Things That Hold Unschooling Back

Earlier this fall I attended the Wide Sky Days unschooling conference in San Diego, California. While I was there, I facilitated a talk entitled “Things That Hold Unschooling Back.” I was hoping to talk about ways that unschoolers keep unschooling from becoming a more mainstream movement; I also wanted to touch on criticisms of certain aspects of unschooling itself. The idea of running this talk made me nervous- there were things I was planning to say that I feared some attendees might find unpalatable- so I was surprised by what transpired.

The talk was well attended by a vocal group of long time unschoolers and some newbies. Rather than arguing with me or getting upset about the things I was saying, it seemed like most people came to air their unschooling grievances publicly. Sometimes it feels like it’s not acceptable to criticize unschooling at the conferences, so I think people were grateful for the opportunity to talk about the problems they saw with unschooling without judgement.

I had a list of topics that I wanted to discuss, and I felt like my list was fairly exhaustive. However, once we began talking I was so grateful to have long-time unschooling parents like Ronnie Maier and Pam Sorooshian in the audience, because they broached topics that I had not even considered. I don’t have a complete list of everything that we discussed during that hour, but I’d like to talk about some of the major points that came up.

1. The Venn Diagram Effect: Lately there’s been a lot of talk about other fringe/woo woo movements being compatible with or inextricably connected to unschooling. It seems like everyone’s talking about the law of attraction and homeopathy and anti-vaccination movements- and a whole bunch of other things- as if they are part of unschooling. They aren’t. It’s fine if you believe in the law of attraction and you unschool, or you’re a libertarian and you unschool, or you’re into reiki and you unschool- it only becomes a problem when you start telling people that they’re the same thing.

Why is this a big deal? Because only a small margin of people who might be interested in unschooling are also interested in the law of attraction. Insisting that they must go together alienates those people who might love unschooling but believe the law of attraction is bunk.

2. The Feral Children Phenomena, aka Unparenting: Things can get out of control at conferences, y’all.  If you’ve just started unschooling and you’ve been to a few conferences you might think it’s cute and nice that parents are letting their six year olds run freely down the halls of the Marriot or the Hilton, causing property damage and irritation in the process. However, it’s led to us getting kicked out of multiple hotels and retreat sites, and it often makes the hotel staff and passersby who we come in contact with think that we’re crazy people.

Here’s a question that I think it would behoove parents to ask themselves, both while at conferences and in their day to day lives: “Is my child’s behavior creating negative externalities for other people?” When the answer to that question turns into a “yes,” then it is time for you to intervene.

Eli Gerzon wrote a great blogpost about excessive parental permissiveness in the unschooling community coming as a backlash against unschooling parents’ experience with excessively authoritarian parenting. I think unschooling parents should give their children as much freedom as possible. However, it often seems like the line in the sand for intervention is “when my child is endangering herself or others.” I think the line in the sand should be “when my child is endangering herself or others, or when she is being obnoxious and creating problems for other people.”

Below I’ve listed some behavioral situations in which you, as a parent, should definitely intervene. If you aren’t sure if your kid is capable of not doing the following things (or other things that create negative externalities) while you are not present, then you need to be present with him or her all the time. All of these things, at one point or another, have actually happened.

1. When your child is POOPING ON THE FLOOR of a conference center.
2. When your child is telling a businessman at the Del Mar Hilton to “Go fuck himself.”
3. When your child is getting off the elevator on the third floor and pushing buttons 4 through 25 on his way out.
4. When your child is destroying someone else’s property.
5. When your child is yelling or running into people or just generally being really high energy in a destructive or annoying way.

There’s another side to this coin. A few parents don’t keep an eye on their kids and it creates big problems for everyone. In addition, other people in the community feel like it’s unacceptable to tell a kid to knock it off when he’s behaving inappropriately. I hereby empower you to kindly, courteously, and gently speak up when someone else’s child is doing something obnoxious and say something like “Hey, would you mind being a little quieter? We’re trying to have a conversation.” Don’t scream, don’t threaten, don’t touch, don’t pull rank. Just politely ask them to knock it off- the same way you would do if a stranger in the booth next to you at a restaurant was screaming and carrying on.

