Unschooling, Zen-schooling and Trust

I have an issue with unschooling. Although I refer to myself and our family as unschoolers, generally, I don’t really feel like it’s “my” community. “My” community is everyone. All homeschoolers, all parents, all people.

One of the reasons I hesitate to call myself an unschooler, or to get too deeply involved in the unschooling community is this idea of “trust”. It seems, that it means different things to different people. I have a zen-like idea of what trust is. And it creates an unschooling-like environment for my family. My hubby’s idea of trust is similar – not identical. And together, we have a basic trust and respect that our kids will be able to handle their own lives and own mistakes (and own successes). That they don’t need us to define for them who they are or what is important in the world. That’s for them to decide.

Yet… yet…. we’re not radical unschoolers. At least not in the way that I hear radical unschoolers describing their lives. I mean, I am radical in a lot of ways. But not in a way that all the other radical unschoolers can say, “Oh yes, she’s one of us.” Nu huh. Nobody can say that. I’m not “one of anyone”. I’m me. And our family is just… well.. different. Based on trust, respect and also… practical life issues. Based on the fact that we have 5 different personalities, with 5 different takes on what’s important, living together under one roof. 5 people who want to be close, find a way to coordinate our lives so we see each other, be comfortable in our home, happy in our community, with minimal drama, high levels of forgiveness and high levels of groundedness. And two parents who consider their responsibility to include keeping our kids healthy, strong and free. The decisions we make and our practical life end up not really living up to the radical unschooling, and sometimes not even to the “regular” unschooling, portrait.

We make decisions based on everyone’s needs. Sometimes that means making the decision to limit things, like sugar and video games. Sometimes that means putting our foot down about bed times. And sometimes that means telling our kids what to do.

GAH! I’m such a bad unschooler.
Because I haven’t signed the unschooler contract. I’m a zen-schooler. And a whatever-works-educator. Whatever works so that everyone in the family’s needs are met, everyone feels loved and supported, everyone feels free, and everyone feels heard. To me, it doesn’t matter WHAT happens in a family, it doesn’t matter if there are star charts or bribes or strict bedtimes. It doesn’t matter if there’s school time or limitless videogames or any other thing. Those things by themselves are not indicators of anything. The only indicator that the “whatever-works-education” is working, is that everyone feels like a whole, complete, safe, secure, person. Who belongs in this world. Mistakes and all.

I read this great entry on Livejournal about big life needs vs. everyday practical, living together needs. I thought it made a really good point about how “trust” can exist in many different ways.

We are all where we are, working with what we have. All we can do is do what works, and when it stops working, do something else. Keep doing that until we find balance. When we find balance, we still have to keep adjusting. I’m suspicious of anyone who has found “a way”, and has gotten really comfortable in that way, thinking it’s going to be like that, and that it’ll work forever. In real life, it seldom works that way. Reality has a way of getting in the way, no matter what we do.

Unschooling and trust – Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don’t. I don’t know if I’m really all that great of a spokesperson for unschooling, although I talk about it a lot. Because it interests me, and it brings up questions that force us to look at things from more than one perspective. I like that. I like that about the unschooling articles and perspectives. It’s not the same ole stuff we see in Parents magazine, and in articles like “5 ways to get your kid to go to be on time so he can get up when you want him to.” I like unschooling because it asks – “WHY do we really want our kids to get up at a certain time?” Nowhere else do people even ask these questions. That’s why I like unschooling, because it asks the questions. But I don’t always agree with the answers.

To me, our approach is to ask all the questions. Ask the questions in all seriousness and consider all options, seriously. As if there is no right answer. To me, unschooling too often provides just another “right answer”. One that’s different than the answer that Parents magazine would come up with. Yet, still an answer.

In my perspective, it’s not about the answer at all. It’s about having the ability to ask the questions without feeling like we need other people to approve of our decision. And then coming up with an answer that belongs to us. Whether or not it falls under a category. And then later, if we find that we change our minds, or we found new info that makes it clear that we have a better choice, that it’s OK to change, even if that means we change our “category”. Even if it means admitting we made a mistake. Even it means saying to our friends, “we used to agree, but now we don’t. And that’s OK.”

Zen schooling is not about the answers, it’s about asking the questions.

So the question is – “What does trust mean to you?” When we answer this question, without worrying if we are answering it “correctly” or according to what a group, or person, thinks we should say, that’s when we’ve found our true way. That’s when we’ve found our own balance. And when we no longer will fit into any club, because we are truly and completely unique.


