Unschooling Lessons for School-minded Dads

This harebrained (or is it hair-brained? I could make either case) idea was inspired by new unschooler Colleen wondering how to prepare a concerned dad for the disappearance of traditional academic lessons and measures. So I credit her for the idea and I did write it in the form of a letter to her, but I bear full responsibility for running amok with it based on many other dads I’ve known and read about through the years. Blame me alone for the fictional composite dad created as a result or for any glibness or generalizations you may find offensive. Any resemblance to her dear husband or any other individual, living or dead in your home or otherwise, is not intentional!


Okay. Suppose you do leave your son’s academic lessons completely aside, and stop thinking about getting him to learn a little of this or that to pacify Dad (which really doesn’t accomplish anyone’s central goals, including Dad’s.)

But don’t stop schooling! Re-focus all that energy directly on your school-minded husband, with one goal: getting him to learn important lessons about unschooling so your son will indeed be able to get an excellent education both broad and deep (not just some socialization and rote schooling) and then someday help his own children to do the same.

(If you dearly wanted to adopt from China, or take your son on a year’s safari or a mission, or dramatically change the family’s lifestyle any other way, Dad would be a willing partner in the process, right? — not just watching and judging you as you did all the research, deciding, planning and acting alone?)

Probably you can both agree that your son like any learner, will benefit most from teachers dedicated to his best interest AND well-versed in education and cognitive psychology research? That could be you and his dad, if you’re willing to study hard and learn your own lessons. No learning could be more important to your son right now, than for his parents to learn to be the education leaders and life-lesson examples he wants, needs and deserves.

So take this semester to specialize in graduate-level education study for his parents. Make that your entire curriculum. Plan it like traditional lessons perhaps, since that is how Dad learned to learn and still believes is best. School him intensively and with rigor! Make Dad your one-to-one teaching target and learning partner (instead of your son) — devote all your attention to teaching yourself how to teach Dad all about schooling and education research and principles.

Et cetera.

You can prove to Dad every day how seriously you are taking this new responsibility for your son’s education, by focusing all your efforts on one-to-one teaching — of Dad! Give him lots of reading assignments, like Howard Gardner’s The Disciplined Mind, Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, and Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works, and expect him to outline and teach YOU what he learns from it all. Ask him to make that book list I suggested in a comment for you at Snook, and press him into service independently scouting out research from unschooling and education sources he can bring to your attention and discuss with you.

NHEN published some great dad essays from all sorts of perspectives you can assign, also.

Why I like this idea —
I figure it’s bound to “work” toward your family’s unschooling success, no matter what happens! Either Dad will be a receptive learner and gradually take ownership of the ideas and try them out, get into it, grow in understanding and internalize unschooling principles for himself OR, if he just won’t or can’t after your best efforts to target him and change his thinking, then ta-da! — his own personally experienced failure to learn from all that intensive teaching is Exhibit One for why being the target of “teaching” so often fails, no matter how hard we try to make someone else “learn” something we think worthwhile. . .

You were earnestly aiming important teaching at him. Yet if he resisted, didn’t like the way it feels, had too many other things he wanted and needed to do instead, and it therefore wasn’t “learned” no matter how valuable someone else thought it would be — well, you just taught him the most important unschooling lesson possible!

Maybe teaching is like communism. Makes perfect sense in the abstract, sounds like the obvious answer, until we actually try to make it work and learn for ourselves that it doesn’t.

I don’t mean to sound sneaky or suggest you fool him. I really do endorse this as a TRUE unschooling lesson in both message and delivery. Help Dad experience for himself how learning without schooling works — and schooling without learning doesn’t.

7 responses

23 11 2008
Deschooling a School-minded Dad « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Unschooling Lessons for School-minded Dads […]

23 11 2008

JJ, this is not the first time (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) that I’ve wished you lived right next door to me or, at the very least, that I had a direct line to your brain–kind of like the bat phone! Nor is it the first time I’ve thanked my lucky stars to have you as an unschooling mentor. 🙂 I LOVE this idea!! And even if DH fails to “get” either outcome I will be so much more secure in my knowledge of unschooling. I’ve been dreading my mother-in-law’s visit (she’s coming for Thanksgiving) because I know she’ll ask questions about “school” but I realized last night–and this post of your just confirmed it–that knowledge is my best weapon when it comes to fielding questions from people who think of learning in conventional terms–DH included. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Finally I get to plan a curriculum for something! 😉

23 11 2008

Heck, send MIL a reading list and ask her to get up to speed so you can have some in-depth discussions of the material!

