I hadn’t planned to post again until we return from Israel, but a conversation on Facebook earlier this evening changed my mind.
You see, there are many different opinions among unschoolers as to how this lifestyle should manifest. Unschoolers argue among themselves about what really makes someone an unschooler, just as folk singers will argue among themselves about what makes a folk song.
As Wendy Priesnitz and Sandra Dodd have both said (along with many others, but I’ve been reading a lot of Wendy & Sandra’s writing lately, so they are forefront in my mind), there is no one right way to do this. It depends on the child and the family dynamic and on so many other things. Unschooling will manifest differently for each family, which is the wonderful thing about it.
However, when someone on a Facebook group tells a parent new to unschooling that they can lie or fake the information they are required to present to the Dept of Ed, I take issue. Of course you CAN lie, but would any responsible person present that as an option? To lie? To falsify documents? Especially when it has to do with your child’s learning?
When I mentioned this in the FB conversation and said that beyond the ethical issue of the lie itself, you might also be planting a question in your child’s mind about the value of what they know. They might get the impression that what they know is not good enough to report honestly. The person with whom I was speaking responded by saying that her children have no knowledge of the reports she sends in, or that she even sends reports. She said she doesn’t tell her kids about the regulations because the regs are ridiculous and she doesn’t want them to interfere with her children’s freedom.
Again, that is an option. It is each parent’s prerogative. But unless the children are very young I feel it is somewhat misguided. A parent who says she doesn’t want anything to interfere with her child’s “free life” is attempting to build a utopia around her child, just as a helicopter parent tries to protect their child from every danger, real or perceived. It is unrealistic and tends to backfire later on.
Regulations exist in the world. Ignoring them or being ignorant of them does not mean they aren’t there. It just leaves us ill equipped to deal with them and/or change them if we so desire.
Personally, I want my kids to be aware of the expectations of the state and of society. Then they can choose whether or not, or to what degree, they will participate in or satisfy those expectations. They are no less free for knowing these things.
My advice to families who are thinking of unschooling, or who already are and are approaching the time when they are supposed to begin reporting to the DOE, is to be honest. You do a disservice to all unschoolers and your own children by lying about what your child knows and learns. If you believe the regulations in a given state are ridiculous, you have two options; you can move to a different state or you can work to change the rules by lobbying your representatives.
Also, I personally feel there is value in keeping your kids in the loop as far as the reporting goes, once they are old enough to understand what that even means. How much more will your child value the freedom they have if they are aware of the regulations and of how you take the learning that happens in their lives and put it in a format that even the government can understand and accept? It’s almost a miracle, really.
At the end of the day you must do what you feel is best, and what works for your family. My feeling is that honesty is never a bad idea, and that kids can understand the intricacies of living in a regulated society and appreciate their own unique place in it far more than we often realize.
But it’s up to you. At the end of the day.