Learning to read on the list
**Parents who want to unschool don't have the luxury of a 4 yr degree program in unschooling, taking leisure classes and electives along the way. They need to fast track it.**
This realization was a huge turning point in my journey into unschooling. I first came in contact with this list (or perhaps it was another one) where I read some responses from Sandra and others to a mom who had asked for advice. In my opinion, a mom had asked a simple question about t.v./sugar/video games, or something along those lines and I remember being SHOCKED by the responses. I was breathless, felt personally attacked (although I was an invisible, first time reader), and confused - I had never heard anyone say out loud, or read that restricting t.v./sugar/video games for children was harmful for unschooling children. I think I only read for about 5 minutes before feeling ill, closing the laptop and leaving the room, feeling totally overwhelmed. It was such a different paradigm that it profoundly unsettled me. I avoided the group because I thought people were unsupportive and undermining the mother's confidence to unschool. To me, it sounded like people were being purposely mean to her.
Two things happened to change my perception.
1. I went to my first unschooling conference. Sandra was going to be there, and to be honest, I was a bit frightened that she would discover I restricted my children's sugar and t.v. content and publicly ridicule me. I have a big imagination.
To my surprise, Sandra's talk touched me the deepest and inspired me the most. If Sandra hadn't been at that conference, I know I would not have left *inspired*. I would have learned a bit, felt more comfortable, but not really made much more effort to *grow* and *expand* my parenting tool kit. I would have been happy to putter along, picking things up here and there, for my children's entire childhoods.
Sandra had a presence - she was soft-spoken, articulate, and obviously knew what she was talking about. I had been reading from other lists and feeling much better because there was no confrontational style among the writers. It was gentle encouragement and suggestions and I loved it and felt more secure in my decision to unschool. However, after I listened to her talk, I realized that I had been spending my limited time and energy following the advice of people who had much less experience. Unschooling is difficult to understand and some people are not doing it well and still giving advice to others. Others cannot express the ideas as clearly. I realized I needed to follow the advice of people with A LOT of experience and wisdom. I had to be more discerning about what and where I was reading. I felt safer being with 'supportive' people who would not hurt my feelings, but I wasn't learning fast enough and clearly enough how to be a better unschooling mother. My children were growing older all the time, but my learning was hindered because I wanted to avoid looking too deeply within myself.
2. The second thing that changed my perception is a personal correspondence I had with Sandra and my reaction to it. I asked if she had a section on her website that had to do with chronic fatigue and feeling depressed as a parent. She wrote the following back:
I don't think there's anything specific, except to be responsible. If you can't make unschooling better than school, school's still there. If you're going to unschool, it needs to be better than school. If that involves getting mental, emotional or physical therapy for the parents, then do it! The house doesn't work if the roof is leaking and there's no heat. Parents don't work if they're in an emotional fog and can't pay sweet attention to their kids.
My interpretation of her email was that she was saying I should probably send my kids to school. At that point in my life, I felt so guilty for being depressed and tired, that I prioritized this information above all else from her email. I probably only read her email once or twice and felt embarrassed and unsure that I was providing a better environment than school. Many months later, I recommended this list to a girlfriend and somehow I ended up telling her that Sandra had written to me saying I should probably send my children to school. She wisely asked to see the email and then read each little part with me, helping me to really look at the words for the first time, without the heavy veil of shame and guilt that I carried that I was shortchanging my children because I was struggling emotionally.
This list has helped me think more clearly and maturely. It has helped me change unhelpful patterns and most of all helped me step into the *JOY* of life, connection, partnership with my children and husband. I know how scary it is to feel examined, and I think some other readers interpret examination as meanness, like I once did. I think to do unschooling well, it is a fundamental element to have an examined life. To be mindful of our choices and understand our thought processes.
For me, this list is like being in a graduate class at university about unschooling. A rapid flow of ideas, critical examination of those ideas and the encouragement to really think your thoughts through. Fortunately, it is a free university run by expert volunteers that make sure the discussion stays firmly on the philosophy of unschooling, attentive parenting and what will help unschooling and what will hinder it. I learn every day how to have a better partnership with my children and spouse, how to connect, inspire, trust and help. And now that I have learned how to read without my emotions interpreting the emails for me, the message is consistently the same - be loving, gentle and sweet with your children, *be* with your children, live joyfully.
Thank you for all the daily reminders and all the effort that everyone puts into this list.