Unschooling and Identity - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 17 Old 02-21-2011, 09:23 AM - Thread Starter
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Rain and I were talking about this yesterday, and I was wondering how others' experiences compared to ours.

 

When she was younger, I think unschooling was kind of a big "thing". We didn't know many unschoolers - well, there really weren't many unschoolers, even online, and they were definitely few and far between in real life. Also, school was a big thing for most little kids, so a lot more people asked Rain about school and then at least homeschooling would come up, and often unschooling... so it just seemed to always be there in front of us.

 

For the last five years or so, other than moderating here smile.gif, it's just not that visible. Rain has three good friends here who are homeschooled (or were, I guess, since they're all a year or so older than she is) but I really have no idea how structured their schooling was. It didn't seem to matter... Rain does stuff like baking or theatre or playing rugby or going to shows with them, not schoolwork. Most of her friends aren't/weren't homeschooled or unschooled, and that doesn't matter to them or to her.

 

So, we were talking about being an unschooler, and she basically said well, yeah, I am, but it's not really that important most of the time. It would be like saying "I'm a rugby player" or "I speak Russian" out of the blue - yeah, those things are true, but they don't define her.

 

When she was younger, like 11 or 12, she really wanted to go to NBTSC, because all the teens she knew went and loved it... and then by the time she got to be a teen she didn't really see the allure. She doesn't blog about unschooling, like a lot of unschooled teens seem to. When she was applying to colleges she chose not to talk about it at all in her essays (although I snuck some references into the school description bits, although without using the word unschooling).

 

I'm thinking it might be different for kids who start unschooling later, too...Rain unschooled after kindie, and she really has only fuzzy memories of school, and the schools she was in were pretty non-traditional anyway.

 

So, how is it for you? I know it's a different world now than ten years ago, so I'm curious about those of you with kids who are little now - is unschooling a big part of their identity? And for those of you with older kids, how do they think about it? And has it changed?


 
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#2 of 17 Old 02-21-2011, 10:11 AM
 
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My son's just turned 5, so we're in a way different boat than you are, though we've been part of homeschooling and unschooling groups for a couple years.

 

I can see unschooling not being a part of their identity that kids would state. My analogy is chicken eggs. Our chickens lay brown and green eggs. We were at my parents' and my son said, "Look at those funny eggs, they're white." Having brown eggs is so much a part of our life that he doesn't know to identify himself as someone who eats brown eggs. That's just how life is. If we'd always eaten white, store bought eggs, then suddenly we got laying hens that laid brown eggs, he might think, "I'm someone who eats brown eggs and none of my friends does." But brown eggs are just a normal part of life.

 

I'm thinking the same might be true of your daughter. Unschooling is just her life. She doesn't really know how different her life is from the norm. Sure, she knows most kids are schooled, just as my son now knows store bought eggs are usually white, but so what? We eat brown eggs.

 

Or maybe we're just too new in this path for me to even have a clue about this. But it is a fun analogy.


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#3 of 17 Old 02-21-2011, 11:17 AM
 
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Unschooling is not part of my kids' identity at all, but very much a part of mine. They just experience it. It's the water they swim in. I don't think my kids have much consciousness of what their lives are like in relation to those of others enough to make it part of their identity. My 8 year old is just finally telling people he "homeschools" instead of just saying "I don't go to school," when asked. If they ask what he does? Oh lord: "play video games, watch movies, play with friends..." It sounds fantastic. But those are his favorite things to do.  shrug.gif

 

It seems sort of an adult notion that we gain from choosing to work on it. Which is why unschooling is a big part of my identity. It wasn't exactly when I was 16, because I was just trying to get through and figure out what to do. Now, with a community of people (even if they're mainly online), there's plenty of opportunity to think about it and I recognize the vast differences between myself and most other parents. My experience is very very different than most parents I know because the things I worry and think about for my children are way outside of the mainstream. They're outside of the alternative, even. The concerns that I confront are so specialized, that unschooling becomes as much of a stigma as it is an identity.


