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Childism as a Missed Opportunity

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing sporadically on Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. When I’m out in public places, I see an awful lot of instances of people treating their children rudely and disrespectfully. Sometimes they’re just flat-out mean. Every time I see it, it breaks my heart, and it’s easy to get stuck in the thinking that the world will never come around to kinder ways of living with children. Occasionally, though, I witness an adult-child interaction that warms my heart and gives me hope. Recently I was at the post office, in an awful hurry. I came rushing out toward my car, noticing that the door of the car next to mine was open, preventing me from reaching the driver’s seat. Just as I started to get irritated that I would be delayed, I noticed the people behind the open door – an older woman and what was presumably her young grandson. The woman was carefully unpacking the box she’d just received, in order to pull out a big air bubble packing cushion. She handed it to the boy, all the while talking kindly and attentively with him.Seeing this, I relaxed, remembering all the times I’d paused in the middle of my busy day to talk and play with my wee ones, and wishing dearly that more people were able to push aside their busy-ness and impatience, and spend more moments connecting with their kids. Instead of pushing past them to my car, I hung back and watched. I watched as the grandmother handed the cushion to the boy, took his hand, and walked with him to the sidewalk. I watched as he placed the bubble on the ground and tried to stomp on it. It skipped out from under his feet, and grandma smiled, patiently placing it back in position for another try. Their car door was closed now, and I’d been spotted, so I continued to my own car and got in. As I slowly drove away, I continued to watch them. The last thing I saw was the grandmother look up, as an airplane flew overhead. She pointed it out gleefully to the little boy, and his eyes grew wide as he watched and listened to her words. There was a palpable air around them, of love and joy in each other’s company. The grandmother had taken what could have been just another boring errand, and made it into an adventure. I drove home in a wonderful mood, feeling that I’d just witnessed a small miracle. And I wondered to myself why this is a comparatively rare occurrence in our current culture. I remember when my own children were young,... continue reading

Unschooling Isn’t All About the Kids

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. Spend some time surfing around the Internet, and you’ll come across scads of articles, blog posts, and community discussions about how unschooling is sure to turn out smart, well-adjusted kids who are ready to go out and make their way in the real world, because they’ve never been sequestered away from it. An oft-repeated phrase goes something like this: “Kids will follow your example, not your advice.” In other words, if you model certain attitudes and behavior patterns, especially if you do it cheerfully and with kindness and compassion, kids will be sure to emulate your example. When I read things like these, I like to imagine they are followed by a tiny asterisk, with a warning – something along the lines of a disclaimer you might see on a weight-loss product or a nutritional supplement. You know the ones I mean, the ones that say things like: * Results not typical; individual results may vary. Or even, to borrow a common car sales disclaimer-cum-popular Internet acronym: * YMMV (your mileage may vary). Because the thing is, at the risk of sounding corny as hell, kids are people too. Real, actual people, with their own completely unique personalities. And so are their parents. Every one of us has our faults, weaknesses, histories, biases, and quirks. We will fail in our parenting endeavors sometimes, and kids may pick up ways of thinking and behaving that we’re not entirely enthusiastic about (yes, even unschooling families encounter these challenges!). You know, because they’re their own people, with their own paths to walk, which may or may not parallel ours. How then, can we possibly guess what any child will grow into or whether or not our parental methods will yield the desired results? I’m not at all sure that we actually can, despite the vast quantities of inspirational materials that claim the contrary. And I’m not totally sure we would all even want to. You know the old adage: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. So, if that’s true, I hear you ask, what should we do? If we can’t really be sure that the endless amounts of time, energy, and love we put into raising our kiddos with an unschooling lifestyle will result in compassionate, productive, or even happy adults (there are NO guarantees in life, and unschoolers are not exempt to this fact), what’s the point? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Why even bother? My answer? Because it turns out it’s not just about the kids. I don’t mean to suggest that the kids aren’t an... continue reading

