it.” Which we both know that there’s a lot of unschoolers on either side of that, where some are completely comfortable with using the public school system as part of their process and some are completely against it and I can see arguments for both.
PAM: Yeah, me too. Absolutely. I think that you definitely have people leaning in both directions, sometimes very strongly.
For me, when it comes to questions like that, I’ve ended up using my relationship with my child as a guide. Let that bubble up and see. Because if my resistance to something they’re wanting to try, like school, was influencing or impacting our relationship enough that it was becoming disconnected, that was what I would use as a clue. “Okay. I need to revisit why I’m so adamant about the thing,” and maybe I stay adamant about the thing, but that’s also a clue that I need to find other ways to keep our relationship connected.
Because if you push far enough apart, then you aren’t going to have the opportunity for conversations. They aren’t going to come to you with questions. You know what I mean? It’s going to impact more than just that one choice. It’s going to impact the rest of your relationship, your other opportunities for conversations and connections. For me, that’s what I used as my guide when there was something that I was strongly sticking to my guns about or something.
And that reminds me of something that William Glasser, who was one of the early authors that influenced me, would talk about is thinking about the relationship and specifically, is what I’m doing more likely to help the relationship or hurt the relationship? And that should serve as a guide, which I think is really wise.
And I should mention that my view on schooling is not something I try to impose on others as well. For me personally, I don’t even try to convince my wife that she needs to be more flexible about how she views it. If she wants to try to talk them out of going to school, that’s her relationship with the children and that’s something she has to navigate, where if I’m more free about it, that’s something that I have to navigate and that has different consequences that I may not be aware of. So, it’s not that I think that being more open to your child’s choices about schooling is the right way. It’s just where I’m at right now.
PAM: Exactly. Exactly. Which is why I found the relationship to be a great guide, because it wasn’t about me. So, it wasn’t about me feeling defensive and having to stick to my guns or me having to convince other people that my way is right. It was more about what was happening with that.
And I love your point about that, because I think that’s also something we learn along the way, that we are fascinating and wonderfully unique as we are and the things that we think, and they aren’t wrong just because people think differently than we do. And I just found that to be very opening and freeing and so much weight dropped off me when I realized, you know what? This is right for me. So, I can really lean into that this is right for me, but it doesn’t need to be right for everyone else.
So, not only did that help my relationship with my kids, but it helped my relationship with my partner. It helped my relationship with friends and people in the world and acquaintances. Because I could just be curious of what they think and why they think that and for them to bring themselves to their relationships with other people. Like you were saying, her relationship with the kids is theirs to navigate. And it doesn’t mean that we’re like, “You guys figure it out.” If the kids want to talk to you about it or she wants to talk to you about it, you have those conversations. You have openings to share what you’re seeing if they want to hear that. You have the ability to share with them how you’re seeing someone else’s view.
So, when you’re talking to your kids, this is hypothetical, but if they come up and say, “Oh, mom really doesn’t want me to go to school. And I’m kind of curious about it,” we can have that conversation with them. We can share our understanding of the other person. So, it just widens up people’s understanding of each other, over time. These don’t need to be big, sit-down conversations, like, “You need to understand why your mom thinks that.” But I’m sure they’d be curious as to how she got to that. And you could share little tidbits that you know. And then they can each bring those pieces to the conversation. And you can let your wife know what you’re learning about your kids as you’re having those conversations. So, it just really opens up the world when we’re more curious than convicted in our own ideas.
PHILIP: Yeah. I totally think so.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. It’s so interesting to think about.
So, that leads us nicely into the idea of deschooling, because I imagine that the need for deschooling made sense pretty quickly, having been a teacher and understanding the system, especially the way you got into it. So, that’s really interesting.
I was curious about what was one of the more challenging aspects of deschooling for you? And if you could share a bit about how you worked through that.
PHILIP: Yeah. I don’t know if I would use the word “challenging”. Maybe “drastic.” It was a drastic difference for me. There is that cognitive dissonance that happens when you’re learning something new. So, you could call it challenging.
