In 2005 I created An Unschooling Life, a blog detailing our unschooling experience after adopting our three children. Over time, An Unschooling Life became a hub for unschooling support and advice. The blog has been featured in print and digital media and was home to the popular Unschooling Carnival. I’m in the process of updating and moving all the posts to this blog where they will be housed under the An Unschooling Life section. This post was originally published on June 16, 2011 and was written by Kimberly Sharpe for An Unschooling Life.
Being an unschooling mom does have it’s moments of absolute frustration on many different levels. Not so much with the belief system that this philosophy of learning does work, and it does, but with the criticism from family members and society as a whole.
Although the term homeschooling has been around for a long time, understood and supported by many families, churches, governmental institutions, and the like, unschooling, for the most part, is an alien method to most.
Unfortunately, many people that do unschool receive a ton of negative support and criticism. How does one deal with such ridicule? Does this ignorance of the unschooling lifestyle affect your children and their daily communication with others? Can you politely and lovingly devoid yourself from having an uncomfortable oral discussion with a family member or a complete stranger in a shopping market? I believe you can, although it hasn’t always been easy for me or my children.
So how does one handle the unschooling criticism debate?
I’ll be honest, my youngest daughter Chloe usually doesn’t tell people that she is an unschooler, she simply tells people that she is a homeschooler. She has gotten tired of explaining her philosophy and how she loves to learn about cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, ferrets, rats, and the Holocaust. Her interests are her own and she loves learning about each of these topics. My oldest daughter
Autumn, soon to be 18, usually does the same thing. Is it really worth it? She seems to think so, as does Chloe. They are humorously bullied by their uncle, by their cousins, and teased sometimes out in public by complete strangers from not being in school. They both feel that loving themselves and being peaceful people is what is most important when dealing with these situations in the public world.
My youngest daughter Chloe will occasionally express her anger to me privately, but we work through it, and usually resolve the problem in a calm conversation. Sometimes.
John Gatto expressed that unfortunately in the public school system, a good student obeys the orders of their instructor to be accepted and to receive a passing grade. A good student does their homework and does not debate with their teachers because their teacher is the smarter person and they know best.
This old school method of learning is not humane in my opinion, and I do not agree with people who criticize my family, but I refuse to allow myself to become enraged by society’s ignorance and narrow mindedness.
Casey – the difference is, in simple terms, unschoolers don’t follow a curriculim or a standard. 🙂
Cendrine Marrouat says
People will be people. When you want to be different and do things your way, people always find something to question. It’s easier to see if someone else’s grass is greener than to check one’s own. As I always say, be of this world without being too much in it. As long as your children are happy and well-balanced, the rest does not matter!
Excuse my ignorance but could someone explain the difference between “homeschool” and “unschool”. It seems obvious because clearly kids are still educated so what is the difference?
We home schooled my son for his 8th grade year. He had to take a test to get into regular high school. He tested out as a college grad before 9th grade. He ended up going to Columbia.
Just smile when someone says something negative. You don’t need to explain.
BTW, My daughter home schools her children and runs programs for families. I’ve never heard the term unschool before.
Christina Pilkington says
It’ll be interesting as my children grow older (they’re just five right now), to see how much negativity we get from people. My extended family is fine with us homeschooling, but I think they don’t really believe we’ll be fully unschooling the older they get.
I completely understand my wife and i have 13 children that we unschool in Costa Rica—They all seem to be so smart-but everyone calls them stupid–we know it’s not true–they all read and write at levels far above their levels–why are people so cruel–we love our unschooling lives–praise jesus!
Ha! My mother was a rabid unschooler, and I didn’t grow up with as much grace on the topic than your kids have. I have a few posts tagged with “homeschooling” on my blog about what it was like to butt heads with opponents of alternative schooling.
Actually, some people were more easily won over by convincing them that homeschoolers can nearly perfectly mimic public schooling– that somehow legitimized it– but others were interested to hear that unschoolers don’t experience the problems that many people have bad memories of: boredom, bad textbooks, peer bullying, etc.
my kids, like yours, don’t use the word unschool outside the homeschool community. Several years in now, they’re pretty adept at correctly answering “what grade are you in?” and have found that seldom do questions go beyond that. It seems folks mostly are just making small talk and the only method they have is to talk about school.
Billy Akerman says
Great article Kim. Keep up the awesome work. I’ve had the same situation when it comes to explaining the unschooling life to people. They seem to be closed minded to an unstructured education. My daughters have a strong natural desire to learning that I wouldn’t be able to stop if I tried.
The judgments of doom and mean criticisms do get me down sometimes. I don’t understand why people feel the need to get negative about choices that please my kids and me so much. But I just think, I love this life. My kids love it. We don’t need approval from anyone else. Certainly not from someone who would judge based on quick assumptions. I’m not going to cause my kids to suffer just to satisfy the status quo. If other people feel the need to do so, it’s their journey.
deb from p.s. bohemian says
“They both feel that loving themselves and being peaceful people is what is most important when dealing with these situations in the public world.”
i love this statement – it embodies why i so rarely will engage anyone in debate over my choices anymore – i feel strongly called to be a peaceful and loving source in this world and chose to let that guide my words as often as i consciously can <3
The worst is when someone starts quizzing my children. This type of bullying, and that is what it is, is usually done by an adult. Yes, I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t make my blood boil, but then I come to terms with myself and realize that this frustration is not worth it. The girls are happy, smart and living life the way I wish I could have experienced my childhood. Free.
Sadly where we live unschooling is a term most people have never heard of. We come from a family where public school is very supported and a homeschooler much less unschoolers are frowned on.
For the most part though, once people meet us and talk to us they are like, “You guys are so smart, where do you go to school?”
I enjoyed reading this. I love that we unschool, and I’ll admit that sometimes, I enjoy the blank expression the term puts on some faces. Depending on the audience, sometimes I’ll explain it to them and other times I’ll just go with ‘homeschooling’ and save my breath.
Wow Kimberly! That is so ridiculous! I haven’t dealt with much criticism but ignorance can cause people to say things they shouldn’t.