3. The Unsocialized Unschooler: This isn’t so much something unschoolers are doing wrong as it is a trend that I’ve noticed. The awkward, unsocialized homeschooler does exist, you guys. I know we get together at conferences and the teens get on panels and talk about how they’re really quite socially competent, thank you very much, but of course the awkward kids aren’t going to volunteer to be on panels, are they? (Well, sometimes they are.)

I think about this in a “chicken or the egg” sort of way: do unschooling and homeschooling inherently make people awkward, or do people with socially awkward kids gravitate toward the unschooling movement because their kids were having a difficult time in school? Most of the time I think it’s the latter and it’s a correlation issue and not a causation issue. However, most people seem to believe the opposite, and believing that your kids are going to turn out to be completely socially incompetent if you homeschool them is a pretty powerful motivator to keep them in school.

4. The Problem With the Media: They’re looking for stories that increase their viewership. Viewers want to watch stuff that is exciting or sensationalist. As a result, media outlets want to do stories about unschooling, but they almost inevitably spin them in a negative or sensationalist way and end up making us look, again, like crazy people.

Frankly, I think most people should not try talking to the media about unschooling, because one has no control over the aired content and you typically end up being a pawn or a footnote in whatever point your interviewer is trying to make. I would make an exception if it’s a live interview and you can get a list of the questions beforehand- that way you know what you’ll be talking about and there’s no way to spin the story through editing.

To close, I want to make it clear that I’m writing this post not because I don’t like unschooling, but because I love it so much. I believe that it is only through honest, critical dialogue that we can make our movement better. Also I needed to get the stuff about bad conference behavior off my chest.

Unschooling affiliated people: How do you feel about this list? What else should be on it? Is there anything on the list that shouldn’t be there?

Categories: Uncategorized | 30 Comments

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30 thoughts on “Things That Hold Unschooling Back

  1. Spot on!

  2. Very well put — and long overdue in being said.
    ~ Jinger, an awkward unschooling parent :)

  3. A great starting place for a continuing conversation I think. :-)

    I really think that the anti-establishment anti-institutional nature of unschooling holds it back though. It’s a hard concept to understand in our society because generations of people have been brainwashed to expect life handed to them on a plate. Passive individualism?

    It’s the ‘un’ in unschooling really. It implies the absence of something and people who don’t like to think (or who have been trained to not think) can’t get beyond the bit that’s missing to see what has replaced it.

  4. I’m so very glad you wrote this and I love that other unschoolers recognize the Venn Diagram Effect, as well. Personally, I notice (and my teens have noticed) a big circle that is counter-culture-or-you’re-not-a-REAL-unschooler. I agree and have also noticed the Feral Children aspect. However, a couple of things: this also applies to the adults. I’ve been to conferences and other unschooling gatherings with plenty of clearly drunk adults meant to be the responsible parties for the children. I’ve seen adults block halls, doorways, have loud parties in lobbies and campgrounds at all hours, and I’ve seen adults more concerned with the fun they are getting out of the experience, than wondering what their children are up to. That said; our culture is extremely adultist. There’s enormous privilege granted to adults and not to children. Children and their carers are continually judged, dismissed, reprimanded and left without support in our society. I caution people to think of that before generalizing about all perceived “bad behavior”, in a public place. As for the socially awkward unschooler, I’m not convinced they exist, so much as do the introverted and the non-neurotypical, or even the Gifted (which is also a complete no-no in the unschooling community, btw.) Not everyone wants to be included in group hugs, or sweaty contra dancing or or have people touch them, unasked. Not everyone feels comfortable in communal sleep-overs. It’s okay. That doesn’t make those unschoolers weird or unable to manage in society on the whole, it makes them different in their perceptions of the world. That’s it. I’ll tack on a note here, going back to that counter-culture thing–and that is there are many unschoolers who appear mainstream, or blend-in with the school culture or who are not the least bit socially awkward or incapable of managing in the world–but they’ve always been unschooled. Those types of unschoolers are neither recognized by the media or mainstream culture because they are not controversial. And they are also largely ignored by the prevalent counter-culture of unschooling gatherings and conferences. So a child who may appear “awkward” at such an event, may be just simply feeling very lonely, with no place at the table. Excellent post, great food for thought, and I’m very happy you dug in and posted it.