The way I was thinking about deschooling this morning, as I was prepping for our conversation, was that deschooling describes something that we all go through anytime our worldview drastically changes. Sometimes in the community, we even talk about unschooling as a religious conversion, because it changes the way you look at everything. And deschooling is about letting go of these beliefs that you were holding onto and it’s letting go of those things and trying to find, “What am I grabbing onto in its place?” because something does tend to take the place of those things.
But the deschooling process is like the time between letting go of the old things and what you grab onto. Which, for kids, the experience is letting go of the adults’ agendas on my life and exploring that time between what other people set for me and what do I start to grab on for myself? And I think us adults go through that process, as well.
I’m trying to think about the order I want to talk about this in. When I first came into the community, I saw that unschooling was not very common. And I saw that where I live specifically in the Midwest is very authoritarian in practice. And so, when I first started writing about parenting and schooling, I was like, “I’m going to show people what it’s like,” like, “I’m going to teach everybody how to do this, because obviously no one understands it.” And so, I just emphatically stated things on Twitter, specifically. And so, my deschooling process was kind of hitting a wall with some people, getting into a lot of arguments, and then meeting people in the unschooling community who would correct me and help me understand how I had not let go of some things, if I use that metaphor of holding onto this stuff.
And I was bringing misogyny and racism and authoritarian ideas with me. I was kind of dragging those along. And so, allowing myself to stop, slow down enough to really hear them, and then learn to let go of some of those things, that, I think, was my deschooling process. And so, I think I’m in that gap where I’m sort of looking for what’s the next thing that I hold on to, because authoritarianism is like a black hole. And so, it has so much gravity to it. If you think of it in physics terms, where something has to take that place. And so, I’m in that spot as a father and as a husband of, what does take its place?
I think the grief and the challenge has just been looking at the things that I did before and realizing how authoritarian and misogynistic some of those things were. So, dealing with that regret and the grief of what I had done to my loved ones. By normal standards, that just seems like, oh, that’s normal husband, man, dad stuff. But as an unschooler, as an anti-authoritarian, it’s like, no, it shouldn’t be. That stuff is worth grieving about.
Does that unpack that question a little bit?
PAM: Oh, you took it so many beautiful places and so many directions, Philip. I really did love that. Yes. I love the description of authoritarianism as a black hole for people to use, whatever the thing is for people. Because there’s often one first thing that like, oh my gosh, it’s pervasive, not realizing how many places it shows up in our lives. So, I love the black hole analogy, because it really emphasizes that nature.
And I do love the term deschooling and I also really feel that it doesn’t end. Yet the thing that helps you know that you’re getting closer is that you’re not worried about it anymore. As in, the things that you’re struggling with or that you’re talking about and working through right now, that is life. There will always be new things that we’re recognizing, new layers that we’re peeling back. So, it’s learning a bit more about ourselves and we are always going to be learning a bit more about ourselves and finding new ways. My kids are all grown and I’m still finding ways that things are impacting my relationship, impacting the way I just approach my days around other people in my family.
But I still think deschooling has such value, because it lets people know up front that you are going to be asking yourself some big questions and really taking that time to work through what that means. It gives them an idea upfront, like, you’ve got some work to do here. And so much of it really is our work to do.
I love the way you described your kids work is about the agency that they have over their lives now, when they’re not being directed by adults. It’s not like a switch where you can say, “Oh! I’m not going to tell you what to do anymore.” And I would never say that to them. You know what I mean? “Hey, you know what? You do whatever you want.” It’s just us not exerting that control so often and, like you’re saying, you’re going to find it in different layers. Like, “Oh, that feels like control. Maybe I’ll phrase it a different way.”
So, as we’re playing with that gap that you were talking about, like, “What am I going to replace this with?” I think it can be easier to understand what we’re dropping and why we’re moving away from those things. But it takes a while to figure out what we want to replace it with or else you’re just stuck with that vacuum, going back to that space metaphor, where chaos reigns, because you’ve got a vacuum here and you’ve released that control, but you haven’t figured out what you’re going to replace it with. Spoiler alert, I really feel that connection and relationship is what we’re replacing that with, because then we are having conversations with our kids and we’re helping them figure out those pieces.
