PAM: Hello explorers! I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and this is episode number 313 of the podcast.
This week, I’ve put together a compilation episode with answers to a question I ask many of the unschooling dads who are on the podcast: As an unschooling dad, what piece of advice would you like to share with dads who are considering or just starting out on this journey?
And I love the range of answers! Trusting our kids and letting more of the world in. Getting involved with our kids and sharing our passions. Empowering yourself by learning how unschooling works. Balancing protectiveness with trust. Understanding that humans are naturally curious. And giving yourself permission to question your gut.
They share so many wonderful insights and I’m excited to share this episode with you!
Before we dive in, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has chosen to support the podcast through Patreon. And a big welcome to new patron, Kindly Athena. So happy you’re here! I deeply appreciate all my patrons. Your generous support helps pay for the hosting and transcription, as well as my time spent creating new episodes each week. It’s instrumental in keeping the podcast archive freely available to anyone who’s curious and wants to explore the fascinating world of unschooling. If you’d like to join my community of patrons and scoop up some great rewards along the way, check out the Exploring Unschooling page on patreon.com.
PAM: So, let’s get started with Jeremy Stuart.
Jeremy is an unschooling dad and we had a great conversation in episode 154. He’s also directed and edited two wonderful documentary films about homeschooling and unschooling: Class Dismissed and Self-Taught.
Class Dismissed explores what learning looks like outside the classroom, following a family in L.A. who pull their two kids out of school and take their education into their own hands.
And through the stories of six extraordinary individuals, Self-Taught explores what self-directed education means to them and the impact it has had on their lives, ambitions, work and beliefs. Whether artist, scientist, or entrepreneur, they all have one thing in common: their belief that a true education is the capacity to author your own life instead of merely accepting the one you’ve been handed.
Here’s what Jeremy shared:
PAM: As an unschooling dad what piece of advice would you like to share with dads who are considering or just starting out on this journey.
JEREMY: That is a really good question. It is challenging and at the risk of stereotyping I think generally speaking it is the mom that is going to take on the bulk of this journey with their kids. Again, I know that is a stereotype but generally I think that is true. So, the dads often I feel like they get sort of short-changed a little bit or they get a little bit, they are not quite as in the picture as they should be. You know they are out working, and I have run into this too in my working life, where all of the conversations at work revolve around school and what the kids are doing at school.
I remember sitting around the lunch table and stuff and everyone is going, “Oh, my kid is in this grade and in that thing,” and I cannot contribute to that conversation. Because my daughter is not in school. You know there is this feeling of feeling kind of left out a little bit. Then you come home from work and it is like, “Well, what have the kids been doing?” The house is a disaster, there are Legos and there are toys, just stuff everywhere, you know it looks like a bomb landed in the house. That can be very, very hard I think for new dads who are just starting out in this journey and trying to figure out what does this mean.
I think societally too there is this message that the father is supposed to be the provider and even in this day and age. It seems like a 1950’s thing but you know you have got to be the provider and go to work and pay for the family and all of that and I think that messaging is still in there. For dads that want to step outside of that and question that, it is really challenging.
Advice I would say, just be really open to the processes. Again, try and find that place of trust that somehow or other you can come home from work and the house is a mess and your kids have been laying around reading all day or something and you wonder what have they really learned? They have learned an amazing amount actually. Just try to kind of tune, retune the dial a little bit. Spend time to connect with them when you come home from work. Make sure you have time to connect and listen to what they have been up to and let that in. Be free of judgement because it is hard in the workplace there is so much of that. Success driven, get the job, get the promotion and make the money and all of this and all of that is just being bombarded all the time and to come home to this kind of sort of free form, crazy, wild, unschooling thing can be really challenging.
PAM: Yes, you are looking at both worlds all the time.
JEREMY: Yes. So, I think that is part of it. I think the main message would be just to trust your children, really trust your children and be there to support them in whatever way you could possibly can. Learn from them, you know really allow that mirroring to happen. For me, my daughter is a mirror. When I look at her, she just mirrors stuff back to me whether I want it or not.
