Tuesday, November 8, 2011

There Is No Scarcity: Unschooling

working with his sister on their Minecraft village

Lori, over at Camp Creek Blog | Project Based Homeschooling, recently posted part one of a response to the notion that children need to be made to unplug and go out into nature. She's discussing the issue of scarcity, the idea that there's a shortage of time and some things should be given value over others. Lori argues that it shouldn't be a carrot or a stick (or broccoli vs candy) proposition at all (or say, a scarcity vs abundance), and it's an argument I quite agree with. (Read Part 2, also.

Does it ever work to encourage activity A by denouncing activity B? Books are broccoli and kids need their broccoli so that makes TV and video games candy. Sweet, delicious candy. I’m in my 40s but even I know: candy good, broccoli bad.

The either/or approach focuses on scarcity. The glass is half empty, your day is almost gone. Your free time is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Don’t waste it on things you enjoy! Invest it in these more intellectually valuable pursuits instead!

An entirely different approach would be to present books as candy, the outdoors as candy. Wow. I think I just blew my own mind.

One of the benefits of unschooling is having the time to meet these needs, to enjoy all the gifts that nature and media, literature and other indoor activities offer. It's also easier to see each activity as part of a larger ebb and flow, as Lori tweeted. Unschoolers also appreciate the interconnectedness of each activity, as each inspires the other. There's a reason my kids are currently building whole villages on Minecraft that incorporate green energy and farms.

Lori states this principle so clearly when she says,

Part one of why I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time? Our glass is three-quarters full. We have plenty of time — time to read, time to play, time to hike and camp and garden, time to play video games and watch a movie together.

This concept is one of the most difficult for those who question unschooling to grasp, and it's as she said; we have time. Balance occurs naturally, it isn't forced, dictated or controlled. There is an ebb and flow, indoors our out, it's all equally valued and pursued. We have an abundance of time to learn. And it's all sweet, like candy.


  1. The "infrastructure" costs of traditional schools is staggering. Between waiting in line, pausing while someone else is being dealt with, taking buses, even listening to a lowest common denominator presentation on a topic they already understand, the amount of time wasted is either a national tragedy and/or the raison d'ĂȘtre for schools to exist at all.

    P.S. Hi Amy!! Loved the costumes!

  2. "it's all sweet" — absolutely! :)

  3. Well put. The question for me has always been: How do we help others to understand this? The majority of parents want what's best for their children - they want to do "the right thing." But our culture is providing them with so many (often conflicting) "expert" messages that they don't trust themselves to do "what's right," let alone their children. And, they went to school too. ;-)

  4. As you know, I agree, Clark. I still see this fear and belief in scarcity within home/unschooling circles, but as most of us went to school, I'm sure we're still trying to shake that particular indoctrination. And thanks!

    Lori, thank you again for writing such a great post! The comments also made for interesting reading and I've loved your considered responses.

    Bev, thank you. Of course, some days time feels short and I try not to think about things like, oh, November-is-nearly-half-over-omg-we-should-do-this-or-that, but I still have to remind myself that truly, we do have time.

    The only answer I have for you, Wendy, is that I'm doing my tiny, little, insignificant best to co-parent our kids using these principles, and writing and photographing it and sharing it here so that others can hopefully see and trust that it works. I think it feels like an immense risk to parents to forgo the school paradigm, so I think that's our first hurdle, is getting people to accept the risk and trust their children. Oh, and trusting kids, supporting, promoting and advocating for youth rights is another step in the right direction. Adults won't even think about taking lifestyle and learning risks if they won't believe that children want to learn and are trustworthy.

    Thank you all for your comments!

  5. Yes indeed! All of life is good for us “nonconformists” who have chosen the sweetest path possible. I must say that unschooling is the only path I could, in good conscience, walk down again.

    Sometimes I do think about those who are still in prison though, and wish I could open all the detention center doors and set every captive free, so that they could taste the sweet life of freedom too.

  6. ok, so how do you all afford this? i'll read through to understand more, but I'm very curious about how folks afford this lifestyle. not judging, just incredibly jealous i guess.

    1. Red Headed Racer, that is an important question and one not easily answered as there is an enormous variety of circumstances from which people come or find themselves, not all of it predictable or of their control. For my family, it was a decision I made with my partner, long before having children, that one of us should always be home with our children. This meant that from day one, we've adjusted to a single income and every decision was made within that financial constraint. Along with this, we have incorporated a lot of sustainable living, which also meant we bowed out of a good deal of consumerist culture. For us, this meant that we also embraced domesticity, shared by all of us; meals made at home, clothing mended and repaired, lots of DIY projects, gardening, canning, preserving, entertainment at home or in our local communities, for instance.

      I will share that I know unschoolers from a wide range of family and financial backgrounds. While there is absolutely a contingent of very financially privileged unschoolers, there are also plenty of folks who unschool who live very simply. If you do explore unschooling further, a very good thing to do is to attend a conference, so you can see for yourself, just how varied unschoolers are.

      Also, please check out my Unschooling page for links and reading regarding many other unschoolers. I hope this has answered your question some. Thanks for reading and for your comment!



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