Like we were talking about earlier, conversations that might bubble up in relationships with other people, in the things that they’re interested in, in the things that they want to do. We can have these conversations and help them and support them, either helping them with their processing through the conversations, helping them with supplies, helping them get places. It becomes just us all living together without trying to control other people, but everybody taking that time to figure out what they want and then together, figuring out a way to make it work within our family.
Does that make sense?
PHILIP: Yeah, absolutely.
And I kept thinking about the black hole metaphor, as you were talking, what is the new thing that we’re going to hold on to? It’s the relationship. So, I imagine ourselves pulled between two different stars. A black hole is considered a dead star, I think, which has an immense gravity and an idea in our mind has gravity. It pulls us to it. And if we do not launch ourselves into the orbit of a new idea, into a new star that still has light in it, then that black hole will suck us back in, because it feels comfortable.
I think a lot of research has shown that when we’re backed in a corner, we go to what we’re comfortable with and that black hole of authoritarianism. The idea that I decide what is right for you, the answers to the questions are easier. It’s just, I get to decide. If we don’t get far enough from that idea, it will find its way into our new language where, I mean, you and I have both come across unschoolers that still have a lot of authoritarian baggage that they’re carrying with them. It’s like, okay, you’re using the new language of unschooling, but you’re bringing the Death Star with you. You’re bringing the authoritarian idea. I don’t know if you want to get right into the next question, but it kind of feeds into that next question of like, do you want me to go ahead and get into that? You want to ask that question first?
PAM: Yeah, I’ll just put that out there, because deschooling does often quickly grow beyond school to exploring the kind of person that we want to be.
When we had connected, you mentioned that lately you’ve been redefining your role as father and I wanted to dive into that process, how deschooling expands bigger than school itself.
When I first started unschooling, I think I saw it as a way to shape my children, because I was coming from that authoritarian view of, it’s my job to shape my children. And unschooling was merely a better tool at doing that. It was going to shape my child into my own image, to borrow a religious metaphor. And that process of deschooling helped me better understand that it’s not actually a tool for shaping as many of us treat it. It’s a roadblock. It keeps me out of their way.
It’s a reminder to stay back and to allow them to shape themselves. And I actually watch that process, watch them gravitate towards the things that they enjoy, that bring them joy. It allows me, going full circle back to the first question to ask, if their interests are good enough for them, why aren’t my interests good enough for me? Why do I feel like I have to justify these things? If the purpose is to find joy, why am I allowing other people’s definition of joy to define what I’m going to do?
So, I’ve allowed myself to explore things that I’ve always liked, but I’ve never allowed myself to do. One of them is role-playing gaming, like Dungeons and Dragons and stuff like that. That was something that was really frowned upon, anything that was mythological, high fantasy, anything like that. It was seen as demonic. But I’ve always been sort of drawn to it. I always thought it was very interesting. And so, now I’m finding a group of people that are doing role-playing games. And so, we’re getting ready to start some together.
So, now I see my role as a dad is to develop side-by-side with my kids and not to not to oversee their development, but to just live together, both seeking ways of enjoying each other.
PAM: Yeah. That’s so beautiful, Philip. And it’s not to control their growth, but to engage and support our own, just exactly what you were describing. It’s like giving ourselves permission to like and explore the things that we like and that we are curious about, that we weren’t given the opportunity to explore or just didn’t have the opportunity before. And now, especially through our kids and watching our kids, we learn the value of that, just that permission. It doesn’t need to be productive. All those judgments that we grew up with, we get to a spot where we can just question them a little bit.
I love that so much. And I love the way you tied it back to the very first question. The things that you guys are exploring now as adults. And that gets us to the beautiful piece, too, that I think comes with more experience with unschooling and helps us relax as well, is the fact that learning is lifelong. It’s just something that we do, exploring new things, being curious, or diving deep into something that we love. We realize that we’re learning new things in our adult years. And it helps us recognize that our kids can be learning things and will be learning things throughout their lifetime. And that helps us get rid of that 18-year window that conventionally is like, “You gotta teach the kids all the things before they’re adults.”