JEREMY: I see myself in her, things that sometimes are hard to see and I go, ‘Wow.’ That is really interesting you know, now I have to shift something. I have to tune that dial a little differently there. Because she just reflected it right back at me. That is difficult. So just be open, I guess. Trust.
PAM: I love that. That is huge, just being open wider to seeing that, seeing what is happening. It is letting go of the expectations a little bit isn’t it.
JEREMY: Yes. I think that sort of attitude can be applied to everything in life. I think as we go through this journey of life, things tend to get narrower and narrower or they can. We are forced into these little funnels. To me the challenge is to break that funnel down and actually get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and let more and more of the world in. You know let more of the world in not less. The more of the world you let in the richer your life becomes. It is hard because we have all these messages. Oh, you are not supposed to do that or you are supposed to be doing this and it is hard. Break down those barriers and include, even include that, include all the messages that say you should be doing this, allow those messages in, then question them.
JEREMY: Right? Do not try to push them away because I think that actually funnels you and gets you more narrow minded.
PAM: It does because you are trying to ignore.
JEREMY: It is like okay, so society or this person or my parents or whoever is saying, “Oh, your kids should go to school.” Ok. Let us allow that in, allow that discontent in and sit with that and now just expand it and make your container bigger. So, that now you have got room for those things in there too. You keep making your container bigger and more stuff comes in and you make your container even bigger.
I think that is the journey of unschooling. Is just allowing as much of the world in as possible and seeing what works and discarding what does not. But at least allowing it all to percolate together in one big pot.
PAM: You are building your view of the world. You have learned so much more and you make stronger connections that make more sense to you when all the bits of the world are in there to consider. Rather than just having this narrow, narrow focus and like back to when we were talking about the questions that you were asking for Self-Taught, if you do not consider those, if you feel like that is a failure and you are trying to avoid that, you are (like you said) just narrowing your experience, you are narrowing your view of the world.
Not only does that not do yourself a service because you are not learning you are totally focused but the energy that it takes eventually to try and keep all that noise or all those other voices out means you are going to have to do that forever. Where as, if you open up your world and you connect that and you figure out why they think that and you understand where they are coming from, you understand how that makes sense to them. You understand why it does not make sense for you. Then live in the world with all of it.
JEREMY: I think you said something really great there about the energy that it takes to resist and to push away these things that do not fit or are sort of encroaching upon our world view or whatever, take so much energy that you end up robbing yourself of that creative spark that we talked about. Igniting that spark that we all have in us and so it gets snuffed out and then your life is tiny.
If you’re like, “I don’t want to,” and you push this away and push that away … no, no, invite all of it in. Just keep making the container bigger because we all have the potential for just vast amounts of compassion and empathy, but we don’t use it. We want to separate ourselves, “They are different from us,” or this, or that. And we just become narrower and narrower and narrower, and I think we should be doing the opposite.
That is what I love about unschooling; in a sense it forces you to do that. Because there is no road map, as I said. You are sort of winging it sometimes, and learning to trust. Ultimately, the rewards are so much greater because, as you begin to go through this process, you see that things miraculously work out. You know, these kids turn out great! They are amazing human beings! How could that be? It’s mind-blowing. “What do you mean you never went to school and now you are doing like a PhD in Biology? What? That makes no sense.” But it does make sense. When you really start to see. “Oh yes, that does make sense!” Then, all of a sudden, it becomes easier to navigate that sense of unknowing or not knowingness.
PAM: As you choose to step away from the conventional road map of life and invite in a world of possibilities, it can feel unnerving at first. We are so used to following the map we’re handed. Yet, as Jeremy explains, we dive into the process of exploring this new way of approaching our days we see things almost miraculously working out. Over and over. And it really does come to make so much sense. We don’t need to have the answer before we set out. That sense of the unknown becomes easier to navigate.
Next up is Ben Lovejoy. Ben has a military background and is an unschooling dad to two now grown kids. We have a lovely conversation in episode 167 reflecting on his family’s unschooling journey and here’s his advice to new unschooling dads:
As an unschooling dad, what piece of advice would you share with dads who are considering or maybe just starting out on their unschooling journey?