  5. I meant to add one other barrier I see to unschooling, and that is the socio-economic portion. If, I, as a curious person attend my first unschooling conference and I attend a talk about “Say Yes!” and how I’m meant to “find a way” to make world travel or technology or other fun, amazing, experiential things happen, there’s a good chance I’m going to think unschooling is only for the wealthy, the socially and financially wealthy, people. There are people who have food and housing insecurity that have to scrape funds together to make unschooling (or conferences and gatherings) work. Not everyone has loads of vacation time, a second (or even a primary) income, not everyone experiences the same physical or mental abilities and not everyone has a network of friends and family from which to lean. This lack of understanding something I’ve witnessed at conferences and gatherings and I think it’s unfortunate. I wish people were willing to discuss and recognize the tough economic barriers people face, often daily, in order to unschool.

    • Joanne

      I appreciate someone mentioning this. There are many things I would like to do with my kids but currently we are feeling the economic downturn deeply. Harder to get out and have opportunities when you are down to one car, can’t afford gas to drive too far, can’t afford classes, have to drive the husband to and home from work which cuts days in half. Not complaining, just reality. I understand one needs to get creative and we are the house that many neighbor kids play at. Unfortunately its seems so many people are not very active outside their houses so it makes it hard to have a ton of learning opportunities in the neighborhood we live. It pains me to think about putting my kids in school for financial reasons because I feel I have spent so much time moving away from that line of thinking and frankly it sort of irks me that there are those out there who can afford to go to a conferance but are there giving beliefs I hold dear a bad name.

      • Yeshe

        I think you are outlining another issue I have with ‘how unschooling should be’. That is that if you’re not doing tonnes of activities then you’re not unschooling effectively.
        We live in a remote area without access to lots of different activities and avenues for learning that urban unschoolers have and I often feel doubt because I am told (or more like shown) that you’re not unschooling properly because you’re not out of the house five days a week attending classes, museums, art galleries etc.
        I’d be interested to know if anyone has seen this?

    • Thank you for the article, Brenna, and thank you Onbradstreet for your reply. Another face of the socio-economic barrier is, for me, the way the single mothers are looked at from the “unschooling” point of view. I am a single mother and I intend to unschool, as unschooling was always making the most sense for me. The way that generally the single mothers are looked at (and “advised” to not even try to “go there”) is very condescending for the most part.. For the most part we did not choose to be single, none in her right mind would.

  6. I love the article, Brenna. Thank you for talking about both the Venn Diagram and Feral unschoolers. Amy made some essential points, too, about feral parents. I’ve only been to three conferences, and at each one there have been parents who appeared much more interested in having fun, drinking, etc, than in being present with and facilitating for their kids. I’ve been the Mom who helped kids in the gaming room talk through a disagreement, and the one who told a teenager it’s not acceptable to hit other kids (especially smaller, younger ones), that it’s not okay to steal things or to lie about what someone else said or did. Those are the kids who need a parent close by; often their parents are the feral adults.

    As the Mom of a kid who doesn’t appreciate being touched or hugged, and who seldom sleeps anywhere but home, I have to say it’s not the unschooling, it’s the kid.

    Amy’s point about financial limitations is also well made. We’re not dealing with food or housing insecurity (tho there have been times…) but we don’t have the funds for lots of travel. We do make technology and sports a priority, because those are priorities for our kids.

