The Unschooling Gods

By | January 28, 2010

I had joined these online unschooling information communities, where parents from all over the world can interact. There are many knowledgeable people there as are many people just stepping into unschooling. It is an incredible space.

However, like anywhere else in the world, intolerance abounds. Or perhaps it is intolerance in me at listening to generalizations on how unschooling should be.

My current discomfort is with Sandra Dodd. Yes, her site is still on one of my highest recommendations for information on the subject, but I find that like any other human, she is rather set in her view of unschooling, which makes it rather difficult to listen to some of her opinions on unschooling.

I guess, what I will have to do, is start my own ‘brand’ of unschooling, which really is what every parent does, whether schooling or unschooling or other.

This post is about my belief in respecting a child. It is about not knowing what is best, and doing what I think would best support my objectives. I can only ever find out.

Two statements made by Sandra recently remain in my mind as hallmarks of how we can become rigid in our thoughts and how we stop learning when we begin “teaching”.

They are (there is no link to provide, as this was said in a group post at AlwaysLearning on yahoo Groupsburrowing into hearts):

“If she can’t give enough to make unschooling better than school, she should put the child in school.”


“If she can’t give enough to keep the child from being an absolute mess, she should give him up for adoption.”

I made a response to these on the lists, but I have no belief that it will be posted, since said Sandra also has the ability to block posts. It will take a person willing to reflect to actually absorb the response statements like this get.

I may lack experience, but I find this utterly crass. This goes well beyond unschooling as a practice and into the realm of telling a parent what to do with a child based on own judgements of what constitutes “good enough”.
Considering a mother newly getting into unschooling. Things are in a bad space for her. She is finding it difficult to keep supporting all an energetic childs initiatives can be, unconditionally. She is already questioning how her children behave and worries that things are not right. How do you think a suggestion for putting them up for adoption rather than messing them up hits her in this frame of mind? Being experienced is little use if it cannot be ssensitive.
Sandra, I bet you were right where we are in the beginning and didn’t actually begin knowing it all. How would you have felt when you didn’t know what was to come and things were rough, and some ‘expert’ suggested that your child would be better off without your contributions if you were not able to ‘crack it’? You still don’t know the future. What if they get messed a few years later? Will you give them up for adoption?
Or, in other words, I don’t know if I can make unschooling better than school. I don’t know if I can keep my child from being an absolute mess whether I school or unschool, raise him myself or give him up for adoption. All I know is that I believe that I am making the most respectful choice I can make for my child. By the time I am forced to accept that I did indeed mess my child up, it will be too late, since of course, I’m not intentionally messing him up. My child would also have some security in what was happening, however messed it was. Would he cope with whatever parents he would get through adoption? How do I know the adopted parents won’t mess him further? I will never see my child as messed, so I cant trust my own judgment. I want the best life for him, even if it means I should keep my toxic self away. So tell me, wise one, should I send him to school or adoption? By these standards, does anyone deserve a child at all?

It is not that Sandra doesn’t care about the well being of a child. I know she does, or she would never have made this phenomenal effort. I think, somewhere down the line, responding to so many questions, providing so much invaluable advice, working so hard to extend support to new beginners, she has lost that much essential space for self-awareness that makes it possible to keep our own selves nourished. When that space gets crowded out, our actions start being automatic based on what we usually say, and they take on a life of our own, while we still continue to see ourselves as sensitive and caring.

I have no doubt that she actually means this statement as well-intentioned advice to mothers who question the need to give their children the freedom to do whatever they want and learn from that. What she means is that if you grudge your children that, there is no point making this huge effort toward unschooling, because you will have ended up making all the effort, but with the same result as school. I also took it like that. I just think that it comes from a place of being God, and I resent her implication that she knows what is better for my child.

I still have a lot of respect for Sandra. Her words are invaluable support for someone beginning a journey, like me. I read them, I reflect on them and often they empower me to have a more enabling attitude toward growth. Mine and the others too. So don’t go, “Oh, I was reading her because you recommended, and now I’d better stop before she wrecks my self-esteem”. Read her, read everyone. Just trust yourself. Trust that you are doing the best you can, and that is always good enough.

It is also a learning on how there is no point idolizing a person to a place of infallibility and then being outraged when they turn out to be human. It is a lesson for me to see the humanity in me, in others.

4 thoughts on “The Unschooling Gods

  1. Sandra Dodd

    -=-What she means is that if you grudge your children that, there is no point making this huge effort toward unschooling, because you will have ended up making all the effort, but with the same result as school. -=-

    That is not what I mean.