BEN: Get involved. Whether it’s sharing your passion for baseball cards. Sharing your passion for football or going to a game, because you’re being true to yourself and you’re exhibiting that. And the involvement means, whether you like it or not, involvement means that you’re trying, you’re giving it an effort. Like I said, I looked in the mirror a lot and continue to do that. It may not happen right away but it’s worth your effort and your time and the investment that you’re going to put into it if that is the way you want to see it.
If you don’t get involved, I think the biggest risk you run is you may not get to know your kids. Maybe that’s something, you never got to know the adults around you, they were your parents or whatever. You’re basically taking that and giving it to the next generation by doing it that way.
PAM: I love his reminder that the relationships we choose to have with our children are what we’re handing down to the next generation. And how valuable it is get involved and get to know your kids. When you get involved, it’s an opportunity for connection and that’s how relationships grow.
Next up is Bob Mahan. We spoke in episode 214 about his journey from the bells and whistles of his career as an accountant to living the life of freedom, fun, and connection that unschooling has brought him and his family.
Here’s what he shared:
PAM: What piece of advice might you share with dads who are just starting out or even just considering unschooling?
PAM: They’re there at the beginning of this journey. So, what piece of advice do you think might be helpful to share just from your perspective? There is no wrong answer.
BOB: I don’t usually give advice.
But trust yourself. Trust your kids. I guess that’s the biggest thing. They make choices different than I would make or maybe wish they would. But hey, I made a ton of bad choices and I’m still here. I came back. Some of them were pretty painful and took a long time to come back from and some I’m still coming back from, but trust the process.
And you’ve got to redefine the process. You know, like I said, if you’re if you’re looking for accolades, if you’re looking for awards, you’re not going to get them. So, you might as well just set that aside. But one of my favourite quotes was they asked John Lennon when he was five. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And he said, “I want to be happy.” And they said, “You didn’t understand the question.” He said, “You don’t understand life.”
If you’re kids are happy, if they feel like they have the freedom to disagree with you, to challenge you, to think differently from you, to explore their own interests, then I think it’s a success.
Unfortunately, you’ll probably not hear that from anyone else and you’re not going to get a pat on the back for doing it. I don’t think there’s an Unschooler of the Year award being given out, just doesn’t happened.
And so, you’ve ultimately got to believe so strongly that it’s the right way to live, that you can withstand the doubt. I went this way because I couldn’t go any other way. It was the only way that felt intellectually and emotionally honest to me, I couldn’t not do it.
And I make a ton of mistakes all the time, but the overall direction is to trusting them, trusting myself and that our lives are going to end up being meaningful to us in the way we evaluate them, and that we won’t live with regrets because we’ve given ourselves the freedom to embrace opportunities when they occurred.
I don’t know if that’s advice or not but it’s going to be scary. You’re going to have a million doubters. You ultimately have to decide who you’re going to listen to. Whose criticism is going to get through. Doesn’t mean all criticism is invalid. Some of it’s very valid.
But the big chorus out there is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. You’re not doing enough. You’re doing too much. You’re not controlling. You’re not demanding. And we talk about it all the time, there’s is a book called Know Your Why—we’ve always known why. We know why we’re doing it. We’re figuring out how to do it. But we never, ever vary on why.
And once you can get that deep down in your soul where it’s never, you never doubt it. You just believe that. Then you stick with it. You make a mistake. You try again.
You don’t do it the way you want it to. You try it again. You learn. Like I said, we transitioned from I was going to homeschool the perfect child to online public school to total unschooling. And not that we never really had it figured out and still don’t have it figured out, but we do know why we’re doing it this way and those reasons are more important than criticism.
I guess what finally hit a tip for me in changing the way I lived as compared to the way I thought you were supposed to live is all the people who are purporting how you were supposed to live. They really just didn’t seem that happy. It seems they seemed unhappy with their own lives. Maybe you’re right. But you’re a lousy advertising for it.
