The "Island Zen" Of Alternative Schooling

I’m new to this home/unschooling thing. I have a 7-year-old daughter who stays at home with my wife because, well, she can. As long as we follow the legal requirements in California, she can homeschool.

Although it started out as us not knowing where to send our daughter to school, I have quickly learned the power of not choosing formal schooling. I’ve also seen that power in others, and it’s caused me to believe a simple truth: Unschoolers. Just. Are.

That’s it. That’s all I want to say. They don't recruit kids away from school. They don’t force their doctrine on others. They don’t say their lifestyle is better for people they don’t know. They don’t trash others who don’t see it their way. They don’t seem mean, angry, or victimized. No, they’re too busy living and learning to get into any of that. They’re making up creative and innovative games. They’re getting together online to share ideas. They’re blogging about what’s working. They’re conferencing in person. They’re saying “I’m just saying what works for us.” They’re ambitious, relaxed, centered, joyful, in the moment, and moment-to-moment. They’re DIY’ing, Minecrafting, Facebooking as a platform for what they’ve learned -- not for escapism. The ones with special needs seem to have found validation and congruence outside of school. The ones who tried school feel free – even to go back if they choose. The ones who have grown up outside of school come back to tell their stories that they turned out ok, even happier, more appreciative, and more ambitious in their jobs. Someday, they will define themselves not in relation to what they did or didn’t do about formal schooling, but how a life of freedom allowed them to create themselves on their own terms.

It’s the most striking feeling I’ve had in reading articles by unschoolers and meeting unschooling families. Unschoolers don’t recruit kids away from school, force their doctrine on others, say their lifestyle is better for people they don’t know, trash others who don’t see it their way, or seem mean, angry, or victimized. No, they are too busy living and learning to get into any of that.

They’re making up creative and innovative games, getting together online to share ideas, blogging about what’s working, and conferencing in person. They’re saying, “This is what works for us.” They’re ambitious, relaxed, centered, joyful, in the moment, and moment-to-moment. They’re DIY’ing, Minecrafting, and Facebooking not for escapism, but for what they can learn.

The ones with special needs seem to have found validation and congruence outside of school. The ones who tried school feel free to do so, and even to go back if they choose. The ones who grew up outside of school come back to tell their stories about turning out ok, even happier, more appreciative, and more ambitious in their jobs. Many define themselves not in relation to what they did or didn’t do about formal schooling, but how a life of freedom allowed them to create themselves on their own terms.

I’m amazed by what my daughter and her unschooling friends have created, how they’re get-ting along, and what they gravitate toward. I’m impressed with the knowledge and experience of the community of organizers and writers in this magazine – some with years of heavy school and administration experience, who seem peaceful and centered in their writing and when you meet them.

I get the nagging feeling that I’m missing something, because Utopia isn’t supposed to be possible. But that is what I have seen at conferences, meet-ups, and park day getogethers, as well as in blogs, books, and Facebook groups. It’s all fun, happy, and peaceful.

Where was all of this when I was a kid?

Ah, no matter. It’s enough for me to see it as the purest form of practical Zen in action – the art of being. The feeling reminds me of being on Orcas Island, Washington – a small island in the Pacific Northwest. Go to the island and time stops. Things are quieter, people are friendlier, everyone knows each other, there are few distractions, and nature is in full force.

Off the island, there’s traffic, malls, and business – and a feeling that everything needs to be done now. That “mainland” feeling was school for me. I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t given a choice. I thought that’s just what the world was – you went to school because it was the law and everyone did it.

With my daughter on this “island” of alternative schooling, I feel a kind of peace a parent can only get by knowing their child is free, being who they are, and learning what they want to learn outside of any notion of time and deadlines.

I think I figured it out, though, this peace-of-unschooling thing...

Zen Masters know that a problem is defined as “the difference between what you want and what you get.” If what you want IS what you get, then (by definition) you have no problem. If what you want ISN’T what you get, you have two choices to solve the problem: work on changing what you get, or release the attachment to what you want.

That’s why I think alternative schoolers seem centered; unschooling seems to be a lifestyle that maximizes their chances of getting what they want and wanting what they get. That’s my view so far, and the message-in-a-bottle I’d send from this “island” to those on the “mainland”. 

DadSpeak

Jon Bach is Quality Manager for Ebay in San Jose, CA. His blog, The Dad Report, contains more thoughts like this about unschooling.