Unschooling Is All the Holiday Rage

26 12 2006

I don’t get why columnists pick Christmas as the Season to Rant Against Unschooling? Maybe the prospect of being home with one’s own children frightens or angers them, and they need to rationalize those feelings somehow, make them socially acceptable. . . or they are disciples of School, profit prophets who make their own living by believing in, and vigorously perpetrating, all its forms and functions.

Hey fellas, the holiday mantra is ho, ho, ho — not No No NO.

And what lazy, wrongheaded assumptions to wrap up as educated thinking for any season, sigh. Modern homeschooling as an institution is admittedly conservative, but so is modern schooling! Hidebound even, a mindlessly anti-individual hell of not working to the point that either one can eat its own young. Literalism, paternalism, judgment, duty, sin, shame, guilt and congregational discipline from the right OR the left all stifle unschooling. I don’t know a single unschooling family –snarling or not– who combines unschooling joy with political rage, do you?

All screeds against other parents and how their children learn sound uncannily alike to me, and this one tells me LEFT-wing rage drives out joy the same way any other kind of rage does.
Let’s call it all “self-righteous rage” then — and educate our own against it whenever possible!

“No more teachers’ dirty looks”

There is a brand of contemptuous, snarling, right-wing American rage, a damnation of all things liberal, that has been rather quiet — sulking perhaps — since the recent election. In this job, I hear it expressed a lot, or used to, but never felt it much myself. Though there was one moment, I recall vividly, when it cracked through my soul like an arc of electricity. I was listening to a lullaby, “Child of Mine,” by 1960s singer/songwriter Carole King.

“You don’t need direction,” she sings, one assumes to her raggy, unkempt babe, “you know which way to go. . . .”

No, no, no, NO!! If I’ve learned one thing raising boys for the last 11 years, it is that kids need direction and lots of it, plus guidance, oversight, discipline, monitoring and constant upkeep. Left to their own devices, they will set the sofa on fire to see what happens. They will juggle knives, or try to. They will spend their days eating frozen sticks of butter and slapping their video game controllers until their fingers bleed.

Thus I was a little unsettled by Rosalind Rossi’s provocative front page story Sunday about “unschooling,” the practice of letting kids drop out of school and, basically, teach themselves whatever they like on their own schedule.

No doubt it works for certain rare — very rare — kids.

It certainly worked for Roz’s main subject, Abby Stewart: a ballerina, well-read, off to Princeton.

But I would suggest that Stewart is more the exception than the rule — and that rule we shall call the “Toddler in the Woods Rule.” It states: Even though an occasional child will toddle off into Craggy Ravine National Park and be discovered, three days later, happy and fit and berry-stained, having sipped dew and made friends with bears, there are 99 others who won’t, 99 others who make a beeline for the first cliff and are never seen again. Thus, despite any heartwarming exceptions, it still isn’t a good idea to let your children get lost in the woods.

Someone has to say it. Schools are good and necessary. Teachers are good and necessary. Parents are good and necessary. And while it is marvelous — in the sense of being a marvel — that certain autodidactic prodigies can thrive on their own, that doesn’t mean that “unschooling” would work for all kids or even most kids. They need direction because they don’t know which way to go.



12 responses

26 12 2006

Because unschooling is pretty much the same thing as leaving my kids in the woods?

What a tool!

This blast from Steinberg stands in such stark contrast with the (relative) flood of recent articles about unschooling. All of them had to include some naysayer but most were far more positive, or at least genuinely, positively curious, than I have become used to.

Except for Steinberg. Bah!


26 12 2006

Don’t forget the Christmas “Sch-rooge” last week and I still am fretting over the whole Dr. Phil debacle because it was so STUPID – people not getting it and not even trying.

But you’re right that we’ve seen plenty of happy surprises too, in recent commentary and overall tone. I just dread the hints that as conservatives begin to make general peace with unschooling, the liberals will go nuts against it . . .oh joy!

26 12 2006

RE Unschooling as leaving a toddler in the woods – Stephen Colbert sees wood-lurking BEARS as the Number One Threat to people, and he caricatures conservative ideas. So maybe this liberal columnist could be unsettled by that comparison? 🙂

26 12 2006

The misunderstanding about unschooling is comical. Two “cliches” come to mind with commentary like Steinberg’s. “A little knowledge is dangerous,” and “Ignorance is bliss.” Ignorant bliss is what allows people to justify living as they do and condemn others for not telling them it’s okay to do so.

26 12 2006

I just read this at a “Quote a Day” site, and it seemed appropriate. “With most men, unbelief in one thing springs from blind belief in another.”
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 – 1799) I guess it’s hard to believe that unschooling works if you blindly believe in schooling! 🙂

26 12 2006

Hi Deanne, that last one resonates with me! I blogged a similar sentiment about blind belief –and informed disbelief–at Culture Kitchen, that you might relate to and enjoy. Whatever blind believers are doing with their time, I hope your unschooling is especially merry this week!

26 12 2006
Nance Confer


The Life Without School blog had a nice take on things too! 🙂


26 12 2006

I just sent Stephanie a Snook trackback to “Unschooling Is All the Holiday Rage” so now let’s see if it works on her end. Still learning! 🙂

27 12 2006

Glad you liked my post. 🙂 My biggest worry is that I really do not think that you can explain unschooling to a reporter nor do I think that they can accurately portray it in a short article. And so then you get folks with a completely inaccurate view of what it is and isn’t (not to mention the fact that no two unschoolers are really alike).

You just can’t do it justice. And then all these “red flags” get raised with the powers that be and they start getting “worried” about our kids and then they start wanting more accountability and it goes from there. *We* know that “accountability” really does not prove anything, but it is commonly accepted by the powers that be. I just worry about opening a whole nother can of worms.

27 12 2006

Our state (Florida) was on the cutting edge of the so-called accountability movement and we’ve been bleeding from it the past 15 years. But the effects–on both schooling AND unschooling–are complicated.
I’d agree, there’s plenty to fill several squirmy cans of worms!

But also I tend to think unschooling owes some of its recent growth and attraction to, let’s see how to put it, to necessity from the MOTHER of a disaster that accountability made of public schooling . . .

27 12 2006
Treasure Coast Funschoolers

[…] At Cocking a Snook, JJ was upset about a negative article. And rightly so. It was obviously written by someone with no clue about unschooling and a lot of fear. […]

28 12 2006

Here’s both sides of the case, schooling parents who could be happier unschooling so they can live family life with their own kids fulltime, and snarling adults who, well, maybe shouldn’t be parents at all. Neither schooling nor unschooling is an answer for adults who loathe their own lives too much to love anybody’s children!

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