Updated: Dec 15, 2022
In the early days, when I would quietly admit that our children weren't at school, people would tell me that was radical. And I would agree. Radical indeed! Not many other people are doing it, so we must be out there on the fringes. But radical is a big label. I hadn't set out to go against anyone or prove anything. I just wanted my children to be happy and at one with themselves. Yet, it did feel radical in its own way, like we were turning our backs on what everyone else said was right.
On Monday mornings in particular, I would often feel strangely uncomfortable. In a handy example of how it is the parents that struggle with unschooling and not the children, I would feel like a schoolgirl skiving off for the day. The guilt! A part of me seemed worried about being chastised for not following the rules.
Beyond the absence of school came the understanding of autonomy and trust. The rulebook in our house had always been loose at best, but throwing it out completely felt like a small revolution. Bedtimes, meal times, screen time. Letting go of the social need to control these aspects of life (= guilt if I didn't, stress if I did) took a while and during that time my resistance created a struggle for me. They were radical ideas to get used to, and even though I knew intuitively that they were right for us, they directly challenged what I'd always imagined 'good' parenting to look like. Even when things seemed to be going great I would still worry about how they 'should' look.
Over time, I gained confidence. I've tapped into unschooling resources and met other unschoolers. I've read and listened and learned a lot from people, books, blogs and talks. Most of all, I've seen our children each embrace their different interests and ways of being. I don't worry about who is learning what and why. All I know is that each of them is filled with curiosity about the world. They are experts in all sorts of things, from Romans to dogs, coin collecting to the Pitcairn islands, political systems to types of tea. They are buzzing with life, and with the vibrancy of just being themselves. They possess a self-knowledge that I certainly didn't have at their ages.
I look at our lives now and see nothing radical here whatsoever. It's funny to me now that I ever did. But I have shifted so far from where I was that the view is completely different. The children go to bed when they're tired, they get up when they've slept enough, they get on with whatever they feel like doing, we talk lots, we go out, we laugh, play, argue, debate... Sometimes the house is buzzing with energy and sometimes it's quiet and focused. We see friends sometimes after school and often on weekends. Mostly it's pretty harmonious, but sometimes it's stormy and cross. There are days that flow so beautifully that I feel like the wisest person in the world. And there are days when I struggle to contain everything that's going on and also keep up with my work. It's all so normal.
I think of school and I wonder now if that isn't the radical idea. Given its relatively recent introduction, it's certainly the newer approach. That all children must be somewhere to 'learn' for x hours a day. That they must spend a lot of time sitting and listening, and that it's not enough to learn what they're told to learn, but they must also prove to the adults that they've learned. The further away we move from that model, the less it makes any sense to me.
We were talking about the term 'unschooling' here the other day. It's a useful term as it easily identifies an approach. And it does have a radical ring to it. The thing is though, that we never think about school any more. E suggested that 'living' works better. He's right, this is just life. And surely, just getting on with life can't be that radical.