Thursday, June 18, 2009

Can you kill your children? "Well, that depends."

When first wading into the waters of unschooling as a parent, I made an assumption: I am about to make a lot of friends with parents who are unschoolers because they understand the importance of autonomy in youth and adults.

Gawd, was I mistaken! What I found instead was a sea of moral relativists almost without exception. Here is their paradigm: "There are no rules and there are no 'shoulds' and there is no right and wrong. Kids should be able to do ANYTHING they want because the old idea of dictating to kids was destructive." So, I guess, that's the rule, eh? No rules?

I've already been kicked off of a few unschooling and homeschooling Internet lists for saying such things as "you should outline rules for children" and "there are objective rules" and "there is objective right and wrong" and "'shoulds' are a necessary part of living."

And so I just got off the phone with a bright and unusually pleasant unschooling mom with whom I'm considering starting a Sudbury School in my area (the school is more of an unschool). We were talking about rules at the school. She made the comment that there shouldn't necessarily be rules. We got into a philosophical discussion about unschooling and parenting. She said she had no rules in her family.

So I asked if honesty was a rule. She said it's not a rule; it's more a "preference." So I asked if she said something to her son if he was lying, and she said she would try to find out why he was lying. I asked her why she tried. She paused and then laughed nervously and said, "Well, because we have a preference for the truth." (Unschoolers will travel to the ends of the Earth to avoid "rules" and "shoulds.") She then bragged about how she will talk with any parent about how they raise their kids and not judge them.

"So, is there any kind of parenting that is wrong," I asked. "No, she said." I said, "Can a parent beat a child?" She said, "I wouldn't, but some parents do." I said, "Can a parent kill a child?" She said, "Well, that depends on what their preference is."


"Do you hear what you just said?" I asked. "Do you hear how far you've gone to hold onto your belief that nothing is wrong and that there are no rules?"

"We're different, David," she said. "You have your philosophy and I have mine."

Indeed. It reminds me of one of many such conversations with unschoolers (who are essentially hippies without the "high"). One noted unschooling leader in Georgia told me on a list that "we don't use 'shoulds' on our list." My response to her was, "You mean, we shouldn't have 'shoulds' on our list."

She did not like that, and neither did the rest of the simperers on that list. At the time, I was still learning what kind of black hole I'd jumped into. And, my friends, it is deep and labyrinthine.

I have very little contact with these nuts now -- many of whom are your garden-variety recyclers, greenies, anti-capitalists, etc. The men, in fact, are worse than the women. It took me just 6 days to kicked off an unschool list for dads. Believe it or not, I had been quite diplomatic in tone and understanding (stop laughing!). But these hippies have a nose for my type, so the weenie-daddies threw a snit and got back to knitting.

Ah, such is life in a confederacy of cowards.


Jason said...

Wow, it sounds like you may have encountered a sect of the Doddites -- the radical unschoolers led by Sandra Dodd who love to play word games and silence all who disagree with their views.

If you'd like to see a group of unschoolers with vastly differing viewpoints (and we have the battle scars and blood-stained friendship bracelets to prove it) stop by -- we certainly enjoyed your column!

Michelle said...

The whole concept that all choices are valid choices so long as the person choosing is under the age of 18 seems very dubious and random to me. Not to mention the whole idea of no such thing as right and wrong. If it's wrong for me to make rules declaring what is right and what is wrong, then there is certainly a right and wrong, and it seems the grown ups are always on the losing end of the deal!

We unschool and we have rules. Maybe not many, and perhaps more lax than many other households, but there are definitely rules. Not guidelines. Not preferences. Rules. You should definitely visit the group mentioned by Jason. Vastly different from most unschooling groups I've visited (and left).

David Elmore said...

I'll check out freethinking unschoolers, Jason. Thanks. Though my experience with "free thinkers" has been, well, spicy. ;)
You're spot-on, Michelle, of course, and I've made the same point to dozens of unschooling parents about their contradiction of stating (essentially) that it is wrong to say where there is a right and a wrong. They're like liberals who SAY all viewpoints are equally relevant but who in truth loathe anyone but a Lefty and pretend that their fascist cesspool is the higher ground.

Nicolas Connault said...

This is very late reply, but I'm a newcomer dad to the world of unschooling, and I've just been badly scorched by a clan of Doddites myself!

I'm not a moral relativist (we have strong Christian values), so there are rules. But there is also respect, autonomy, and lots of learning :-)