There was once a bloke who knew just about everything there was to know about … well, everything! He liked to hang around with his mates having a yarn about stuff. They went fishing and boating together, he washed their stinky feet, spoke wisely, told stories, encouraged questions, fed the hungry, rested, cared for the destitute, and welcomed grotty kids. He loved sharing life with his mates and chatting as they walked along the road getting dust in their sandals.
At the same time there lived another man who frequented fancy places of learning, and expected respect. He focussed on rules and external behaviour, but didn’t often practise what he preached.
So there you have it: Jesus, and a Pharisee. A study in contrasts! When I think about Jesus, I see a picture of unschooling, while the other reminds me … well, it simply reminds me of school!
Maybe Unschooling IS in the Bible After All?
I am no Bible scholar. I see the Bible as a love story more than a rule book. It paints with broad brush strokes that speak of relationship, not religiosity; discipling, not controlling; love, not fear; free will, not coercion.
In addition to the life of Jesus, there are other examples that remind me of unschooling.
The Garden of Eden was like a perfect unschooling oasis, an exciting environment filled with opportunity and adventure! The Father walked and talked with His children, and they learned through relationship and experience. When they failed, He was present and available, providing everything they needed.
Fast forward a few thousand years to the early church, who met in homes rather than synagogues, lingered over lunch, shared life and celebrated Jesus through story and community rather than religion and formula.
There are verses that reflect unschooling principles, too. Look at the picture painted by these verses! Christ came to set us free (Galatians 5:1) and give us an abundant life (John 10:10). The Father taught us to walk, took us in His arms, led us with cords of human kindness, bent down to feed us (Hosea 11:3-4). He is like a compassionate mother (Isaiah 49) who comforts us (Isaiah 66). He longs to gather his children like a hen gathers her chicks (Luke 13:34). He asks us to treat others as we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12), to be kind and tender-hearted (Ephesians 4:32), remembering that whatever we do for others, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40). Instead of exasperating our children (Ephesians 6:4), we are told to love them as He loves us (John 13:34).
What a beautiful prescription for unschooling!
Doesn’t the “God of Order” Tell Us to “Train Our Children”?
God is indeed referred to as a “God of Order” so therefore we should timetable our children’s days and convince them to complete sequential curriculum, right? Whilst order IS one of God’s attributes, it doesn’t limit him. C.S. Lewis calls him an “untamed lion.” And God’s dialogue with Job about the wild places of earth don’t sound like order to me!
We are instructed to train our children, but does that mean they have to sacrifice their autonomy and give in to society’s expectations, becoming carbon copies of one another? Would you prefer to be a relationship-centred horse whisperer or a performance-based circus trainer? Modeling, discussing, and learning together, with mutual respect, allow us to “train our children in the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6), rather than in the way the government education department says they should go!
So Can a Christian Unschool?
The “unschooling is unbiblical” assumption is usually rooted in a lack of understanding of what unschooling is. People assume it is “unparenting,” neglect, pandering to every whim, letting them “do whatever they want” without regard to others.
Unschooling is living an abundant life in an environment where feelings and needs are mutually respected. It is exploring, cooking and sharing meals, doing errands, traveling, listening, discussing, questioning, playing, socializing, and learning along the way. It is honouring our children’s preferences and interests, bringing wonderful things into their world, pursuing our own passions and delighting in theirs. Which sounds a lot like the instructions in Deuteronomy 11 to talk with our children about God when we are at home, on the road, going to bed and getting up. It’s a whole life thing.
God grants us free will. Unschooling celebrates free will and autonomy, in an environment of connection, not a vacuum of neglect. It allows children to be true to who God made them to be, rather than a carbon copy of the education system requirements.
Pay It Forward
God is gracious, loving, patient, kind, generous … He doesn’t demand His own way. Unschooling works best when we treat our children as the Father treats us; when the fruits of the Spirit are growing in us.
Unschooling requires trust in a child’s desire to learn. Christian unschooling has an extra dimension: we trust the Father to hold our children in His hands, and to give us all the guidance, wisdom and love we could possibly need for this wonderful life!