Sunday, July 13, 2014

The problems with unschooling

I have two gripes with unschooling. Maybe others have solutions to them, but they seem to evade me for now.

1. All joy and no fun.
No, I have not read the book (yet), but today's complaint by 10 yo brought it into focus. Today was Sunday, but it was also a morning after my husband was out all night delivering, the baby needed a morning nap, the boys got invited out to a birthday party at the last minute, and I had to catch up on house things like groceries and laundry. So I ran laundry while the baby napped, and, as soon as he was up, we went to Target to get gifts for the birthday boys and a few items for the house. I let the two older boys go and look at good gifts for their friends while I pushed the cart with the younger two picking out items that we needed. So the boys didn't even have to go through the whole store with me, just hang out in the toy/Pokemon card section. Then we went to Farmer's market to get produce, where the two older boys got baskets with wheels and picked out items from my list. They seemed to be having good time.
Then we got home and had lunch. The boys finished putting away their laundry. While they were waiting for the party, 10 yo remarked how he is sad that it doesn't feel like Sunday. I reacted: it's because every day for you right now is a Sunday! You do not have assignments, no school work, no projects that you are completing. There are just household things, and I was trying to get all the kids out of the house so my husband could sleep. For goodness' sake, we went to get a present for your friends! I guess when every day is a party, it kind of loses its luster and fun. Maybe that's when unschoolers pick up academics: so jaded by all the fun and freedom, that tedium and hard work feel good.

2. Inner focus.
I still do believe that all true learning, the kind that gets internalized, has to happen individually. However, with unschooling and children choosing so much which activities they will engage in, it is very easy to put yourself first in all situations. It probably works just fine if you have one kid. He's the apple of your eye, so of course he gets listened to. By the time there are four kids, and each one is naturally vying for attention, coupled with the attitude of "I get to pick what to do", it gets to be a total mess. 10 yo is horrible about putting things back. He is always in the middle of something which gets dropped and then he moves on to the next thing. He is also picking many solitary activities: computer games, Lego building, reading. All these are good if you, as a parent, give your child space to think, to process, to learn, to synthesize. All of these get to be problematic when a child is so engrossed in his own world (escaping?) that he is oblivious to those around him. I am not talking about good old not listening, I am talking about not being aware of who's in the same room, whether others need your space, whether others need your assistance, whether you are being annoying and disruptive.
Maybe I was kidding myself, but I was hoping that spending more time together as a family would make the kids more attuned to the needs and wants of each other. What I see instead is a lack of sensitivity and a lot of self-absorption.

1 comment:

  1. I don't see either of these as necessarily having to do with unschooling. Unschooling is a philosophy where children choose their daily activities and choose what to learn.
    It's true that Sunday doesn't look any different than other days, but my experience is that "lishma" learning takes place every day and at unusual hours.
    There is not a dichotomy of "fun" vs. "learning" as if when children have fun, by definition there can't be learning and learning must be tedious. According to unschooling philosophy, eventually people are motivated because they desire to know something, and then they become willing to put in the hard work to acquire the requisite skills or knowledge.
    I haven't read that book but it looks interesting. I grapple with spoiling my children (which I think is very easy to do in this culture) and would welcome insight.
    But I personally don't think every day loses its luster and fun. Every day has luster and fun.

    That sort of leads into the next issue. In a large family, I find that there are plenty of opportunities to practice responsibility and hard work and following through and focus BECAUSE there are a lot of people and one of the family values is functioning within a large family unit. That does mean I spend a lot of time supervising clean ups and helping us compromise and plan things where we take different opinions into account. All those qualities you brought up are not going to magically go away with unschooling, but neither is unschooling responsible for causing them. A child who needs to work on social awareness has tremendous opportunity to do so with parental help in an unschooling environment. There is a benefit to having the flexibility to slow down and teach him that others need his space or his assistance etc. When you see a lack of sensitivity and a lot of self absorption, that is merely information for you about what to focus on as a family. Slow down and seize those chances, when they come up, of talking to the child or focusing the child or disciplining the child or having the children practice the qualities you want to be more manifest in the home. I find that unschooling is really a benefit in these situations, because I'm not also trying to push academic lessons or also trying to fit into a particular schedule. We are just living life as it comes up, and working on being a healthy and considerate family unit.