Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Identifying as an Unschooler and the Online Community

A question was proposed regarding identifying as an unschooler with or without a disclaimer about eclecticism and the precision of non-coerciveness and whether or not we damage ourselves and one another in these constant online battles about what is and is not unschooling. I took a stab...

I think that the identifying as an unschooler is more about what your ideal is than about what your reality is. Ideals are really difficult to articulate in a way that is uniform because we're talking, in the end, about moments, not about philosophy. Philosophy is an ethereal thing, hard to pin down, and each of our unique experiences and perspectives are going to vary the way that we express it.

I often find what I'm literally saying is interpreted to mean something that in my real life it doesn't feel as though it resembles at all. That's the problem with philosophy and the internet. The reason people continue to think and write about life is that we're always finding new ways to articulate the feelings about our lives. We're always trying to discover and pin down what exactly it is, what it feels like, how the big picture might be described. We can't even see the big picture of our lives. It's an imaginary concept. And yet we are compelled to describe it in order to process, to synthesize, to share, to connect, and in large part, to make sense of it all.

Everything must be told in stories. It's how the brain functions. Every face looks like a face, every language is based on the same genetic foundations, and every thing that we learn must be placed into the context of the world as we know it. We follow paths to that end. Those paths are like storylines. There are beginnings and they follow a set sort of route and we meander along it until we come out in the end as a concept, with perhaps a word and a script for the future: Unschooling. Radical Unschooling. On and on we make changes and correct for the reality of our collective experience. We add on and re-decipher and in so doing, argue endlessly. Which is where the question of rigidity in definition comes along.

What I have found is that the moments of my real life cross forth and back between philosophical definitions. In large part, we are radical unschoolers, but there are so many moments where I am not the calm mother, at ease with everything, and there are moments when I say, "Get off the computer! Learn to read! You're going to school!" And in those moments, my rage is so great - so much greater than I am - that I do not even care in the slightest that I have threatened my poor, defenseless sobbing children with school. I feel justified in those moments. I feel doubtful about my chosen path and its legitimate effectiveness in the real world and I feel that my children deserve that wrath and its consequences.

Later, of course, I get over my doubting and apologize and find the justification for my fury in our constant togetherness, my infinite to-do lists, the running about, the lack of funds and support, and the boat-loads of stress sitting all about me, settling, as dust, on all my furniture. And we return to our lives, the steady pace, the ins and outs of requesting an activity, demanding cooperation, and letting them do whatever the hell they please.

Unschooling is not a set of rules. It cannot be. It is an idea - invisible, intangible, and yet it manifests in things, in activities, events, and in the patterns of our lives. It is not entirely to do something. It is to not do something.

We could - and we do - endlessly describe and attempt to construct the minute hypothetical event that may or may not fit within that abstract philosophy, thus to arrive at solid descriptions to comfort ourselves with in our walking about in the world with all its struggle and doubt. These exercises inevitably reassure some of us and plunge others further into doubt. I find that which side of that you fall on depends more on how you've been feeling of late than it does on what you actually do.


Chrissy Johnson said...

I think people just adore to categorize themselves and their contemporaries into nice little niche-holes. Just look at the mothering.commune boards, "I'm a blank and a dw to dh and a baby wearing blah blah." ... even little emoticons to match you up. Some humans love this classification system. It turns me off, so I just don't label myself or others. In my view of what your little family is doing, you're trying to gracefully do what for this particular moment in the universe works for you as a family. And that, my old friend is seriously what matters. We're mums, we all have regrettable freak-outs and temper tantrums from time to time.

Lynnie said...

I think once people label themselves they suddenly feel obligated to follow some set of rules, and then they feel a uncomfortable when reality causes them to break a rule. Like when a Nutrition Conscious Mom is caught with a kid eating M&Ms in the grocery cart. There are certain philosophies I aspire to, like education-wise I am totally a Constructivist, but I like breaking the rules just as much as the next person.

Mel said...

Yeah, those label-things.

IRL, I've given up entirely and tend to wave my hand vaguely and mutter things about 'home'schooling then promptly change the subject - unless a person is genuinely interested. Not because I don't firmly believe in what we're doing as unschoolers, I couldn't be more certain - but because an attempt to define how we actually *live*, day-to-day, absolutely escapes me and I end up looking like an idiot. Its hard to pin down those intangibles, very hard.

And I've boycotted all online *boards*, and discussion groups because they either make me feel hopelessly inadequate or annoy me with the label-factor and senseless back-and-forth-same-old-freakin'-arguments. It's like PTA-meets-soccer mom-meets Wisteria Lane-meets militant baby-wearing....I'm sure you know...

And I'm more than happy to admit when I've made a bollocks of things...nothing like the power of apology...

Thanks for this...great food for thought..

:: wife mom maniac :: said...

Holy shitski did I relate to this post of yours. For my very hyper rowdy daughter I occasionally make her do workbook work as an almost punishment, a here. do this to keeo yourself still and out of trouble for just 15 minutes please! I do agree with your other commentors that these labels are stifling and heavy sometimes. It's the best label I have to describe our conscious slackery. Writing about what we do online, is definitely a big part of how we process this stuff. I was listening to a Naomi Aldort talk recently and she said that when she doesn't know what to do as a parent, she writes about it for others, and in the process she solves her own connundrums.

Well here I ramble. Sometimes you're a really talented writer, this piece is a gem.