unschooling - liberating or conforming? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 9 Old 04-21-2012, 05:06 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Regarding education and literacy, we often think of their potential to be liberating and empowering as well as their tendency to push conformity and consumerism. I am not (only) talking about the way they are taught in school. Are we learning to read what others wrote, consuming knowledge others have produced, or we we learning to create and produce knowledge out of our own faculties of reason and imagination?

 

Of late I have been wondering what we would find if we examined unschooling and its potential, often assumed inherent, to be liberating. Is unschooling necessarily nonconformist? Automatically so? Can it also promote conformity, via unschooling peer pressure, or due to unrestricted exposure to mass marketing?

 

More to say, but want to pause and hear from others ...


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#2 of 9 Old 04-21-2012, 05:50 PM
 
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Still thinking about what you said, but my first thought is that unschooling has the *potential* to be quite liberating.  I wonder, though how much of it will come out in personality?  

 

My oldest, 7yo and always unscholed, loves to follow directions and learn facts.  She enjoys recreating the creativity and wisdom of the people who have gone before her.  That's a sweeping generality, I know.  I often wish DH would consult the wisdom and creativity of others blah blah blah before he embarks on some things, or at least consult a *&^%$ map.  We have a few things to learn from the wisdom of cartographers and explorers who have done their slogging.

 

 I exaggerate.

 

My youngest is more wildly creative.  

 

So, my first thought is that unschooling allows children to be who they are--and that can mean not being particularly artistic, or phenomenally creative, or particularly ingenious thinkers.  There are places for people who enjoy following the directions and the "rules".  So, though not "conformist", still not necessarily "creative".

 

Am I even making sense?

 

I know this is only a small part of the issue you want to discuss, but anyway it is my first thought.

 

 


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#3 of 9 Old 04-22-2012, 08:19 AM
 
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I'm not sure that unschooling encompasses "unrestricted exposure to mass marketing." I once had someone tell me she could never unschool because it meant that she would be allowing society to raise her children. That was such a puzzling statement to me, as if the parent wasn't allowed to guide or make suggestions to the child or protect them from inappropriate things. As if unschooling meant your child watched tv all day.  

 

My ds is pretty savvy and quite skeptic about many commercials he sees. When he was younger, we watched them, discussed them, examined the real product in the store, and bought and tried out some of them.  

 

I suppose unschoolers are nonconformists until they try to abide by unschooling practices;-)


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#4 of 9 Old 04-22-2012, 11:39 AM
 
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As the mom in an unschooling family that lives an hour and a half from the nearest mall or billboard and that was essentially TV-free until very recently (and most of my kids are now teens), my unschooling certainly hasn't encompassed "unrestricted exposure to mass marketing." Even for a family that lives in the midst of a blitz of urban consumerism, unschooling presents a situation where kids are more likely to take their values and their moral compass cues from their parents rather than from peers. There may be no "rules" restricting exposure to mass marketing, but just because parents don't impose rules doesn't mean they don't exert a very strong influence.

 

I teach a 10-year-old violin student who is unschooled in a very crunchy family that happens to have three-hundred-channel satellite TV service in their tiny log cabin on their homestead. Scarcely a week goes by that he doesn't finish his lesson with a tangential rant about all "the stupid things people spend money on" or "the crazy stuff they put on TV." Sure, he has unrestricted access, but it is through the lens of the values and conversations his family holds dear.

 

Yesterday my 9-year-old was in the city with me and at the mall she bought herself a soy iced chai latte beverage. She read the side of the bottle where it was printed "Adults: Suggested dose 1 cup (250 mL) per day." She wanted to know what kind of strange marketing approach that was: why would an organic company want to make their drink sound like it was a medicine? We tossed that idea around, had a conversation about how natural medicine is also often prescribed with "doses" and how the chai latte company was probably trying to tap into their target market's familiarity with that, and how that might make this sugary beverage seem extra-healthy. Unschooled kids tend to question things, to be skeptics ... because they don't exist in an authority-based educational system.

 

I think the conformity pressure in an age-levelled classroom with one authority-figure adult at the helm evaluating everyone and little opportunity for parental values to guide and interpret is far FAR greater than the conformity pressure of whatever exposure to media and consumer culture might take place in an unschooled family.