Unsanctimonious Unschooling

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. I am an unschooler, and I am not perfect. There, I said it. My secret’s out; there’s no sense in pretending. And what’s more? I don’t even want to be. This is a relatively new perspective for me, and one that seems to be underrepresented in the unschooling community as a whole. That’s not to say that maybe some of us don’t think it; but most of us don’t say it out loud very often, and we certainly don’t proclaim it from the rooftops (try googling “unschooling not perfect,” and you’ll notice there don’t seem to be too many people shouting it out!). There seems to be an awful lot of pressure on us unschoolers. We not only have to cope with most of the same challenges that “mainstream” parents face, juggling chores, errands, appointments, nap-times, arguments, our own needs (ha!), etc., but since we don’t abdicate responsibility for our children’s education, we willingly take on an entire additional set of challenges, and they can sometimes be overwhelming. Our lives are far outside of the “norm.” We have no authority to look to for answers, and no book that tells us what to do and when. Consequently, we also bear the burden of pressure from both our critics and our peers. There are more people that don’t understand this approach than do, and it can be exhausting, always facing skepticism, criticism, and interrogation about our choices. Being on the defensive, as so many of us have sometimes found ourselves to be, gets old quick. We tend to “circle the wagons” against the people that accuse us of being idiotically naive or ruining our children’s lives. I get that. We want to present the best possible picture of unschooling to people who are baffled by or critical of it. That’s probably a good thing; after all, someone who’s already on the attack may very well decide their critique of unschooling is correct if all we can muster is a wishy-washy, noncommittal mumbling. Put your best foot forward, and all that… On the other hand, most of us aren’t in this situation accidentally. We have read more books than you can shake the proverbial stick at; spent countless (!) hours on the Internet, gobbling up blog and forum posts, participating in group discussions and learning about everything from child development to attachment theory to various flavors of psychology; and agonized over making this decision for our families. We do this because we have a strong belief that this is the best way to raise our children. A natural outgrowth of this attitude is the... continue reading

Embracing the Chaos

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. I remember our early days of homeschooling. It was exciting, but it was equally overwhelming: how do you pick out curriculum? How do you arrange field trips? How do you make sure you cover everything? How on earth can I possibly do this and keep up with the housework, the bills, the cooking, the errands? And the big question: What do we actually do?!? I remember when my hubby came home from work after our “first day” of homeschooling (probably the first day of a new school year) and asked something along the lines of, “How did it go? What did you do?” I’m pretty sure I looked like a deer caught in headlights, because I know I definitely felt like one. I think I feebly showed him some papers we had printed off and filled out, and tried to fill him in on what we’d “learned” on our first day. The truth was, I’d spent a significant chunk of the day trying to juggle everyday chores, a young toddler, and this whole homeschooling thing, and I felt like maybe I was in over my head. For quite some time, I struggled to find some sort of balance between all of my responsibilities; I mean, after all, I’d met other homeschooling moms. Some of them had many children, and some even had farm animals to care for, or ran a 4-H group on top of that. They never seemed overwhelmed. So why couldn’t I figure out a way to juggle everything and maintain my sanity? And then, one day, I went to visit a friend . She homeschooled her three children, and often had other children visiting, as well. The first thing I noticed about her house was the mess. It seemed messy to me, at least; I routinely spent much of my time trying to keep my house clean. There were toys and projects strewn around the living room and covering the table (which was made from sawhorses and an old door, and covered with a sheet). She had a giant tackboard leaned up against one wall, where the children could reach it. It held a colorful assortment of various children’s artistic endeavors. Shelves of differing sizes, ages, and degrees of stability held books, science and art supplies, bins of construction paper, popsicle sticks, building blocks, math manipulatives, etc. The children ran around crazily, as young children are wont to do, and moved from one activity to another as their desires drew them, exploring and experiencing each moment until they decided to move on to something else. It was loud, rumbunctious,... continue reading

It’s Time to Unschool the Unschooling Movement!

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. Well, that’s it. I’ve sworn off online unschooling groups again. It’s happened before, for precisely the same reasons. Every couple of years I get it in my head that perhaps things have improved in those circles, but it always degenerates quickly. As long as one follows precisely the prescribed unschooling format, things seem to go along swimmingly. But if you ever find yourself in any kind of struggle, beware. It usually starts out with a whole boatload of people telling you that you’re not providing enough love, understanding, compassion, freedom, etc., or that you’re otherwise lacking in parental capability. You’ll be told over and over again that if you just “stick to the principles,” everything WILL work out. If it isn’t working for you, you’re not doing it correctly, or you’re not doing it hard enough (or both). There’s usually a mildly patronizing tone, as though you are being patted on the head like a cute but stupid puppy, as you’re reassured that once you’ve had more experience, things will be better (aww, poor little noob!). If you, like myself, are silly enough to assert that it’s not always so simple, that all circumstances and families are different, and that there is not in fact one perfect formula that works for everyone (or if anyone else is ballsy enough to chime in and suggest something similar), all hell will start to break loose, and the discussion often quickly devolves into scolding, censorship, and even outright attacks on the person who came looking for help. I find this simultaneously heartbreaking and interesting. Heartbreaking, because to me it seems glaringly obvious that when someone comes to you seeking help and advice, they are probably in dire need of the much touted love, compassion, and understanding. And, you know, maybe a bit of help, for good measure? Perhaps even a suggestion that -gasp!- doesn’t involve making the person feel guilty that no matter how much heart and soul they’ve poured into it, their best just isn’t good enough? If it weren’t so sad, it would actually be kind of amusing: for a group of people who pride themselves on living “outside the box,” there are some pretty strict rules in unschooling circles. For a group of people who generally emphasize acceptance and celebrate diversity, we can be astonishingly narrow-minded. A common theme that is reprised in peaceful parenting and unschooling circles is that it is counterproductive to make kids feel bad in order to try to get them to behave better. Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I am too: why, pray tell, does... continue reading

