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Lazy Jane

Unschooling and Social Change

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I read an interesting article in the Guardian recently, explaining how children are raised ass-backwards in Europe and the US. I shared it with the local unschooler listserv, creating quite a discussion. Though it wasn’t about unschooling, the views and concepts expressed in the article made fundamental connections to the heart of unschooling theory and practice.

The article begins by illuminating the paradox of mainstream parenting and its forte for “crying it out” as babies. That “logic” preaches the virtues of separateness and stringent personal boundaries in order to keep the child from imposing its will on the parent (rather than vice-versa) and to foster independence. In short: control tactics. Conversely, nearly every other culture we know of, including our own (not so) distant past, keeps its children close for the first years of life, letting them bloom into their own self-assured and (hopefully) competent independence. At a very young age, children around the world are cooking meals for the family, wielding machetes, and spending all hours of the day roaming free of adults' compulsion to structure and plan their entire day. The “developed” world favors leaving babies alone when they need us the most and planning their every hour when they probably need space to experience life on their terms. The article basically berates “modern” child rearing practices for being so darn controlling, arguing that relative freedom is the historic norm - what humans have evolved with - and that lack of freedom is at least in part responsible for the high level of unhappiness in children today.

No one likes to feel powerless, and children tend to thrive when given freedom of choice in a safe environment. On a personal level I agree with the article and actively practice what I hope is a better way to initiate a soul into this world. I know I need to make sure my daughter is safe, and when it is important, yes, my choices thwart hers, but I also treat her with the same respect I treat all humans. I respect her as I want her to respect me. And sometimes her choice thwarts mine, but it isn’t about her “winning” some kind of battle for control. It is about two people who live together and are dedicated to being as happy a family as we can be. When I am with adults, I don't try to make everything to go my way all the time either.

Unfortunately, most of us are born into one of the most hierarchical structures on the face of the earth: the typical American Family...
To read the rest of this long post on my blog click here!
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Updated 05-27-2013 at 07:58 PM by Lazy Jane



  1. Mslksdh's Avatar
    I agree that children need to have the freedom to learn and explore, but as an AP parent for the last 7 years I am now craving, "separate adult and children’s spaces."!
  2. Deli76's Avatar
    I love the blog. I so agree that children need space to learn and to grow. When we were young, being on the ranch, we were up and down the river, I was driving by the time I was 9, could gut a fish by around 6ish, always carried a pocket knife and we caught fish for our meals. In the city, parents were more paranoid. Ya, the kids went down the block and to the park with out a parent, but rarely ever did I meet anyone that did what we did. We ran around a mountain unattended!
    I look at my own children. Ds is trying to make his way in a world that he was taught was scary(not by me). I have always taught him to follow his heart and do what he feels is right. He is a marvelous work in progress. Dd is more of a free spirit. Shes not afraid of much. My husband and I see things pretty much the same. He has come to like the homeschooling movement.
    After plenty of discussion and tossing ideas back and forth, dd most likely will not go back to school.I have already decided that if in fact she does not go back to school, I will no longer plan lessons and it will be 100% her lead. I will maybe start that between 13 and 15.
    as for the seperateness that is pushed in american families is unbelievable to me. Ds has always been independant and does his own thing ( i know...hes scared of everything but does his own thing as long as he is in his comfort zone) but he always asks for advice, not afraid to ask me anything, lots of hugs. Dd is more attached but not afraid of the world. She knows stranger danger, but loves to expand her horizons. She wants to go everywhere!
    As for the school system, it is very suffocating. They are actually thinking about extending the school day an extra hour here. And the parents are FOR it. They also added pre-k to the elementary schools! ACK!
  3. rueyn's Avatar
    I don't think we can compare traditional societies/small, tight-knit communities with the experiences of kids being raised in modern cities/larger populations. BUT I do agree that kids need free reign in some things and the ability to just BE. Which is one of the reasons we homeschool and certainly why we unschool

    I believe there's a middle ground; I love that ds has the ability (through homeschool and a safe neighborhood) to go outside whenever he wants and can explore his interests pretty widely, but I also think there needs to be a little structure (some kids need more, some less). I don't want to terrify him, but keeping him naive isn't going to help in the long run, either. This isn't a fishing village in the middle of nowhere where everyone knows everyone and the crime rate is nil.