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#4 of 17 Old 02-21-2011, 01:30 PM - Thread Starter
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Hmm... so maybe she is just used to it? I guess I keep running across evidence of this big unschooling subculture online, and there seem to be a lot of teens who blog about it or go to gatherings or whatever, and who seem to socialize extensively with other unschoolers, and that's just not her. Or me, really, to be honest. I keep thinking of starting a blog about unschooling a teen and then I think, what would I say? We're not really doing anything special or different, and it's not like this is something I'm working at - it's just our life.

 

Maybe it's also that I know very few parents of teens in real life. Like... maybe none. I had Rain comparatively young, and most of my friends are younger than I am right now, so.... yeah. Just being a single mom with a teen makes my life different from any of my friends, without even throwing in unschooling.


 
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#5 of 17 Old 02-21-2011, 01:41 PM
 
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Right. I think that if it becomes part of your active culture, then it can be more of an identity, but that's not most of our lived experiences. Most of us don't spend our time at conferences and with lots of other unschoolers. For some, that's their niche. For us, we haven't found our niche in the homeschooling community at all and we don't exclusively spend time with unschoolers at all.


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#6 of 17 Old 02-21-2011, 08:44 PM
 
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My dc are young, so it may be different, but like pp's, the only references to "unschooling" happen between dp and me when we're relating information from online or in books. Otherwise, like others, we just wake up every day and live. My children know that other children go to school, so if anything, they might see that as identifying others (not in a negative way, to be clear), but not going doesn't have an identity over here: its contentless. We don't attend conferences either, and we talk about school only occasionally, when our dc ask questions about it.

Our life is content-rich, of course, but it's hardly a useful qualifier to go around stating "I'm alive. I'm living." lol.gif


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#7 of 17 Old 02-21-2011, 09:43 PM
 
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My kids have never really been part of an unschooling culture, and no, they don't define themselves or their childhoods in terms of unschooling. They have a bunch of friends who go to school, and a bunch in the same group of friends who don't, and they don't think of any of them according to their educational status, not even in the backs of their minds. So much so that for example it took three years of summer chamber music meet-ups for them to notice that all but a couple of the dozen kids in the program are current or former (until high school) unschoolers.

 

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#8 of 17 Old 02-22-2011, 10:40 AM
 
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Unschooling is a big part of our identity as a family because it has hugely impacted our lives. Both my kids (9 and 5) are involved in discussions about Unschooling and actively compare their lives to those we know who homeschool or public school. I don't mean that in a critical way, just in a matter of fact way.

We have a very active Unschooling community, so I think it's just something at the front of our awareness at all times. When we moved from school and dominant/authoritarian parenting into Unschooling and respectful/partnership parenting almost 4 years ago it was an ENORMOUS shift in every aspect of our lives. The dramatic change is something we are aware of and think about and talk about on a daily basis.

 


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#9 of 17 Old 02-22-2011, 03:44 PM - Thread Starter
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I can see how it would be more of a focus if it was a big change. I found TCS when Rain was 3 or so, and even that was really just a way to understand and fine-tune what I'd been basically doing... so for her, there was no big shift. For me there was... I remember reading Summerhill as a late teen and it just rocked my world.... and I'd had a couple of years in a hippie school during my elementary years and then I'd dropped out of high school, so alternative education wasn't a totally new idea, and it was still mind-blowing. It just resonated so much with my experiences growing up, and how learning had been for me in various circumstances, and so it was like yes! This is cool! Woohoo! But to Rain it's normal...


 
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#10 of 17 Old 02-22-2011, 06:39 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Serendipity View Post

Unschooling is a big part of our identity as a family because it has hugely impacted our lives. Both my kids (9 and 5) are involved in discussions about Unschooling and actively compare their lives to those we know who homeschool or public school. I don't mean that in a critical way, just in a matter of fact way.

We have a very active Unschooling community, so I think it's just something at the front of our awareness at all times. When we moved from school and dominant/authoritarian parenting into Unschooling and respectful/partnership parenting almost 4 years ago it was an ENORMOUS shift in every aspect of our lives. The dramatic change is something we are aware of and think about and talk about on a daily basis.

 


I just wanted to add that I'm very supportive of and interested in the lives of people who do focus their family and activities on unschooling! I've learned so, so much from people who do this. It just occurred to me that my jest in my pp might be misunderstood as mockery or criticism. It totally isn't!!!