  7. Marina Shuman

    Well, first of all, I don’t think unschooling would work, on a fundamental level, as a mainstream movement. It doesn’t fill all the needs that public school does (childcare during working hours, introducing children of immigrants to mainstream culture and language, free and cheap food for kids living in poverty, safe space and non-family oversight [at least sometimes] for kids living in abusive households), and until something does it does not and should not replace public school as the mainstream option.

    I’m also curious about your #2 and where the line is between not allowing your child’s behavior to create negative externalities for other people, and telling them that other people’s experience is more important than theirs, i.e. siddown and shuddup. I mean, obviously there’s a big difference, but that line seems significantly blurrier than how you’ve phrased it here.

    I would love to see someone do an actual analysis on what percentage of schooled people are socially awkward vs percentage of unschoolers who are socially awkward.

  8. As a person who remembers meeting you back-when …you carried your textbooks to the unschooling conference… I am delighted to see you speak up where others have been shut-down. I am even more delighted to hear you were supported! Plus, I happen to agree!
    While no one group defines unschoolers, several try, and some happen to be very very vocal.

    We considered our family unschoolers before any guru showed up to define it. Pre-internet… !!
    When people asked us what unschooling meant, we replied “nothing specific, we simply do not attempt to recreate a failed system” because that is all it was for *us*. Not a specific way of doing things, nor a label or title, a badge earned by being as contradictory as possible for the sake of the experience or by never taking a class if a class is what we wanted to do.

    Watching unschooling become a fractured movement over the years has been rather sad. Not for us, personally, since we went on doing what we do… but for those who might have been inspired — but were, instead, shut out or shouted down – often for mere curiosity. Sad that unschooling became somewhat synonymous with un-parenting and disrespect for the sake of disrespect.

    I could add to your list of disrespectful things I have seen at conferences, and I *am* glad to say that the majority of the people in attendance do not contribute to actions such as those. It is a shame that those who do are often so proud of their inability or unwillingness to be respectful of other people’s time, energy, space, or property.

    I agree with Sylvia concerning the nature of unschooling vs the child… I have children ok with being hugged/touched/parties, and those who aren’t as happy with that type of entertainment – none of them have been to school, so I cannot ‘blame’ unschooling for their differences.

    As to things left off of the list:
    I would love to see the aspect of unschooling addressed wherein adults who observe that all children deserve respect and freedom above all else …no matter what their behaviour or learning style/maturity level… can turn around and declare other adults “idiots in need of a head-smack who are too stupid to decide what is best for their own family” – paraphrasing, but a sentiment I have heard many times over the years.

    Nobody can be an expert on another person’s family, and when an adult person asks questions as they explore unschooling they deserve to be treated with respect and honored for the person they are: a person who truly does want what is best for their family. Just because they are ‘later’ coming to (or simply exploring) unschooling or truly cannot wrap their head around how to start does not make them unworthy of respectful discourse. The declaration that any person can know with certainty what is best for another person (of any age) is so contrary to the underlying message of ideal independent learning inherent in unschooling I can barely wrap my head around why it seems to be fairly prevalent in unschooling forums/circles/lists/conferences. I suppose … perhaps… it is the hallmark of a guru, and not necessarily an unschooling issue. I *am* surprised to see such ideas perpetuated by unschoolers who would not dream of telling a child what s/he *should* know at a certain age/stage and ridiculing them for not being where the ‘others’ are.

    In other words – adults are people, too. Including the businessman at the Del Mar Hilton, and the people who clean the hotel, and the parents who are new to even considering unschooling, and the people who join lists and ask newbie questions and … and… and…

    Ok, that rather turned into its own blog post… oops! So glad you are out there stretching minds and challenging the paradigm!