I don’t want to be like you. I actually never wanted to have any kids because I didn’t know anybody who liked their kids. Then I met some people who truly like the kids, and that really changed it for me. Well, same kind of thing. Maybe the way they all live is the way you’re supposed to live. But they sure don’t seem to be enjoying it. They seem really unhappy all the time. They don’t like their kids. The kids don’t like the parents. I see all these complaints about schools. I’m like, “Don’t go in. And you don’t have to worry about whatever the school does or doesn’t do.” Complain about your job all time, you can make a different choice. I didn’t see that any of them were really happy with their life, but they kept telling me to do it more, better, faster.
PAM: Their way.
BOB: I was just like, “No.” I’m just not going to do any of that. You might be right, but it sure didn’t make sense to me. And once we stop now when we get to make some different choices.
I would encourage anybody to be willing to ask the questions that they tell you you’re not supposed that ask. You probably won’t come out the same answers I come up with, and that’s fine, I don’t care.
But if somebody tells you you’re not supposed to ask a question, you really have to ask yourself, why are they doing that? What don’t they want you to know or they’re scared that you do know? And I don’t know what that answer is, but I always doubt any kind of any person or any situation that tries to stop me from knowing something or asking something, that just makes me ask more.
And that’s what I’ve done for the past 15 years, I guess. It’s taken me to a place I never thought I’d be where I am, even close. I could not possibly visualize this. I thought I’d have the career and the house and the cars. And at my age I’d be a grandparent. I am nowhere near any regard. I wore a suit and tie and had a short haircut and clean facial hair my entire career. Now look at me. I am nothing at all like how I thought it would be. And I couldn’t be happier.
So, if you don’t ask those questions and then follow where it leads, you’ll never, never get there.
PAM: That is so amazing. I love the way you pulled that altogether. It really is, asking the questions. Be willing to just ask a question of yourself, right? Like you said, it’s not that anybody else is going to have the same answers but being willing to ask the questions will help you get a step closer to whatever it is for you.
BOB: Like you said, curiosity. I wonder what happens if I ask this. I wonder what happens if I do this and then find out. You might be astounded. And it might be more amazing than anything you ever could have imagined. And that’s the way I think about my life now. Like I said, I don’t have a bucket list because I’m happy, I’m satisfied. I’m very contented with where we are. And so, I feel like I’m at peace and I couldn’t ask for more than that.
PAM: Trust yourself. Trust your kids. Be curious and ask questions. Walk toward a life that feels meaningful for your family.
Such a beautiful answer.
And next, let’s hear from Roop Bhadury. In episode 239, Roop and I had an amazing conversation about the philosophies of unschooling and entrepreneurship, life, relationships—we covered it all. And here’s what he shared for dads just starting out:
PAM: As an unschooling dad, what piece of advice would you like to share with dads that are just starting out on this journey?
ROOP: That’s another great question, Pam, I’ve given it some thought, ever since you said that. I suppose, in many ways, being on this journey, you sort of have those bits of advice whether solicited or unsolicited that you tend to hand out to people. And so this was about me sort of collating some of the bits that didn’t annoy people that much and going well, what can I share here that won’t irritate, some good advice.
PAM: You know, five years down the road, they go,’ Oh, now I know why he said that.’
ROOP: But you know, we, in my company, we talk about insight being inherently useless, actionable insight is the only thing that’s valuable.
So, in the spirit of actionable insight, since I do have something that can happen eight years down the track. Sure. But what can you do tomorrow and the next six months? I think that two key bits, one is, and I can’t stress this enough, but one is to actually delve into what this means, don’t expect everything to just happen magically.
This is the advantage that we have in this world today that if you have some intuition, backup intuition, and the curiosity that led to that intuition with actual knowledge, read, empower yourself with the knowledge that is available, as we’ve spoken. I think there are too many people that, and I’ve actually learnt a lot of that, especially in this journey and some other things around this from my wife.
Even the way we decided to have our babies and so on, so she would empower herself with knowledge that is readily available. So, if you have the curiosity to explore something and then you have some intuition around it, that’s all great. It’s a great starting point, but that does not make a successful journey in and of itself, because you can get frustrated and then you’re going well, it’s too hard I’m not going to do it.
