Guest blog by Compass parent, Naomi Sparrow
Unschooling is a relatively new movement and one that is perhaps not well understood. Often I hear people reproaching Unschooling as being as a free-for-all, where kids do whatever they want and have no guidance or support. Unschooling isn’t unparenting. On the contrary, unschooling implies that families and their networks with other families are carrying the responsibility that is typically given to schools.
My daughter Maggie has four parents and fortunately all four of us, more or less, see eye-to-eye on our approach to her education. Nonetheless, I have been the ‘mom-on-the-ground’; going back to work full-time has been a relatively recent occurrence for me. When Maggie was younger, I saw clients in the spaces found in-between driving around, setting up projects, playdates and parenting. Now that she is at Compass, I love that I can hand over this role of mentoring and coordinating her education to Abby and Andre. I love dropping her off and being free to do my own thing.
As much as I enjoy my newfound freedom, it won’t work for me if it doesn’t work for my girl and there have been few places where she has felt that she could be free to be herself and where the culture of the place was in harmony with the culture of our family. Our family does not have mainstream values. We are not hugely eccentric, but we don’t subscribe to authoritarian education. We don’t want to participate in it, nor do we think it’s what’s best for Maggie or for the world. It has all been created: the curriculum, the rules, the culture of school and made to seem as if it’s the only option to becoming an educated person. I don’t want to lie to her and say school is essential, because it’s not. Key questions that guide us have been: what do we want to create in the world? How do we want to live? What challenges help us thrive and which ones shut down creativity and self-esteem? Compass is the first place that has truly been in alignment with these values. Our daughter is free to make her own decisions with support from both inside and outside our family.
In the last year, Maggie started to need more than I could facilitate on my own. I needed to work more. She was alone more than she wanted to be and I was keenly aware that she was ready for something more; she was ready to be challenged in a more independent way. It can be difficult to balance the needs for freedom and autonomy with the spaciousness inherent in freedom, but to go to a structured environment that requires an unschooled teen to give up all that freedom just won’t work for us. So, where’s a homeschooling/unschooled teen to go? What we were seeking was for Maggie to have full support and resources to shine, to be fully herself, to know that she has choices, and to have the capacity to test her wings. We want it to be safe for her to risk and fail, or risk and succeed, because that’s the basis for learning for leadership and for adulthood in the truest sense. To just take over and boss kids around does them a disservice. How will they learn to take charge of their lives? We learn responsibility and self-awareness when we are free to choose. We can’t feel ourselves when others take over our choices; rather we feel the others, we feel our own resistance, we feel controlled. How can we call our culture a democracy when the systems that we participate in are so authoritarian? School is the first social institution that kids live in and it powerfully shapes their sense of participation. How empowered can kids become if the locus of control is outside of themselves, if they’re told what to do every moment and if they’re set up to obey, rather than to think for themselves?
My wild praise following the Compass Variety Show stems from my abundant relief that finally, my family has found a place that we can let go into, where our daughter can take risks and discover that it’s ok to be fully human, messily learning, wonderfully imperfect, and deliciously in it with others who are risking in their own unique ways. It’s a big deal to see her up on stage! She’s been so shy. She never would have done it if anyone put pressure on her to do it. She chose it freely and did it of her own desire. And I see similar growth in the other kids at Compass. I see them influencing each other, growing with each other’s risks and choices and it’s thrilling to watch. We, as a family, get to broaden our support base; we get to participate in an educational culture that reflects our values. And Maggie gets to test her wings with the other fledglings. I sincerely hope that where they go and what they do will surprise us – that they will leave us open-mouthed and gaping at the sky.