And you can understand where that comes from, the whole 18-year thing, once they’re 18 and they’re out of the house, they don’t have to listen to you. They don’t have to go to school. They don’t have to learn. And a lot of kids you see are burnt out on learning by the end of school. It’s like, I don’t ever want to go back in the classroom. And a classroom is the only way they can see how to learn. You can see how the language of just learning gets so caught up in school.
But once we start to recognize all the learning that happens outside of school and at every age, it really helps us release that need or worry that, “What if our kids don’t learn this? What if they’re not interested in this?” That kind of stuff, that’s a big worry that I think people can deal with. But I just love the point that what it gets down to eventually is really discovering that it’s just us as a family, each living together, learning together, together as in side-by-side, not together as in, “We all need to do this,” or, “We all do this.”
But it is just so fascinating, too, how we find our interests weave together. When we’re excited about something, of course, other people are interested in it. “What are you so excited about, Dad?” “Oh, I just rolled this,” or, “I’m creating this D&D character,” just thinking about how games have woven into your family’s lives. And, as you say, growing up, I don’t think either you or your wife would have imagined that, just from the little bit you’ve shared, how this would weave into your lives and it just so beautifully does. That’s another something that when you first come to unschooling, I loved your take, because I think a lot of us do get to unschooling, is it’s just a different way to get to the same point.
I know that that’s how I came to it. When the kids came home from school and I found out about unschooling soon after that, it was just going to be a replacement for school. It was just going to be a different way to get to that point that we still envisioned. But this was going to be a nicer way.
PHILIP: That point, I think, to clearly define it, is we have a vision that our job as a parent is to create a certain kind of person. And unschooling does not take us there.
PAM: Exactly. Yeah. I know I’ve written it in a blog post or something, but if your goal is that certain kind, that certain young adult that you’ve created, your easiest route is probably the conventional school route. If that’s what your goal is, because unschooling is messier. It’s going to have you opening that box of all sorts of questions, but if you’re curious to see, it is wonderful. And it does become a lifestyle where we’re just living together and we’ve released goals, as in, we don’t have that point that we want to get to anymore. So, that can be scary when you imagine at first, like, “I have to forget about that?”
But what you’ve learned along the way as you’re loosening your grip on that is the beauty of the moment and how wonderful it is just to see people, kids and adults, who are just into something, just curious about something, just learning something, just making the best choice for them in this moment. And you gain that experience over and over. And it’s like, okay, we’re cool. We’re good in this moment. And that future, we’re just going to be in another moment at that point.
It’s really developing trust in unschooling, in this lifestyle, that whatever those moments in the future bring, we can work together and figure things out, figure out a way through it. So, we don’t need to know. So, we’re releasing our hold on that future, really, because we’re coming to trust that we can deal with what comes and we know how to learn things. We’re interested in stuff and after weeks and months and years, you see how those interests morph and change or deepen and grow. You just come to value the moment so much that you develop trust that you can move through whatever moment comes.
PHILIP: Yeah. And it’s not to say that unschoolers don’t have a goal. It’s just that the goal, I like how you talked about how the location, where we’re going, is different. And I actually drew a map and I’ll bring it up here in a little bit, because I was trying to map out the components of my book that I’ve been working on, because I think we do have a goal in the sense that where we’re going is we’re envisioning a relationship with our child. And that relationship is both in the long-term and it’s also each day.
I consider the opposite of unschooling to be authoritarian and I think the reason I choose that word is because most parents do not see themselves as authoritarian. And so, drawing that hard line and saying, “I think if you’re not exploring the relationship, then you are exploring authoritarianism.” So, that journey is both daily and by moment, but it’s also long-term. Do you want to see the map that I drew? It’s really cute and chintzy.
PAM: I would love to. And while you grab that, I’m just going to mention that I do love that point. And actually, we talked about it in the Network this week of having a destination or goal in mind, but the difference for me is not that I’m looking to the future, I map out a path, and then I’m making sure we stay as close to the path as possible. The goal is that relationship that I have in mind that I want to maintain. It gives me a direction.
It’s like a compass. This is the compass that I bring with me today that helps me make choices in today’s moment that are in the direction that I’m wanting to go, the kind of parent that I’m wanting to be, the kind of relationship that I want to have with my kids and my partner. So, that does help me make choices today, but it’s not a fixed goal that I need to keep tweaking so that we’re moving in this direction.