Colleen, you’re one of the most earnest, thoughtful all-round, teaching-herself unschooler parents I’ve ever known. 🙂

23 11 2008

You know, both your DH and son might really benefit from the Pink book (A Whole New Mind) because of its emphasis on right-brained ways to make a creative living in this new century and millennium, and economy. Talk about a teachable moment, with his opportunities changing underneath him, isn’t this the perfect time for him to give serious thought to his own career twists and turns, the uncertainty of it all and how you have to keep adapting as both person and professional? And since DH already works in a creative knowledge field rather than physical, tangible manufacturing or something more traditional, I would think this would appeal to him right now, not just to his aspirations for his son. Who knows WHAT Jerry might be able to turn into an amazing life 10 or 20 years from now?

23 11 2008

And after a very short time, be prepared to stand back and watch as DH and even MIL brag on their children/grandchildren who, of course, are unschoolers and learning in leaps and bounds in their own special ways. 🙂


23 11 2008

That’s the truth — and they will try to take all the credit!

30 09 2009

Written to another smart and earnest Thinking Mom with young children, trying to wrap her own brain around unschooling and help a so-far adamantly opposed dad do the same

Wrapping one’s mind around unschooling is easier with [negative soul-sucking schoolish experiences that make kids cry] kept front and center. . .

But it’s really, really hard to do. Dale McGowan at Meming of Life has written about “confirmation bias”* in trying to enlighten ourselves about religious doctrine, where even a tough, serious and motivated mind may have embedded scripts below the level of consciousness that sabotage objective inquiry in decision-making of all kinds.

It feels so risky to stop believing the party line of either church or school, that our own minds and emotions are on the other side working against us! — to talk us out of it or if that fails, TRICK us out of it, for our own good of course, because conformity feels safer to the lizard brain.

The primitive fear is the same in either case, that if you reject either school or church teachings, you will be cast out into the darkness and damned, your life will lose all meaning and you’ll eat out your own liver for eternity. Talk about high stakes tests! 🙂

JJ’s Hypothesis: Adults determined to study and test their own embedded beliefs about either church or school, are likely to have similar personal experiences with both.

Some people get to unschooling more with their feelings, often after being so monstrously mistreated by schooling that the mind finally will accept almost anything as being safer than a return to that. Same with church. Maybe think about “church” conventions as a parallel to “school” conventions — how the culture indoctrinates us that both are some sort of universal human truth and resistance is futile. As children we receive church AND school dogma as “written on our hearts” to the point that as adults, daring to break with belief inside our own hearts and minds, can feel like falling into an abyss.

Others of us get there with our thinking more than our feelings, I guess. Like me. 🙂

But even as we think we’re being so analytical and rational, and we try consciously to challenge the cultural scripts about church (and school) all around us, they keep playing on a loop INSIDE us all during our inquiry, under the level of rationality, and it’s very hard to resist; I imagine it must be something like how addiction feels? When the mind has doubts about embedded scripts of school and church, even a well-educated and scientific mind tends to rationalize away the doubt to resolve the dissonance, and usually that means the embedded idea is not only not removed, it’s actually reinforced and harder than ever to think away the next time. This is not logical but very human.

I read and researched for years, tried several belief systems and thought I had a couple of transformative spiritual experiences even, before I could finally set aside my lizard brain scripts of church — and then I had to start all over again with school. Studied it all, tried it all, thought I believed and embraced it all, until I had my own children. ( That should be the picture in the dictionary next to the word “epiphany!”) So then I addressed my growing doubts with years of gorging on cognitive and education psychology, and that eventually became my own mind’s way of accepting that any risk in unschooling was better than the known system failures of schooling.

*Confirmation bias 1

Confirmation bias 2

Confirmation bias 3

Confirmation bias 4

Confirmation bias 5

“We ALL do it. The trick isn’t to lead our children into a magical life free of confirmation bias, but to get them to fall so deeply in love with reality that they work hard to fight this tendency in themselves and others — precisely because it deludes us and blinds us to reality more than any other error.”

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