 

Please don't stop living out loud all you unschooling writers/bloggers, conference-go-ers and organisers, podcasters and public orators! My life has been dramatically improved by the confidence and enjoyment I've gained from others sharing their experiences. For this, I am genuinely grateful!

 

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#11 of 17 Old 02-23-2011, 10:16 AM
 
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I can see how it would be more of a focus if it was a big change. I found TCS when Rain was 3 or so, and even that was really just a way to understand and fine-tune what I'd been basically doing... so for her, there was no big shift. For me there was... I remember reading Summerhill as a late teen and it just rocked my world.... and I'd had a couple of years in a hippie school during my elementary years and then I'd dropped out of high school, so alternative education wasn't a totally new idea, and it was still mind-blowing. It just resonated so much with my experiences growing up, and how learning had been for me in various circumstances, and so it was like yes! This is cool! Woohoo! But to Rain it's normal...


That's cool. I've thought often about how this whole experience is very different for people who have always done it compared to those who came to it later. It almost seems like something else entirely, at least in the families I know locally.

 



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I just wanted to add that I'm very supportive of and interested in the lives of people who do focus their family and activities on unschooling! I've learned so, so much from people who do this. It just occurred to me that my jest in my pp might be misunderstood as mockery or criticism. It totally isn't!!!

 

Please don't stop living out loud all you unschooling writers/bloggers, conference-go-ers and organisers, podcasters and public orators! My life has been dramatically improved by the confidence and enjoyment I've gained from others sharing their experiences. For this, I am genuinely grateful!

 

flowersforyou.gif


I don't think my family falls into that category. It is a big part of our identity, but we're not real vocal about it to the outside world like a lot of other families. And I agree, a lot of those families are the reason we had the courage to do what we're doing. Because they put it out there and were so open to sharing about it, we got a glimpse of it and were inspired. I'm so, so grateful there are families who make it a focus.
We are attending our first conference in September. I don't think we'll make it a habit but who knows?


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#12 of 17 Old 02-23-2011, 10:43 AM
 
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This is a great question. And one I am not entirely sure how to answer! lol

 

 Off the cuff I can say it's a huge part of my identity. (I mean, look at my username right?) Finding unschooling and being an unschooler really changed my life in a number of ways. All of them were positive, but they weren't all easy if that makes any sense.

 

I'd have to ask the kids what they think. From my perspective of the kids? It's a pretty big part of who they are. I'd be willing to say my Dd (17) is more conscious or outspoken about the role unschooling has played in creating her than my Ds (19) is. Dd went barely to the 2nd grade and Ds to the 4th so he has more school memory than she does, most of them unpleasant. I definitely think it's influenced my son's personality. (though the question could be asked did unschooling directly influence him or did the changes unschooling created in me, his mother, do that? Both I guess.) He is pretty fiercely independent and really into personal choice on almost everything, social politics, etc.

 

We didn't have a lot of IRL unschooling/homeschooling contact. Mostly by choice. We attended some groups or get togethers here and there, but it really wasn't our thing at the time. I had quite a bit of unschooling community contact online, here and other places.

 

Good food for thought. I'll totally ask the kids. Dd is in psych class at the moment... she'll think this is interesting. lol


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#13 of 17 Old 02-24-2011, 05:29 AM
 
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Interesting question.

 

I don't think it's a significant part of DS' identity at all, at least not consciously. He's 12 and has never been schooled. Though we've done (and still do) some activities with homeschoolers, after the first year or so those were mostly for convenience (weekday hours) and interest rather than to provide a "bonding with unschoolers" experience (often we didn't know which homeschoolers were following what educational philosophy anyway). I think unschooling has been such a transparent and natural part of his life that he doesn't give it much thought, though he obviously knows that different kids follow different paths. He's a pretty social kid who's made friends in various homeschooling and non-homeschooling settings, friendships based on common interests rather than schooling philosophy.

 

To echo a previous poster, though, I think unschooling has become a huge part of *my* identity, partly because it's so different from what I experienced growing up, and partly because DH and I have put a lot of deliberate thought and energy into arranging our lives to make unschooling work for us (and it's working very well). It's an ongoing process, always a work-in-progress, and while I don't bring it up in regular conversation with people, I'm very aware of how different many aspects of our lives are from those of more mainstream families.

