I can remember the first time I ever read the word “unschooling.”
I was already pro-homeschooling. As a child, one of my favorite friends was pulled out of our public elementary school to be homeschooled. No one else did it, that I knew of. Only weird fundamentalist religious types. But after going through the public school system, graduating from college with a super useful (insert sarcasm here) psychology degree, putting my degree to “good use” by working night shift at a facility for juvenile sex offenders, and then returning to school to get my teaching license, I soon realized that not only did I not want to work in the school system but I also didn’t want my future children to be a part of it either.
So I entered in to parenthood knowing that I would put up a big fight to make sure that I didn’t have to cart my kids off to school. Have I ever wavered from that? Sure, we’ve discussed the possibility of giving school a try. I’ve made mental notes when the date for registration was coming around. But I never had the heart to follow through with any of my threats to send the kids to school. And neither has my husband.
When my firstborn was a baby, I had an account on Livejournal, an early blogging website. After a friend begged me to get an account, I quickly made a few connections with people, most with whom I’m still in touch today. It was through one of these friends that I first heard of unschooling. I can’t even remember how she and I connected, but Dina and I both had boys about the same age and we were both planning to homeschool them. But Dina seemed to be traveling a path that was somewhat different from traditional homeschooling. Dina planned to do something called “unschooling.” I recall reading what she had to say about unschooling, googling the term, reading more about it, and having an “ah ha” moment. Unschooling made perfect sense to me.
A couple of years later I had a second child and I had been dragged kicking and screaming by a new “friend” (gotta use that word loosely, folks) into a mom’s group. We met for weekly playdates and then we also had an online forum. While the experience wasn’t entirely bad, I was repeatedly hurt by this group of women.
One particular incident really stands out. One mom was a life coach and she was writing content for her business website. She had asked us to list the greatest challenges we’d faced as mothers. Well, I listed about twenty different things including the statement, “Deciding whether or not unschooling is right for my family.” Ahem. This led into a stream of horrific, ugly, terrible comments. A veritable knock-down drag-out. These women did not like me (I already knew that) and they were making it very clear that they somehow felt threatened by me for even considering unschooling. I linked to a website that had a rather famous quote by a rather famous Anne Sullivan at the very top of the page.
“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think.”
One forum member totally went off on how stupid this “Anne Sullivan” was. My only response was that Anne Sullivan was the famous teacher of Helen Keller. She had nothing else to say after that.
These people raked me through the coals for hours that night … about unschooling, breastfeeding, vaccinations. You name it. Only one person defended me even though I knew that the entire group was online. Just gawking. Allowing it to happen. I was later told privately how respectful I was and that I had come out looking golden. Not that it mattered.
The most salient thing that was said to me that night was that I must think that all of the vaccinated and schooled people need to just go live in a football field together somewhere, far away from the superior unvaccinated “unschooled” people. These folks must have been really threatened by my way of thinking.
(I thought you might enjoy knowing that these women had their own “secret” online group where they would make fun of the rest of us. One of the members of our group hacked into the forum to read all of the nasty things they said about us. The worst they said about me was that I was a “tree-hugging hippie.” Hmph. I’ve been called worse. I loved that even though they hated my guts, they couldn’t think of anything truly bad to say about me.)
I believe that this particular experience was a test. A sort of initiation. To see if I was able to withstand the heat, the criticism, the judgment that I would later experience if I went down the unschooling path. And I suppose defending unschooling and my right to do it that night solidified in my mind that, in the very least, I’d try it. And I haven’t looked back since.
So, thank you, nasty women. Thank you for pushing me so far over the edge early on in my motherhood that I never had a time when I put my kids in school and then had to withdraw them, that I never tried to force tests or expectations on them, and that I’ve always listened to their voices. If unschooling is the opposite of what you are doing then it’s exactly where I need to be.