Blame Unschooling!

There's something I've noticed a lot that can make things really difficult for us unschoolers, and that is this: unschoolers are always held to a higher standard than those with more traditional educational backgrounds.

Anything "bad" (note the quotation marks) is the fault of unschooling.  If you have trouble getting a job (regardless of the state of the economy, social privileges or a lack thereof, or any other important factors), it's because you unschooled.  If you're a naturally introverted person, it's because you unschooled.  If you miss a deadline, make a typo, make a small mistake when counting out change, hell, if you happen to be clumsy, it's probably because you're an unschooler.

On the other hand, anything "good" about your personality, anything impressive that you accomplish, is entirely because of you, and has absolutely nothing to do with unschooling: you're obviously just a motivated/intelligent/whatever person who would do well no matter what the circumstances.

In contrast, schooled individuals, when they "fail" (again, the quotation marks are important), it's because they're too unmotivated/stupid/whatever: it's NEVER the fault of schooling.  And when a schooled individual accomplishes something impressive, it's because of the wonderful education they received at school, never in spite of school, or because of their own inherent wonderfulness.

It's most definitely sad.  And very frustrating.

It also puts a lot of pressure on you.  Because whether you like it or not, the minute you admit to being an unschooler everything you do becomes a reflection on all unschoolers.  I've felt the zeroing in of attention the second I mention, and then usually explain, unschooling (though lately I've come across some people who are already at least vaguely familiar with the concept...  Yay publicity!).  The questions start coming, of course, but along with that, it often feels like you're being evaluated.  It's like they're examining a foreign specimen, wondering if you'll prove to be a "normal" human or not.  I'm a reasonably social and confident person, at least when it comes to the subject of alternative education and unschooling, so it doesn't usually bother me.  It's actually kind of fun: the challenge of being social and charming, and presenting my case in a calm and logical way.  By the reactions I tend to get, I think I might even be pretty good at it.  But when I think of how this would be for many other unschoolers out there, or even think of myself a couple of years ago, I most definitely understand why many people choose not to bring up unschooling at all, and I remember why I'd never get into the details myself until a couple of years ago.

When you do something outside of the mainstream definition of normal, people think they have a right to demand an explanation.  Or if they're interested in possibly doing it themselves, they simply really really hope you'll explain it to them.  Yet even with the nicest, most well-meaning and interested people, it can sometimes feel like a pop quiz (or at least, I imagine it can... Having never faced a real pop quiz of which people speak, my metaphor could be off).  Like I said, to me, it's fun.  It's energizing.  It's a new challenge each time, to decide how to present things, which quotes or anecdotes to bring up (at this point you may be starting to see why I enjoy public speaking so much...).

Toronto Unschooling Conference 2010

But whether you like it or not, there's always that pressure: by being open about being an unschooler, you become, to the individual or group of individuals you're talking to, the unschooler.  The one who speaks for and represents all unschoolers.  That's a lot of pressure, and, obviously, inaccurate.

I think that to the great majority of people out there, unschooling is thought of as a method of education.  And I think I've referred to it as such myself, at times.  But that description doesn't sound quite right to me: it makes me think of all the different curriculums and school reforms, where new methods are implemented, then the results are studied.  That's what people often see unschoolers as: results of a specific method of education.

And to me, that's not what unschooling is.  As Tara Wagner said in her recent interview on this blog:
"I don't think "unschooling" created me or gave me an ability. I think it simply gave me the freedom to create myself and supported my innate abilities. Whereas schooling or limited mentalities got in my way, unschooling stays out of my way."
As unschoolers, we're not results: we're individual people with individual experiences, personalities, passions, and goals.  I definitely feel unschooling has impacted who I am as a person, but I feel the same way Tara does, in that I feel that by unschooling, I had the time and space to become my own person.  Unschooling gave me freedom.  The rest I did myself.  Or, myself, with the help of the world, my community, and life in general...  Unschooling didn't create the aspects of myself that I'm proud of, and neither did it create my less than stellar qualities.  My achievements and mistakes are thanks to me and the circumstances I've found myself in.

It's harmful for people to look at someone who unschools, and see only the product of a specific type of education.  Instead, people need to shift the focus away from whatever education someone did, or did not, have, and focus instead on the actual person.  Of course, that's easier said than done, but as more and more people are recognizing the failings of both so called higher education and the compulsory schooling system itself, I have high hopes that the focus will shift evermore towards a more organic and flexible view of  what it means to be "educated and successful."

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