    It's such a tough line to walk sometimes, but I constantly question my motives (i.e. WHY I'm uncomfortable about him doing something), then try to stretch his and my boundaries. His personality is that of a shy, non-risk taker, and giving him increasing amounts of freedom allows him to gain confidence in his ability to make decisions for himself.
  4. jsaffold's Avatar
    I'm not gonna lie, the phrase "ass backwards" as it is a little nugget I say alot is what caught my eye to read this post. I agree with the sad fact parents "over" everything. I live in a neighborhood where the parents choose whom their children are allowed to play with based on who the parents are friends with. What??? Frankly that is about as ass-backwards as you can get.
    I am not a full unschooler, but a very open a free flow homeschooler, I think alot of parents need some 'unlearning'.
    Ugh I could go on for days.
    Thank you for sharing
  5. Lazy Jane's Avatar
    Thanks for the feedback. I just wanted to respond/elaborate on a couple things. As far as comparing traditional (small close knit, etc) societies with ours, what I was aiming at, and I believe the writer of the original article was getting at, is that historically children have had more freedom and that this is the norm. What humans have evolved with for tens of thousands of years... kids are generally raised opposite of that...and children aren't necessarily happy or thriving with this arrangement. All cultures that aren't modern western cultures can considered "traditional" or indigenous because The West is "the norm" now. But even in the large cities of yesteryear kids had much more freedom than say, my small city of 60,000. And in cities that are less westernized and/or less developed, children have more freedom. You can't superimposed the life of one culture onto another, but you can look to other cultures and see how they do things and what the results are and maybe figure out something that will work here. Inner cities are dangerous, but there was (and probably still is) a great youth center in the "bad part" of Oakland. The kids were allowed to do what they want, within limits of course (no violent or sexual stuff), and it works great. There are adults around but they don't impose themselves unless he kids ask. There are ways to give kids more autonomy in most cities, towns, communities and I think they blossom with it. . Humans seem to have this intrinsic need for freedom. I do think that lack of freedom could very well be linked to the high level of unhappiness this societies kids.

    Also, as far as kids spaces and adult spaces, I definitely need my space away from kids. But I feel like most places that are kid friendly are really kids spaces, or spaces for kids and their parents, but not truly inclusive. Which is why parents often suddenly feel totally isolated when they have their first child. I have found a great cafe that feels very non-segregated, people of all ages come, and when I go I don't feel like I am being dragged around by what my kids want to do. I want to go and talk with my friends, and 90% of these people have no kids. My daughter hangs out with adults and kids alike, though actually mostly adults, and I chat with my friends, they have live music, a kids menu, a beer menu. She spends 85% of her time talking with others as do I. It's very refreshing.

    With any argument one needs to generalize a bit. There are many subcultures within a culture. For instance, I would say that actually a lot of small rural towns and communities are not so separate and kids get a lot more free time...but small rural communities are often looked at as full of ignorant people but many city type folks. In small places, there isn't enough people or many extracurricular and educational "activities" out of school. Also, since its small and people are friends, you tend to see more kids in the workplace. That is a HUGE difference between Modern Western Culture and the rest. Removing children from productive (adult) spaces.

    As far as unschooling jsaffold...some unschoolers, I am sure, think I don't unschool, but really its a paradox...I didn't start unschooling cause I wanted to follow a prescribed theory and set of rules! There's a blog called the ununschool blog or some sort...playing with that idea of making stringent rules to be able the claim that your family learns freely. So some unschool parents need to do some unlearning too! For me, I just try to be a facilitator for my daughters learning and initiation into this world, and I do set limits concerning things that I believe are harmful or dangerous to her. I don't let my child watch TV all day, or let her watch porn, or go to people's houses without telling me, just like some people don't let their kids go in the sun without sunblock. My child has actually told me before "You shouldn't have let me do that!" I got the point.
    Updated 05-28-2013 at 07:58 PM by Lazy Jane
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