Unschooling- The Real Story

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I recently came upon the Family Mental Health blog on PsychCentral.com about unschooling.  More specifically, the writer of the blog lived up to the initials following her name and questioned Good Morning America’s edited portrayal and highly biased discussion of the unschooling lifestyle.  She conveyed her gut reaction after viewing the piece and made a call to anyone with more information about unschooling to respond to the post.  I was astounded in the blogosphere – filled with ignorance and instantaneous, unsubstantiated post-hurling – to find someone actually posting to request information about something that just didn’t sit right and smelled biased.  Thank you, Erika!

Here is her post: Unschooling- What’s the Real Story? By Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

There are several great responses on there.  I am posting mine here as requested by a listener and friend who thought it was a great, succinct description to pass on to questioners.

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Thank you, Heather, for clarifying my comment about hygiene. Yes, I am the mom from Discovery Health’s Radical Parenting segment that was excerpted on GMA. Here’s the deal- we are not coercive parents. We do not demand that our children participate in any behavior or situation that does not feel right to them. We discuss things with them in a way that they will understand WHY things are important to do. There are many things that we all do b/c they have always been done but without reason. We are encouraging a conscious life. Because they are genuine and empowered, there are never issues of resistance for the sake of resistance. Yes, they brush their teeth (we talk about why that’s important and visit the dentist). Yes, they eat healthy food primarily (regular conversations about nutrition, label reading, etc.). Yes, they get plenty of sleep (when they are tired, they sleep). Because these segments are edited to present the contrast, showing my kids eating apples would not have depicted that. My children choose from whatever is in the house. The day of filming a donut was brought in by the film crew for my son. Do public school kids not eat donuts? Unfortunately b/c that is a glimpse of choice, it is commonly interpreted as routine. I am pleased that we put ourselves out there so that discussions like these can be had. Media will be media.


WRT Unschooling – Yes, this is a method of facilitating access to the abundance of resources our communities, internet, travel, etc. have to offer and pursuing our children’s interests/curiosities to the fullest. This is how our children learned to read, do complex math (for FUN), explore evolution and endangered species, research colonial America, and so much more. Learning is real and organic and exciting! We have taken this respect for our children’s minds/learning and extended it to their bodies, emotions, and psychological well-being. This is called Radical Unschooling. It is a life in which we all respect each other and are continually communicating, learning, and growing. Unfortunately, there is a distinct misinterpretation of children as a whole when people assume that they will disrespect their bodies and other people if there are no arbitrary rules. Communication and guidance are constant, reciprocal and result in healthy, loving, and joyful family relationships as well as empowered, conscious children.

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Good Morning America- Featuring Unedited Unschoolers

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Good Morning America responded quickly yesterday to emotional viewer reactions over their highly edited and opinionated segment on radical unschooling.  Christine Yablonski and Phil Biegler were flown to New York City to appear on this morning’s show to offer information about radical unschooling in conjunction with Pat Farenga – home- and unschooling expert.  They responded to a few of the major concerns noted on GMA’s viewer comment thread- How will unschoolers get a job and function as adults?  How will they have exposure to choice and opportunity in the world?  How will they function as adults having never had structure or boundaries?  Yablonski, Biegler, and Farenga did a wonderful job in the short time* that they were given of presenting an overview of radical unschooling in a positive light.

While it was heartening to hear GMA’s George apologize for his emotional, biased statements regarding the radical unschooling lifestyle and to listen to a more comprehensive overview of unschooling from the guests, how many people saw a quick blip yesterday and didn’t tune in this morning as they began their busy day?  Or turned off the TV when they saw there may be government regulation on sodium content in foods on their way out the door?  Yesterday’s segment was damaging.  Today’s was a bandage that will hopefully remind GMA to evenly present subject matter to their viewers the first time – or not.  Does this just emphasize the fact that the average television viewer tunes in to feel that rush of emotion and reaction rather than information?  That this drives ignorant but money-making buzz and increased viewership?  Unfortunately, those who seek more information about unschooling from GMA through reading the text story accompanying the video will garner more of the edited, stereotypical, inaccurate opinions of unschooling and will have to look further on their own.

Addressing our educational norms to the very core of learning theory will take a lot more than 5 minutes but I am hopeful to think of additional viewers that may have tuned in just for this morning’s informative, positive piece.