So, read. Empower yourself, whether it’s this blog, post, this podcast series, your book, or a multitude of other resources available on the web around this idea. I think that’s really important and that’s something anyone can do. So not knowing, not going to a first principles approach, not empowering yourself with knowledge, there’s no excuse.
So, that’s one thing and the other, which is a bit more tactical that can be done without reading a lot of things, is deciding to trust your children more than you would otherwise be given to doing. So, the protective instinct of parents often gets sort of mixed up with not allocating enough trust. And I think a big part of this journey is not to be protective, by all means being protective, that’s part of instinct that’s nature.
But also balancing your protectiveness with allocating trust. It’s a very simple leadership thing that we do in companies. If I say that I trust that you will do this, that person is more likely to redeem that trust than if you are constantly second guessing. So, trusting your kids and knowing that they will fall down, but so do adults. I mean, adults fall down metaphorically all the time.
It’s not about avoiding error. It’s about trusting that we’re all looking to find the answer. And so, I think that is something that people can do literally overnight. You have to decide to do it. It’s a bit of a journey, but you can decide to do it every single time and the other is read.
PAM: Okay. So those were amazing.
ROOP: Thank you so much.
PAM: So, the trust piece, because I love the way you’re relating it and connecting it with your entrepreneurial, experience because it is about being human. Right? So much of unschooling is about diving in to, supporting and respecting who we are as human beings.
So much of that has been removed from our lives. Through all those control and protective aspects but taking that step to realize that this is how humans work, because it’s totally true, whether it’s with an adult or you don’t even need to use the words with children because it’s so innate.
But with adults use, I trust you. I trust that you’re going to do this, the handing this to you, and if you need help, just come ask. And that truly means I’m not going to come asking you every day or every two days, how’s it going? How’s it going? Because if there was a hiccup, you were going to come to me, right. Because we’ve given you that trust. You can totally know, children are so capable of that trust.
And you’ve set up a relationship where they’re good. They come to you when they need help or when they want help. And mistakes are not bad things anymore. Like we were talking about before, the messy bits are all part of life. That’s all how we learn.
ROOP: Right. We’re building a newsletter in our business and we call it “Win or Learn.” There is no third thing. So, either you win or you learn, you still learn either way, but you know, it’s taking away a negative connotation from lose.
There’s no such thing as losing, it’s always learning.
PAM: And those, that those learning pieces are how you tweak your path.
ROOP: Of course.
PAM: That’s how you’re figuring out your journey. You’re figuring out your next step and you only lose when you stop. Bringing that full circle, we were talking about, if it hasn’t worked out, keep going.
And then your piece about, learning and diving deeper. The first piece of advice I talk about, take the journey and that was part of the idea behind The Unschooling Journey book is because it is so important to keep learning about unschooling about, how this works about how human beings live life, because then you understand it. So, there’s the trust piece, but it’s not trust, like in the process without understanding it. You can say, ‘Okay, I want to take this path, but it’s also so important to keep learning about it. So, you understand it because then at that point it becomes a truth.
It becomes a point where you understand it enough that when a situation comes up, that you haven’t had before, you don’t know, you have to go running to other people for advice like, “Oh my gosh, this just happened. I don’t know what to do here.” But when you understand that lifestyle and just the relationships and the kind of parents you want to be, when you’ve done that thinking and that reading to really understand it, you can be in that moment and take that next step.
Not having to call a time out and go run out to, ‘Oh, I didn’t know about this. This is different than this little original piece. Now I’m stuck.’
ROOP: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I get reminded of the quote again, growing up again. I mean, so many references to my childhood.
So, growing up in my study, my grandfather had a quote from the Buddha, framed on a big poster just above my study table on the wall. And it basically comes back to this question of trust and the idea of trust, but verify. It says, it said “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it or because your teacher said so, but only after verification do you find the truth and cling to it and take it as your guide.”