The Measuring Spoon, or Enjoy It While You Can

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. It is mind-blowingly astonishing just how fast that time really does fly. My house feels a little empty some days, now that my oldest has moved out. My youngest is a teenager now, and is mostly self-sufficient, and often I find myself remembering the joyously chaotic days when they were young. We spent our days adventuring, experimenting, discovering, and playing, and though I knew better, it really felt as though those days would last forever.Last week, as I was washing dishes, I noticed that one of our sets of measuring spoons had come apart. It’s a brightly colored set, held together with a red zip tie, and we have had it for so many years now, that I can no longer remember where we got it, or when. What I do remember, though, is that it was purchased as part of a children’s cooking set; one of those primary colored things that are marketed for small children, along with a book of easy recipes that kids could cook with little parental assistance. I’m not even sure we cooked anything from the book; neither one of my kids turned out to be much interested in culinary endeavors, but we always had shelves and shelves of equipment, tools, and books available, so that they were free to dabble at will in whatever might strike their fancy at any given time. The measuring spoons in question, though, were something I had used practically every day, as I prepared meals for my growing family, for what seemed like as long as I could remember. Seeing them broken apart brought on a wave of emotion, as I remembered many of the projects we had done together; the supplies bought, the messes made, even the things that sat on the shelf, unused, when the kids lost interest before they got around to using them. I thought back to the hard times, too; the times I felt like I’d never get a full night’s sleep again, or ever have the time to pursue my own interests (or even to remember what my interests used to be!). The days of meltdowns and tantrums and children fighting. The days of struggling to cook something, anything, with fussy kids pulling at my clothes, or hanging on my legs. The days the only thing I wanted in the whole world was to go to the bathroom alone, or take a shower or grocery shop without all hell breaking loose. Diapers that exploded, requiring a bath, no matter how inconvenient the timing. The years I spent, feeling like a human cow, confined most of... continue reading

What is Unschooling? I Don’t Know (and You Don’t Either)

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. It’s easy for people who have been raised in hierarchical households and who have grown up in an authoritarian educational system to want to pin things down and fit them into tidy boxes. Our whole young lives were spent being taught, overtly or covertly, that for every question, there is an authority we should look to for answers; and because unschooling can seem especially foreign, we may feel as though we are in over our heads, especially in the beginning. And so we often do what we’ve always been told to do: ask an expert. But is there such a thing as an unschooling expert? To answer that question, it may be helpful to examine our ideas about the nature of unschooling itself. So what exactly IS unschooling? Truthfully, this is a question that I can’t entirely answer (and neither can you!). In its most basic form, unschooling is simply child-led, interest-based education outside a school setting. But in practice, it takes many forms. Some people only unschool certain (or most) subjects; some unschool all academics, but in other ways function in much the same manner as most other families; and some of us are ‘radical’ or ‘whole-life’ unschoolers. I’m sure there are people in other places on the spectrum as well. I’ve even heard of unschoolers who attend conventional school, using it as just one tool among many in their kit; and some of us may move along this continuum as our lives or circumstances change, or as our families adapt and grow. All of these people may refer to themselves as unschoolers, though our ways of living and learning may be radically divergent from one another. We all think we’re doing it the “right” way. And you know what? We probably are. Like any diverse group, it can be tempting for us to argue amongst ourselves about which is the “best” way to unschool. There are some of us, who, having lived this way for many years, feel as though we’ve achieved a level of wisdom that entitles us to make judgments about someone else’s application of the unschooling philosophy. In certain circles, if you fail to toe a particular line, or dare to disagree with one of the self-appointed gurus, you risk being told that what you’re doing is NOT unschooling, or that you’re a “bad” unschooler. Some of the higher-profile types seem to imply that unschooling is like following a recipe, as though the process should be identical for each child, and following it precisely guarantees an always harmonious home and a flawless outcome. Guess what? They’re wrong.... continue reading