    Having been quoted out of context, I would like to provide people the means to read the entire discussion, including Vidyut’s comments which WERE on the list, and the explanations of other long-experienced unschoolers, none of whom were claiming to be nor acting as Gods.

    People might need to join the list to read that, but it’s an open list and has been since it was begun in November 2001.

    I don’t understand how this is helpful if a person doesn’t want to do any better than she is doing: “Trust that you are doing the best you can, and that is always good enough.”

  2. admin

    Hi Sandra,

    Thank you for providing the context. I didn’t know that I could link to a group that requires joining to read.

    I shared the way I perceived it. I may have missed the point, but the real point was that I understand that you have the best wishes of children in mind. Which only goes to show how it could indeed be missed when illustrated with examples like this. I am not attempting to help anyone or be helpful to an unschooling parent specifically. This blog is about my experiences with Nisarga, and as such I am not making any claims here to show anyone how to unschool, and if I were, no matter what I said would be unhelpful, since I lack experience. However, I don’t see any method or way of life or anything at all being useful, if it cannot enable people to feel that they can follow it.

    This is not a comment on unschooling, or you, but the manner in which wisdom is shared, which applies to all wisdom, in my experience. Rough language invites resistance. And regardless of circumstances, I really don’t believe that comments of the kind you made are within the realm of either schooling or unschooling. You knew that not everyone can “take” this kind of “unschooling”, so where is the surprise that I didn’t?

    I may be wrong, but I am not making claims to being right either. I am sharing what emerges in me. The impact on me. I think I am the best judge of that one.

  3. Shira

    Is it Sandra’s responsibility to provide you with the ‘type’ of unschooling that you will like? She is a person, with a personality, and a lot of experience. Her list is BLUNT. Its eye-opening. She doesn’t beat around the bush, and that is what makes her list so so useful to those who are new to unschooling. When I first joined, I wrote a few things that just weren’t right for that list, and she kindly sent me reminders of what the purpose of the list is for, and kept those messages off. And when I first posted, and felt somewhat offended by the bluntness of her (and others) response, instead of writing back to the list, I just sat with those feelings and kept reading for a while.

    And I joined some other lists. And read some other websites. And I saw that I could pull from each of them for specific things. UnschoolingBasics, for example, has a different tone, just a tad less blunt. Some questions about unschooling seem to gravitate me to one place for answers, and other questions seem to go to other places for answers. There are many versions of unschooling out there. I think many people find Naomi Aldort’s resources a bit softer around the edges. There is no one saying that you have to listen to what she says. But she started the list, she owns it, and she shares her thoughts. Sandra doesn’t stop anyone else from sharing their thoughts just as equally as she shares hers! How is that wrong?

    As to the comment of putting a child into school, or up for adoption, if a parent is not up to the unschooling task: Its not meant so literally. Or I don’t read it that way. What she is trying to say, or at least what I remember reading in other topics, is that unschooling is a CHOICE. Keeping your kids home is a Choice. And keeping your kids at all is a CHOICE. We don’t HAVE to keep our kids… that is why there is a welfare system. So when we say we’re miserable, taking care of our kids… that they are driving us CRAZY, then we need to think. Are we really feeling that way? Because if we are… literally… then it might be better to put them into school or give them away.

    Or are we exaggerating our feelings, in order to justify more control over them? Are we speaking in extremes? Are we not really being driven crazy… but just feeling sort of lost from ourselves? In that case, keep your kids, keep reading the lists, learn about shifting your centre to include your children in what makes you whole and yourself!

    Sandra tends to answer extremist questions with extreme sounding answers… in order to jerk your head around, catch you in your own fallacy, make you think. That is the type of person she is, and those types of people are invaluable. And there are many other places where people pussyfoot around and commiserate and support you where you are. And those places are very useful as well. We aren’t always ready to be surprised with clarity. Sometimes we just need to get through this one horrible day (or moment, as I’ve learned) and sometimes commiseration is what gets us through that moment. But sometimes we also want to change the whole future of moments away from that bad moment, and in that case, women like Sandra are invaluable.

  4. mom Post author

    Hi Shira,

    You seem to think that I have something against Sandra. I don’t. I find her words helpful very often too. However, this doesn’t mean that I have to like everything. Also your growing into accepting her words and mine are unique journeys. I find that when I accept any one voice (including my own) unquestioningly, even if there are discomforts that emerge, I am not doing anyone favors. I don’t even see respect for Sandra in such a choice, which would be there in honoring her words by letting them impact me and being authentic about that impact.

    I appreciate you taking the time to offer clarity. I assure you that I don’t feel disrespect.


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