Being a teacher, I was kind of amazed at how naturally our family made the transition from school-at-home to unschooling. Maybe the fact that I am a teacher helped. It was pretty easy for me to find the learning in most of my kids’ activities, which was reassuring – especially at first. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: in spite of how comfortable I’ve become with this interest- and passion-driven way of life, every once in a while I completely freak out.
Often, this happens when I start to compare my kids with other kids. Oh, no, I think, as I listen to our 7 year old neighbor read more fluently than my 9 year old, I’ve been fooling myself! In the name of educational freedom, I have completely failed my kid! And from there, it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to much bigger worries. Maybe my kids will never read! Maybe they’ll grow up illiterate and ashamed. They’ll be stuck in meaningless, minimum wage jobs, dulling their pain with drugs and alcohol. They’ll curse my foolishness and condemn my failure to “drill and kill” them into proficiency. And then they’ll send all their kids to public school just to twist the knife.
Living such a radically different life from mainstream America requires a great deal of mental tenacity. It can be so easy to lose perspective and get sucked back into that more conventional way of thinking. Especially when it’s so idealized by the media. For example, moving to co-sleeping was one of the best changes our family has ever made. It literally solved all of our sleeping issues – issues that had dragged on for years. And yet when that pediatric cough syrup commercial comes on portraying a peacefully slumbering child in a beautifully decorated nursery, sometimes I still catch myself thinking, Oh, isn’t that lovely! Such peace. Such tranquility. When actually, it’s not even real! But, there it is. Unbidden, those thoughts pop in to my head, and I have to remind myself all over again of the “why” behind what we’re doing.
I used to really beat myself up for having moments of doubt. But I’m beginning to see the value in them. They encourage me to constantly reassess, to entertain course corrections, and to reflect on my beliefs. And they help me to keep questioning the mainstream, the conventional wisdom, and the “expert advice”.
Unschooling is so different, so completely foreign to most people, that those of us practicing it can be tempted to close ranks and present a united and absolutely confident front. After all, if even we have qualms, how will we ever convince the rest of the world that unschooling is legitimate? But the truth is, pretty much all parents have doubts. When you care deeply, doubting goes along with the territory. I’m learning that it’s okay to be honest about those doubts. When I share my doubts with other unschoolers, I find that I’m not alone, and I receive support and encouragement. When I share those doubts with my friends or family members who don’t unschool, I show a willingness to be authentic and to connect with the very same doubts they probably feel about the unschooling philosophy.
With any philosophy, doubting has its place. When we’re honest about our doubts, when we’re willing to face them head on, the result is clarity, and a strengthening of our beliefs. Doubting isn’t always comfortable, but it’s certainly normal.
Am I plagued with doubts these days? I’m happy to say that I’m not. But will I ever be entirely free from doubt?
I doubt it.