by Marie Goodwin
I have a bone to pick with some members of the unschooling community, and this bone-picking is a long time coming, frankly.
When I first started down the unschooling route, oh so many years, I spent a long time foraging for information on on-line forums (Mothering.com, for starters), joined boards, and finally jumped into the world of Facebook mostly to join unschooling groups and see what my ex-boyfriends were up to (I jest about the last one. Kinda-sorta). I thought surely, here, I'd find my tribe: tolerant, kind people walking a barely-lit path with their children, just like me. We would be comrades. Our kids would grow old together, even if I never met my virtual friends and mentors in real life. I took it as a given that these people would be patient and kind, answer my questions with helpful grace, and give me a high five with my little successes, which is what unschooling is entirely comprised of… day-to-day little successes. For many many years.
I was, with a few wonderful exceptions, wrong.
What I encountered from the get-go was a litany of dogmatic, mean-spiritedness, snark, judgement, condescension, and rude-ness, especially to newcomers asking simple questions. I mean, this is the internet. You get that no matter where your interests land, especially on Facebook. But I did expect better from unschoolers. I don't know why, but I did.
So I stopped going to such places and asking questions. I had a few friends on-line and in-real-life with experience. In the areas where I didn't have experience, I either asked them or I figured it out on my own. I wanted on-line community because the world is a vast and interesting place, but I was … well… disappointed. Disappointed in the Kool-aid drinking about who was "in" and who was "out," disappointed in the snark and testiness at newbies, disappointed in "leaders" who seemed to encourage this type of behavior in their on-line groups and pages.
And you know what? I get it. I get sick of defending our right as a family to walk this path -- this really freaking lonely path -- to outsiders. I get sick of every damn mainstream voice in the media and in our community saying what we are doing is crazy and won't work. I get REALLY sick of all the questions, asked over and over and over again: "How will they ever get into college?" "Don't you think they'll be weird?" "What about [*#&&%, #&@*@, &&@#^&*] socialization?" I am sick of it too.
But, unschooling parents, please, for the love of everything that is good in this world…. STOP BEING RUDE TO NEW PEOPLE ON-LINE.
You are not helping. You are not being cute and awesome. You don't look cool. Most importantly you are not engaging people to think more deeply. You are chasing people away who might be curious about this lifestyle, thinking, "Well, who wants to participate in unschooling if THAT is what you get for asking a simple, damn question?"
Why am I bringing this up today?
A "famous" unschooling mom [famous = someone who has been on mainstream media and had to endure mainstream bullying by mainstream talking heads; they are not famous because they are more skillful or better unschoolers in any way] posted today that her oldest had "graduated" from high school by taking some equivalency exam from a distance learning site. He had passed with high marks. Of course. But when I posed a question to said famous unschooling mom, asking quite simply what was the program that that her family had used, two of her followers replied with some snark to me, saying [I paraphrase], "There is no program. It's called unschooling dummy. Look it up," with a couple of other commenters dog-piling on at my [gasp] stupidity at asking about the "program" she was using. Stupid me. They told me.
This type of stuff is common. I see it on unschooling Facebook groups almost daily. I see people get (and have been myself) really defensive over the tiniest question directed at this lifestyle. But I also see how such emotional discharges damage the really revolutionary work that we are doing in this world. If we are going to actually make a change in the way education is constructed and delivered in this country, we are going to have to grow this movement outward to people not yet in it.
And being nasty to newbies when they ask simple questions is not going to get us there.