Something like that. And it’s so, so important, in all of this, no blind trust, that’s how you create cults. Trust, verify, empower and that’s sort of how it goes. So yeah, I just got reminded of that as you were talking.
PAM: I love that.
What I loved about doing that book was going out and finding other stories and seeing the same kind of language, written thousands of years ago, ideas, that fundamentally say the same things, because this is about being human. It really is, when you dig into unschooling, it’s really not about not going to school it’s so much more than that.
ROOP: Exactly. It’s a lifestyle. Absolutely. It’s a way of life.
PAM: I love his suggestions to empower yourself with knowledge and balance your protectiveness with allocating trust. And his insight that there’s no such thing as losing, it’s always learning. It’s a way of living life.
Next up is Izaak Sibley. In our conversation in episode 289, Izaak spoke of how his love of learning disappeared over his school years and how unschooling has reignited it. Here’s what he shared for new unschooling dads:
PAM: As an unschooling dad, what piece of advice would you like to share with dads who are maybe considering unschooling or just starting out on this journey?
IZAAK: If you believe that humans are curious, then it’s probably going to work.
I don’t know if there’s any one piece of advice, especially for dads specifically, other than, trust that humans are curious and will want to learn things. And because of the world we live in, they’re going to pretty much have to learn the things that you’re going to need to learn to do every day. So, it kind of works out. It works out, because anything that you’re doing every day, you have to know how to do. And anything you’re not doing every day, you probably don’t have to know how to do. So, again, it works out.
PAM: Oh, I do love that. And that very beautifully rolls back on itself. If it’s something that they’re going to be doing every day, they’re gonna learn how to do it, because they’re doing it every day. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And to get to that point where humans are just curious and just living day to day is going to bring up those things and they’re going to want to learn things. Those are a couple of really fundamental shifts. I know they feel so basic, don’t they? But, like we’ve been talking about a lot, so much of what we pick up growing up ourselves is that learning is hard. Schools know what we should be learning. They know better than just what we’re living. That other kind of learning is more valuable than what we learn just from living.
So, there is a lot of internal work, self-reflective work, for us as parents, dads, moms, whatever, to do that really gets us to that real essence, that basicness, the foundation of unschooling. We learn what we do. When we do things is a great time to learn the things. And humans are curious. Full stop.
IZAAK: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s significantly easier to unschool now than say a hundred years ago, because there’s so much information that’s so easily and readily accessible should you get the urge to learn it. Whereas before, knowledge was gate kept by experts or libraries that may not be very close to you. You may have to walk several towns away. But now, if you want to know something, there’s no big obstacle to finding that information anymore.
And then making learning not a chore, making it not an experience that is something that we start to not enjoy doing. Because, going to school for me, all through elementary school and middle school, I was a very good test taker, so it was all great. But the longer I did it, the more the burnout started to approach, because it was, “You will learn this in this amount of time, the way we tell you to learn it.”
So, by the end of high school, I was kind of done with learning. I didn’t want to do it anymore. And anytime that the thought of learning something new came in my head, I was like, “Oh gosh, I don’t know if I can do that right now.” But going on the unschooling journey that we’ve gone through with Q, it’s started to make learning a good experience again, just because it’s not something that has to be done on someone else’s terms. I can learn what I want, when I want, how I want. It makes those discovery moments big again.
PAM: Yeah. I think that is another huge shift, because so often, you hear people graduating when they’re leaving high school or university, it’s like, “I don’t have to learn anymore!” That system is now fully equated with learning. And it’s entirely a chore and not fun anymore. So, anything that smacks of learning for many years can well turn people off and they ignore them, even if it would be interesting to them, because they have such a bad taste left in their mouth from the experience.
IZAAK: Yeah. I used to consider myself a person who doesn’t like to read. But I have found that I’m reading constantly. I just always thought that I don’t like to read, because I didn’t enjoy reading the books, because we were made to read certain books in English class. And I was just always, “I am a person that doesn’t like to read. Okay, I’ll take that.”
And then, like I said, I’m always reading. It’s usually articles or different things on the internet, but I’m constantly reading and I enjoy it. I just didn’t ever equate those two things until we started doing unschooling.
