Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unschooling: Give a Label a Hug


My parents never used the unschooling label. Weren't even aware that there was one.  Blissfully unaware I would say. I began researching homeschooling with my own children many years later and discovered that not only was there a LABEL for how we had lived and learned, but there was a plethora of GROUPS and BOOKS and ARTICLES! I was beyond thrilled. I was ecstatic.  So without looking before I leapt, I enthusiastically jumped into the online unschooling groups with both feet,

...and promptly got my feelings hurt and my nose bent way out of shape. Ouch.

This was not what I had thought I would find.  I was not looking for argument and debate. I was not looking to be questioned or grilled. I was not looking to have my every word dissected and over analyzed with such vigor and delight. I was not prepared.

All I had wanted was company.  Other like minded souls to share the journey with. But alas, I did not stay long enough back then to get to know anyone well enough to be able to look past my first impression. I skedaddled it out of there with my tail between my legs.


And I avoided using the label of unschooling like it was the plague.

I certainly didn't change anything we did or how we learned.  I just stuck to describing what we did as interest-led learning - saying that we took a more "relaxed" or "natural" approach. I was cautious. God forbid someone should think that what I had come across online was what WE did.

But we were unschoolers. UN-schoolers. Not embracing the label because of a bad first impression and a few extremes I saw within it didn't change who we were.  It just left me alone.

Don't get me wrong.  I had great homeschooling friends.  Wonderful friends that I had much in common with. But when conversations turned to more schoolish talk (curriculum, number of school days remaining, school work woes and frustrations), I just couldn't join in wholeheartedly - because that's not how we worked. It felt like I was holding something back.  Some part of me, an important part, wasn't being shared.  And I always worried that my obsessive passion for natural, real-life and interest-led learning was met with raised eyebrows and wrinkled noses. Crazy talk.

So we just did what we did.  Went about living our lives - out in the big, wide world.  On our own. Without a label. And we were happy.

Alone.

But everywhere I turned, *unschooling* was there.  Every article I liked, every blog I enjoyed, every Facebook page that I found encouragement in.  Unschoolers, unschoolers, unschoolers.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not get away from the label.

I asked myself, "why not just embrace it?".  There are extremes in everything but also a lovely balance to be found.  I had my balance, my confidence, so why did it matter if someone did it differently? Who cared what someone else thought? Variety is the spice of life and such stuff.  Ah, but my nose still stung just a tiny bit. So...back to, "who needs a label?".

Here's the truth...I did.

The more I looked, the more I saw the people all around me, embracing it with open arms. Unschooling newbies were throwing their arms joyfully around the label without hesitation. Even my younger sister with her little ones, OPENLY EMBRACING it.  It made me uncomfortable...and a tad jealous. And it was this that finally stretched me to the point that I went ahead and gave the label an awkward side-hug.

It was nice. :)

The more I embraced it, the more open I felt, the more comfortable I became. And then this funny thing happened...I found that the more I opened up and the more I shared, the more like minded people I connected with and got to know - online and in my own community!

While I love being challenged and stretched, I still don't like to argue, dissect or debate what and why we do what we do.  And I also still prefer a good snuggle with the phrase *interest-led learning*. It's how we learn. It fits us. It's comfortable. But over the past few months I've been openly giving the unschooling label a great big full-on hug!  Really, I think it needs it.

And so do I.