 

Miranda


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#5 of 9 Old 04-22-2012, 02:56 PM
 
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Based on my interactions with kids who've gone to school, the impression I get is that they are exposed to MUCH more marketing than my kids get while they're online or watching TV.  Kids who aren't in school are often pretty clueless about brands, movies, and music, compared to kids in school, and I believe that's because the school kids end up marketing to each other-- either by being covered in logos (on their clothes, lunchboxes, folders, notebooks, etc...) or by making familiarity with some product the way kids signal they're cool. 
 

In my house, there's no benefit to my kid to be wearing the "right" brand.  In the school cafeteria it's a different story.  And because my kids mainly hang out with other kids who are living less branded lives, there's not much pressure to be brand-aware at park day either. 

 

I don't think my kids have entirely unrestricted access to mass marketing, but they are able to walk away from marketing, which is an option kids don't necessarily have in a school environment. 

 

My experience with unschooled/homeschooled kids is that they are far from conforming either with each other or with "consumer culture".

 

 

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#6 of 9 Old 04-22-2012, 08:16 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by 4evermom View Post

 

I suppose unschoolers are nonconformists until they try to abide by unschooling practices;-)

 

This is part of what I am getting at - now and then while reading threads here written by people sharing their difficulties / frustrations / regrets in their journey, I get the sense of something that I will call "unschooling peer pressure." 

 

People sometimes seem to say that they did things they did not believe in because it seemed to be the unschooling thing to do, and if they did not, e.g allow, nay embrace, such-and-such even though they thought it was not right, that only meant that they needed to be deschooled and not that the problem needed to be addressed.  Actually in my own experience, I have at times found this to be true.  But there is something dangerous about passing this around as advice.  I don't think that is the message that comes through on this forum, but conversion to unschooling can be a heady experience, and converts can be led into peer-pressure dynamics.

 

I myself don't think unschooling or even "RU" has much to do with whether or not one uses workbooks, TV, curriculum, bedtimes, etc ... I think unschooling is something that works at a deeper level.  I am still trying to write out my own understanding of the theory & practice (see, e.g.  What is Learning? ) so I am far from saying that unschooling involves or requires unlimited TV or any TV at all.  And I appreciate the examples of those who do watch plenty of TV and yet remain critical consumers of of media and the goods advertised.  I can see why this would probably be easier to do outside of a school environment.  But I have also heard unschooling exponents who not only advocate unlimited TV but on top of that, say that you should buy whatever your kids ask for, if you can afford it, not "impose your values" on them by evaluating the thing they want.  I don't want to invent straw-unschoolers for the sake of argument, but I am just giving an idea of what led me to correlate unschooling with possible likelihood of conformity and consumerism.

 

 

Sweet Silver, I delighted in your example ...

Quote:
We have a few things to learn from the wisdom of cartographers and explorers who have done their slogging.

 

But we also have something to learn from the practice of slogging ... this is where the beauty of unschooling comes out, if you can slow down enough to appreciate it.  In fact, recently I landed upon the phrase "Slow Learning" (in place of "unschooling" etc), to describe what is at the heart of this approach to learning.  You could call it "slow travelling" if you decide to go without the map (and don't stop for fast food either).

 

btw, I don't think that liking to follow rules (or maps) in itself makes one less creative or more of a conformist.  My dd (8) is very much a rule-follower.  But also asks why for everything so I am pretty sure if she did not respect a rule she would not follow it - it forces me to dig deep and explain things that I had not thought to question.

 

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#7 of 9 Old 04-22-2012, 08:51 PM
 
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I think the basic concept of unschooling can attract certain kinds of people.  People who like to question authority--anyone's authority--are often drawn to the idea.  It is a natural extension of that way of thinking.  This is *one* reason why I think you are going to see or hear about examples like the ones you set forth.  These aren't the only folks drawn to unschooling, but it is a big attraction.  

 

There is something to be said for trusting in your kid's ability to self-regulate, or at least give them the chance to try.  So, seen from the outside, these anecdotes can seem really out there and crazy, but they need to be taken in context.  Supporting your kids in doing what they want, or getting what they want does not always equal indulgence.  Of course, there are arguments on the other side, but neither argument is in and of itself unreasonable.  


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#8 of 9 Old 04-23-2012, 07:21 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aravinda View Post

 

 

This is part of what I am getting at - now and then while reading threads here written by people sharing their difficulties / frustrations / regrets in their journey, I get the sense of something that I will call "unschooling peer pressure." 

