Unpacking the Parent-Child-Education Conundrum

In a recent conversation about homeschooling special needs (dysgraphia, dyslexia, etc.), a new homeschooler/education adventurer said the following to me. It’s a common reaction, especially if you have limited experience with homeschooling overall.

“I don’t think unschooling is for us. I like the ideas, but I panic. My kids are already middle-school age and I only have a limited amount of time left. And it makes me really uncomfortable. And, I’m a writer. That’s really important to me. I want them to read. Everyone in my family reads. I really think they need to as well.”

I chose not to respond at the time, because it felt like anything I might say would add pressure to a person already putting intense pressure on herself. Knowing that this woman was already maxing out her courage, it seemed like a time to just listen.

Someday, sometime, this is what I’d wish for her to think about.

My Response

If I could just unpack what you’re saying here: This is not an unschooling issue. It’s a relationship issue. It’ll follow you no matter your educational methodology.

Society tells us as parents that we shouldn’t be comfortable—that we should be uncomfortable—until we find a way to control how our kids are put together. That somehow, parenting is looking at our kids like building blocks that we have to put together in such a way that they don’t fall down, even though there is no glue.

But that’s misplaced.

Advocacy, Control and Personhood

When you do things like researching dysgraphia and dyslexia, finding resources for them, learning about how they’re put together, that’s being their advocate. Advocacy is the parent’s job.

But when society tells you to try to take control of the building blocks of their spirit and their inner nature—what they choose and don’t choose, for instance—that’s not advocacy anymore. That’s treating them as less fully deserving of basic human autonomy, simply due to their relative inexperience at being a human.

When we do that, we’re ignoring and trespassing on the one thing where kids do have more experience than us: What it’s like to be them.

God’s One-of-a-Kind Gift

If you were to put together all the hours of every day that they have spent with their thoughts, in contact with their feelings, in contact with their awareness… and compare it to the amount of time you have spent with their thoughts, fully in touch with their feelings, fully understanding and connected to their awareness… they would still outstrip you in this area of experience, no matter their age.

Because it’s not about variety of things done or amount of time put in.

It’s about depth and intensity of experience.

Each person’s experience of themselves is utter and whole. But each person’s experience of others is incomplete, from the mother of a newborn who’s trying to figure out why the baby is crying to the mother of a young adult who can’t figure out why her kid fell in love with that person.

Mothers are wired to be very empathetic. It’s a survival and developmental mechanism for our offsprings’ benefit. But we are still filtering our empathy through something even more intense: our own experience of ourselves, that experience in which we are the ultimate experts, just as they are for themselves.

Education and God-Given Personhood

So, whatever educational method you choose will not have much bearing on whether they read and write or not. You can bring across the same tools—the right ones for your particular child—in a huge variety of ways, and have them work.

But the degree to which you apply torsion to their personhood in trying to shape it more like your own, that will affect things.

And whatever pivot point you use to apply that torsion—be it literacy, math, history, career paths, love interests—that thing will become closely associated for them with pressure to not live as themselves. It will come to have an emotional distaste attached to it, because it represents the distance between who you are and who they are.

This is not an educational matter. It’s a relationship matter. It’s about that distance and what to do with it.

Our True and Terrifying Calling

Our most difficult calling as parents isn’t discipline.

It isn’t meeting unique educational needs.

It isn’t understanding what makes our kids tick, or providing more opportunities, or being more patient or better role models.

It’s unconditionally accepting and embracing them across this distance that we can’t change.

We want to eliminate the distance caused by non-conformity because we see it as a barrier to closer relationship. We think if we can just get the whole family on the same page (“my” page, because that’s what society says about being a responsible parent, a good mentor, etc.) then the distance will go away.

But the distance between who they uniquely are and who we uniquely are is part of the deal. It never goes away. Relationship is not eliminating that distance, but ceasing to let it matter.

I advocate unschooling not because it’s easier or more laid back or more suited to my lifestyle. It’s not easier for many people. It’s not more laid back to try and let go of all the things unschoolers let go of. It doesn’t give instant gratification or a timeline of promised outcomes like ordering a new curriculum.

People want those promises very badly, especially when afraid of problems. Unschooling’s promise is different.

I advocate it because it’s the one educational approach that’s designed to most fully remove the torsion upon the child’s person.

And I believe in the person first, not the problem.

So my promise to you, as a parent of different expertise, is that I will believe in you first, not your problems. That’s what it means when I say, “You can do this.”

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