PHILIP: Yeah, absolutely. And it actually brings to mind what I’d like to do with this map, I think, is actually update it and show that there’s a different location, because I tend to think that all parents really want to get to the same location, but the authoritarianism distracts from that. So, it’s drawn in purple Crayola marker.
PHILIP: So, let’s make sure we get the whole thing. So, if people want to screenshot it and critique it, they can. So, then I have different phrases from the Parent Advice Industry along the way. Let’s see. “Daddy knows best.” “Be the perfect parent.” “It’s for your own good.” “Got to keep them entertained.”
The way I was envisioning it is these were like signs that you see on a road trip and they distract you from your goal, which is where you’re trying to go is an amazing relationship. We all want to have this great relationship with our kids. And authoritarianism tells us that we can’t have that until our kids are 18.
But what it doesn’t warn us about is that authoritarianism actually breaks down the foundations of that relationship, unless your kids also become authoritarian and then the relationship can still be there, but it’s probably not as rich and as collaborative as you might’ve envisioned even though it’s still there. I know plenty of families who, their parents were rough on them and had really high standards and they have a decent relationship. But it’s not the kind of relationship I would want. It’s a relationship of indifference and duty instead of love and warmth and mutual respect.
It’s almost like those offspring respect their parents out of duty, but not because they actually really honor where the parent is coming from.
Does that make sense?
PAM: Yes. Absolutely. It does. And then it depends on how long that now adult child wants to play that role.
It can feel like a duty that we’re performing and that’s okay, too, because that’s our choice. We aren’t at a point where we feel like one is better than the other. These are choices that people are making in their relationship and you aren’t going to feel comfortable unschooling if authoritarian relationships with your child is where you want to be. If you feel you need to produce a particular kind of child or you have expectations that you are definitively want your child to meet, it’s not going to be a comfortable lifestyle for the family and that’s okay.
We’re talking about people who are choosing, who are wanting to pursue this lifestyle and learn more about it. Because, as we’ve been saying back when we were talking about deschooling, it doesn’t end. It’s like figuring out the kind of parent and person you want to be and how we grow and change. And that self-awareness piece is very important. That aspect is important to us. And valuing the relationship with our children and the relationships that we’re developing in our family.
So, that’s why, if those are our goals or things that are important to us, that’s how this lifestyle resonates with us, isn’t it?
PHILIP: Yeah, I think that’s a really good way to frame it, to clarify for people that, if your goal is to create a certain kind of person, then unschooling is not going to feel comfortable. And I think it teaches us as unschoolers a lesson about how we converse with people who are skeptical. We can have some empathy and just think internally that this person has a different goal and for their goal, they’re correct that unschooling is probably not going to feel great to them. And we can hope for them that they see that that decision has consequences. But we can’t necessarily stand on any solid ground arguing that they’re wrong, because, for their goal, authoritarianism actually achieves that goal more cleanly than unschooling does.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. I love that.
And speaking of that, I would love to know what your favorite thing about your unschooling days is right now. Let’s lean into the fun of it for us, because this is our choice.
PHILIP: I really like the reflection process. I love, throughout the day and at the end of the day, whenever it happens, reflecting on and being honest with my kids about what I’m experiencing.
I had this really great moment with my oldest one the other day. I was playing a game on my phone. I was done with my work day and playing a game and he was hanging out with me and I said, “I really need to go mow the grass. But I’m going to play another game,” and he said, “That doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to me that you just said, ‘I need to go do something else, but I’m going to continue doing this.'”
And I love that honesty that, instead of me feeling like I have to set this perfect example and if my kid ever catches me messing up on that perfect example, then I’m a terrible parent, he can catch me in contradicting myself. He can catch me in those contradictions and I don’t feel like it’s a threat to my authority, because I don’t have any authority. I’m not living in that black hole anymore.
And I just explained to him, I said, “Yeah. It doesn’t make sense, because I said that I had something to do and I’ve chosen not to do it,” but it did actually get me off my butt. I finished the game and I said, “Yeah. I think it is time to go mow.” Even though I would have rather relaxed on the couch for 30 more minutes and not gone out and mowed the grass. So, that’s my favorite part.