  9. I want to respond to Marina’s comment about #2 – which is to say that it’s not even making a particular behavior STOP that I see as the issue when we are out at conferences (and valuing one person over another) – but having parents even being nearby and paying attention. When the parent is totally absent, and a potentially-dangerous-or-obnoxious behavior is occurring, then even the opportunity for a conversation is lost. Parents should parent. Maybe it’s providing a better space for the kid to do that exact thing. Maybe it’s asking them to wait for a better time. Maybe it’s asking them to take a minute and actively practice some empathetic thinking about how the people around them feel.

    At a conference I was at this year – I sat on my balcony above the pool and saw two young kids do incredibly dangerous backflips from a really dangerous spot into the pool – with not a single adult in sight. I was also running a workshop meant for older kids, teens and adults when a parent left their very young child in my workshop and left. This kid needed to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t leave – I had a room full of other people, and I wasn’t about to let a 3 year old run around the hotel by themselves.

    Just a few more examples of times when having a parent just BE NEARBY would help. Unschooling is not the absence of parents. It’s active parenting, active involvement, even when you’re at a conference with a bunch of like-minded people.

    Speaking of being at conferences – or in other public spaces – is it just me, or do I feel like as pioneers of unschooling, we have an increased responsibility to not be like crazy-people to the rest of the world? I think it’s extra important for us to represent our community and its benefits well. I’m interested to know if others think that too.

    Brenna, I really appreciate this blog post – as I really appreciated the dialogue you started at that conference.

  10. I’m not necessarily even an unschooling pioneer, having only embraced it 10 yrs ago. But as the contact person and list-owner for my local unschoolers’ group, I feel an increased responsibility that my kids and I not look like crazy people to the rest of the world. I’ve been at this long enough that sometimes people do recognize my name before they meet us. Often they’ve heard about my kids (by name & age). We expect our kids to be civilized (she says as her 11yo is licking the butter off the plate from his just-finished cinnamon roll… but we’re at home) and kind, helpful and respectful.

  11. Ann

    Beautifully put Brenna, thank you!

  12. Wow, Brenna, I’m so grateful you posted this! Nothing to add but thank you!

  13. Brenna, thank you for creating the crack that’s letting some light in. I’ve been part of the unschooling community for almost 40 years now (since back when it was just plain homeschooling), and observing and thinking about all of this makes me weep…and incapable of writing coherently about it. But I will at some point, on my blog and in Life Learning Mag (although I sense that many of our readers are there as refuge from this very thing!). It’s painful to watch when parents complain that the media is portraying unschooling as unparenting when there’s actually a lot of that very thing going on. Although I dislike the word ‘unschooling,’ I’ve been using it a lot more on our websites thinking it will attract those who want to learn more. But I now wonder if it could be turning some off too. Anyway, love the discussion and just wanted to stop by and say thanks; this stuff has been churning in me for awhile and I’m pleased you have so bravely written about it.

  14. I really appreciate this post! We have only recently delved into the world of unschooling. Regarding that term, though, I actually prefer “life learning” (which I see Wendy above me mentions). “Unschooling” does rub me as too negative, especially given that we simply chose the method because it fits our family well. We prefer the outlook that every life experience offers us opportunities for discussion and learning.

  15. Robert Gottlieb

    I really do hope those unparents will read this article. We have most definitely experienced this and are turned off by it. It’s made worse by the fact that the unschooling community is so small where we live. I wish we still lived in San Diego (Clairemont area), for this reason alone.

