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Unschooling Freedom

Someone posted their concerns about unschooling freedom on an unschooling e-mail list I belong to:

Although some kids might think an all day video-game, cookie eating, bath-free world would be fabulous, as a parent we know that would lead to illness in the short term, obesity in the long term. Obviously that’s an extreme example, but it makes the point.

Here are two of the replies and as usual, Pam’s response was wonderful.

Mary Gold: It seems like you’re assuming that this is the choice most children would make if given the chance. What people here are saying is that we’ve found that not to be true. Our children were given the freedom to regulate their eating, sleeping and interests. What we’ve found is that kids with choices do not automatically choose the worst possible option. Sure sometimes there’s a cookie for breakfast or a skipped bath or three, but more times there are good choices and a healthy, happy kid.

Pamela Sorooshian: I wanted to emphasize Mary’s point here – because we see this assumption made over and over – that kids will choose what is not good for them and, therefore, a parent’s job is to set limits to make sure they do what is good for them. Well, yes, just like adults, kids WILL sometimes choose what is not good for them. Do WE always do what we know is good for us?

Why shouldn’t parents control their children’s lives, making sure they only do what the parents think is “good for them?”

It is because the “choosing” is really important in the child’s psychological development, both individually, to move toward self-actualization in his/her own life, and socially, to function as a valuable member of a democratic society. And if a person can’t make “real” choices, then his/her so-called freedom is not real. It is a delusion to believe you are free, if your choices are limited to those that someone else has determined are healthy for you.

We see too many people, these days, willing to give up their own freedoms, in exchange for protection or security or even just for convenience. A society composed of compliant people is orderly, and, for some, reassuring and comforting – this is the allure of a dictator! Independence and liberty are messy and risky. This is as true within a family as it is for society as a whole.

Many parenting books talk about offering children limited choices, such as asking: “Do you want the red shirt or the blue shirt today?” The point of these “choices” is not to give real choice, but to fake the kid out – to give the child the illusion of having a choice. This is done for the convenience of the parent whose motivation is to get the child dressed quickly, usually in order to more efficiently get out the door to school or daycare. But this kind of control over children’s lives, carried on throughout childhood at home and at school, often leads to dangerous levels of passivity and apathy, unengaged teenagers who don’t think for themselves and are too easily led by others, or to passive resistance or even active rebellion, which we see in teenagers who flaunt their rejection of all authority and engage in dangerous antisocial behaviors. Unschoolers are striving for something different – our goal is raising truly free children who will grow up to insist on thinking for themselves and will never be easily controlled by others. Unschoolers around the world are demonstrating that parents and kids, together, can, in fact, set up a home environment that supports true freedom and provides MANY options – real choices, not “fake” ones.

Unschooling parents do not abdicate parental responsibility, they do not deprive their children of their protection and care, but they do go far beyond most parents, now or historically, in choosing support of freedom over parental control and convenience, as they offer real choices in an environment that does not focus on limiting a child’s options, but provides nearly boundless opportunity. A friend of mine once said that unschooling can feel a lot like jumping off a cliff, not knowing if you have wings to fly. And I think it can look just about that foolish, from outside, too! But there are unschooled kids soaring all over the place, these days, and all we have to do is look at them, look at their energy and love of life and learning, watch as they pursue their dreams with confidence and gusto, to know that John Holt was right when he said, “Children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world than anyone else could make for them.” (John Holt in “How Children Fail“)

**originally posted in 2007**

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