After presenting a workshop at Rethinking Education about our unschooling process, an attendee asked me a personal application question: “I can see that you are a Christian, right?” I replied in the affirmative. She then posed her searching question: “I can see how unschooling would be such a great fit, but as Christians, my husband feels that the children need to obey. How does that belief fit with unschooling?” I didn’t even hesitate, “I want my children to choose to obey, not be forced.” It immediately resonated with her understanding of the principle.
Two thoughts come to my mind as I see others struggle with this balance between having their own beliefs and creating space for a child to develop their own belief. First is what I call the “pendulum swing” concept. If a person has had a definitive negative past experience, it seems to be human nature to allow an equal force of reaction to occur and swing their belief in the exact opposite direction. For instance, if a person struggled in school, he or she might determine that if enough shaping and expecting is exerted on their child, then the same thing won’t happen to him or her. Or, if a person was spanked as a child in a way that made them feel belittled, that person may be more likely to swing to the other side and be very permissive. What I have discovered through my own journey with the pendulum swing is that often the reactive option is no better than the original force because it is not being put into practice through Truth, but through Fear. And Fear robs Choice.
What I discovered I needed to do to stop passing the junk, whether by staying on the same negative side as I experienced, or penduluming to the opposite reactive side, was to work through the emotion within myself and process the experience in a manner that could release its hold on me by allowing the idea that Choice is still mine. Once I am re-empowered, then I can empower my children in a healthy way. I can also see more clearly that allowing the pendulum to swing down to a more healthy place is the area that allows my children the space for their own ups and downs that occurs when living a life of meaning and self creation. Releasing Fear restores Choice.
The second idea is closely related to the pendulum swing in that it often stems from it. A person may believe that to allow real Choice to their child, he or she cannot share their own beliefs in fear it may influence. Ah, there’s that word Fear again. One of the early principles of unschooling that I embraced as Truth was to live a life of passion and purpose myself as both a development of me and as an example of a fulfilled life for my children. How can a child embrace a principled life without examples of those living passionately their own developed values? There is something in between forcing a child to live your principles and withdrawing yourself as a model to a growing child. Choice requires options.
It may be the difference between teacher and mentor (in which I feel master teacher may be synonymous). Teachers impart knowledge; mentors share their process. The way I try to do this is in similitude to how the Master modeled it in the scriptures. First, I live the principle in my own life, remembering it is a process, not a product. As situations arise, I share with my children why I came to believe what I do by relating stories, experiences, mistakes, and the wisdom that evolved through living and learning about the principle in my day to day life. I don’t qualify it as “only my belief” so you can figure it out yourself. I am a model as I live my life; I am a mentor as I share my process. It is my Truth developed through my Choice.
The same could be applied with how I relate various personal knowledge that comes up about the world I live in. As the leaves change colors and fall from the trees, I might have a discussion with my child about my experiences with it, my knowledge of how or why that occurs, and stories that apply. I don’t qualify it as “only my belief”, but as my Truth. By being a person who seeks knowledge, passion, purpose, and values, and sharing how I came to that, it is a model to my child that through his or her own experiences and inner purpose, he or she will develop their own testaments of life. Living with Choice begets Truth.
I remember a situation that arose for my daughter regarding attending an early morning scripture study program that was considered a “should” in our faith. After a few months, she discovered that it was actually negatively impacting her own personal scripture study and prayer that she had developed and chosen for herself as important; therefore, it had become a meaningful part of her daily routine. Now, she was too tired to devote energy to it, and she was getting nothing out of attending the early morning study program. Because she was raised with models and Choice, she approached her father and I for counsel. As is our pattern, we shared our stories, our understanding of the principle involved (obedience), sympathized with her the dilemma she was in, and shared with her our confidence in her ability to figure out what was right for her in her life. She prayed and fasted and came to a strong conclusion that she should drop out of the class.
One month went by and various experiences and emotions emerged. She and I had not discussed the situation much, though we both had been learning and growing internally about the choice made: hers as the person learning and growing, and me as her counselor and facilitator. One day, we chose to watch the new Spiderman II movie at the theaters. As the scene played out with Peter Parker feeling footloose and fancy free, after deciding to give up his Spiderman role from the pressures of the “shoulds”, and then subsequently discovering that he wanted to Choose to take upon himself the role of Spiderman, with all its ups and downs, struggles and benefits, my daughter and I looked at each other, without a word needing to pass between us, to realize how it was an exact replica of her own situation. My daughter walked out of the theater and declared, “I’m going back to class because I choose to.” Awesome stuff to be part of seeing her process in just this one area. That is the power of Choice!
I see more clearly as my life unfolds and new experiences arise that life is a journey . . . a process. In our American culture, through our competitive and capitalist economy, and even through our standardized and measured schooling practices all shout that “product” is the focus. If we apply that principle in our values or our homeschooling ideals, then to mold our children into the products of our beliefs requires force, which results in sheeple at best, later rebellion at worse. But, if we recognize that there is growth and learning through the process of discovery and living, then we come to realize that Choice is requisite to deeply held beliefs. But, there is a balance to the pendulum: I live my life and beliefs authentically for all to see. In doing this, my children will have a mentor in living a principled life by Choice. Learning has no meaning; values have no meaning; unless embraced by Choice.