Another example I’ll give for that is that the two oldest, they really end up playing Pokémon online now. And so, we’ve had some conversations about, they both want to play, but they also want to play with each other. And so, they can’t run around in the basement or run around outside while the other one is playing Pokémon.
So, at dinner the other night, I said, “You guys might want to think about how you spend your time and how your actions impact the other one.” So, I wasn’t lecturing and saying, “This is what you need to do.” I said, “What is happening is, one person wants to play Pokémon. The other one wants to like do rough housing,” and then they switch and they hurt each other’s feelings. They’ll say, “Oh, when are you going to be done? I’m ready to play. I’m ready to wrestle and rough house and all that stuff.” And the other one’s like, “Oh, I don’t know. I want to keep playing Pokémon.”
And so, the one who’s asking them to go play will go in their room and start crying. And they’ll really hurt each other’s feelings. So, we just talked about that. Like, “You might want to even develop a schedule for each other where you kind of work together and figure out, ‘How many more games are you going to play before you’re ready to go do something else?’ and try to set up some norms for your group, so that you don’t hurt each other’s feelings as much.” And they really thought about it.
I don’t know that they’ve made any changes yet, but I love being able to have those conversations without feeling like I’m setting the rule for them. I’m just giving them my advice. You know, I’ve experienced this before. I’ve seen other people experience it before. “You might try to think about it this way, but if you don’t, you might experience more heartache and stuff, but I’m not going to try to step in and direct all of this.” So, I think my favorite part is just being able to live honestly and transparently with my family.
PAM: That is beautiful, Philip, and it’s an amazing example of going back to that gap that we were talking about. What do we replace that control with? We released that telling them that, you should do this to solve this problem. And we get to the connection piece where we can freely share our observations, the things that we’re noticing, without any expectation that they take it as direction. Maybe it’s just a seed that’s planted. Maybe a few more upsets before it gets to the point where one of them say, “Hey, can we figure out something different?”
But it’s just a beautiful example, because so often I think unschooling parents, certainly at the beginning, can feel like, “I have to step back and not be involved. The kids need to work it out for themselves or figure it out.” And there’s a whole world between telling them what to do and not being involved at all. Just to share what we see, that’s our experience, that’s the value of us being part of the family.
But it is work on our part and work in the relationship with them that they don’t receive it as direction, but that they receive it as caring information that the people in their family are noticing and some ideas. “Maybe you want to try this. Maybe you want to try that,” that they can then bring with them and choose and decide what they want to do with and decide what they want to do with it over time. This is just new information for them. It’s like, oh yeah. Maybe they haven’t thought of it that way. Maybe they didn’t realize how they kept disconnecting. For them, in the moment, “I’m upset about it.” That’s the thing. We don’t know everything that’s going on in their head. But for us to be able to share those pieces, I love that that’s your favorite thing right now, because it’s just being in relationship.
PAM: Yeah. All right.
Now, before we go, I would love to know, as an unschooling dad, what piece of advice would you like to share with dads who are considering or who are just starting out on this journey?
PHILIP: Yeah, so I’ve polled dads on this before. Like, where do they go in terms of parenting advice? And predominantly the answer is, I go with my gut. And so, my advice to dads is to give yourself permission to question your gut. The female response I’ve come across is, trust your instincts. So, women and men, mothers and fathers, talk about it differently, but it’s the same concept. Trust your instincts and go with your gut. I don’t know. Maybe gut feels more John Wayne-ish to men.
I don’t think you have to discredit your gut, but be willing to question it and ask where that stuff is really coming from, because there’s a good chance that your gut is drawn to that authoritarian culture that we live in, because we become so much of what our culture is about.
If you are a person that looks around and criticizes a bunch of things that you see within the culture, recognize that you are part of that culture and that you are drawn to those ideas as well. And so, being able to find where you’re gravitating toward those ideas can be a really good starting point. And you may find that some of the stuff that you’re drawn to is not part of the culture. But taking the time to question that, I think, is really important.
