>>the question, and your answers made me think about unschooling, as sort of a polar opposites, and how both hope to produce the same sort of person at the end. I’m curious how you view the ‘no rules, just principles’ aspect of radical unschooling… allowing children to pursue what they find they want to, without limits (I am not including hurting themselves, or running in traffic, or other dangerous things like that) and not requiring behaviors/chores of them. I’m sure I don’t completely understand the theory, so I’m having trouble encapsulating it here. When reading on it, I get the impression that rules/limits are damaging a child, emotionally.<<
The term ‘unschooling’ was coined by John Holt, who wrote several books on education. His definition can be summed up here. I’ve read all of John Holt’s books and he doesn’t advocate educating children without guidance, limits, or saying ‘no’. In fact, one of the first things I ever read about homeschooling was in Mothering magazine – it was an article by a homeschooling mother whose family was close to John and tried her best to integrate using his principles. In that article, she described how he helped her daughter understand the mathematical concepts she was then struggling with. He didn’t tell her that her daughter shouldn’t be learning math because she was frustrated and didn’t want to! What he did was try to connect with her desire to learn and provided guidance according to her learning style.
The unwillingness to provide any structure/guidance/limits is where my main disagreement with radical unschooling lies. While I know of several families who unschool and are bringing up lovely families, every one of them has clear guidelines and expectations, sometimes in the academic arena but definitely in other areas. They don’t have a laissez faire, let the kids do whatever they want, when they want mentality that is part and parcel of radical unschooling. Unfortunately the definition of unschooling has been co-opted by radical elements of the homeschooling world and it’s become very confusing to sift through the variances in different approaches.
To quote something I once heard on a parenting cassette: “Discipline without love is harsh. Love without discipline is child abuse.” I think that parents who won’t say ‘no’ to their children are misguided and harming their children in the short and long term, but one person’s opinion really is of minimal value. What matters is what are the results these parents are getting? Are parents who raise their children without boundaries raising giving, kind, and concerned individuals who are making the world a better place? (When I read this article six months ago, I saved it to share here – it’s relevant to this discussion now so don’t skip reading it!) Start paying attention to the families you see – look for parents with older kids because that’s when you see the long term results of a particular parenting approach.
Life inherently has limitations. Being a religious Jew means limitations – we live a life structured by G-d’s rules, and true freedom paradoxically comes with structure. Otherwise you become a slave to your own desires, and that’s the farthest thing from freedom! While unschooling can be compatible with Torah, radical unschooling can not. I’ve said again and again that you must lovingly set and clarify boundaries – because there have to be limits.
A person must have some guidelines in life except doing whatever they feel like, when they feel like it, how they feel like it. It’s wonderful to follow your passion, but kids who haven’t learned some inner discipline won’t be able to sustain the necessary effort to follow through – and success in any field requires effort. Even when you don’t feel like it.