  16. Milva

    Thanks, Brenna, for the thoughtful post. It’s great to have young people like you and Eli speaking on these issues and starting a dialogue. I’ve only been to one exclusively unschooling conference (as a presenter) and I witnessed a lot of what you talk about in #2. You also make a good point with #4. I (and other homeschooling parents I know) cringe when we see that there will be an “unschooling” segment presented in the media. Why? Because we know why the media wants to do segments on unschooling in the first place (to be sensational). You may have noticed that I identified myself as a homeschooling parent, not an unschooling parent. I do embrace unschooling philosophy (think John Holt), and I used to be more willing to identify myself as an unschooler. But now I’d rather just keep the label homeschooler. It doesn’t make me feel pressured to do things one way or another, or wonder if I’m doing it “right.” So, as to your question about other barriers, I see the “quest for definition” as a barrier. I also see a tendency for unschoolers to flock together, which is a wonderful thing, but maybe it leads to becoming isolationist? For example, the tendency of young adult unschoolers to actively identify themselves as such and seek to socialize, and in some cases even live with, other unschoolers (I’m thinking of a notice for an unschooling group house that I’ve seen recently) interests me. I have young adult children and know several young adults who were unschooled (by my definition, anyway :). Their upbringing and education is certainly important to them and they could speak eloquently about it if asked. But it’s not their primary identity. They’re living their lives out in the world with all kinds of people. They’re working, playing, and creating just as they did when they were younger, but most of the people they come into contact with on a daily basis don’t even know they were “unschooled.” This isn’t a criticism of young people who are “out” as unschoolers (I love hearing from you!), and it’s not to say that “out” unschoolers aren’t or can’t integrate socially. But maybe a couple of the questions/ideas I’m pondering here (‘Do some unschoolers have a tendency toward isolationism?’ and ‘The phenomenon of the ‘invisible’ unschooler) are connected somehow to your #3.

  17. Amy

    Fabulous post! Haven’t been unschooling for that long but feel very sensitive to how we are perceived by others who witness “unparenting”. I think unparenting is an excellent word for that phenomena but agree unschooling could use some work as a term that sounds as if we are against school but does nothing to explain what we ARE for. In the UK we also use autonomous or child led learning…..

  18. shelley

    I love this. I have an acquaintance who is by her definition an un-schooling mom. To me her children fit the feral child syndrome, but to her they wouldn’t. She truly thinks she is doing best for her children by allowing them ultimate freedom and ultimately to do whatever they want regardless of who/what gets hurt/broken. It has gotten to the point that I won’t consider playdates unless they are outdoors at a playground. She sees her children being free and fulfilled, but she doesn’t see how it is at other expenses. I would add that she isn’t a feral parent either. She is kind, polite, respectful and goes to conferences to learn and grow and doesn’t see how disruptive her children can be (clearly they aren’t always feral). It isn’t something I think she would be even open to discussing either, to her that is part of un-schooling whereas to me it isn’t.

    The thing that is missing is the community for the ‘feral children’. In the past children of all ages would spend the day together and the older children would look after the younger children and respect would be naturally learned. Or the kids would be working with their parents and others to survive and learn the importance of respect. Today these children are on their own with no one to guide them, not even their parents. They have no older kids as models, or younger kids that they can learn how to take care of. I think they will be better served by others stepping in with a gentle hand and offering guidance as suggested. I know I have tried with the ones I know.

  19. What a thought-provoking post! I appreciated reading it. I’m new to unschooling, having a 7 year old who’s never been to school and a nearly-4 year old.

    The Venn Diagram phenomenon is interesting to me. I think so many folks find unschooling through something *else* they are passionately exploring–attachment parenting, La Leche League, homesteading, progressivism or libertarianism, co-op living, Unitarianism, etc. And maybe that makes sense since, when unschoolers go about living their interesting lives, they usually end up writing and talking about unschooling as a footnote to the cool things they’re doing with their days! (Kind of a breadcrumb that other like-minded folks then veer off to follow.) For folks who found unschooling while pursuing some other aspect of parenting or living, I wonder if it *is* inextricably tied up to them with this something else.

    You’re point is very well taken that representing it that way to others is limiting. And yet, when it comes to individual experiences, the place where interests, politics, and pursuits overlap may be the most powerful place some unschoolers operate from. Some people may struggle to explain how the various principles that inform their world views are separate when to them, they are drawn from the same well.

