RESPONSE: HuffPo- The ‘Unschooling’ Movement
Good Parenting or UNparenting?
A rebuttal to a recent HuffPo Article
In a recent Huffington Post article entitled The ‘Unschooling’ Movement: Good Parenting or Unparenting? the author Lorraine Devon Wilke makes judgements specifically about Dayna and Joe Martin’s approach to unschooling:
“Well, if you’re Dayna and Joe Martin, you throw out everything you’ve heard, reject all conventional wisdom and adopt a theory of parenting that’s a combination of “hippie free-for-all,” Home Alone (except the very permissive parents are actually in the house this time), and Children of the Corn.”
I hesitate to respond to an article that takes on a personal bashing of another family who has so graciously made their lives public and has contributed so much to the natural learning community. However, the nature of the Huffington Post article was so biased, I felt I needed to write this rebuttal. Lorraine Devon Wilke‘s article is a personal judgment without any first-hand experience of an unschooling family and the article employs several manipulative journalistic tactics that create a biased article, designed to elicit an emotional response from the reader.
After the quote above, Wilke quotes a CNN US article defining the term ‘unschooling’ and then goes on to say:
“Which means, in the case of the Martins, that Devin, Tiffany, Ivy and Orion can — with their parents’ enthusiastic permission — watch TV or play video games all day if they want. They can sleep until 2 p.m. and go to bed at 4 a.m., eat ice cream for every meal, or not eat at all. Chores? Don’t be silly! And the presumption is that they’ll learn something, somehow, along the way; don’t ask how, just believe that if they’re interested in something they’ll pursue it. If not, no big whoop.”
Wilke’s HuffPo article is a response to another article published a week ago, entitled ”I Let My Children Do Whatever They Want,“. In the first article Dayna provided an example of her family’s freedom of choice, which was not quoted in the HuffPo article:
“I’ve found giving kids the freedom of choice has worked out perfectly as they don’t tend to crave bad foods, because they can have them whenever they want.
“In fact, at the moment they are all going the other way. Devin is following the Paleo diet, which is about eating whole grains and grass-fed meat, as he had heard about it and wanted to give it a go to improve his fitness. And the girls are currently vegetarian.”
“Every week we all go to the supermarket together, but instead of having one trolley between us, we have one each. We give the kids $15 [Dh55] each, and they are free to choose what foods they want to spend their money on. If they want to spend it all on ice lollies they can. And one time, Orion did put a whole load of lollies in the trolley. But for the most part, the kids like to load up on fruit and they all love nuts.”
Instead Wilke implies that the Martin children will make the worst possible choice for themselves simply because they have the freedom to choose. I understand this kind of thinking, especially if you are of the mind set that one should be told what to do. If a person lives their entire life unconsciously and without fully feeling the joys of empowerment, this may be the reasonable deduction. But clearly, this is not the case within the Martin family.
Also in Wilke’s article, she does not share how a family of 6 manages and negotiates their days as a close family, in close proximity of one another. (That alone is talent, in my book.) Had Wilke done some unbiased investigation, she would have discovered the wonderfully enlightening tid-bits shared on Dayna’s blog and facebook pages about how an engaged family actually functions. Dayna often shares her personal experiences with each of her four children including how she actively facilitates her children’s interests through art activities, literature, cooking & nutrition (she’s a raw chef), crafts, outings, historical and political family investigations.
Does this sound like Children of the Corn, running amok?
Next Wilke replies to a quote in the article entitled “I Let My Children Do Whatever They Want,” in which Dayna and Joe Martin share their school experiences which has inspired an alternative choice for their children:
“So, she responds to her negative educational experiences by choosing “unschooling” for her own children. Is that fair? I don’t know. But I do think, based on my own experience, that children flourish, learn and grow when given responsibilities, guidance, boundaries and discipline. Do they not do as well without those things? Some, perhaps. The Martin’s children? She says they’re all doing fantastically. Let’s see how it’s going for them in 20 years. Maybe we’ll be shaking our heads in amazement; maybe they’ll be narcissistic, entitled head-cases. For now they’re apparently having an unfettered blast.”
First off, Lorraine Devon Wilke, I would argue it’s a fallacy to believe “that children flourish, learn and grow when given responsibilities, guidance, boundaries and discipline” as an absolute truth. Depending on the degree of application of each of these ‘attributes’, this sort of structure does not always promote an atmosphere in which a child is guaranteed to flourish. And even if you could guarantee your children will flourish in this sort of atmosphere, you couldn’t argue when children are flourishing in a different kind of home.
I would say from my personal experience of unschooling a teenager, that there’s no doubt that mine is flourishing in an atmosphere void of parent imposed responsibilities, manipulated guidance, arbitrary bounders and conventional discipline. In our case, the empowerment of freedom and self reliance has prompted my son to impose and live by his own set of personal standards including self-responsibilities, self-guidance, self-determined boundaries and self-discipline. And guess what? He’s not running amok either with absolutely no rebellion. From my perspective, that’s a complete success.
Then applying a manipulative journalistic technique, the author compares the unschooling philosophies to another form of extreme parenting, with the intent to elicit a negative emotional response within the reader. This sort of journalism is slanted whereby equalling the current topic with a perceived negative to guarantee a particular emotional reaction. Hopefully the readers of Wilke’s article will see through this tactic.
Lastly Wilke sums up the HuffPo article with this bit of advice:
My suggestion: balance. Find balance in the pendulum of parenting. Respect them, of course, but offer them firm, sensible discipline, compassionate boundaries, development of learned life skills, mentoring and teaching. Communicate openly and consistently. Infuse them with a sense of personal responsibility and integrity, and pass on big dollops of empathy, consideration, and honor. Do that… then let them have ice cream.
The implicaiton is that unschooling does not offer sensibility, compassion, boundaries, life skills, mentoring or teaching. I would argue, that’s the foundation of the life learning (unschooling).
Next, Wilke offers this bit of great advice: “Communicate openly and consistently.” I would suggest she takes her own advice and applies it to her journalistic writing as well.
Lastly Wilke offers the values to infuse into a child with a beatiful list.. I would remind Wilke, through interest-led learning, children are experiencing these things on their own, and instead of authority-top-down approach, natural learning becomes the most most powerful empowering experience a child can grow up with. Guaranteed, the Martin children will be happy holistic humans, and that is a sign of ultimate success in life, and good parenting.