October 16, 2007

Degrees Of Unschooling

I've included some pictures of our kittens today. They have absolutely nothing to do with this posting.

Last week I felt such a sense of relief. I really thought I was settling in to the deschooling groove. I wasn't having all kinds of angst over televsion or computer use (it was down). It was so freeing not to think of the television or computer as evil. When Jerry was playing a game, or watching a show, I wasn't feeling like a terrible parent for letting him do it. For all these years, almost every time he's in front of a screen, I've felt like I was not parenting the way I wanted to or the way I "should." Last week, though, there was a shift. Instead of thinking "He's watching television--I'm a bad parent." I just thought "He's watching television." So that was one milestone in the deschooling process that I definitely felt.

I've been thinking a lot about degrees of unschooling lately. I mean, first of all (and I know this sounds really dumb and will show how judgemental I can be) it had never even occurred to me that a thinking, intelligent parent would ever allow their child to watch television or sit in front of the computer all day. I had just assumed (backed up by a fair amount of research) that these things were bad for children and that any parent who allowed unlimited time in front of them was not parenting very well. It certainly never occurred to me that allowing unlimited screen time could be a conscious choice! So, my eyes have been opened and I'm trying to fit this recognition into our lives.

Like many parents who come to unschooling later in their child's life, I struggle with finding the right degree of unschooling for my family. I've read posts by other moms, and I've written a fair amount of them myself on this blog, that reveal a real sense of inner turmoil surrounding how much freedom we should give a child to make his or her own choices. On the one hand, there's a belief in the principles of unschooling and a budding sense of certainty that unschooling makes much more sense than the education and the lifestyle that most of us grew up with. On the other hand there's a lifetime of programming and stacks of parenting books that say children require limits--that they thrive on them.

It's confusing! I mean, we can't just flip a switch and reverse a lifetime of programming and beliefs. I'm doing my best to trust that Jerry is getting what he needs to have a happy, fulfilling life, however he chooses to define that. But years of expecting visible proof of learning die hard. As far as I've come in my own deschooling process, I still want to see results. But every time I try to influence Jerry's learning with more than a gentle nudge, or a book left open on the table, I wonder if I'm slowing the deschooling process. I worry that my desire for this evidence will somehow negate all the benefits I want him to experience as an unschooler.

This worrying doesn't help me though. I'm thinking that if there are degrees of unschooling, there can be degrees of starting to unschool. Why should I expect myself to make such a big leap right off the bat? Maybe there are ledges where I can stop along the way for a rest. Little outcrops where I can stop to assess the situation before taking the next jump.

So I'm going to try thinking more in terms of a slow decent instead of leaping into a void. I've got to stop worrying that I'm doing this the wrong way and just do what feels right to me. One of the best things I've learned in the process of researching unschooling and reading other blogs is not to negate my son's interests. This realization has been a real gift to both of us. If I really do take his wishes and interests into consideration, I can be sure that what feels right to me won't be wrong for him.

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