PAM: Yeah. That’s huge, because my husband’s the same age. “I hate reading. I don’t read. I never read.” And he is constantly reading forums and articles and all sorts of things online. And then, with one of my sons, “I don’t like books. I don’t like reading.” Yet, audio books, for hours and hours and hours, podcasts. There are so many ways to bring in information, but so many of us have grown up thinking, reading and reading books, that’s the only acceptable thing. Everything else is trash.
That’s what’s fascinating when you start unschooling and start peeling back those layers, there is so much that we’ve absorbed that just gets in our own way. When you take the time to just ask yourself some questions and look at it, it’s like, oh, you know what? That’s not really true. You can see what they were trying to do with it, but it’s not really true in our lives. And learning is fun and I’m reading lots and I’m taking in all sorts of information.
So, yeah, I think that that’s a useful thing for new unschooling dads to think about is just, be willing to ask yourself some questions and peel back some layers around it to really discover what it means.
IZAAK: Yeah, definitely.
PAM: I love how simply Izaak boiled it down: “If you believe that humans are curious, then it’s probably going to work.”
And human beings ARE born curious. If we as parents don’t work hard to shut it down. And even then, it can be re-ignited.
Next, we hear from Philip Mott. Philip is a former teacher and in our conversation in episode 308 he shares how his unschooling journey began and how his experience as a teacher has shaped his path.
Here’s the advice he shared for new unschooling dads:
PAM: 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: I love how he took the idea of “go with your gut” a step further and suggested being willing to question it. To ask where that stuff is really coming from. Because there’s a good chance that our gut has absorbed much from the authoritarian culture that we live in. Great stuff.
And I want to end with a snippet from a conversation I had with Zach and Heather Lake in episode 128. It’s a whole episode about Zach’s journey from reluctant spouse to unschooling advocate, which is great, but I wanted to highlight this piece where he shared one of the big a-ha moments for him along the way. It’s a wonderful story.
PAM: Zach, I was wondering, you shared lots of little stories and reflections so far. Can you remember one that you haven’t shared that was a big kind of a-ha moment for you along the way, when that kind of unschooling piece fell into place?
ZACH: So yeah, I did think of one a-ha moment, because there’s lots of them actually, and that’s the wonderful thing about it: all the sudden something makes sense. ‘Ok, I buy that now.’
So, the one that I was going to share was that, Gavin, our 17-year-old, in middle school, he was a wrestler, he’s 14 years old, something like that, and he’s a big kid. He’s six feet tall, he’s 180 pounds, 185 pounds, something like that. And so he always wrestled in one of the higher weights—he wrestled against kids obviously his height and weight and everything.
At the beginning of the wrestling matches though, when they do the duels between the two schools, they line them up on the mat, and it’s kind of this triangle, going down, and you’ve got a big kid over here to the left, you’ve got the small kid over here on the right—so, we are talking about kids that are a little bit bigger than Gavin, so they are 6’3” 6’4”. And you go all the way down to the 4’5” kid who’s like 70 pounds. And the amazing thing is that they are all the exact same age, they are all 14 years old, but they are completely different sizes.
And so, it’s like, if you put this 80-pound kid against Gavin, he would squash him, because he’s twice his size and that wouldn’t be fair, and it’s kind of absurd for us to assume that that kid would have the same physical attributes that Gavin would at that age.
And if you start flipping that script to the school side, and you start thinking, ‘Well, ok, well, but we all need to learn at the same pace.’ Well, no because maybe we are more interested in something today than we will be down the road or something like that, so it’s like we have all this structure and things like that for our lives. We wouldn’t have that for the wrestling mat; why would we have that for school? Why force these kids to do something that maybe they’re not ready to do yet, or maybe some kids are way more ready to do some things that other kids?
We just put them all in this funnel and we want them all to come out the same way and it’s like, that’s not the way it works. It just doesn’t work out that way. It was funny. That was the one thing that really set it off, and I think I can describe that to other people, because I have that visual in my head, so that helped me.