13 Responses to “Unschooling, Zen-schooling and Trust”

  1. Heather Says:

    Zen Schooling! How awesome!! I think of ourselves as unschoolers but I know we don’t fit the unschoolers mold and definitely not the radical unschoolers mold. I usually just tell people we homeschool since many people think unschooling is not schooling. Many unschoolers would not consider us unschoolers I’m sure.

    I agree with you on doing what is best for your family and what makes everyone happy. My kids have a bed time, I limit sugar from time to time and video games. My kids have chores because our home is for all of us and we all need to pitch in. I tried trusting that my kids would limit their sugar, video game playing and that they would pitch in on chores on their own and they never did.

    Finally I came to the realization that I had to do what was best for my own family and that we don’t need a label of unschooling or anything else to describe us. We’re just living our lives and doing it on our terms.

  2. Karen Says:

    Wow! Ditto!
    I often find myself stuck in the middle, feeling alone, because I don’t homeschool like this group or that group; don’t church like this group or that group; don’t politic like this group or that group; etc.
    When did America become a this-or-that-and-nothing-in-between country?

  3. lovingmothering Says:

    oh FAB! not that you need anyone to say that , D

    I appreciate this greatly. Thank you for sharing.

  4. sally Says:

    It hadn’t occurred to me particularly that unschooling had much to do with whether you have a disagreement with your kids occasionally over things like what to eat, when to go to bed and how often to brush your teeth. Then I read someone posting about radical unschooling. I suppose I’d call what we do autonomous education more than anything now. I’ve begun to abandon the term unschooling because it seems unrelated to what we do (in that we don’t do the opposite of schooling). For me auto-ed is all about trust, but trust of your child. A lot of other things in life are about trusting your child … but I wouldn’t necessarily trust every decision my children make to be a good one (in my opinion)! Sometimes they need a bigger picture/information to put a decision in perspective. That’s where I see my role coming in, I suppose.
    I think my idea of trust is: trusting their ideas and feelings to be meaningful/valid alongside them being able to trust me to help them find the information they need to develop the bigger picture they need for the further development (and evaluation) of their ideas and feelings … without dictating those ideas and feelings themselves.
    Sounds quite zen, I suppose. It’s still mostly about questions.

    interesting thread!

  5. Colleen Says:

    Tammy, I feel like I should have this entire entry tattooed onto my arm! I’m going to settle for printing it out and posting it on the mirror. When I’m having an angst-filled day, though, I might cheat and write “What does trust mean to you?” on my hand. Thanks!

  6. Shawna Says:

    Very nicely said…and very timely as I toy with trying to decide if “unschooling” might be better than “homeschooling”…and then being informed I really just public school at home instead of truly homeschool.

    Yuck! All the labels and categories

    …we are simply living life, trying to educate our child when the schools failed to recognize his abilities, and “asking questions” along the way trying to find what works best for us/him.

  7. Worldschooling, Not Unschooling « Just Enough, and Nothing More Says:

    […] Not Unschooling December 5, 2008 — Tammy Takahashi As many of you know, I struggle with the unschooling label. Generally, I don’t consider myself an “unschooler’. Or rather, I wear the label […]

  8. Joan school Says:

    Its good to be yourself and not feel obligated to ‘behave’ in a particular way in order to be ‘approved’ by some groups or any group. Glad to know that you feel the same way as i do. I guess trust mean many things to many people. For me, it is just being myself in the eyes of others.

  9. Freely Living Life Says:

    This post ROCKS my socks! I really have to share this! Thank you *so* much for being the voice for the thoughts that have been a whirlin’ and a swirlin’ in this ol’ head of mine for quite sometime now! You’re fantastic (but you already knew that!)! 🙂


  10. Laura Parrish Says:

    I like what Joyce Fetteroll says here about “philosophy” being different from “practice”.

  11. Laurette Lynn Says:

    Excellent and very refreshing! So frustrating to be slammed by one end for not being hard-ass and slammed by the other for now allowing too much TV (how could you not let your child make their own choices?) I don’t like to have to pigeonhole myself in either direction! I call myself “unplugged”. Not from electricity – but from this labeling nonsense. Thank you for these words! Go you! 🙂

  12. Kimberly Says:

    This is very well put. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

  13. Sabrina Says:

    When I read this, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts. This is my family and I in a nutshell. Great job I couldn’t of said it better myself.

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