I was thinking tonight about the presumption that unschooling is a lazy option for parents, and an easy option for kids. It would seem, the logic goes, that if parents are not preparing a curriculum or forcing their kids to complete homework assignments, they are doing nothing. And, doing nothing, is incredibly easy. As for the kids, if they are not forced to do something (i.e. schoolwork), they will end up doing nothing. And, again, doing nothing is incredibly easy.
I will not, in this post be addressing the fallacy that doing nothing is easy. A lot has been written on that, and perhaps I will tackle that at a different time. But, what I do want to address is the assumption that unschoolers have it easy.
A metaphor came to mind, and the more I think about it, the more apt it seems. Let me ask you, what’s easier: going to a restaurant with a set menu or making your own meal? Of course, a restaurant where all of the thinking, planning, preparing and work has been done for you is much easier than coming up with your own meal idea, shopping for the ingredients, and prepping and cooking the food. Restaurants are lovely and nice, and a major part of the reason is that they are easier. But, what if you go to a restaurant and don’t like anything on the menu? It doesn’t happen to me often, but when it does, I’m bitterly disappointed. I’d much rather be able to choose something else.
Just as with restaurants, there is an array of educational philosophies out there that allow varying levels of choice. Perhaps a Montessori school would be like a buffet, or a Waldorf school like a “cook your own steak” place. But, they are all still limited to the choices that the restaurant itself deems to offer. If you want to choose from anything in the world to eat, you end up making your own food. The choices are limitless, but it will take some work to get where you want to go. Unschoolers and kids in free schools are like home cooks. Following your interest is actually incredibly difficult work, much harder than just sitting in a class and doing what you are told. But, it’s also much more rewarding.
As for the parents of unschoolers, supporting the education of a self-directed learner is a constant task. Parents are always on the look out for books, videos, workshops, websites, toys, museums, experiences, and whatever else may be interesting to their child. They have to constantly keep their own agenda in check (a monumental task for anyone who was raised with a more traditional viewpoint), and always ask themselves if they are valuing each pursuit equally. We cannot just open a book and tell our child to do the worksheet on page 58. There is no manual to this. We have to figure it out as we go along. It would be so much easier to just stick our kids in the public school system, or even to order a bunch of curriculum and blame the writers of said curriculum if our kids hate it.
But, most unschooling (or free schooling) parents have ended up here because we refuse to stop challenging ourselves and our basic assumptions. I believe that, upon actually seeing the activity of an unschooling parent, you would be hard-pressed to call them lazy.