*Many times since my family’s appearance on the Discovery Health Channel’s “Radical Parenting” special (1:38) and especially after these two Good Morning America segments has it been noted how limited the timeframe is for these pieces.  Having not watched a mainstream news program, morning program, etc. in years, it is astounding how short the American attention span has become.  When we (this includes the kids) watch something on television, it’s because we are interested in the topic/subject matter and want to know/see more.  To see this type of commonly watched program sectioned out into pieces a few minutes long- just enough to squeeze a viewer reaction- spoke volumes about mainstream culture – fast-paced, rushing to judgment, and on the way to something new with an uninformed viewpoint on several different topics.  To this end, I am excited for the release of Unschooling: The Movie as well as another documentary that is currently in production about unschooling by radical unschooling mother, Susan Burke.  I will keep you updated when I have more information.

Good Morning America- Sheds Uninformed Opinion on Unschooling

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The Biegler/Yablonski family was featured on Good Morning America this morning hoping to shed some light on radical unschooling during mainstream America’s morning cuppa’ joe.  GMA quickly put a halt to any open discussion that might have been had in the MAINstream, however, by spewing their negative judgments and opinions before, during, and after the highly edited and biased segment. 

Watch the 5-minute segment here- Extreme Homeschooling: No Tests, No Books, No Classes, No Curriculums

My comment on Good Morning America’s Shout Out thread this morning:

GMA’s representation of radical unschooling was biased and uninformed.  RUers learn from real life experiences in the ‘real world’ everyday and are generally more confident, capable, and intellectual than any schooled child.  Life is choice at its finest and the resources and opportunities that unschooled children have at their fingertips are boundless.  Underestimating our children and their natural capacity and desire for connection, respect, choice, and learning is the mistake that is undermining our culture and society.  This was a very close-minded segment edited to generate gasps more than actual discussion.  I, too, encourage GMA to edit their content with more vision and less personal opinion and applaud this family for supporting their children in natural learning, inspired thought, adventure, and entrepreneurship. 

In addition to submitting a comment on the thread, I felt compelled to contact ABC directly in the hopes that they would like more information about radical unschooling:

Contribute | Do you have more information about this topic? If so, please click here to contact the editors of ABC News.
In bold is what they received- my response exceeds their character allotment maximum:

I am very disappointed in the biased representation of unschooling portrayed by GMA this morning.  I am the mother of the radical unschooling family in the video clip from Discovery Health and, though DHC’s opposing viewpoints (“experts”) were based in societal prejudice and misconceptions (similar to GMA), felt they did a much better job at allowing us to present how learning happens in the limited timeframe allotted for national television.

Some resources to inform you about unschooling so that you can present a more unbiased forum for discussion: I host and produce a podcast called Humans Being (www.werhumansbeing.com) which focuses on connected parenting and radical unschooling.  There are conferences all over the United States from which people are garnering more information on unschooling all the time- one of the finest is the Autodidact Symposium– coordinated and facilitated by grown unschoolers.  The yahoogroup: Ask Unschooling Offspring is another great resource for contacting teens who are being and adults who have been unschooled.   The classic works of John Holt have been used for decades in mainstream educator training and are the basis of the unschooling revolution.  John Taylor Gatto- former esteemed educator and critic of standardized education- has much to say with regard to the validity of unschooling.

My additional responses to this segment:

Unschooled children represent unschooling through their actions and pursuits.  Questioning teens with regard to their readiness for college is a very mainstream perception as to what is deemed important at any given time.  Could you ask the same of a schooled student and get a similar response? Absolutely.  Is college really necessary for individuals to attain success- whether that be classified either by financial status or happiness? No.  True investigation yields information to the direct contrary.  This brings up a very important double standard that is often portrayed in the dubious questioning of unschooling.  Ask these same questions of traditional school and the answers are either equal or an appalling testament to the lack of inspiration, support, opportunity, and options that the system yields for our children.

There was a glimpse of the children’s passions/interests when their indoor cultivation was shown and then cameras cut away to their sword fighting.  Yes, as unschoolers, much of our lives and learning are focused on play.  It is a sad commentary on our culture’s values that life, learning, work, and play are not seen as interwoven facets of the same life experience.  In the same right, for GMA to portray radical unschooling to a mainstream population, it is important on some level to depict the children’s interests/passions/endeavors and discuss learning theory and the extensive history of unschooling philosophy and practice (see the works of John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, and many others).

No- children need not be forced to participate in activities that are undesirable to offer options, opportunity, nor to help them become accustomed to doing things that are uncomfortable.  The choices that each of us makes in life are based on our confidence level, personal preferences, and goals.  An empowered individual who is supported in their choices will seek personal fulfillment through whatever means necessary (college, training, apprenticeships, hard work/practice, etc.).  Unschoolers support their children in the widely varied and potentially ultra-focused learning opportunities that are available in our communities- local, extended, online, etc.

I am very interested in pursuing this further with you.

Warmly,

Sarah Parent

(whose unschooling family is getting ready to begin full-time RVing and seeing what this great continent has to offer- first hand)

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