    And that leads me to something else that I think holds unschooling back from more mainstream acceptance: it is, by nature, not formalized. There isn’t an unschooling lobbying organization to educate lawmakers on how homeschooling laws could be made more helpful to unschoolers. There aren’t pamphlets to pass out at the farmer’s market explaining who unschoolers are. There isn’t an outreach arm of the movement to help disseminate good information and negate bad information. Heck, most folks would tell you it isn’t even a movement, just a model that they, as individuals, feel best fits their families! There are some really, really great books. And there are some really, really comprehensive and robust websites. But it takes a level of commitment to form a full understanding with those resources.

    A situation like this, I think, lends itself to individual interpretation, and as you’ve said, individual families represent–in varying degrees of universality–what unschooling is, or looks like, or means.

    In your panel, did the discussion turn to the benefits of mainstream acceptance? I’m curious what aspects of that goal were appealing to people, and what folks would be willing to do or support in the effort to make the unschooling philosophy more accessible and more palatable to the greatest number of people.

    Thanks again for the post!

    Teresa

  20. I’ve heard people suggest that the *old days* model where children spent long days together — think summer vacations of my childhood, where my Mom stopped hiring sitters when I was 9, and our only rule was to be home for supper — and I disagree. Yes, sometimes, in some families kids learned to respect each other through the experience of being in company with other children. More often (in my personal experience) some children ran roughshod over others, some manipulated, some ruled and bullied mercilessly. It could be brutal.

    I think children need their parents nearby until they are able to safely (for themselves and others) navigate the current circumstance and situation.

  21. lori mortimer

    The feral child phenomenon is a big problem, but it’s difficult to solve. My husband does not like going to unschooling conferences because he says all he sees are “parents sitting in a room talking about how great their kids are while their kids run around trashing the hotel.”

    I think two culprits are that a) *some* parents newer to unschooling don’t really understand it. The word “freedom” gets tossed around a lot, and it creates confusion. There’s a difference between freedom and license, and there is a difference between non-authoritarian parenting and thinking everything your kids do is okay because, you know, who are you to stop them?; and b) some parents feel this weird, self-imposed pressure to not say “no” to their kids at conferences in front of all the “say ‘yes’ more” unschoolers.

    Another culprit is how to manage attending workshop and talks while attending the conference with your children. I think this is really a key challenge. We attended our first conference when my kids were 11 and 9, and I thought I would be able to attend a lot of workshops and talks while my kids played and explored the conference area. I was wrong. They (mostly the 9yo) were not ready to be alone in that kind of unstructured environment (playing in the elevators, running around upper levels of the hotel, playing with and spilling ice from the ice machines … these are not okay with me, but my son felt like he was the only one being told “no”). So I didn’t get to too many talks that year, which was when I felt I needed them most.

    Is there more that conference organizers can do to help these parents attend the talks by having more structured activities for younger kids? Or by helping parents find a buddy to trade child-care with? A lot of the talks at conferences are geared toward newer unschoolers, and many of them have young children. So there’s an inherent conflict in the structure, I think.

  22. What a fantatic post! Love, love, love it! It is so about time these things were discussed. I consider our family to be radical unschoolers. I totally love unschooling and what it has done for my child. I’ve really struggled to help parents who think unschooling is all of the things you mentioned see that it’s not that at all. It’s sooo time that these things are brought to light, discussed and cleared up. This will be much better for the unschooling community as a whole. Thanks so much for sharing. Do you mind if I pop this link onto my blog?

  23. shelley

    The thing that popped into my head is that for me unschooling is child led learning not child led anarchy. I am a parent first and then a teacher and as a parent I need to help my child navigate the world and teach them how to navigate it on there own when I am no longer there.