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#14 of 17 Old 02-24-2011, 06:30 AM
 
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I'm not quite sure how unschooling really would be part of a younger kids identity. At least not US as I know it. It's just life. I'm not really your target audience for the thread since my dd is 21 so I'm not USing any young children. But my experience with USing is that it isn't separate from everything else we do so it doesn't specifically stand out. It's easier to identify with what we don't do than what we do because it's so integrated.

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#15 of 17 Old 03-04-2011, 09:30 PM
 
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Most of our large support group pretty much consisted of unschoolers, but I don't think the kids thought of themselves as "unschoolers" - they just thought of themselves as kids who happened to homeschool. And unschooling parents occasionally mentioned a bit about it in passing, or about Holt or whatever, but didn't really tend to use the word much. My son didn't even know about the word "unschooler" until he was college age - it just wasn't something that happened to come up in anyone's conversation. We all just went about living our lives and following our interests. It was just the way we lived. But there weren't people using other labels at that time in our circles either - people just homeschooled in whatever way they homeschooled - there wasn't all the talk about "methods and styles."   Lillian

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#16 of 17 Old 03-07-2011, 07:19 PM
 
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This thought -proviking discussion comes at an apt time in our unschooling journey - it has recently, gradually dawned on me that unschooling really is not such a key word in describing ourselves, or even our learning.   I've never embraced the term wholeheartedly (even resisted the separation of the group on MDC - I so preferred the title "Learning at Home and Beyond") but then it seemed it was a useful shorthand so I went with it.  

Earlier, when dd was below 5, we lived in a place with a semi-active hs community.  Not as active as I might have wished, but it was there and we tried to be part of it.  Now where we live we have to travel 1 hour to meet any homeschooler and tend to meet only 1 at a time, unless we travel 3 hours, where there is another fairly active hs group.  For two years I have been struggling with the long distances and trying to build up the hs group locally.  And I will probably still try to do that but at the same time what I realized is that I could set up after-school activities and the neighborhood kids would readily jump in, and it did not matter that they were school-going.  Any more than it mattered what they ate for breakfast.  This way my dd had some of that "regular activity with other kids" that we craved so much, and we did not even have to travel or wonder if the others would make it.  Most of the time, all of them are there.  Plus their parents can come and go anytime because they are all within 5 minutes walk.  Wow!

So anyway, I think reading this thread has made something click for me - I don't really need to create that elusive hs group or get into the intricacies of "what kind of hs / us"  people are doing.  In fact, it is kind of nice just chatting with other schooling parents because the whole issue of hs / us need not come up.  Maybe it was different when I was the only one still nursing and still carrying my child, in public, but now when dd is in a group I dont think she stands out particularly.  (Although come to think of it last week someone who came over for the very first time, and after learning that dd homeschooled, commented with an "ah," that she did not look like a child burdened by a heavy book bag and rigorous schedule). Yesterday another child, also age 7 was crying and his mother told him not to cry.  dd came and whispered to me that it is too bad that some mothers tell their children not to cry.  Maybe when she was younger I would have indulged this kind of talk but this time I said, well, maybe their children respond well to that kind of response,  each family has its own approach and we should not judge others.  It was the best I could come up with though perhaps not all that convincing.  I think dd was disappointed but I did not want to encourage the judgemental direction.   (to which I am all too prone as it is)

Interesting point about blogging - I have tried to several times.  I can't keep up with it.  And I am not that inspired to blog about homeschooling / unschooling per se.   THough ocassionally we have these profound moments that make me really happy to be on this path and they would be worth writing about, but it feels strange to publicize those times in isolation - the regular homeschool bloggers tend to talk about the ordinary days as well and that is what makes them so interesting.  Plus I just dont have the motivation to sit and type about that stuff.  The time that I get motivated to reflect and share our experiences is actually here on MDC.  I am really awed by the honesty in this forum, and that makes it more valuable to me than any other forum.




 

 


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#17 of 17 Old 03-07-2011, 07:48 PM
 
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 I am really awed by the honesty in this forum [...]



 

 



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