 

----

 

I myself don't think unschooling or even "RU" has much to do with whether or not one uses workbooks, TV, curriculum, bedtimes, etc ... I think unschooling is something that works at a deeper level.  I am still trying to write out my own understanding of the theory & practice (see, e.g.  What is Learning? ) so I am far from saying that unschooling involves or requires unlimited TV or any TV at all.  And I appreciate the examples of those who do watch plenty of TV and yet remain critical consumers of of media and the goods advertised.  I can see why this would probably be easier to do outside of a school environment.  But I have also heard unschooling exponents who not only advocate unlimited TV but on top of that, say that you should buy whatever your kids ask for, if you can afford it, not "impose your values" on them by evaluating the thing they want.  I don't want to invent straw-unschoolers for the sake of argument, but I am just giving an idea of what led me to correlate unschooling with possible likelihood of conformity and consumerism.

 

I know what you mean... 

 

Sometimes it's frustrating as an unschooler to have people say they want to unschool or that they are unschooling and basically just not get any of the fundamental ideas. The message boards are usually for people who are or want to be unschooling so they are viewed in that light. It's not to say there is any one right way to do it but there are a few major contradictions. If you send your child to school, you aren't unschooling, even if he wants to go to school. Sometimes people really cling to the label and insist they are unschoolers. I just don't get that. The message boards periodically devolve into arguments. Also, when you are excited about some new discovery, it's pretty natural to want to tout it to all who will listen. Schoolers do it, too. They find some awesome school and think everyone should send their kids there if finances allow it. Or they think Montessori or Waldorf is just wonderful. It's just a human tendency and unschoolers aren't an exception.

 

I've been the unschooler who says you should buy your child the toys he or she is interested in. So many people have no plastic rules, no Barbie or Bratz rules, no made in China rules. I do think they should have faith that, in a family with solid values, Barbie isn't going to transform their kids into vapid anorexics who seek cosmetic surgery to emulate Barbie's proportions. It's a very good exercise to pay close attention to what exact thing about a toy a child finds interesting. You learn a lot about them and sometimes the aspect of the toy they find so interesting isn't what you assumed. Sometimes you can find a happy medium (there are quite a few non-Barbie dolls with cool accessories). Sometimes the message you send your child with blanket rules forbidding something they covet is worse than the toy itself.

 

People with more disposable income have another issue since they can actually afford all the things their children want. I haven't really worried about that since it isn't a realistic possibility for us. But I think it's likely a situation where parents should not have a double standard for parents and kids, and should have family discussions about whether to spend extra family money on travel, activities, toys, etc. Involving young kids is a little tricky but you can't base whether unschooling works or not on kids who aren't even school age. I know that ds somehow thought me buying groceries was me buying myself things. In a way, it was. I was making the decisions and controlling the situation. I could have involved him a bit more in grocery shopping (but he wasn't actually that interested). I was always prepared to buy him something within a certain budget if he was shopping with me and we'd discuss my choices and acceptable alternatives to his choices (like getting the version without trans fats). He always felt his opinion was heard and taken into account. I think that's the important thing, not actually buying every whim.

 


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#9 of 9 Old 04-23-2012, 07:52 AM
 
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It's a very good exercise to pay close attention to what exact thing about a toy a child finds interesting. You learn a lot about them and sometimes the aspect of the toy they find so interesting isn't what you assumed.

 

Exactly.  I came into parenthood hating Barbies.  And then my daughter discovered them at age 4, via a book she checked out from the public library.  I tried to keep my cool, but actually I was horrified.  Over time, her love of Barbies has grown, and I have learned that she loves fashion and interior design.  She is now seven and learning to sew, and she also puts together cardboard boxes and decorates them with drawings and pieces of fabric and Barbie furniture and plays "Barbie House Hunters" (like the HGTV show).  We talk some about the aspects of Barbies I'm not so thrilled with, but I am much more understanding of her passion.  Here's the thing: my SIL has a degree in textile science and worked as a fashion merchandiser for years.  She also loved Barbies as a kid.  So I know Barbie play can translate into very serious interests, even though I still wish they had realistic body proportions, didn't wear mostly stilleto heels, and weren't primarily blonde. :)

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