PAM: I love that. I love that you found a language difference, too, between gut and instinct. That is interesting. It’s also so interesting to think about, go with your gut, but also question it, like really take the time to find out what your gut is telling you or what your instincts are telling you. Because, as you were saying, there can so often be a level of those that is just what we’ve absorbed. “This is what it should be. This is what my instinct should be.” And we grew up and absorb that so much that that is our first impulse often, is what we’ve been told we should do in these moments or what we should think in these moments. So, taking the time to just peel that back a bit and see if that’s what we really think, if that’s what we really feel and why do we feel that? And lean into that, even if it’s different than the norm.
PHILIP: Yeah. I think our internal reasoning is that the gut is natural and therefore good. And what I’m asking people to do, what I’m asking myself to do, is first question that, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean that it’s good. Just because it’s our nature to do something. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that belief anyway, that we have any one nature. But also questioning the fact that it’s even natural.
I don’t think that our gut is natural. I don’t think it’s purely instinctual. And maybe I don’t have a good way to prove that, but I’ve just seen evidence of how we absorb ourselves in a culture and we do the things that are the norm for all our culture. And part of understanding that is looking at the way that other cultures live and norms that they have. And our reactions to those betray our own dedication to our culture.
For example, in some Asian cultures, one of their delicacies is scorpion lollipops. They have these scorpions that are inside candy and they eat those. And when I see that I’m like, “I would never do that.” And that betrays a bias that I have to my own cultural norms. That’s my gut. My gut says that I wouldn’t like that. And yet people who share a large majority of the same genes that I do, DNA that I do, they love it. And so, being able to recognize that, maybe my gut isn’t as natural as I think it is. And even if it were, I give myself permission to say, just because it’s natural, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for my relationship with my kids.
PAM: Yeah. That’s perfect. Yeah. And I sometimes talk about that as my inner voice. You’re right. So often, our instincts are just learned behaviors that we’ve picked up over the years and to start peeling that back to think about what we really think. “That looks very strange to me, yet maybe I haven’t actually tried it. Maybe other people I love like that.” Definitely, so much comes with our culture, so much of what we know. And so, it is a lot of fun. It’s overwhelming at first to start stepping out of the box and then all of a sudden, you’re just questioning everything and it can get overwhelming.
But it can also, like for me, it really opened my eyes and brought wonder back to my days, because now I could just be curious. I could get comfortable asking myself questions. I could get comfortable with the idea that I don’t know all the answers. Because we grew up thinking that once you’re an adult, you know. The adults know everything. And they’re right. They’ve got this nailed. I can’t wait to be an adult. And then I’ll know everything and I’ll be in control.
But to get back to that almost childlike wonder about the world was just personally satisfying. It was just such a fun way to wake up in the morning and just be open and curious to how things might unfold, versus waking up and thinking, “I need to do X, Y, and Z. I need to control this, this, and this.” And that just brought so much weight and pressure to my days. Anyway, that’s what you made me think of there, but yeah, absolutely beautiful. Just questioning things, just being open to questioning, even if it seems like this is the way it should be done and quickly. That whole, we need to nail this down fast.
PHILIP: Yeah. Absolutely.
PAM: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Philip. I really appreciate it. It was so much fun.
PHILIP: Absolutely. The pleasure was all mine.
PAM: And before we go, where can people connect with you online?
PHILIP: So, two of the best places are Instagram and Twitter. Unfortunately, those handles are different. @PhilipMott1 on Twitter. And @Philip.Mott on Instagram. Those are two good places to find me. I’m not very creative on Instagram. I just screenshot my Twitter.
PAM: I noticed, but it’s still good, because I’m not on Twitter. So, that’s just fine.
PHILIP: Exactly. It’s not necessarily a repeat. I have different followers on those. I just will connect with anyone that has “unschooling” in their bio. So, if you’re looking for followers and you want me to follow you, just put “unschooling” in your bio and I’ll follow you.
PAM: That’s awesome. I will definitely put links to those in the show notes in case people have any trouble. You can go there and find them. Thanks again and have a wonderful day, Philip. Bye!
PHILIP: You too, Pam. All right. See you again.