  24. This blog post is great and really struck a cord with me. I’ve been to two Unschooling Conferences/Camping events and was deeply affected by both. I walked away feeling shattered for many reasons. I’ve been dismissed by some people in the ‘Unschooling Movement’ as I’ll call it, by the Guru aspect if you will, as I’ve honestly heard a lot about what they have to say before! My Dad’s been on that ‘law of attraction train’ since I was a little Kidd, about 7 or so years old. He and I have had YEARS of conversations about it and when he went through his Amway phase I heard even MORE of it! It’s not something I’m terribly fascinated by in my own life simply because I’m into learning about other stuff… it’s not a personal criticism about anyone who is into LOA, yet I’ve been defriended sometimes twice by the same people because I’ve not wanted to go to certain events or buy what they are selling. How does that behaviour and attitude help them or the ‘Unschooling Movement’? Defriended ONLY because I’m not a potential customer?

    The unparenting happens in and out of the home ed environment and it’s too easy for permissive/open/free learning to be confused with permissive/open/free parenting but seen as neglect. There are plenty of people who neglect their children and it’s a shame in any situation. Shame isn’t a strong enough word but I’m practicing calmness :) When children or adults are rude in any situation it’s a ‘shame’ for the community.

  25. “Another culprit is how to manage attending workshop and talks while attending the conference with your children.

    A lot of the talks at conferences are geared toward newer unschoolers, and many of them have young children. So there’s an inherent conflict in the structure, I think.”

    Yes to that. I went to two unschooling conferences when my children were very young. The first one I went alone with my 3 year old, and I ended up spending most of my time at the playground, because she isn’t the type to just sit and color quietly while I listen to a talk, and I didn’t want to disrupt. (In the end it was fine, I met some great people, and bought the talks online so I still got to benefit from the wisdom, but it created some very very stressful situations for me and I cried a few times…but that might also have been due to the fact that I was pregnant and emotional…) The second one I went with my 4 year old and my 5-month old baby and my husband, and my husband didn’t always do a great job at supervising the 4 year old (ie, he left her on her own for too long a couple of times and both times somebody found her crying in the hallway and came to get me), which made me extremely embarrassed, and which basically is the reason why I’m not going to conferences anymore. I don’t think conferences are well designed for parents who have young kids and want to listen to the talks. Not at all blaming the conference organizers, but it’s something I wished I had known and understood
    beforehand.

  26. Kathleen

    I completely agree that sometimes the structure of conferences makes it difficult for parents with younger children. The admonition to “be there” can also be an issue when people have a wide range of children. I’ve had non-unschooling parents tell me that they found my children’s (good) behavior so refreshing after seeing so many unschoolers whose kids weren’t so well-behaved. I’ve also had a relatively new unschooler see one of my children in a very bad place — and make a lot of assumptions whose basis I question but also can see how she came to those assumptions based on her limited knowledge and experience. We’re all imperfect and a recognition of that goes along way in social and group situations. I think the big issue is when there are different expectations regarding proper behavior and where one person’s right to express him/herself and/or have a good time interferes with other people’s rights. There’s also the matter of the differing levels of sensitivities and all our different backgrounds. Certain behaviors “push buttons” more for some people than others.

  27. Christine

    I really liked your post and had time to read through some of the comments. I found the post and comments helpful in understanding another aspect of unschooling and how to look for media spin when I see mainstream media talking about unschoolers. Though I’m not an unschooler, I do homeschool (My 3rd official year starts in Sept) and and attending different social groups I’ve met very well behaved unschoolers (I wouldn’t have know they unschooled if the parents hadn’t talked to me about their education style. The children had admirable behavior and were very articulate for their ages.) and I’ve met feral acting government school kids (parents didn’t step in until someone did get hurt). The behavior of the children you are talking about seems to me to be less about UN-Schooling and more about UN-Parenting. While agree that every effort should be made to say “Yes” to the child as often as possible, the child does also needs to learn “NO” and how to behave appropriately when that response to a request is given. I believe this for all children regardless of education style. I think there is another venn diagram problem possibly as well. (un(schooled=unparent)ed) is likely the perception where it’s more likely (unschoole(d=u)nparented).
    Thank you for taking the time to read my reply. I hope you appreciate my different point of view.

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