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At the 2011 Australian Unschooling Conference I witnessed what I perceived to be a rising belief that the unschooling philosophy is a mere derivation of the more pervasive philosophy of existential nihilism, whereby the facts of life exist without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value.
Whilst I would not dispute that the principle non-violent communication skills, primarily that of being non-judgmental, may be helpful in loving families, especially when one hopes to undo years of prejudice adopted from external influences without critical thought, I beg to differ that unschooling and existential nihilism have any similarities at all. I believe them to be in conflict with each other on a basic level, as one represents love of life and its potentials, whereas the other represents love of nothing at all.
During the conference, the audience repeatedly heard international guest Quinn Eaker utter this mantra: "It's neither good nor bad, right or wrong, it just is'". If schooling is neither right or wrong or good or bad why are we choosing to be unschoolers in the first place? If I took this philosophy of nihilism as my main determining principle in life, I would have no critical faculty of thought remaining whatsoever, and would simply subject my children to going with the flow of what is considered 'normal': no harm could be done by my decisions or non-decisions. Their lives simply 'are' - a fact of the universe - with no more action required on my part as a parent. This calls into question in its entirety the role of the parent as guide to our children, a role we as unschoolers have deliberately and consciously chosen as an alternative to handing responsibility of our children's education and welfare over to the state and its institutions.
Although the form of non-judgment propounded by Mr Eaker looks deceptively similar to accepting our children for who and what they are, this is not actually unschooling, the basic premise of which I believe to be valuing of life, in particular our children's lives. If I regard nothing as right or wrong, good or bad, I cannot value anything, because to value something I naturally regard it as good. If I value nothing as good, then I believe I cannot even value my own life. If I do not value my own life, I cannot have morality, because morality is essentially a personal philosophy of how to protect and enrich what I consider as worthwhile to my existence. What primal being, living on this earth, what animal or infant, does not even value its own life?
If we are really to "live as little children" as Eaker invited, evocative of the way of the Buddhist teaching of a beginner's mind, then we must at the very least value our own lives, as unschooled children do. No attachment parenting mother or father would dispute that children are born with a concept of good and bad - they know that to be fed is good, carried is good, shown gentleness and affection by people whom they know is good, to be warm is good. Take any or all of these things away, and they scream, and they will scream as long as they need to scream until someone else recognises the good in these needs too.
Yet although a child recognises the needs of his own life, and makes judgments as to what helps and harms him, it is also true that over the course of years the needs of most children are not met with loving attention. Their intrinsic self-love is eroded with neglect and cruelty, whether intentional or not. And this is what unschooling parents are explicitly and consciously trying to avoid. Because we don't want our children, once full of limitless potential, to come to doubt their judgment and regard their selves as unworthy even of life. Tormented by doubts, confusion and depression many children grow up addicted to self-harm.
Even if their instinct for self-preservation to some extent remains in the face of onslaught by a repressive culture, they are in danger of the destruction of their minds. If as Eaker pronounced that "nothing matters", that "everything is energy" and without form, there can be no physical consequences, can there? We can act with impunity. If we buy into this cultural myth that nothing matters, not even killing everything and everyone on this planet, because, like the fuels we consume it's just "all energy" and without judgement we can continue to consume what is not ours. Not in the selfish way that a baby consumes milk - out of love for her own good - but out of an abused child's desire to destroy everything on earth to make up for the destruction of her soul. The contention that we should judge nothing as "good or bad", "right or wrong" - when drinking water is polluted, food is poisoned, air is contaminated, our whole house is in fact on fire - appears to me to be the final culmination, albeit in another guise, of a self-destructive culture.
I believe that when a child shuts down their dreams and desires, chooses to value nothing as good or bad rather than face the dark thought that they are themselves bad, for having been unworthy of a parent's unconditional love, what comes to pass is that the individual forgets who they are. She accepts the judgments of others in place of her own ability to make decisions and conforms to what others think is good for her, because after all "who are they to judge?" Quinn Eaker invoked the audience to suspend their judgment by saying "It's not good or bad, right or wrong, it just is" I'd rather stand up and declare, hands on my chest, "I am good! We are all good!" Instead the audience sat silent, mutely engaging in a socially acceptable form of secret self-sabotage.
Let us truly be as children, and recognise with all our beings the value of every life that exists on earth, our own lives, and the lives of our children. Let us show both inquisitiveness and reverence for the natural world, and for all the creations of man that remind us of our beauty. And if anyone tries to diminish our potential or destroys what we love, we have full permission to kick and scream, and bite, even as little children do.
All writers, and speakers for that matter, are propagandists: they have something to say, something they value, or frankly they wouldn't bother presenting it. I am proud of my morality of self-love. I value life. And, with all due respect, a person who claims to judge nothing as good or bad is the only real advocate for total destruction that this world has. Unschooling is a moral choice for parents: it is a way of approaching our relationships with our children, partners, and society at large. Unschooling is my morality of choice. Let us all choose wisely, because unschooling empowers us, whereas nihilism renders us out of existence. As unschoolers, we can feel confident to question those such as Quinn Eaker who seek to inform us, as well as question the intention and morality driving the organizational force behind future conferences whereas as nihilists we can't.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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