Unschooling families make the decision not to send their kids to school and instead to encourage and support their self-directed learning because they understand an irrefutable truth when it comes to schooling. One size never fits all. Children are different both inside and out and any attempt to make them all learn the same things at the same time in the same way will fail.
But here is another irrefutable truth that often gets conveniently overlooked. One size does not fit all in the unschooling world, either.
I’ve said before that there is no singular “right” way to unschool, but the bottom line is this; criticizing another family for their mode of unschooling, or calling them inauthentic because they place restrictions on their kids in some areas is not only counterproductive, but – when taken to the extreme – begins to sound like the argument schools make for standardization. (Which is basically that there is only one “best” way to learn and everyone must learn that way or be failures.)
Can a radical unschooling family put bedtimes in place for their kids? Or restrict sugar? Can a family unschool in all subjects but one? Of course they can. No two families are alike, and within those families you have kids with differing temperaments and personalities. If school is not one size fits all then neither is life or lifestyle.
How can you criticize a family whose kids are learning outside of school because their own path does not mirror your own? If it is working for them and their kids are happy and fulfilled, why tell them they need to do it differently in order to be considered “real” unschoolers? Why make divisions where none are necessary?
This growing need to categorize unschoolers (a need that is coming from within the community itself) is possibly another indication of the deep hooks placed into most of us as a result of our schooling. We have a desperate desire to do things the “right” way and to create a checklist of items to which we must adhere. Telling someone else that they aren’t doing it right is, perhaps, a way to reassure ourselves that our way is best. I am not talking about respectful debate, which can be instructive and be a catalyst to positive change. I’m talking about finger pointing and insults and condescension.
Segregating ourselves into camps and refusing to listen to anyone whose opinion differs from our own means we are not learning from or in the world. Sometimes we learn the most from the people with whom we have the least in common; but if we refuse to ever entertain their opinion, or listen to why they do what they do, we cut off that possibility.
The only solution might be ditching the various labels altogether (yes, labels). Instead of homeschoolers, or traditional homeschoolers, or unschoolers, or radical unschoolers or whole life unschoolers we could all just be, as Wendy Priesnitz has been saying for years, life learners. We learn from our lives. Maybe our lives include bedtimes, and sugar restrictions and mandatory teeth brushing. Maybe our lives include none of those. Maybe we are self-directed in every subject but science, or maybe we buy a curriculum and sit down together every day for lessons. Maybe we don’t own a TV. Maybe our kids want to be on TV. Maybe our idea of a good time is an evening of round robin chess or maybe it’s a Mario Kart championship on the Wii.
Whatever path our life takes, it is our path, and we learn from it. We might do well to rejoice, not only at finding the path that works for us and our kids, but also at the knowledge that so many other families are finding their own unique paths outside of the compulsory school system, differ as they might from our own.
Embrace those differences.
Break down the barriers between us.
Learn from each other.
Ditch the labels.