Some people think we chose unschooling as a way to “protect” our kids from unwelcome people, ideas, food (yes, food) & religious beliefs.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We chose unschooling because we wanted our kids to experience the world in a visceral, no holds barred way – commensurate with their respective ages, of course – and to grow in confidence when it came to navigating said world.
Living in New York City helps.
Parents in the city would be hard-pressed to shield their kids from every extreme in language, behavior and belief. As Maya said once a few years ago as we were walking through the Times Square subway station while someone with a microphone was angrily quoting the Bible, “It’s not Times Square unless someone’s talking about Jesus.”
Then there is the homeless man who opens the door for everyone at our local Starbucks. Sometimes he’s completely benign, accepting coins if they are given and nodding his head if they are not. Other times he is high or drunk or both and screams at passersby, and on those days it is best to give him a wide berth.
Riding the subway is an exercise in tolerance, as you simply cannot avoid being inches away – often less – from people of all colors, languages, and sometimes very obvious religious beliefs (or lack thereof). If you exit the subway at Union Square, you will be greeted both by the chants of the Hare Krishnas and at least one sign telling you that only through Jesus will you get into heaven. Chess matches between older black men and anyone who will play them are a staple of the Square, as are the stoners/addicts who haunt the southern terrace and are equal parts generous and terrifying.
My kids have seen the topless painted women in Times Square, and the topless sunbathing women in Central Park. They’ve heard (and understood) just about every curse word you can think of, and some that were new to me. They’ve traveled the city far and wide courtesy of our fantastic subway system, and been on the trains with friends (sans parents) well after midnight.
They do not fear that which they do not understand. They accept that even people with whom they disagree about important topics (women’s rights, abortion, religion) can also be kind and generous, and that the world will never be only black and white.
Don’t get me wrong. They have strong opinions which they are not reluctant to express – they are not so tolerant that they will never speak their mind or openly say that someone is wrong. But they are not intimidated or fearful of ideas or beliefs that differ from their own. I just read a great article in The Atlantic by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt titled “The Coddling of the American Mind”, and was, quite honestly, shocked at what I read. Colleges where difficult topics are shunned and kids balk at the very idea of intellectual conflict? Where are these kids planning to spend their lives once they are out of school? Locked in a “safe room” where nobody will ever disagree with them or upset them?
I think those kids should come and live in our world for a while. It’s messy, sometimes loud and often beautiful. As unschoolers my kids spend almost all of their time in it.
And they are doing just fine.