PAM: It’s like, you can see the external differences all at the same age, but just because we can’t see the internal differences—how they think and what they’re interested in and how they like to learn—and just because we can’t see that, we assume everybody’s the same, right? Oh wow, I love that, that’s great. Great analogy.
ZACH: That just helped me make more sense out of everything.
PAM: And you know what I love, especially when I was learning about unschooling, just observing and being with our kids and hanging out and everybody’s learning together. But for that first while when I was heavily deschooling, comparing everything to how they do it in school how they learn and the time and all that kind of stuff. When you see what they do, what their next choice is, how they learn things—those internal differences that you don’t normally see, that’s when they start to become more obvious, right? That’s when they all come out as, ‘Oh, that’s how they personally put that connection together!’ And you can see how unique they are outside that system.
HEATHER: I think unschooling really helps you learn not to comparing kids to each other, especially based on age. And I think one of the big moments for us was really realizing how arbitrary so many school things are—you know, that like you are supposed to read when you are five or six, and the kids who aren’t reading by then, we feel like something is wrong with them.
When kids don’t have to learn to read when they are five or six, maybe they are going to be seven or eight, or nine, or ten. Or just the different subjects that you learn in school that you just like—when you sit down and realize that somebody just sat down and decided that were going to learn history this year, and you know, you really realize that somebody just sat down and decided that, and that’s not the way it has to be, and if your child is “behind,” and I say that with quotes, what the school system says, it doesn’t mean they’re behind, it just means that they’re just not where the school system is wanting.
So, I think that unschooling really gives your children the chance to just be themselves, and nobody is behind or ahead or anything, they are just learning what they are interested about. It’s really awesome to see.
ZACH: And to add on to that…talking about the you have to read at a certain level at a certain time. We are trying to catch all these kids up who are a little bit behind, and basically what you are doing is sucking the fun out of learning to read for them. You are making them feel inadequate, so they are not very comfortable in school, or maybe they are more self-conscious about where they are at. When you take the fun out of it because they have to be at a certain level, that slows down the learning process for everybody.
PAM: And really, like you said, the whole point, just that understanding how arbitrary it all is, and all you’re doing is grading them against something so arbitrary. So yeah, “behind” just has no meaning once you take that system out, once you’re not comparing. It really doesn’t matter if you learn about medieval times or how flight works at a particular age, or those particular years of history.
ZACH: I mean, I understand why they have these arbitrary lines in place, because teachers have to have you be able to read x number, or to be able to do the same math, but when you take them out of that element of school and you don’t put this pressure on them, it’s amazing what they can do. Kids are far more capable than we give them credit for.
HEATHER: And we were really interested, for our kids, like, we talked a lot about the memorization aspect in school, and how for school you are supposed to like memorize like what year the civil war happened, but what value does that add to your life to have memorized that when you were 15? It just sucks a lot of resources out of you to have memorize stuff, so we want our kids to be more able to discuss stuff, so if the civil war came up in conversation or it was on TV, we enjoy having conversations about these concepts. What did the civil war mean to our country? What does it mean now? We will get into these lively conversations and to me that is so much more important than what year it happened, or that they memorized x, y z. Having those conversations, we all learn that way. I mean, Zach and I, we will be looking stuff up together and we will have those conversations. So, that’s been a really great thing.
PAM: And don’t you find you learn so much from your kids now too?
HEATHER: Oh yeah!
PAM: Such a great story, isn’t it? How that flash of seeing how externally different kids of the same age really are sparked the realization that their internal landscape of interests and learning will also vary just as widely. And how kids are far more capable than we give them credit for. Absolutely.
I hope you’ve found this compilation interesting! I think it’s a wonderful collection of thoughts and insights to help new unschooling dads as they embark on this journey with their families.
And you’ll find links in the show notes to the full episodes if you want to explore any of our conversations further.
Also, we have a number of unschooling dads in the Living Joyfully Network online community if you’d like to connect that way. There are lots of learning resources in there as well to help you empower yourself with knowledge about how unschooling works.
Have a great day!