From 'I'm Unschooled. Yes, I Can Write'
I came across a post a couple weeks back that I'm sure many readers will react quite strongly to. For once, it's not from some big mainstream media source dissing unschooling, but instead from a member of the unschooling community who left school in his teens, and has spoken at a couple of unschooling conferences. In it, the author discusses radical unschooling, and all the faults he sees in it. You can go read it over here before continuing, if you want.
Done reading (or not)? Okay, let me continue.
I want to start by saying that I appreciate Eli's honestly, and had many interesting discussions with him several years back when we both attended the same conference. To some extent, I agree with some of his points. To some (larger) extent, I disagree. But I'd like to take things bit by bit, and break down just what I like and dislike about his post.
"My parents made me do it, and I'm GLAD they did!"
I find it odd that the first and main example given is that of an always schooled individual, the moral of the anecdote seemingly being that it's often good when parents make there kids do things (or so it seems to me). But one story of someone schooled who was grateful to her parents for making a large decision for her, doesn't really make sense to me when discussing unschooling. There's such a different framework of living, and most often such a different style of parenting, between unschooling and regular schooling families, that it really does feel like the author is comparing apples to oranges (not that I like calling anyone fruits, but it seemed the most apt expression to use!). Yeah, okay, this person was happy with that, but how does that have any real impact on the topic at hand? Where's the story of a grownunschooler wishing their parent had made different choices, or being grateful for a time their parents had pushed them into something? I know there are at least a few cases of that, and that would present a far more compelling argument for increased parental control, to me (not that I'd ultimately necessarily agree: just that I'd find it made a stronger case).
And that mention of "bad crowds"… Well, that just doesn't sit right with me at all. I don't believe in bad crowds as they're usually defined and discussed, though I do believe in teens who are really struggling, and coping with their struggles as best they can. Sometimes a teen (or a person of any age, really) is in a group with people who treat them really badly. That's wrong, and no one should have to put up with that. But at the same time, I still wouldn't say the hypothetical group in question isbad, it's just unhealthy, and filled with people who would greatly benefit from being given safe spaces to spend time in, and supportive older people to spend time with. "Bad crowd" is too often just a vicious value judgement that makes it even harder to live as a teen in this culture.
Continuing with the story of the schooled individual whose parents saved her from "bad crowds," Eli says: "Maybe some radical unschoolers would acknowledge this case of parents sending their child to a school of their choosing as an exception where the radical unschooling approach was not the best thing. Of course, they might insist the parents should have taken her out of school altogether (and I might disagree because maybe she’d still run with the same crowd in town)." And here… Well, here I come to something that frustrates me a lot: when people decide that some decision made, no matter who made it, was the only course of action that could have resulted in good outcomes. When really, we don't know. You don't know. I don't know. I genuinely think I'd be in a worse place had I been to school. But I'm notactually certain, because how can I be? Maybe the woman in question is better off because of the decision her parents made. But maybe she would be even better off now if she'd worked through the troubles she was having herself. I can't help but think that, if the same situation had come up in a radical unschooling family, she would have ended up just as good in the end, only perhaps with a better sense of personal power. To say that this was the only way things could have worked out seems short-sighted at the very least.
The Importance of Environment