No Matter What You Hear About it, Unschooling is Not All Unicorns and Rainbows

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. There’s been a lot of upheaval in my family over the past few months, and this column is somewhat painful for me to write. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that unschoolers share their experiences, both positive and negative, in order that others know that it is normal if things are not magically perfect and all their problems are not automatically fixed and difficulties avoided by unschooling. We face many of the same struggles as other families, but have to find creative ways to solve problems, while eschewing force or coercion. Sometimes the most positive approach, difficult though it may be, is learning to change our attitudes and expectations. We have, as a species, mostly strayed quite a distance from human evolutionary needs when it comes to childrearing, often with some very troubling results. Some of us, having watched our infants become toddlers and our toddlers become young children, and witnessing the amazing power of small people to explore and learn about our world, find that as ‘school age’ approaches, we have very grave doubts about the necessity of packing kids off to an institution to spend their days being told what to learn, when, and how. Some of those, who just can’t quite comprehend what magic occurs at the age of five and turns kids from high adventurers, apparently quite suddenly, into apathetic layabouts who must be forced continue their explorations, decide that we will try to find a more suitable way for our children to grow to adulthood. Some of us manage to table our doubts for a bit – after all, everyone knows that school is a modern miracle, responsible for lifting people from poverty, encouraging the development of higher thought, and is absolutely the only way to create healthy, well-rounded citizens, right? Besides, who wants to deal with the nightmare of curriculum, paperwork, schedules, and all that extra work piled on top of everything else on our never-ending lists of things to do? Imagine the untold horrors of trying to teach a child to read, for goodness’ sakes! Surely the whole thing is best left to professionals! So we tuck our doubts away, decide that this is the best route, and send them off. But the doubts remain, in the backs of our minds, often mingling with our own unhappy memories of school days, and as we watch the excited sparkle in our child’s eyes dim as enthusiasm turns to resignation, we realize the terrible error we’ve made, and remove them from the halls of institutionalized learning, vowing to find a healthier way for them to grow. However we... continue reading

Living with Wild Abandon

Send her mail. “Living with Wild Abandon” is an original bi-weekly column appearing every other Tuesday at Everything-Voluntary.com, by Breezy V. Stevens. Breezy is a long-time radical unschooler, an advocate for children’s rights, a crazy dog lady, a crafter in various mediums, a lover of all things tropical and beachy, and the designer of “EVC in Color“. Archived columns can be found here. LWA-only RSS feed available here. Where to begin? I suppose a bit about who I am might be in order, and to help put my perspective into context. Among many other things, I am a “radical unschooler.” As a radical unschooler, I extend the philosophy of allowing my children the freedom to direct their educational ventures outward until it encompasses every aspect of their lives – after all, what is life if not the ultimate education? This is where my journey truly began. I have been on this amazing, wonderful, eye-opening path for about 12 years now, and it was this lifestyle, with its intense emphasis on questioning every aspect of daily life, coupled with my ever-deepening appreciation of the need for human freedom, which eventually led me to the fork known as voluntaryism. I think, though, that there had always been a murmur in the depths of my psyche that hinted that my journey lay in this direction.I am by nature a troublemaker, and a challenger of the status quo. I have a deep need to understand why things around me are the way they are, from the most mundane to the hopelessly complex. I ask questions and seek information ceaselessly. I’ve often been told that I “think too much.” I tend toward the artistic and the creative, and am passionately emotional. I despise being told what to do, and rage against anything that feels restrictive to my freedom. I suppose some people think that I never grew up, that my claustrophobic reaction to external control is unreasonable and childish, an overreaction to the inevitabilities of adulthood. I prefer to think that my spark somehow managed to survive intact, despite all efforts to the contrary, and I heartily credit the unschooling lifestyle with re-awakening my deep passions and encouraging me to truly engage with the world again. I often look around at my surroundings, and see seemingly limitless potential, frequently squandered, often outright squashed. Sometimes I find myself wanting to scream to the heavens about just how AMAZING things could be, if only people would relinquish the reins of stifling authoritarianism and suffocating control. Over the years, I have at times found this to be overwhelmingly frustrating and depressing, but I am excited by what seems to be a growing tide of change in recent years, and I am extremely encouraged by the possibilities I see emerging. Quite naturally, I think, unschooling has come to inform every aspect of my life. It has broadened my perspective and opened my heart and mind. One of the biggest and most truly life-transforming lessons I have learned as I... continue reading